Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

Magic CEO says it’s not Howard, it’s us that wanted Van Gundy out

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Orlando Magic CEO Tony Martins tried to lay down a full field of cover for Dwight Howard on the day the Magic sent coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith packing.

He essentially went with the “it’s not you, it’s me” line that always works so well when you tried to break off a relationship. But goal number one was to say it was not Howard.

“Let me say in no uncertain terms that Dwight did not want to be part of this decision,” Martins said at a televised press conference announcing the firings. “He did not want to make this decision. He never asked me to make this decision. Yes, (the Howard/Van Gundy) relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy.”

I could get into how requests like “fire the coach or I’m gone” are never communicated directly but rather through back channels in the NBA. But really, it comes down to this: Do you think the Magic fired Van Gundy to keep their chances to re-sign Howard alive? Damn straight they did. They didn’t do it because they are going to go bring in a coach who is going to push this roster to a better record. That guy is not out there.

Is that going to be enough to keep Howard is another question. Who gets hired as coach and if the new GM can pull a rabbit out of his hat with a move that improves the roster will matter. Here is what Marc Stein of ESPN reports:

The changes alone don’t guarantee that Howard will stay, according to sources familiar with his thinking, but the prospect of Orlando hiring a proven team-builder like Donnie Walsh to mentor Adonal Foyle — and then going out and getting a coach who can try to build a better bond with Howard than Van Gundy had — at least gives Orlando some fresh hope.

Ditto for the fact that Howard, as some rival executives believe, might be more interested in nailing down some long-term security after season-ending back surgery that represents the first major injury of his career.

Martins essentially went on to say that relationship building will be key for the next Magic coach.

“Stan prepared our team as good as any coach I have ever been around in 25 years in the business. However, I also think there is another side to coaching.

“Did a lot of people get in disagreements over the course of the last five years about style? Sure. That’s what happens in this business. But the most important part is we felt strategically he was outstanding but we were looking for more out of our head coach and our basketball operations the last two years.”

It will be interesting to see who the Magic can really get. Would a veteran coach like Nate McMillan go there knowing he could be in the middle of a major rebuilding project based on Howard’s whim? Would a team executive like Walsh go if he felt the Howard situation could blow up in his face?

Martins said it was time for Howard to commit to the Magic. But it’s not that simple.

The fact is that the Magic are in trouble here — the way the new CBA is set up it is financially beneficial for Howard to become a free agent then re-sign a max deal with the Magic then to just extend his current contract (he gets an extra year). So even if Howard says he will stay he will be a free agent and can always change his mind. It would smash his already badly injured public reputation, but he could.

The Magic have let one of the best coaches in the league go. But if the hire they make gets Dwight Howard to stay it was the right move. If not… enjoy the rebuilding process.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau thanks Kevin Garnett after retirement announcement

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits not he bench prior to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”

It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Pacers unveil 50th anniversary patch for their uniforms (PHOTO)

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Leandro Barbosa #28 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The Indiana Pacers have been a franchise for 50 years — 10 in the ABA and 40 in the NBA. To celebrate this anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new patch that they will wear on their uniforms this season. You can check it out below:

It looks pretty sleek, combining the Pacers’ logo with the zero in “50.” It’s subtle and well-designed.

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.