The Inbounds: Hennigan’s Rainbow

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Earlier this month, it seemed like new Magic GM Rob Hennigan was trapped, and succumbing to the pressure. Word spread that the Nets were that magical word, “close” to a deal for Dwight Howard, in one of the most complicated trades maybe ever proposed, involving up to 14 players being swapped. The result was shady and never clarified the particulars, but some elements indicated that the Magic would have received Brook Lopez in a max-deal sign-and-trade (had Lopez agreed to such a deal), picks from the Nets, and theoretically one other team. So the haul would have included a very talented center that comes with a huge series of concerns long-term, on a max contract, poor draft picks, and only would have sent out Jason Richardson and potentially one other contract.

It was an impressive full-court press from Billy King just to get the Magic talking and move the trade to that point. King did everything you do when you want to exert pressure, including making it seem like there were no other options than to take the Nets deal.

In short, Hennigan was “close” to vomiting in a trash can and calling that the Dwight Howard trade.

The most important move of his career, just weeks into his tenure, and Hennigan seemed set to fail in every conceivable way. Writers, columnists, fans, and bloggers like me sharpened our knives to carve apart the decision while facepalming with the other hand.

The deal fell apart.

Throughout the process, all the talk about the deal came from two sources: reporters with sources close to the Nets and reporters with sources close to Howard. In short, from the two sides that most desperately wanted the deal to come through. But from other places the indications were strong that the Magic planned to be patient, that the Magic were always, always weighing their options. So after the deal fell apart, it wasn’t a huge shock. Hennigan proved to be the more patient party. Resisting the pressure and the invisible clock on getting a deal done for Howard before the season starts and Magic ownership and executives were forced to deal with the indignity of another year under the cloud of the mess they helped make last year with their emotional reactions to the Howard situation.

Now, it would appear, that great come-and-get-it day is on the horizon, and Hennigan’s rainbow is coming into view.

With word that Howard has finally accepted reality quit being unreasonable grown up agreed to re-sign with the Lakers in free agency if traded there, the Magic are now dealing with a team that has a worthy asset to send to a third team. Andrew Bynum is arguably on the level of Dwight Howard, and while his similar expiring contract presents issues, there’s considerable hope that the Lakers can pull in a third team who wants Bynum to send the picks and assets to the Magic.

Most importantly? There’s a decent chance the Lakers or a facilitating partner will be willing to take the salary from Orlando that the Magic want to ditch. Hedo Turkoglu is obviously the big sticking point, but Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon, and Glen Davis all have longer deals for fair-size money which the Magic need to unload. They need young players. They need picks. This trade scenario affords them that and there’s a good chance that whether it’s Cleveland or Houston that the picks will have more value than what they would get from Brooklyn.

Even if the Lakers talks fall through as well, the ball has been moved forward, the bar for offers has been raised. Vomit in a trash can is no longer good enough.

So to review: instead of being forced into taking on a questionable max contract, poor draft picks, filler, and not unloading as much as they need, the Magic are closer to being able to get more flexibility, better draft picks, young assets, and maybe salvage some dignity from the deal.

The key here has been patience. Hennigan hasn’t taken a ton of questions, he’s not leaking a ton of information to the press. He’s been succinct in his statements and in reality, there’s been very little noise from anyone in Orlando outside of Howard.  Hennigan hasn’t overreacted and has been careful in not going after any one particular asset. He’s not focusing in on Andrew Bynum, but he’s open to it. He’s used the three teams in the running for Howard (Brooklyn, the Lakers, and the Rockets) to raise the value of the offer.

Two months ago, the Magic had no leverage. It was all in Howard’s court, all the Nets’ pressure. The Nets were able to say “he only wants to come here.” Howard was able to say “I can go where I want in free agency.” But when the Nets used up all that space, that option disappeared. So it became about whether Howard was willing to deal with another full year of this just to prove his point, or if he would buckle and open up his “list.” Howard will end up somewhere nice regardless. He’s not going to Milwaukee. But he doesn’t get everything he wanted.

It was a game of chicken. Howard has swerved first.

There’s a lot more to be done, a deal could fall apart. But the reality is that Hennigan has reasserted control over the situation with cold, clinical precision. When Howard gets traded, if Howard gets traded, it will be on Hennigan’s terms and will put the Magic as close to where they want to be going forward. It won’t be perfect. But it’s got a good chance of being the best move possible.

Hennigan took a job coming into a difficult situation and while the contract for Jameer Nelson was an auspicious start, his early tenure will be judged entirely on how the Howard trade is handled. Early on, he’s managed to avoid the big disaster and has moved the pieces in place to get what they need. In the NBA it’s not just about what moves you do make, it’s about the ones you don’t. And Hennigan’s proven he’s not over his head.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.