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.

Mavericks don’t use scandals as excuse for poor play vs. Lakers

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long week for the Dallas Mavericks. First Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for saying on Dr. J’s podcast that he told the team they would be better off losing. That was quickly overshadowed by the bombshell report of sexual harassment run rampant — starting with the team CEO — and a corporate culture on the Mavericks’ business side that allowed it this behavior to flourish. Then on Friday, Mavericks’ star rookie Dennis Smith Jr. was named in a report about players who took money from agents while in college.

Did all that bleed over to the slow start and ultimate 124-102 blowout loss to the Lakers Friday night?

“I don’t know, we had some good looks…” Dirk Nowitzki said of the impact of the scandals, adding the rust from the All-Star break may have impacted the team’s play more. “Once you’re out there, you don’t necessarily really think about what is going on off the floor. You’re in a zone, you play, you compete with your team, we just didn’t play hard enough, compete hard enough at times.”

“I’m not going there, I think this is just a situation where Los Angeles jumped on us and we didn’t have enough answers,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, also blowing off the idea of the scandals getting in the players’ heads. “The guys we have in this locker room, we just have to show up the right way, and our level of force was not there.”

It’s difficult to say if the Mavericks did feel any impact from the controversies swirling around the team — they were already one of the worst teams in basketball (18-41, and they have been outscored by an average of 3.2 points per 100 possession). They have a bottom 10 offense and defense. A bad outing vs. the Lakers isn’t necessarily tied to everything outside the locker room, especially for a team in the middle of the Tankapaloza going on around the NBA (their owner said as much). Put simply, Dallas was already bad before the waves of controversies hit.

Cuban was right, even if it cost him — this team should tank, lose a lot of games the rest of the way, and work to get a better draft position.

The code words for that is “developing younger players.” Which Dallas is and should be doing.

They are also trying to evaluate their free agents coming up this offseason — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — to see if they are part of the future. How does Carlise divide up the minutes over the final stretch of the season to help make those decisions?

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete. Last year’s team went through a tough year, won 33 games, and was one of my favorite teams to coach because of the character of the guys — but this year’s probably been even more fun. All these undrafted guys are so grateful to be here, they want to get better, and do compete hard, and that’s an exciting thing….

“Nerlens won’t play tonight (Friday), won’t play tomorrow, but will be available Monday and I want to get him out there and see how he plays with some of our other younger guys. We’ve got to look at what this could potentially look like, because some of these guys are free agents and decisions will have to be made.”

The Mavericks also will learn how those players deal with scandals.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 26, Bucks beat Raptors 122-119 in OT

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TORONTO (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks felt extra good about getting a rare win against the Toronto Raptors.

Antetokounmpo had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped Toronto’s seven-game win streak with a 122-119 overtime victory Friday night.

“We haven’t beaten them in a while so the win feels a lot better, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re a great team, too.”

Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton each scored 21 points as the Bucks won the opener of an eight-game stretch against teams in playoff contention. Jason Terry scored 14 points, and John Henson and Thon Maker each had 12.

“It’s a big gut-check and a big win for us,” Middleton said. “This is the best team in the East and we proved that we could beat them on the road.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points for the Raptors, who had won five straight home games against the Bucks, and 15 of the past 17 meetings.

Toronto also eliminated Milwaukee in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. The teams will not meet again in the regular season.

Serge Ibaka had 18 points, and Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam each scored 17 for Toronto.

“We didn’t deserve to win,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They outworked us, the outplayed us, they outthought us. Whatever adjective you want to use, they did it to us tonight.”

Jonas Valanciunas‘ buzzer-beating dunk for Toronto sent the game to overtime. He finished with 10 points.

Toronto suffered its first home loss since Jan. 26 against Utah. The Raptors are an NBA-best 24-5 at home.

“It’s good to have a tough loss like this,” Lowry said. “It kind of re-focuses us. We can get beat on any given night and we’ve got to come out there and play hard every night.”

The Raptors trailed 110-108 with 3.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Middleton split a pair of free throws. Following a timeout, Toronto inbounded the ball to Valanciunas, who paused before driving for the tying dunk.

Toronto scored the first five points of the extra session, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Terry and Middleton capped an 8-0 Bucks run, giving Milwaukee a 118-115 lead with 1:58 left.

Valanciunas stopped the run with a dunk, but Antetokounmpo’s jumper with 13 seconds left put the Bucks up 120-117.

DeRozan cut it to one with a dunk but Terry answered with a pair of free throws in the final second. DeRozan’s long inbounds pass to C.J. Miles was knocked away at the buzzer to give the Bucks the win.

 

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

Associated Press
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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.