The Inbounds: Dwight Howard and the need for quiet time

38 Comments

Moderation in all things.

There’s room in our discussion for NBA players to have choices about their lives and careers, to have the opportunity to decide their own fate, to express their wishes to management and not simply shut up and play, and for us not to be left with what Dwight Howard has given us. We thought LeBron’s Decision was crushing and absurd, and that seems like nothing more than a rude declaration at this point. We thought the Melodrama was the furthest application of player power, engineering a trade to the team he wanted.

But this? This Dwightmare? It’s gone beyond anything that we thought would happen. It has crossed every boundary of reasonable expectation for a player’s behavior and at this point resembles some giant-sized child, smashing houses while it screams that it wanted its birthday cake with aqua-colored icing, not blue.

Consider the latest nonsense to come trickling out, as Yahoo Sports and CBSSports.com reported late Wednesday night that the Magic center met with GM Rob Hennigan and his assistant GM along with his agent Dan Fegan and his manager, and not only reiterated his trade demand for the 700th time, but “pointedly” questioned why the Magic hadn’t traded him yet. He pushed again for the Nets in the long-term, and the Lakers in the short-term.

Wait.

Hold up.

One second.

Trade demands are nothing new, that’s a common defense of Howard from the seven people left on the planet who don’t feel he’s being a complete brat. And that’s certainly accurate. And the new standard is to demand a trade where you want to go so you can get that full five-year (or six under the previous CBA)  deal and have the market you want. OK, fine, we can even live with that. It’s a bit too much cake to eat it, too, considering it’s a deliberate attempt to hold a team hostage in order to avoid the restrictions of the available market in free agency, but fine.

But now Howard’s asking about why the Magic haven’t made this or that deal?

“I’ve held you hostage for a year, put your franchise’s ownership through an emotional rollercoaster, tortured your fans, and made your organization seem like a complete joke, and now I’m going to tell you which deal you should take in exchange for the All-Star who you had the foresight to draft, develop, and build around. Wah.”

This is the worst kind of exercising of player power. It’s not just the audacity of Howard to essentially demand that the Magic take an absolutely wretched deal (seriously, have you seen the Nets’ deal particulars?), but it’s this key element: Who do you think leaked these talks to the media?

It’s not the Magic. All it does is serve to hurt their leverage in getting a deal for Howard, something they’ve had to fight against Howard’s nonsense to get for six months. It was Howard’s camp, trying to undermine the Magic’s efforts. If they lose leverage, a deal comes faster, and may land Howard where he wants. If it doesn’t, it still hurts the Magic’s leverage and could land him in Brooklyn at the trade deadline.

As if he hasn’t done enough to this franchise.

As if last season wasn’t ruined under a cloud of drama, as if this season hasn’t already been destroyed by the impending trade. Those players know Howard’s gone, they know they will play as professionals, and yet it won’t matter. Howard has sucked two years from this franchise, and now he’s going to question which deals they take?

Howard wants to know what is taking so long, why he hasn’t been dealt yet. And the answer is because since Howard has abandoned the so-called “loyalty” he has for the franchise, their primary responsibility is not to him. It’s to themselves. Rob Hennigan still has to manage the Magic after this trade. He still has to try and get the best deal for the Magic going forward. His job is not to make Dwight Howard happy. The Magic don’t owe Howard happiness. They owe him his money, and they  owe him the courtesy of keeping him informed. There has been nothing to inform him of, so they haven’t contacted him. They don’t owe him a trade, they don’t owe him a trade where he wants, they don’t owe him a trade where he wants, when he wants. The Magic were a franchise before Dwight Howard’s goofy smile went to Florida, they will be one after.

If Howard really wanted this deal completed as quickly as possible? He’d think back to Kindergarten and remember quiet time. He needs to disappear from public view. No interviews, no meetings, and most importantly, no leaked meetings or feelings. Keep your camp tight, don’t talk to anyone, shut off all conversations. This thing will sort itself out. He’s made his feelings crystal clear, the Magic know who they can and can’t deal with. This thing will happen in its own time. But trying to rush it along is only going to hurt Hennigan’s leverage, which means he has to take more time to recover it. Hennigan has to give teams the indication he’s under no real hurry or pressure to trade Howard, and he only will if the deal he wants will come. He’s not going to get that if teams know that Howard’s constantly bending them and pressuring them in certain directions.

Howard’s best move is to just stop. To be quiet, and wait. This isn’t about a sentiment about players not expressing their wishes. If a player is unhappy, he should be able to express to management that he is. Howard has done that. A hundred times. A player should be able to request/demand a trade. Howard has done that. A hundred times. The Magic don’t want him around anymore anymore than he wants to be in Orlando. This is a stressful and unpleasant situation, and the Magic aren’t the ones dragging it out. Were they able to solicit offers across the market for Howard, if Howard had publicly expressed he’ll play anywhere but Orlando but privately only in a certain number of cities, Hennigan would be able to ratchet up the offers and get a better deal.

Howard is, in fact, working against himself. He’s hurting his own chances of being traded, and banking on Hennigan rolling over. As much as management and ownership in days gone by had little confidence in the intelligence or savvy of the players, now it seems the players think management will just do what they want, on their timeline, when they snap their fingers. That’s now how it works. Howard’s holding a franchise hostage, then asking why the franchise he’s holding hostage won’t let him leave.

You’re holding them hostage, man! Put the threat away and everyone can get out of this bank and go home!

But no. Not in this new era of player power gone to the extremes. For years, players have been exploited by management and ownership, taken advantage of, robbed of their ability to express their desires and play out their careers the way they want. Now we’re seeing the ugly other side of it, as a player thinks he’s standing up for himself when he’s really just acting the child.

It’s time for quiet time, Dwight. Your complaints have been duly noted. You have exerted your power and influence over the situation. Everyone respects how important you are. Now go away and let the big boys get the business of ending this disaster you’ve created done.

Report: Clippers haven’t received any tempting offers for DeAndre Jordan

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A couple months ago, the Clippers had lost nine straight to fall out of the playoff picture. Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic were injured. Extension talks with DeAndre Jordan stalled.

So, teams were inquiring about trading for Jordan.

Apparently, none have made serious inroads.

Marc Stein of The York Times:

The league is oversaturated with centers. Almost everyone who used to be a power forward/center is now exclusively a center, and many former power forwards are now centers. Heck, some players who would have previously been viewed as small forwards now play center regularly.

Jordan is a good player, but not one teams are eager to break the bank for. Not in this era.

I also suspect the Clippers’ asking price has risen as they have turned around their season. They’re 23-22 and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s no longer quite as logical to get whatever possible for Jordan before he becomes a free agent. There’s value in keeping him for the rest of the season, winning as much as possible then figuring out Jordan’s player option/potential free agency next summer. Even just a playoff appearance could be satisfying in this post-Chris Paul era, and Jordan is essential to that pursuit.

Report: Milwaukee fires Jason Kidd as coach

Getty Images
6 Comments

On paper, the Bucks look dangerous — they have a top-10 (maybe top-five) player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, good role players, a lot of length and athleticism, and they have notched some quality wins.

In reality, they are 23-22 with a negative point differential, and they are the eighth seed in the East playoff race just a game out of missing the postseason entirely. The Bucks have the 25th ranked defense in the NBA and that has not taken steps forward this season as hoped. They have a gambling/pressure defensive style that can be beaten with good ball movement (even though they backed off that a little of late this team is still bottom 10 defensively in its last 10 games), and on offense they played more like a 1990s team than a 2018 team.

That has cost coach Jason Kidd his job, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

A lot of people around the league wondered if this was coming after the season, this was sooner than expected. The question was always how much leverage the future Hall of Fame player had with ownership, and the answer is not enough. Especially when he would make ridiculous coaching decisions (like fouling late in a game when up four because he feared a four-point play).

This is the right move for Milwaukee, but now there’s a lot of pressure on the next hire.

The Bucks brought in Jon Horst as GM this summer — a compromise candidate because the feuding factions of ownership could not agree on the same guy so they went with a choice they could both stomach down the list — and now he gets the chance to put a real stamp on the future of the organization.

With Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker once he gets healthy, the Bucks should be discussed with Philadelphia and Minnesota as the up-and-coming teams in the NBA. However, while you see the promise with the other teams, the Bucks have seemed stalled — two steps up, one step back. This season was another step back, or at least a step sideways. The team wasn’t improving.

The coaching shakeup could help change the dynamic around the team, although the fruits of it likely don’t really come until next season.

Kawhi Leonard’s uncle denies rift with Spurs

AP Photo/Eric Gay
2 Comments

Kawhi Leonard is reportedly disconnected from the Spurs amid his injury problems.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford already denied that in the initial report. Now, someone is adding a denial from the player’s side.

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, says there is no tension between the two parties.

“There is nothing true to that story,” Robertson told the Express-News hours after the story published. “Kawhi’s camp and the Spurs are how they’ve always been – doing the right thing for the team and the right thing for Kawhi.”

This is all so strange. ESPN’s report was vague about the source of the disconnect, and the Leonard-San Antonio relationship previously seemed strong.

If there’s a problem between Leonard and the Spurs, at least it doesn’t rise to the level where he’s airing his grievances publicly on the record. But both Leonard and the team are famously private, so that means only so much. I doubt either side would publicly admit to an issue if one did exist.

Spencer Dinwiddie, after facing threat of being forgotten by NBA, flourishing with Nets

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DETROIT – Spencer Dinwiddie looked like he might be finished in the NBA.

Major ACL injury at Colorado? He declared for the 2014 draft while still recovering.

Slipping to the second round? He drew confidence in being the Pistons’ first pick that year and the initial selection of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit.

Barely playing with the Pistons in two seasons? He engineered a trade to the Bulls, who needed a backup point guard and had roster room then played well for Chicago’s summer-league team.

But the Bulls traded for Michael Carter-Williams just before the season and waived Dinwiddie, who signed in the D-League. For the first time in years, the player who believed since he was 4 years old he’d make the NBA was neither in the league nor on track to reach it.

Then, the Nets called.

They weren’t offering much – $100,000 guaranteed in exchange for Dinwiddie signing a three-year minimum contract in December 2017. If he lasted a month, the rest of his salary that season ($726,672) would become guaranteed. But the remaining two seasons would remain up to Brooklyn. If Dinwiddie flopped, he’d get waived with a small payout. If he exceeded expectations, he’d be stuck on a cheap contract for years.

“A lot of people don’t make it out of the D-League,” Dinwiddie said. “Or, if I don’t sign it, then what if nobody picks me up? Am I still down there? Am I overseas right now?

“It’s very easy to be forgotten about in this league. There’s a lot of good players all over the world that, whatever reason, didn’t hit off right off the bat, and their careers paid the price for it.

“I was told that there was no other opportunity. There was no other option. So, obviously I wanted to be in the NBA. So, I signed.”

Much to Brooklyn’s benefit. And maybe Dinwiddie’s.

Dinwiddie played relatively well in a narrow role last season, doing enough to show he belonged in the NBA. This year, he’s making his case as an NBA starter.

After injuries to Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, Dinwiddie became the Nets’ starting point guard. Tasked with greater responsibility, Dinwiddie is playing his best basketball. He averages 13.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, but those marks don’t quite show how he has steadied an erratic team.

Dinwiddie ranks No. 18 overall in real plus-minus – behind only potential All-Stars, Robert Covington, and Tyus Jones and ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. That isn’t to say Dinwiddie is as good as those stars. But that his production holds its own in such elite company is also revelatory.

Especially considering Dinwiddie’s contract.

He ranks third in real plus-minus among players on minimum salaries, behind only Nikola Jokic and Tyus Jones:

image

This makes Dinwiddie an intriguing trade candidate in advance of next month’s deadline.

How helpful would it be to have a credible starting-caliber point guard making just the minimum this year and next? That’d free so much money – below the salary cap and/or luxury-tax line – to spend on other positions.

The Nets aren’t positioned to take advantage. They’re still below the cap and, still recovering from years of lost draft picks, not ready to build a competitive roster. They also might want to tank next season, as they’ll finally keep their own first-rounder in 2019. Plus, Russell is acclimating back into the rotation, and Lin should return next season.

If Dinwiddie no longer fits in Brooklyn, in a sudden reversal, numerous teams should covet him. He’s not sweating whether he gets moved, but whatever happens, it won’t change how he views the Nets.

“I’m forever indebted to Brooklyn for giving me this opportunity,” Dinwiddie said.

Of course, the Nets could keep him. They’re trying to build a culture, and continuity matters for that. They’d also be positioned to extend his contract next December, two years from when he initially signed (as would a team that trades for him).

Dinwiddie’s max extension would follow the same format as Josh Richardson‘s with the Heat and Norman Powell‘s with the Raptors – which were each worth $42 million over four years – though a rising salary cap will lift Dinwiddie’s max slightly. Perhaps, Dinwiddie could get more in unrestricted free agency in 2019. But for someone set to earn around the minimum his first four seasons, an extension would provide nice security.

Dinwiddie isn’t holding his breath for a payday in December, though.

“You know how long a year is?” Dinwiddie said. “A year in the NBA is an eternity. Anything can happen.”

Just look at Dinwiddie’s last year.

“When we first got him, he was really not a confident player,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Very timid to make plays.”

Now, he’s hitting gamewinners, including one at Detroit on Sunday:

Did that one mean more to him?

“I’ve kind of tip-toed around it. Let’s just be real here,” Dinwiddie said. “I start my career off here. For lack of a better word, I was essentially cut. So how would y’all feel?”

This wasn’t the caretaking point guard the Pistons and Bulls gave up on. Dinwiddie was holding court in the visiting locker room, assured he belonged.

The 6-foot-6 point guard plays with an even keel, steadily using his size advantage offensively and defensively. He’s not flashy, and this doesn’t appear fluky. A sudden jump in 3-point shooting is the easiest way a prolonged hot stretch can be mistaken for a meaningful breakthrough, but Dinwiddie is shooting just 34% from beyond the arc – below his mark last year (38%) and below league average. A high 3-point attempt rate makes his outside shooting helpful, and that’s something he can more easily control than whether the ball goes in.

A more aggressive shot hunter, Dinwiddie can develop as a passer next. Among 284 players who qualify for the assist-per-game lead, Dinwiddie ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio, behind only Tomas Satoransky and Shelvin Mack. The leaderboard, with assists and turnovers per game noted:

image

While that’s helpful in some ways, especially on the young and up-tempo Nets, Dinwiddie doesn’t often enough create quality looks through his passing. He takes what the defense gives him and nothing more.

“He’s not a high-risk guy,” Atkinson said. “It’s just not his personality.”

It’s the same mindset that contributed to Dinwiddie accepting Brooklyn’s team-friendly offer last season.

The Nets couldn’t be happier with the results. Dinwiddie is aware he lost a potential opportunity to prove himself then hit free agency sooner, but he chalks up any thoughts of regret to looking through the lens of 20-20 hindsight.

And no matter what happens through the rest of his minimum contract, he’ll always have Sunday, when he got revenge against the Pistons.

“No hard feelings,” Dinwiddie said before breaking into a slight grin, “especially after a win.”