Did Orlando blow Dwight Howard trade? Too early to tell.

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With the Lakers, we’re going to know very quickly how this blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade worked — they are in win-now mode and with Dwight Howard it is possible for them.

With the Sixers, we’ll know in a few years — Andrew Bynum gives them a true center (on several levels) for their young core, a group that could grow together into something special.

With the Magic it is going to take even longer to judge this trade properly — it is far too early to judge this trade for them. We can’t until we see who they draft.

A lot of people are ripping the Magic today, but to me that is short sighted. If your reaction is “they would have been better with Brook Lopez and the Nets deal” I would counter that nobody is better with Brook Lopez on a max deal. The Nets can absorb that (and the Kris Humphries deal, another guy rumored for Orlando) in a way the Magic cannot. The Nets picks would be no better than the ones they’re getting. Yes, there also were scenarios where Orlando could get Andrew Bynum in three team deals, but those were never that solid and there are questions about whether Orlando kept Bynum past this season when he became a free agent (and Dallas would be out there with cap space).

What the Magic wanted to do in this deal was get young players, a lot of picks, future cap space and rebuild from the ground up. That’s not sexy and easy to sell, but it’s the smart thing to do. Brook Lopez you can sell a little but he kills a rebuilding effort — he’s a huge contract for a nice center. And they would have had to take on Kris Humphries as well, another bloated contract. This deal gets them to their goal of picks and a lot of future cap space.

If you want to argue they could have done better at the trade deadline last year rather than hold on to Howard… maybe. Houston had a good package at the deadline and this summer (more cap space and maybe better picks), but not one dramatically better.  In the case of the Nets offer Orlando would have had flexibility with Lopez then (the Houston deal at the deadline might have worked well). But at the time they wanted to try and win Howard over still.

In retrospect that was their mistake — not pulling the trigger back then.

To judge how the deal they did do works out for Orlando, we are going to have to see what they do with the draft picks and how they pan out.

And I don’t mean the picks they get from the other teams in this trade — those will be second half of the draft picks, not that thrilling.

No, the real key is what they do with their own draft picks. Because the Magic just became a bad team on the court. Their own picks are going to be high lottery ones for the next few years — they have Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington (who will be bought out after this season) and not much else (and you can get those guys from them if you offer more picks and young players).

A lot of teams around the NBA have talked about building in the Oklahoma City model, but Rob Hennigan (a former Thunder assistant GM) has them better placed to do it than anyone. Now, the Thunder had and nailed a top four pick for three consecutive years — we’re not sure the picks will be that high for Orlando. We don’t know if they will draft another Kevin Durant (or Dwight Howard), a true franchise anchor.

They might. They might not. But we can’t judge this trade for nearly five years for Orlando to see what they do with those picks. They have wiped the slate clean to rebuild. It sucks to be a Magic fan today. You just traded away a true franchise center. You can see a rocky road the next few years.

But we don’t know yet what is a few years down the road for this team. We have to wait and see. We can’t judge this trade from their perspective yet.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.