GM Kupchak uses “good on paper” to describe Lakers, too

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It is what everyone has been saying about the Los Angeles Lakers — with a starting five of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard — they are very good “on paper.” As in they still have to prove it. Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others have said it.

You can add Mitch Kupchak to the list.

The Lakers general manager — they guy who pulled off the Howard and Nash trades — used the “on paper” line as part of an interesting Q&A with Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.

On paper, we’ve made what we think are improvements. I think we’re going to be in the hunt. I don’t know if we’ll lead the pack or be second in the pack or be fourth in the pack or fifth, but I think that we’ll be in the hunt and we’re better than we were a year ago. Is it time to celebrate? Absolutely not. You’re going to have to wait a year and see how it all plays out.

He’s right, but he also doesn’t share the concerns of some that this group might not fit together well.

They’re going to be just fine. I mean, Dwight’s the future, and Kobe and Steve and Metta and Pau, they’re the present. There shouldn’t be any problem. Pau can play anywhere for anybody, Steve and Kobe, all they want to do is win. And Metta is completely comfortable being a complementary player. If he gets eight to 10 points a game and is a great defender and wins, he’s so happy. So I’ve got no problems thinking that these guys can work it out and play together. When the clock gets short, Kobe will end up with the ball in his hands and Steve, regardless of the offense we play, will control the pace. We’re not talking about introducing a new offense to a young, unproven team. It’s a veteran group, and they’ll figure out how to do it.

I think the veteran thing gets overlooked — these are guys with good basketball IQs who will give a little bit at this point to make it work. It’s more 2008 Celtics than 2011 Heat. It may take a little while — the March Lakers should be better than the November Lakers — but they will get there.

In the fantastic interview, Kupchak is up front that they think they should be able to keep Howard, and that while Nash’s age and chronic back issues are a concern they are not that big of one.

Chronologically, yeah, he’s one of the oldest players in the league. But we’re not concerned that he’s got two or three good years left in him. He’s figured out how to maintain his health with years of experience. He’s gotten cuts and bruises and sprains, and he’s always had the little back thing that has bothered him, but he’s figured out a way to have his maintenance get him through the season. And then I think most of all is the energy. He’ll feel rejuvenated. The last year or two it probably got tough for him to get through the season. Just the load he had to carry, and maybe feeling like they didn’t have a chance to contend — although they could probably make the playoffs, which is motivation for a lot of people. But having a chance to win a championship, mentally he’ll be fresh and that will make a difference.

It’s going to be a zoo around the team this year, even for the always zooish Lakers. And Kupchak did not shy away from talking about the 2004 Lakers with Kobe, Shaq, Payton and Malone that fell short in the finals (without the injured Malone). For the Lakers, that is a failure. For this new group of Lakers, anything but a title in the next two years will be seen as falling short of expectations. But that’s just how it is with the Lakers.

It’s going to be a zoo. But unlike a real zoo this one is going to be interesting to watch.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.