Will Dwight Howard stay with Lakers after season? Yes. Probably.

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We didn’t need John Cusack driving across country with Daphne Zuniga to teach us there are no sure things in life. Unexpected twists turn what seem predestined into something all together different every day.

So sure, it is possible that come next summer when Dwight Howard becomes a free agent he will choose not to re-sign with the Lakers. Maybe the Kobe Bryant and Howard relationship blows up mid-season. Maybe Steve Nash goes Gilbert Arenas in Howard’s shoe. Maybe a lot of things. But none of them are likely.

You should bet that Dwight Howard will sign a max free agent contract with the Lakers next summer (it is financially in his interest to become a free agent then re-sign rather than extend, thank you new CBA). He stays in L.A.

Nobody around him is saying it’s a certainty, because you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, but all the whispers out of the usually talkative Howard camp are that he wants to remain a Laker. He has hinted in tweets he isn’t going anywhere.

The Lakers have a few things on their side in keeping Dwight. One is guaranteed money — they have Howard’s Bird rights and can offer larger raises and a fifth guaranteed year on his contract. No other team could do that. And while the money isn’t enough to keep him if he wanted out, an extra locked in year is a nice bit of stability.

Second, the Lakers in Los Angeles can offer the kind of exposure, the kind of marketing opportunities other markets (outside New York) simply cannot. Howard likes the spotlight, he wants to be loved by fans, and he wants to do television and movies. While he’d be smart to keep his head down for a little bit and just play basketball after how his move out of Orlando hurt his PR, the Lakers can offer him a stage few other teams can.

The Lakers can also offer a chance at a ring. For the next two seasons at least, the Lakers will be considered serious title contenders. There is still the mountain to climb that is Miami, and getting by the Thunder will be far from easy, but the Lakers are talking titles right now. Then in two summers the Lakers have the opportunity to restructure the roster again around Howard (and Steve Nash for one more season) with a lot of cap space. Howard is not going to land in a spot where he is more likely to win titles.

Finally, there is the image issue. Howard damaged his brand with his terrible handling of how he left the Orlando Magic. When people are saying you handled your exit worse than LeBron James, you did it very wrong. But how you fix that image is to win games on the court and be likeable off it (Howard doesn’t have the personality to go with the Kobe Bryant “go ahead and hate me, I don’t care” attitude). To start a free agent bidding process this summer is to stir up all the muck that is just starting to settle. The smart move is to stay in Los Angeles and win rings. Ask Kobe and LeBron what that can do for your image.

With all that stacked up, it’s difficult to see Howard bolting Los Angeles this summer to play for the Mavericks or another side with cap space.

Never say never. But from the word out of his camp to just plain logic, it’s hard not to see him staying with the Lakers.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.

Report: Raptors, Magic can’t trade with each other for a year

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The Magic will send the Raptors a 2018 second-round pick for hiring Jeff Weltman, who was Toronto’s general manager.

But that’s not the only consequence of hire.

Yahoo Sports:

The move invoked the NBA provision that Toronto and Orlando are not permitted to trade players with each other until the earlier of May 24, 2018, or the conclusion of the 2017-18 season for either organization, league sources told The Vertical’s Shams Charania.

The NBA made a similar ruling when the Clippers sent the Celtics a first-rounder to hire Doc Rivers, and I don’t like it now, either. It’s needlessly restrictive, preventing talent from flowing to the optimal locations.

At least Orlando isn’t a logical destination for the Raptor most likely to be dealt: Jonas Valanciunas. The Magic already have enough centers with Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo – a lesson that influenced their last trade with Toronto, dealing Serge Ibaka.

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.