Unimpressive Dwight Howard not helping his image

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Dwight Howard will be more than happy to tell you how he came back early from back surgery to help the Lakers. Doctors told him not to play until January but he pushed through pain so he could be out there from opening day for the Lakers.

He’s clearly not yet 100 percent physically. He’s not the explosive Howard on the boards and on defense that we remember from Orlando. His numbers are not bad — 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game — but he has gone from guy who was talked about as an MVP candidate a few years ago to a good player.

But it’s more than that, he looks lethargic at times.

He looks lost in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, like he’s unsure where to be in the sets. He looks like a guy thinking his way through the game, not just playing and reacting.

And his energy is down — watch how the Lakers energy picks up when Howard sits and Jordan Hill enters. Hill tries to make up for his lack of polished skills with effort.

All of this comes back to Howard, who is starting to take heat in Los Angeles for his lethargic play. Look at what Kevin Ding wrote in the Orange County Register (you really need to read the entire thing, it’s brilliant).

“Dwight Howard is basically Kosta Koufos” was the message I got from one NBA insider midway through the Lakers’ loss Wednesday night in Denver, referring to the Nuggets’ largely anonymous center….

This is what Howard is allowing to happen: As more substandard games go by without noticeable rust dropping off, the image repair that was supposed to happen this season is twisting into reputation tarnishing.

And that last bit is the key.

Howard thrashed his national reputation in the ugly way he pushed his way out of Orlando. But this is America, you can thrash your reputation pretty good but if you come back hard and win people tend to forget the past and move on. Just ask Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

But Howard’s play of late is only adding to his reputation, he looks like a guy who can coast and is happy to let Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash take the burden of leadership.

You should hear Los Angeles sports talk radio (which is often all Lakers and the Clippers with their 15-game win streak are almost ignored) where Howard’s play is getting ripped. He is not what people expected.

Howard has been good. But the Lakers didn’t trade for him to be good, they traded for him to be a force of nature. To fight to get things done. Right now he’s not doing that.

People are noticing.

And that is not helping Howard turn around his reputation after Orlando.

Report: Derrick Rose away from Cavaliers, evaluating his future in basketball

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When Derrick Rose went AWOL from the Knicks last season for what he called a family issue, rumors swirled that he was contemplating retirement. Rose denied it, but those whispers are reemerging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Rose has been out with what seemed like a relative minor, for him at least, ankle injury. The 29-year-old could stick in the league for a while thanks to his reputation and ability to attack the rim to create shots for himself. But the guard is a shell of peak form after years of more serious injuries. This isn’t the career anyone expected for him when he was named the youngest MVP ever in 2011.

Before the season, Rose was talking about getting a raise on his next contract. He seemed happy to join a contender and have LeBron James in his corner.

But something is amiss. Hopefully, Rose can find contentment – whether that’s continuing his NBA career or walking away.

Ryan McDonough: Suns want to sign two-way Mike James to standard contract

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Brandon Knight got hurt. Eric Bledsoe got traded.

The Suns made Mike James – a 27-year-old rookie on a two-way contract – their starting point guard.

Though he eventually ceded the role to Tyler Ulis, James – the only player on a two-way contract to start an NBA game – is still a rotation regular. He’s an aggressive defender and possesses plenty of offensive moves.

The problem: Unless demoted to Phoenix’s minor-league affiliate before then, he’ll max out the 45 allowable NBA days for a two-way player Dec. 6.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, via Scott Bordow of azcentral:

We’d still like to get him on the 15-man roster and we’re looking at different ways to do that.

The Suns can unilaterally convert James’ two-contract into a standard one-year minimum deal. Both sides could also negotiate a longer contract.

The bigger issue is clearing a roster spot.

Phoenix has the maximum 15 players with standard contracts with no obvious cuts. Derrick Jones Jr. doesn’t play much, but the 20-year-old’s athleticism creates intriguing upside. Second-rounder Davon Reed is hurt, though teams rarely cut bait so quickly.

So, a trade is possible. Greg Monroe never seemed long for Phoenix. Or anyone else could be moved.

If it comes to it, the Suns could send James to the minors to bide time. But they want to play competitive basketball, and he helps. So, expect something else to give within the next couple weeks.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.