Dwight Howard says Lakers told him he will not be traded

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HOUSTON — Dwight Howard was among the more popular players in terms of media attention on Friday, and it wasn’t because of his sparkling smile or fun-loving personality.

All of the players participating in the events of All-Star weekend had group availability sessions, and between the constant struggles of the Lakers this season and Howard’s impending free agency, he was a prime choice to be targeted in order to get his thoughts on both of those topics.

While Dwight chose to continue to avoid getting into the specifics of whether or not he’ll re-sign with the Lakers, he did make it clear that he’s not worried about being dealt by the team before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

“They told me they weren’t going to trade me,” Howard said. “I’d be surprised. They told me they wouldn’t trade me. That’s what [Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak] said.”

Now that Howard has assurances from the team that they’re committed to building a winner around him, it would only have been polite to reciprocate by saying he’d stay in Los Angeles beyond this season. He’s not ready to do that, however, and tried to explain his reasoning for keeping his options open.

“The only thing that matters is the present,” Howard said. “And right now there’s no need for me to talk about what happens at the end of the season. There’s no need to go back and forth about it, I just feel like at the end of the year, I should have my opportunity to make my decision.

“I shouldn’t be pressured criticized for waiting until the end of the year,” Howard continued. “I don’t think its fair for my teammates. I don’t think it’s fair for the fans or anybody to be worried about what’s going to happen at the end of the year. Our job is to come out and play hard every night, and we have to live in the moment. Nobody can control what happens at the end of the year.”

When asked if it’s fair to be criticized for keeping quiet about whether a return to the Lakers is likely, Howard simply said he didn’t want to go through the drama that followed him to the very end of his final season in Orlando.

“I had to deal with it all last year, so I’m not going to do it again,” he said.

Howard admitted the first half of the season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Lakers, but said the team is doing a good job of tuning out the distractions as they continue to try to make things work from a basketball standpoint.

“I didn’t expect for it to go as sour as it’s going,” Howard said of his time thus far in Los Angeles. “There’s always room for improvement. We’ve had to battle a lot of things this year — guys getting injured, us not winning, and just all the drama that’s outside of the locker room.

“We’ve had to deal with a lot. But I think for the most part, as a team, we’ve done a good job of staying strong and staying together. It’ll get better.”

And if it doesn’t, Howard has the option to move on. When asked what would ultimately make him choose between the Lakers and another team this offseason, he summed it up rather succinctly.

“I’m going to do what makes me happy,” Howard said. “That’s it.”

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.