Report: Lakers, Celtics discussed Howard for Rondo swap. Lakers deny it.

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UPDATE February 16: 2:31 am: It didn’t take long for this rumor to be shot down by one of the principles involved, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

The buzz started Friday night that the Lakers and Celtics had discussed a Dwight Howard for Rajon Rondo (there would need to be other players). And before you say “this is what you say before you make a trade” know that Kupchak is about as straight a shooter as there is. He spoke with Chris Broussard of ESPN.

 Kupchak said “I haven’t talked to Danny Ainge in weeks. I made the statement a week or 2 ago that we’re not going to trade Dwight Howard and that hasn’t changed.” Kupchak said at no pt this season has a D12-for-Rondo trade been discussed.

As discussed below, this trade really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ken Berger is too good a reporter not to have gotten this from a reliable source but the Lakers have been clear on their intention to keep then re-sign Howard this summer. It’s hard to see them giving up on that to bring in Rajon, who has ruffled feathers with veterans in Boston and is undergoing an ACL surgery.  It didn’t pass the smell test, apparently for a good reason.

However, if the Celtics were negotiating with the Clippers and wanted to create some leverage, this is the kind of thing they would leak. Hypothetically.

February 15, 10:01 pm: On Friday, Dwight Howard said point blank that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told him he would not be traded at the deadline.

But this is the time of year when teams discuss all sorts of trade ideas. Some wild and seemingly unrealistic.

Like this note from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com — the Lakers have had preliminary discussions about trading Howard to their hated rival the Boston Celtics.

However, CBSSports.com has learned that the Lakers have engaged in preliminary trade discussions with an unlikely trade partner regarding Howard: their fierce rival, the Boston Celtics. The centerpieces of the possible deal, which hasn’t gained any traction, would be Howard and Rajon Rondo…

Other significant pieces would have to be involved, since Rondo’s $11 million salary is substantially less than Howard’s $19.5 million.

Some subsequent rumors after this reports said the idea was floated before Rondo got injured but died when his ACL tore.

Honestly, this doesn’t make a ton of sense — and Berger even admits that the Celtics have gotten the impression the Lakers are not trading Howard.

For the Lakers, you’d be throwing this season away trading for Rondo, who is out for the year and is about to undergo ACL surgery. Not that the Lakers current players haven’t seemingly thrown this season away all by themselves, but it’s different if management would do it. Plus, for the Lakers, they are trading away the guy they saw as the face of the franchise post Kobe. Is the temperamental Rondo really a better fit next to Kobe Bryant now? Is Rondo the guy you can build around long term?

It makes more sense for Boston — if they can get Howard to re-sign this summer. Which is no given, he has taken to saying he doesn’t want to talk about any of that until after the season. The Celtics would need assurances from Howard he would stay, then they still would have to give up someone like Brandon Bass and a younger player or pick just to make the numbers work.

I’ll add this, when the Lakers have made big trades (say getting Howard or Pau Gasol before that) they have come quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. This is not that.

Never say never, stranger things have happened in the NBA. But this is pretty much standing right next to never with it’s arm around it.

Smart money still says Howard is a Laker this season and next. Even if that frustrates some Lakers fans.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.