Once again Lakers GM Kupchak defends Dwight Howard

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Thursday night in the Lakers win Dwight Howard didn’t put up monster numbers against Nikola Pekovic (who left early injured) and the Minnesota Timberwolves — 11 points, 13 rebounds — but you could see he was moving much better, particularly on the defensive end of the court. He’s healthier, his back is bothering him less, and it shows.

He is playing more and more like the guy the Lakers (and their fans) thought they were getting.

Once again in an interview, this time with Sam Amick of USA Today, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has Howard’s back. He says Howard played through a lot of pain in Los Angeles this year.

“I think he should get more credit for the reality of what has taken place,” Kupchak said. “Here’s a guy who didn’t have to come back. Forget whatever he needs (because of) this summer as a free agent, because doctors are going to say that after a year you’re going to be fine. But he came back because after a year he wanted to play and he wanted to win. And then he’s also had the torn labrum (in his right shoulder). I just thought he was getting unfairly criticized….

“I was surprised that he went through training camp and didn’t miss a practice,” Kupchak said. “I thought that maybe he would do some things on a side basket, and then he’d get in condition and we would maybe see him in December or January. I was surprised. I’m not sure he came back too early, but I think people expected too much, too soon.”

I think it was pretty clear he came back too soon. But part of it also was moments of a lack of effort, a clear frustration that he wasn’t getting his numbers, his touches, and he didn’t bring the same fire to the game.

Now, like all the Lakers, they seem to be starting to figure out an identity and how the pieces all fit together. They are not a great team by any means yet, but they are winning games they lost earlier in the season because they are executing better, playing their roles. They are starting to do the little things that are making them win games rather than blow leads and lose them.

As for Howard, he’ll get his max money this summer (most likely with the Lakers). And if he comes back and plays like the old, Orlando Howard all this will be forgotten by fans as he becomes the face of the franchise. His chance to define his legacy is still ahead of him, he just has to be serious enough to grab it and take advantage of it.

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.

Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not travel with team for 25 days due to legal issue

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The Lakers’Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his new team’s first two games this season due to a suspension for a DUI case in Michigan.

But that was not all. Caldwell-Pope’s came with probation, and to get out of it early the Lakers’ forward has to go through an intensive rehab program — one that does not allow him to leave California with the team for 25 days. He did not play against the Cavaliers and that is just the first of multiple games he will miss, a story broken by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Caldwell-Pope was originally cited for operating a vehicle while intoxicated but pleaded guilty in May to the lesser charge of allowing someone to operate his vehicle while under the influence, which carried a 12-month probation.

On Thursday, Caldwell-Pope had to return to California to begin an intensive program over the next 25 days that will result in some travel restrictions and could cause him to miss additional games but will end his probation early.

The Lakers are in a home heavy part of their schedule, and by my calculations KCP would only miss one or two games (for sure against Houston Dec. 20, then maybe against Golden State Dec. 22, but that is in California). The Lakers next road game after that is Dec. 31 in Houston again.

Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Lakers last offseason, and he has gone on to become one of the few reliable three-point shooters on the team, hitting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, taking 6.1 shots from there a game. He’s been solid on defense and a player the Lakers’ need, although his overall efficiency is closer to average.

If the Lakers are successful with their big game hunting during free agency next summer, Caldwell-Pope will not return to the team. In a tight free agent market, he may once again not see offers near what he sees himself worth next summer. That said, his play in Los Angeles has been good. And now he will not have this legal issue hanging over his head during free agency.

LeBron James is good with televising All-Star team selections

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From the moment the NBA announced changes to the All-Star Game team selection format for this season, most NBA fans — as well as most media members I know — have wanted a live team selection show.

As a reminder, this year (as in past years) fans will vote for their favorite All-Stars, and those votes will be combined with media and player votes to name the five starters from each conference. Then the coaches will vote to select the teams.

What’s different is the top vote-getters from each conference — let’s be honest, it will be LeBron James in the East and Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the West — will be named captains and they will then pick their teams from the pool of other selected players. No East vs. West. If LeBron gets to choose first and he picks James Harden, then Harden is on that team. Curry can go second and select Giannis Antetokounmpo or whoever he wants from the starters pool, then the captains move into the reserves pool. Old-school playground style team picking.

Who wouldn’t tune it to watch that selection show?

The NBA officially has not decided yet if the selection process will be broadcast, but it probably won’t be. The reason is some player is not going to like being picked last (or next to last) and his agent will like it less. It gets political (would Curry have to choose Durant or Draymond Green first to keep his teammates happy?).

LeBron basically said Saturday why not televise it? From Nick Friedell of ESPN, when LeBron was asked if it would bother him to go against teammates in the All-Star Game:

“I hope not,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “We’re all grown men. It doesn’t stop their paycheck from coming. It won’t stop you from playing time once the season starts.”

And is he good with the pick order being made public or done live.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if I’m rewarded to be a part of the All-Star Game again, that’s cool for me. It doesn’t matter. All that other stuff is extracurricular.”

That’s the right attitude, and whoever got picked last would say that publicly. But privately… who knows? Depends on the guy.

That selection show would be must-watch television. The NBA needs to broadcast this. But it won’t. Politics will win out.