Dwight Howard returns to Orlando, which will be fine without him

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Tuesday night will be cathartic for some Magic fans — Dwight Howard returns to Orlando and they will get to lustily boo the guy who left them. The guy they feel screwed them and the franchise over. Magic fans can sing “Forget You” at the top of their lungs. They can boo the Lakers as well because they keep ending up with Orlando big men.

Then they can move on. Because management has and there are reasons for optimism in Orlando.

Make no mistake, the Magic are a bad team this year. But out of that trade they got some nice young pieces that can help them develop, players to go with the high draft picks they are going to get the next few years. There is real cause for hope.

Orlando’s plan was never to get equal value back in a deal for Howard because  you never get equal value moving a superstar. It’s not possible. Try and you end up with Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries on oversized deals.

Orlando GM Rob Hennigan made the smarter call — get good again by first getting young and bad. Get draft picks, be smart with them and build that way. Like Hennigan learned to do with Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. And so far the Magic have succeeded at the bad part with the second worst record in the NBA. They will be drafting top 5 whatever happens in the lottery.

Plus they got some young players who could be part of that future in Nikola Vucevic (12.3 points on 52.5 percent shooting plus 11.4 rebounds a game with a team best PER of 17.3) and Maurice Harkless (an athletic wing with potential giving them 22 minutes and 6.3 points a game).

Hennigan has shown the ability to identify talent, making a nifty deadline deal to get Tobias Harris (who has averaged 15 points a game since arriving) as part of the J.J. Redick deal. Young coach Jacque Vaughn has shown an ability to get his charges to play hard and smart for him.

Dwight Howard has got what he wants, too. It’s taken a while to adjust to it, but he wanted the bright lights and he’s got them. Now that the Lakers are winning and are a playoff team he’ll get more comfortable. He’ll be emotional Tuesday night because he does care about Orlando the city, the fans there, he just butchered his exit. He gets that now, even though he keeps talking and digging his hole deeper.

After Tuesday he can maybe move on. Magic fans should. And they should embrace this team because believe it or not they got a win out of this whole thing. It’s just going to take a couple of years to see it.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.