Andrew Bynum gets no slack from his former high school coach

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Andrew Bynum is not exactly the most popular sports figure in Philadelphia right now. To put it kindly.

The man the Sixers traded Andre Iguodala for, the guy they planned to rebuild the roster around, has not played a game for them all season. He was injured, recovery times got pushed, back, and next he had an injury setback while out bowling. Finally he said he didn’t want to play through pain — fans and teammates (who are playing through pain) don’t want to hear that. Bynum’s low pain tolerance and seeming lack passion for the game have been talked about behind his back by former teammates for years.

Now Bynum is going to have surgeries on both knees before becoming a free agent this summer. Philly fans are pretty much done with him.

So, does anyone have his back? You know things are rough for him when Bynum’s former high school athletic director and coach didn’t have his back in an interview with the Star-Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro.

“Everyone here at school says the same thing: What’s wrong with him? Why does he act like that?” says St. Joe’s athletic director Jerry Smith. “He went from someone we’re proud of to someone whose name we don’t even mention anymore.”

“Yeah, I never respond to that kind of request (to defend Bynum), because Andrew has chosen not to stay in touch for whatever reason, so I just don’t get involved with it,” says Mark Taylor, who now coaches the St. Benedict’s Prep powerhouse. “I don’t dislike him, and he’ll continue to do well if he can stay healthy, but I’m sure he’s got people who will guide him in times like this.”

“Like most big guys with big expectations, he seemed uncomfortable with them,” says Wendell Alexis, the former Syracuse star who was Taylor’s assistant in 2004-05. “And subsequently, he seemed leery of people around him — coaches, or agents, or could be anybody. He had a very serious nature for a 17-year-old, actually, whereas most people that age — with that talent — would think the world was their oyster.”

That kind of aloof posture is how many former teammates speak of Bynum.

The question now becomes what kind of deal is Bynum going to be offered? D’Alessandro suggests it’s in the one-year, $8 million range. I think Bynum is the first big test of the new CBA and tax rules — while that one-year deal is what he should get, I think some team will gamble more because of the potential return. He is an All-Star and game changer at both ends when healthy, teams in the past have taken risks and overpaid bigs (Kris Humphires got $12 million a year for two years last summer). I expect an offer more like two or three years in the $12 million to $15 million range, with teams using an exemption that lets them waive him if he can’t play due to his knees.

But we’ll see. If I’m Philadelphia I’m more likely to bid low and just move on, despite the huge loss. Because Bynum isn’t going to help you sell a lot of tickets again. Except to boo him.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.