Dwight Howard says this season was ‘like a nightmare’ after getting ejected in Lakers season-ending loss to Spurs

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LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard didn’t stick around for the end of the Lakers Game 4 loss to the Spurs on Sunday, and maybe it was just because he couldn’t wait another moment for the season to finally be behind him.

Howard picked up his second technical foul of the game with 9:51 remaining in the third quarter, and was ejected with the Spurs already leading by 21 points at the time.

It was an ignominious end to a season full of seemingly endless disappointment, and when Howard was asked to sum up his first year in Los Angeles afterward, his response was hard to dispute.

“It was like a nightmare,” Howard said. “It was like a bad dream, and we couldn’t wake up out of it. That’s what it felt like. It seemed like nothing could go right from the start — injuries and all that stuff. But we’ll get an opportunity to get some rest for guys who are injured or coming off of injuries, get a chance to rehab, and think about what we can all do to better ourselves.”

It would be easy to be disappointed in Howard for allowing himself to get frustrated to the point where he put himself in a position to where the referees could toss him. But Mike D’Antoni sympathized with his starting center, and said given the situation of both the game and the series, the frustration level was understandable.

“I hate it for him,” D’Antoni said. “He gets banged up so much in there. I’m sure he didn’t mean to [get ejected], but he takes a pounding. And after a while it gets on his nerves or whatever. But obviously we were in a deep hole anyway, so I just felt bad for him.”

When asked if he thought Howard needed to be smarter with his emotions, D’Antoni essentially said that it’s easier said than done.

“Understand it’s easy when you sit there like us and just watch, but when you’re playing you’ve got your line of adrenaline going,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a hard situation, and obviously it wouldn’t have happened if the series was a bit different.”

Howard didn’t want to talk about what specifically led to the ejection, but did admit he needs to work on controlling his temper in certain situations.

“It’s over with now,” Howard said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of trying to keep my cool. It’s very tough when you’re out there playing. It’s an emotional game. You don’t want to lose, and sometimes when things don’t go your way sometimes you react the wrong way. I’ve just got to keep my cool.”

“I’m sure he’s disappointed in himself,” D’Antoni said. “Like I said, I felt sorry for him. Because he — if you watch the tape he just gets beat, and beat hard. It’s a learning experience, and he’ll bounce back from this. His play from the last couple of months after the All-Star break, he was a 20 and 16 guy every night. We forget sometimes how good defensively, and how many stats he can put up easily.”

The Howard the Lakers saw in the second half of the season is the one they signed up for, and the one they’d like to sign to a max contract once Howard hits free agency this summer. There are a lot of reasons Howard will likely return to Los Angeles, financial and otherwise. But he’s going to pursue all of his options before making that long-term commitment to the Lakers.

“I’m going to step away from everything for a couple of weeks and clear my head before I deal with or talk about anything as far as next season,” Howard said. “I think I deserve that.”

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.