San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Three

Report: Dwight Howard to talk to other teams besides Lakers this summer

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The Lakers knew this when they traded for Dwight Howard last summer — under the terms of the new CBA it makes financial sense for a max player to play out his current deal and become a free agent then re-sign with the same team than it does to sign an extension to a deal and never hit the open market. Said player can get one more guaranteed year and larger raises if he becomes a free agent and re-signs than if he signs an extension.

But that means players have to become free agents for a stretch and other teams can approach them.

Howard will become a free agent this summer and is going to talk to other teams besides the Lakers, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

According to several sources familiar with Howard’s thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today’s media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

I’d throw the Houston Rockets in that mix, as well. Atlanta will want to be in the mix but word out of Howard’s camp consistently has been he doesn’t want to go back home. Of course, the Lakers will call him at midnight July 1 with a max offer as well.

Let’s talk money first, because it’s always about the money.

Howard is a lock for a max deal. The difference in money is the Lakers can offer an expected five years, $118 million, other teams coming in could offer four years, $87.6 million. (Those numbers could move a little once the new salary cap levels are set for next season, but said cap is expected to be in the $60 million range). That’s about a $30 million difference, for those of you scoring at home. You can say for a player who has made more than $100 million in his career (and likely will get one more max deal after this one) that the money isn’t the biggest issue, but would you leave $30 million guaranteed on the table? In a year after you felt your basketball mortality after struggling to return from back surgery?

Now the big question: Would Dwight Howard leave the Lakers?

I doubt it. Clearly his first year in Los Angeles didn’t go as smoothly as he hoped — he rushed back from back surgery and didn’t play up to his standards, and he heard about it from the demanding Lakers fan base. He and Kobe Bryant had to adjust to each other, the Lakers switched coaches this season, Howard fought through a torn labrum, injuries ravaged the team, and the Lakers will be bounced from the NBA playoffs in the first round, likely on Sunday.

You can look at all that, say Howard didn’t have fun and that he could go to Houston with James Harden or Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki or Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and win. And maybe be happier. For Howard basketball has to be fun for him to play his best and he might think he will have more fun in another market with another star.

Here is why I think he doesn’t leave — image.

Howard is still trying to rehabilitate a public image that took a hit after the ugly way he left Orlando. To move again away from one of the NBA’s premiere franchises to go to a lesser light will not help that — he’s be painted as the guy who could not fill the shoes of Miken, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. Go to Dallas or Houston and you go from a place where the Lakers are kings of the market to a place where football is king and basketball gets a lesser spotlight. Leave and his reputation as indecisive continues.

Winning is how Howard fixes that image. Howard knows the Lakers would have everybody but himself and Steve Nash off the books in the summer of 2014 — they can reshape the roster to win with him as the focus. The Lakers have said they want him to take the reins of the franchise from Kobe Bryant in the coming years (ideally Kobe would cede a little of that power next season to a healthy Howard). Most of all, you know the Lakers can draw free agents and spend in a way few other teams can to win. He’s not leaving to go somewhere else and have a better chance at a ring.

But we all want to be wanted. So Howard is going to flirt with other teams besides the Lakers this summer.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.