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.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.