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.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.