Lakers unlikely to sign and trade Dwight Howard to the Clippers, Rockets, or anyone else

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When the reports started flying of a possible deal that would net the Clippers Kevin Garnett and head coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics, Dwight Howard’s name got thrown in the mix at some point as someone that L.A.’s historically junior team would then like to pursue.

Talks have stalled between the Celtics and Clippers for now, but the report that the Clips have weighed offering Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade package for Howard had plenty of people wondering where the Lakers stand on potential scenarios involving Dwight should he decide he wants out of the Forum blue and gold as a free agent after July 1.

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com have put together a handy list of updates, some of which we’ll discuss.

Yet the Lakers also, according to sources, have not completely ruled out the idea of a sign-and-trade if they come to find next month that Howard is determined to leave. Sources say they are indeed leaning against sign-and-trade scenarios because they’d rather bank the resultant cap space from Howard’s departure for the summer of 2014. But sources say they’ve adopted a keep-all-options-open approach. So they’ll at least listen to just about anything.

Of course the Lakers will listen, but they’re highly unlikely to do anything to help Howard go somewhere else. And, especially publicly, L.A. isn’t going to put it out there that this is a course of action that they’d be fine with, because all that would do would give Howard even more choices of where to play next season somewhere other than for the Lakers.

Now, if there’s a ridiculous package on the table involving young star players who are clearly franchise cornerstones, then it becomes slightly more tempting. But it’s unclear if Griffin (and certainly Bledsoe, who’s become a bit overrated showing flashes in short stints off the bench in L.A.’s monster media market) is exactly that, and again, the Lakers want to re-sign Howard, so they’re going to shut down these conversations at a very early stage until and unless a truly amazing offer presents itself.

There’s also the unlikely prospect of the Lakers doing anything to help their Staples Center co-tenants, for a variety of reasons. But apparently, a deal with the Clippers isn’t completely out of the question.

One source with knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking said Saturday that any suggestion they could not philosophically allow themselves to make a major trade with the Clippers was “overblown.”

This goes back to that “listening” thing. You can’t ever say never, but the Lakers are the team with the banners in the building, and they’re definitely not looking to do anything that could result in a red, white and blue one being hung on the wall for the very first time.

This next one’s my personal favorite.

[S]ources say that the Rockets will certainly attempt to convince the Lakers to take in return Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a sign-and-trade deal for Howard, thus theoretically keeping alive the possibility that Houston could preserve its cap space to pursue Chris Paul and possibly pair Howard with Paul.

LOL, as the kids say.

Look, the Rockets are a team that has a history of acquiring assets that on the surface seem appealing before trading them away. But the Lakers aren’t a trial-and-error, experimental organization. As long as they have Kobe Bryant on the roster, it won’t be about dealing for players who might be a fit, eventually, or in the right situation. It’s about certainty and winning championships in Los Angeles, so the Lakers will not be taking on salary of borderline players when the end result could be the creation of a superteam in Houston that would be firmly in the Lakers’ way on the road to a title.

If Dwight Howard chooses to leave the Lakers, the team is most likely to let him do so without getting anything in return. They’d rather shed the salary (and the associated luxury tax penalties) and get right financially by creating salary cap space for 2014 to pursue someone who actually wants to play for one of the league’s most storied franchises.

The Lakers aren’t going to help Howard go play somewhere else, and they aren’t going to help another team build a legitimate contender. As always, the Lakers will do things their way, and it’s pretty difficult to argue against their long-term success and championship-level results.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.