Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers

It’s midnight, let the Dwight Howard madness begin


Like a Disney fairy tale, when the clock struck midnight Dwight Howard has gotten what he always wanted, what he has earned the right to by playing out his contract:

He is a free agent. As of this moment.

For the next 48 hours — starting with the Rockets just after the official start of free agency at midnight as Sunday flipped to Monday and running for a couple days — six teams will come to Los Angeles and get their chance to make a pitch to Howard. All of them will offer him a max contract (the Lakers can offer more with his Bird rights) but this will swing more on other factors, not the dollars.

Anyone who tells you right now they know what Howard is going to do is selling something — nobody knows. Not even Howard. You can handicap the field, but the fact is he has wanted this moment, he has wanted teams to come recruit him, and he’s going to listen. He is going to savor this. And we know from experience Howard is not the most decisive guy ever, so this thing could go just about any direction.

Here are the teams walking in the door, in my perceived order of their chances.

• Houston Rockets. Howard’s leaky entourage is saying he is making a decision based on basketball reasons, and if that is the case Houston may well win this thing. The Rockets are a good team already with James Harden as the playmaker and good role players around him such as Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Add a healthy Dwight Howard to this roster and they are instant contenders. We can debate if they beat Oklahoma City or San Antonio, let alone the Heat or the best of the East, but they are in the conversation.

In addition, the Rockets have strong ties to the Chinese market (from the Yao Ming era and now with Lin), a lot of their games are still shown there, which would be good for Howard’s branding. Hakeem Olajuwon will be part of the group making a pitch to Howard.

The question is the offense — the Rockets will say they will feature him. And they will, to an extent. But this will still also be Harden’s team. For the Rockets to be truly effective Howard will have to run the pick-and-roll with Harden — last season Howard scored 1.29 points per possession and shot 79.6 percent as the roll man, he scored 0.74 points per possession on 44.5 percent shooting in the post. Whichever team lands Howard needs to use him more this way and keep him moving, not just posting up.

• Los Angeles Lakers. I can think of 30 million reasons the Lakers are not out of this discussion. Howard is a guy just coming off back surgery that impacted his play last season, and the Lakers can offer five years and $117 million (thanks to larger raises) than other teams can offer ($87 million). Yes, Howard is going to get a contract after this one and teams in Texas can sell the sales tax angle, but $30 million is a lot of scratch. It matters.

We all know the Lakers season went sideways fast last year and that nobody really enjoyed the experience. What the Lakers have to sell is three things. First, that last season was a one-off — injuries and a coaching change threw the chemistry off, but this team can be the team that went 28-12 in the middle of the season again and can challenge in the West. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will be part of the pitch to Howard and his relationship with Kobe is not as strained as some think. Plus, with Kobe out for the start of the season and slowed by his Achilles injury, Howard has the chance to take charge and make this his team, even if Mike D’Antoni is the coach.

Second, the Lakers will remind Howard that come the summer of 2014 only he and Steve Nash (for one more year) would be on the books — they plan to rebuild this roster around him. He is the future of the Lakers, and he can follow in the footsteps of Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq and win titles in Los Angeles. Third, the Lakers will sell Los Angeles — if he wants an opportunity to grow his brand through movies, television and advertising opportunities, L.A. is better than any other city on his list.

(If the Lakers do not get Howard, don’t bet on a sign-and-trade to help another team out. It could happen, but the Lakers would want picks and expiring contracts to help them rebuild, they are not taking Asik back from Houston.)

• Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban has built an organization that guys want to come play for and that is part of the pitch. They also have shown they know how to build a title team. Howard would play for a season or two with Dirk Nowitzki but soon the Mavericks have the room to completely reshape the roster and build around Howard. Much like he enjoyed in Orlando, he would be the main face of the franchise soon.

• Atlanta Hawks. Come home, come on home to Atlanta… except that Howard has never shown a desire to return and play in his native city. What they can sell is a max offer and the chance for him to be the face of a roster rebuilt around him — Al Horford and he would make the best front line in the NBA, and that size could challenge the Heat. The Hawks are a long shot but they are in the room.

• Golden State Warriors. There were questions for a while if they would even get in the room, but once in they have a hard sell. The basketball argument is that him in the post with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson raining threes, they are contenders. The hard part is they can only make this work as a sign-and-trade, one that would have the Lakers taking back Andrew Bogut and some other pieces (Thompson?). As I noted above, the Lakers are more likely to just go with what they have and bank cap space for a 2014 roster reboot if Howard walks, they are not going to go for an in-division trade (same goes for the Clippers rumors). But the Warriors will get to make their pitch.

So when will we know? There is a buzz that Howard wants to make his decision early, not mull it over for a week. That said, this is Howard, so who knows? Anytime between July 3 and July 10 he could make his call. Your guess on when is as good as mine.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Jeremy Lin’s new responsibility: ‘You’re the Eli Manning’

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up the court during first half of the preseason game against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on October 13, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jeremy Lin was briefly the biggest thing in the Big Apple, maybe in all of basketball, the last time he played in New York.

Linsanity didn’t last long and neither did Lin’s time as a starting point guard. He mostly came off the bench while playing for three teams over the last three seasons, but now he’s getting another shot.

The Brooklyn Nets are giving Lin the keys to their team and believe he’s ready to run it.

“He came off the bench in Charlotte last year and did a heck of a job, but this is a little different deal now,” new coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You’re kind of the quarterback. You’re the Eli Manning, those guys, so there’s a different level of responsibility.”

The Nets better hope Lin is ready for it, because there isn’t much talent around him.

They begin their fifth season in Brooklyn absent the high-priced star power they lined the roster with in their early years after moving from New Jersey. All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have given way to the likes of Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Joe Harris and former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, players signed this summer by general manager Sean Marks.

Marks also tabbed Atkinson to be the coach, and together they are talking about building for the long term. That may be a better solution, though it means the Nets won’t win much now.

But Lin brings some buzz from fans who remember his captivating stretch with the Knicks in 2012. The NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent started all 82 games for Houston the next season, but lost his job the following one and remained a backup as he moved to the Lakers and the Hornets, where he played behind Kemba Walker last season.

The Harvard product was mainly a pick-and-roll guard when he burst on the scene five seasons ago, without much else to go to when teams took away his drives to the basket. He believes he returns with a more well-rounded game, with Atkinson urging him to trust a jump shot that wasn’t previously part of his arsenal.

“Now if guys are forcing me left, I can go left,” Lin said. “If guys want me to shoot, I’m not saying I’ll make it every night, but I’ll gladly shoot them. I’ll gladly shoot open ones if they give them to me.”

Here are some other things to watch with the Nets:

BAD BROOKLYN: At 21-61, the Nets missed the playoffs last season for the first time since moving to Brooklyn in 2012. They may not be any better this season.

ATKINSON AT HOME: A respected assistant with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Atkinson comes back home for his first NBA head coaching job. The Northport, New York, native will be coaching not far from the courts where he grew up playing.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Brook Lopez averaged 20.6 points as the Nets’ top player last season but has been quiet in exhibition play, creating some questions about the 7-foot center’s fit in Atkinson’s system, which will be predicated on quick ball and player movement of the successful Hawks teams of the last few years.

BOGIE BALL: Bojan Bogdanovic returns from a strong summer to an unclear fall. The top scorer in the Olympics while leading Croatia to a surprising quarterfinal spot hasn’t even been starting in the preseason after averaging 11.2 points and starting about half the games last season.

GROW UP FAST: The lack of veteran stars should mean plenty of opportunities for second-year players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, and eventually rookie Caris LeVert, who is still recovering from a left foot injury that cut short the first-round pick’s final season at Michigan.

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LeBron James calls Cavaliers ‘still pretty much uptight,’ Kevin Love describes increased comfort

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Kyrie Irving #2 during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James took one last look over his shoulder at the scoreboard in Oracle Arena just to be sure.

It was all so surreal, unimaginable.

When James eyes saw only zeroes on the clock, he threw his arms around Kevin Love and time seemed to stand still. Game 7 of the NBA Finals was over as was a comeback for the ages. Golden State’s one-year reign and dream season ended and so did Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

James delivered on his personal pledge to bring home a title in June. And although it’s one he can never duplicate personally or for a fan base that had its heart broken and healed by him, the Cavaliers superstar and his teammates aren’t resting, getting comfortable or complacent. They want more.

“We’re still pretty much uptight,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with what we did.”

A three-time champion, and at 31 still the most complete player on the planet, James, who has acknowledged wanting to chase down Michael Jordan and his six league crowns, will again lead a Cleveland team expected to win the Eastern Conference and make a third straight finals trip. There doesn’t appear to be much in their way.

Cleveland’s Big 3 – James, Love and Kyrie Irving – have finally meshed after two turbulent, strange seasons when the trio of All-Stars were often disconnected. But whatever kept them from uniting seems to be resolved and they’re determined to add to their legacy.

“The mindset of this team is a lot different than maybe the first couple years,” said Love, whose odd relationship with James and Cleveland fans is finally in a good place. “From the onset you come in every year and want to compete for a championship, but we feel like we know exactly what we want to get done. I think just from a comfort standpoint it’s pretty different. We are a ways ahead of where we were the first two years.”

That’s one of the things often overlooked about the Cavs – their core is only entering its third year together. And, this is the first one where they’ve been at full strength from the start and guided by a coach they adore.

Tyronn Lue’s promotion after David Blatt was fired in January transformed the Cavs. Lue earned their respect by holding all of them – even James – accountable and making them understand nothing would be gained without sacrifice.

They rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors, and with a title, Lue expects his team to play with more freedom.

“Once you get the monkey off your back and you’re crowned champions, you’re at the top of the mountain, I think it’s a lot easier,” said Lue, who on a championship in 2001 with the Lakers. “Now you can exhale and play the way you’re capable of playing.”

Now, as the first Cleveland team since 1964 to defend a title, here are some other things to watch with the Cavs:

BANNER NIGHT: The Cavs will receive their diamond-studded championship rings before hosting the New York Knicks on Oct. 25. A banner will be unveiled in Quicken Loans Arena on what promises to be an emotional night in the city as the Indians will open the World Series next door at Progressive Field.

“It’s great times for all of us,” said James, who has been attending baseball playoff games with his teammates. “Not only the people playing, but everyone that lives around the area. They deserve it.”

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: James, who has been to six straight finals, knows what it takes win back-to-back championships after doing it in Miami.

“Don’t become complacent,” he said. “Our GM has put together a great team, our owners have done what they needed to do. For us, it’s up to us to continue to work our coaching staff’s system and just play our game.”

SWISH ON BOARD: Cleveland was delayed in having all its pieces in place during training camp until last week when shooting guard J.R. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million contract.

Smith, who made a franchise record 204 3-pointers last year, spreads the floor for James and he’s one of Cleveland’s best defenders. With his tattoos and carefree spirit, Smith has also become an unlikely fan favorite in Cleveland, a 180-degree turn from his time in New York.

GOLDEN DATE: Put another circle around Dec. 25 on your calendar. For the second straight year, the Cavaliers and Warriors will exchange elbows rather than presents on Christmas. This will be their first matchup since last season’s epic Game 7 and first since Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area.

NEW FACES: The Cavs let free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov go and replaced them with Mike Dunleavy and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, a pair of proven veterans who blend in and give Lue more depth.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s happy with Spurs, doesn’t buy into trade rumors

LaMarcus Aldridge
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The Spurs reportedly could trade LaMarcus Aldridge amidst his unhappiness with taking a backseat to Kawhi Leonard.

They deny holding trade talks about Aldridge, but even if they haven’t, that means little. If the bigger concerns about Aldridge’s fit and happiness in San Antonio are rooted in reality, a deal could come together in due time. I doubt the Spurs are rushing to trade him at the first sign of trouble.

For his part, Aldridge denies trouble, initial or otherwise.

Aldridge on The Jim Rome Show, as transcribed by Jeff Garcia of News 4 San Antonio:

“I didn’t buy into it. I haven’t heard anything about it. I talked to Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) daily and he’s always telling me that I’m doing great,” Aldridge said. “Trying to be a more of a leader. He’s put me in positions where I can be more of a leader. As long as the guys here aren’t saying bad things to me. All my teammates have said nothing but great things to me.”

“Yeah for sure I am (happy in San Antonio). We made history last year. They’ve incorporated me into the family. Try to make me one of the big pieces.”

“I’m winning. Of course I’m happy. That’s why I don’t buy into the rumors. I feel like I do my job here and I feel like I’ve done everything that they’ve asked. That’s why I haven’t bought into the rumors.”

If Aldridge is unhappy to the point he’d prefer to leave San Antonio, the Spurs will know that. What he says publicly probably won’t sway their opinion nearly as much as his behind-the-scenes actions and attitudes.

San Antonio could also trade Aldridge without him inviting it. The initial report about the Spurs possibly trading him came from a different source than the one about him being unhappy. There could be truth in one and not the other. If Aldridge believes San Antonio will keep him, that’s prerogative. He wouldn’t be the first player to mis-evaluate his team’s loyalty to him – or he could be spot on.

Really, Aldridge didn’t reveal much that we can accept with certainty – except that if there is turmoil, it’s no so great that he’s unwilling to put on a happy face. That counts for something.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. 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 Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.