It’s midnight, let the Dwight Howard madness begin

45 Comments

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.

Death threats may prompt Thunder’s Enes Kanter to become US citizen

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter said Monday he routinely received death threats for criticizing the government of his native Turkey, and he may seek an expedited process toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania over the weekend, with border police there saying they did so because Turkish authorities canceled his passport. Kanter eventually was allowed to leave for London and then New York, after he said officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others intervened on his behalf.

Kanter held a news conference in New York on Monday and said he was the target of two more death threats earlier in the day.

“This is definitely crazy right now,” he said.

Kanter has long been a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler on multiple occasions. Kanter contends, among other things, that a failed coup attempt last year was actually staged by the Erdogan-led government.

“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”

Kanter makes no secret of his support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan. Kanter said that when he was detained in Romania, he feared he would be sent back to Turkey.

Kanter said he has not spoken with his parents and other relatives in Turkey in more than a year.

“There’s no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy,” Kanter said. “Right now, even if I tried to communicate with my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, they would probably right now listen on their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me they’ll put them in a jail. And the jails are not fun, of course.”

Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport – a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.

Romanian Border Police Spokesman Fabian Badila told The Associated Press that Kanter arrived Saturday at about 1 p.m. from Frankfurt at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Airport, traveling on a Turkish passport.

“My colleagues discovered … that the passport had been canceled by Turkish authorities, and legally he is not allowed to enter Romania,” Badila said.

Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.

“I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.

Report: Knicks letting go Kristaps Porzingis’ favorite assistant coach

Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

There’s a rift between Knicks president Phil Jackson and Kristaps Porzingis.

Porzingis skipped his exit interview in reported protest of the team’s dysfunction. This sure feels like retaliation from Jackson.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The New York Knicks are not renewing the contract of assistant coach Josh Longstaff, according to a team official.

Longstaff, 34, was well-respected in the Knicks’ locker room, so the decision will likely come as a surprise to players.

Players such as Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Marshall Plumlee credited Longstaff and fellow assistant Dave Bliss with helping them with individual development. He played the same role in the development of Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway.

Longstaff was the assistant coach who was closest to Porzingis.

It’s hard to evaluate assistant coaches from the outside, and Longstaff wasn’t hired by Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. There could be sound reasons to let Longstaff go.

But most of those players developed well under his tutelage. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence he did his job well.

The Knicks can’t reasonably trade Porzingis, who’s one of the few bright spots on Jackson’s record. Without Porzingis, Jackson’s already-shoddy reputation as an executive would be completely shot.

So, this feels like a measured response by Jackson – a message that he can hurt Porzingis without resorting to dealing him from New York, where Porzingis says he wants to be. Follow orders, or your Knicks experience will become even worse.

Of course, that might not have been the Knicks’ intent when dropping Longstaff. But they’ll have to convince Porzingis if they want to repair their relationship with him.

Down 3-0 to Warriors, Spurs still joking about their predicament

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
4 Comments

San Antonio’s sense of humor was still there Sunday.

Gregg Popovich predicted that Golden State stayed out way late after winning Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, celebrating with burgers and sundaes before spending Sunday playing poker. Manu Ginobili, amid plenty of questions about whether his career is ending, said the Spurs planned to lose the first three games of this series simply to make their comeback look more impressive.

The laughs seemed helpful.

The reality is that Golden State is just better, especially against a seriously undermanned Spurs team.

All jokes aside, the Spurs – and everyone else watching this West final – know it’s just about over. No team has successfully rallied from 3-0 down in an NBA playoff series, and a San Antonio team that is without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and now David Lee is facing that most precarious deficit. Game 4 is Monday in San Antonio, with Golden State now on the brink of clinching its third straight NBA Finals trip.

“Circumstances were such that we could be in a totally different position now,” said Popovich, the Spurs coach whose teams have been swept only twice in 52 previous series on his watch. “That didn’t happen. It’s called life. Slap yourself. Quit your crying and move on. Game 4.”

He’s right, of course. How different this could have been if Leonard didn’t re-injure his ankle when San Antonio was rolling with a 23-point lead in the third quarter of Game 1. The Spurs led by at least 22 points in each of their first four games against the Warriors this season. What they did against Golden State worked better than what anyone else did against Golden State.

Then, thud.

Leonard – who won’t play in Game 4 barring something “miraculous,” Popovich said – has been out since landing on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot in a hotly debated was-it-dirty-or-not closeout by the Warriors’ center. Game 1 changed in that instant, the whole series changed along with it and the Warriors will become the first team in NBA history to start a postseason 12-0 if they win on Monday.

“You know what the Spurs are about. … They’ve got a lot of pride. These guys are pros, man,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “We can’t come out here and feel like we’ve won already before the game has started. We’ve got to go take it.”

The Warriors have made it look easy, which is their normal. Golden State has won 12 consecutive games, the third time this season the Warriors have enjoyed such a streak. Combine the regular season and the postseason, and this Golden State team (78-15, .839) has a better record so far than last year’s regular-season record-setting club (88-18, .830).

Still, they’re not satisfied.

“We’ve got to play better,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.

As impressive as they have been, the Warriors have had lapses. Golden State turned the ball over 21 times in Game 3 , leading to 25 San Antonio points. The Warriors also yielded 15 offensive rebounds, which San Antonio turned into 18 more points.

They won by 12 anyway. And if closing a team out on the road is supposed to be among the toughest postseason tasks, the Warriors have apparently missed that memo: Golden State won by 25 in Portland to clinch the first round, and by 26 in Utah to close out the second round.

“You let those guys get rolling, they’re a handful,” Spurs forward Pau Gasol said.

Ginobili helped keep San Antonio close in Game 3 with 21 points. He’ll likely get an emotional welcome Monday, just in case the veteran decides this season will be his last – a topic he wanted really no part of on Sunday, saying he’ll decide over the summer.

“This is getting a little weird,” Ginobili said after questions hinting at retirement. “It truly is.”

NOTES: The only teams to sweep a Popovich-coached team were the Suns in 2010 (when Warriors coach Steve Kerr was GM in Phoenix) and the Lakers in 2001 (when Kerr played for the Spurs). … Warriors acting coach Mike Brown said there’s no change in Pachulia’s condition. Pachulia played only 7 minutes of Game 2 with a heel injury, and didn’t play Saturday. … Durant lauded Popovich for not playing Leonard through the bad ankle, saying other players appreciate when teams put the future of their own players first.

 

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
3 Comments

Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)