Next up for Dwight Howard: Mavericks, Lakers meetings

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Sunday night the Rockets had their turn. Monday was long-shot day in the in the Dwight Howard pitch meetings as the Hawks and Warriors got to make their cases.

Tuesday it is the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Then we just sit back and wait for Dwight Howard to make his decision.

Dallas will bring to the presentation their persuasive owner Mark Cuban, superstar Dirk Nowitzki, team president Donnie Nelson, and coach Rick Carlisle.

The Mavericks’ pitch is how they plan to build the franchise around Howard, something that intrigues Howard because Cuban will spend to win. Dallas will sell they plan to make Howard the face of everything, how Dallas is a great city to be a star in. Cuban started laying the groundwork for this meeting not long after the Mavs won their 2011 title and he didn’t overpay to bring the team back together — he had a good idea what was coming with the new CBA and wanted a clean slate. But he needs to land a superstar and Howard is the only one left on the market this summer. Dallas can pitch that Nowitzki will take a pay cut next summer and they will stock the team with quality free agents who can win now.

Then comes the Lakers more complicated pitch effort.

Complicated because the Lakers basically had a year to sell Howard on the Lakers and yet here they are with a couple-hour meeting to do the same.

Complicated because Howard knows all the players in the room — coach Mike D’Antoni, GM Mitch Kupchak, owner Jim Buss, plus stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — and all the baggage. He knows he is not a natural fit for Mike D’Antoni’s preferred system so there has to be compromise from the coach to make that work. He knows that he wants to be the face of the franchise but now Kobe is talking about playing three more seasons (and as long as he is around he is the face of the Lakers).

The Lakers can sell tradition (that matters to fans more than players), they can sell all the off-court advantages in Los Angeles (including maybe his own show on the Lakers’ cable partner).

But what they really need to sell is the future — after next season everyone except Nash and theoretically Howard comes off the books. The Lakers can completely remake this roster around Howard and build a new-look winner. Kobe will be back, but he will take a Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett pay cut to help the Lakers build in the new salary cap reality. They sell Howard that the Lakers always find a way to win and if you win as the face of the Lakers you are an NBA legend. They sell legacy that way.

The conventional wisdom is that the Rockets and Lakers are the frontrunners for Howard, with the Mavs in the mix, while the Hawks and Warriors have little chance.

But this is Howard, he’s not the most decisive of guys, so this decision could go any way and could take a while (Howard is expected to think through the decision during the Fourth of July holiday, but nobody is sure when word will come down).

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.