Dwight Howard made his choice for basketball reasons

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Dwight Howard can be a goofball. He savors having fun, joking around in the locker room, being a bit of a clown prince.

That can play poorly if you’re not winning and not always giving maximum effort on the court. That image has haunted Dwight Howard for a while now, especially after the awkwardly-handled exit from Orlando then a down year in Los Angeles.

One thing in sports quickly fixes reputations — winning.

If that was the priority, if this was purely a basketball decision, then Dwight Howard made the right call in choosing the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers, even with everyone back, were not contenders with an older Steve Nash and a hobbled Kobe Bryant. Yes, the Lakers have cap space going forward — the same pitch the Mavericks made — but the Rockets had the pieces to win in place now with Howard added. There was no risk about the future.

This Rockets team was good last season, winning 45 games, but was held back by a pedestrian defense. Dwight Howard patrolling the paint, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds can change everything on that end (if he is healthy and back to his old form). With him the Rockets become the top-10 defense they need to be contenders.

On offense, the Rockets could have the best pick-and-roll in basketball.

Despite all the talk about Howard’s post play — which is improved but still about athleticism and power not polished moves — what really sets him apart as a big man is his mobility.

Howard needs to do a lot of pick-and-roll with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, both who attack aggressively on that play.

Look at it this way: Howard shot 44 percent in the post last season, 49 percent the season before and 50.6 percent the season before that. When healthy he gets points on the block (and working with Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach and Celtics legend who had some of the best footwork of any big man ever should help that).

But as the roll man getting the ball back he shot 78 percent last season, 74 percent two seasons ago and 81.7 percent the season before that. Howard sets a huge pick and is so quick it is hard for the defense to react, when he gets the ball back he has room to attack and finish. Combine that with the aggressive play of Harden and Lin and you have a crazy weapon.

Let’s see how the Rockets round out their roster before we predict they can knock off the Thunder next year in the playoffs. (I, for one, don’t love the pairing of Howard and Josh Smith, I think it gives Smith the excuse to take too many ill-advised jump shots.)

A whole lot of Lakers fans seemed happy to let Howard go, but the Howard they see next season — healthy and happy — will look like a totally different player. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, he uses that mobility to shut down pick-and-rolls (he can show out and recover better than any big in the league) and he comes from the weak side with authority to block shots.

For several years Rockets fans were wondering what GM Daryl Morey was doing, stockpiling assets and trying to find short-term contracts. This is what he was trying to do — have the pieces to make a Harden trade and the cap space to attract Howard to go with him.

He was putting together what should be one of the best one-two punches in the NBA. He was putting together a contender.

Which is why Howard chose them. For basketball reasons. To win.

Pacers owner says team not for sale, will not be moved from Indianapolis

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There are more than a few NBA owners who are seeing the prices teams are being sold for — the Rockets just sold for a record $2.2 billion — and considering their options. Some other billionaires are looking for teams, several with the goal of packing up the franchise and moving it to their respected hometowns.

Those billionaires need not call Herb Simon. The Pacers owner said the team is not going anywhere, speaking to Gregg Doyel of the IndyStar.

“I want to leave my legacy: This team permanently in Indianapolis,” Simon told IndyStar Friday in an interview at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

Simon bought the Pacers in 1983 with his older brother, Melvin — who died in 2009 at age 82. He told IndyStar the team someday will be owned by his 53-year-old son, Steve. Behind the scenes, Steve Simon has been working closely with Pacers Sports and President Rick Fuson for five years — “He knows more about the dollars and cents than I do,” Herb said of his son — and met this week with several department heads.

“If anything happens to me, he’d be taking over,” Herb said, adding that father and son are on the same page: The Pacers are staying in Indianapolis.

Good. That is as it should be.

Indiana is part of America’s basketball heartland, and it should have a team. Pacers fans are smart and loyal, and the team has a long history going back to the ABA, running from Mel Daniels and George McGinnis through Reggie Miller and up to Myles Turner (hopefully he can be on the level of the rest of them someday). They play in the coolest basketball building in the league, one with the history of the sport wolven in.

Indy is the nation’s 27th largest television market, bigger than San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and other successful NBA franchises. There is no reason the Pacers cannot thrive, so long as ownership is committed.

They are. Which is excellent news for Pacers’ fans.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.

 

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.