Dwight Howard says he’s “on same page” with Rockets trying to add another star

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Houston has Dwight Howard and James Harden, but they want their own “big three.”

In their first year together Howard and Harden led a Rockets team with an explosive offense to 54 wins, but in the playoffs Damian Lillard was knocking down shots and leading Portland to knock off the Rockets 4-2 in the first round. It was a sign of how far the Rockets still have to go

Now the Rockets want to add one more big name — Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Chris Bosh if they opt out, or whoever else may be available.

Howard is “on the same page” with that and he just wants to win, he wants to get another star in Houston, he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“Looking at this organization, where we’re trying to go, I think all of us are pretty much on the same page. Each day I’m talking to the people up top, trying to figure out ways to try and get better. The coaching staff, from our trainer, in the weight room the guys are working on our bodies every day just trying to figure out how to get better. That’s been our focus….

“I haven’t spoken with Melo personally. I know this is a time for him when he has to really just focus on what’s going to be best for him. And I really believe that in this point in Melo’s career, he just wants to win. He’s done everything – we both have that kind of same mentality to where all the individual accolades, we’ve got them. We’ve got a gold medal, he has been in tops in scoring for a while, but those are all individual things. I think at this point he just wants to win, so it would be great to have him here because I know what his focus would be. It’s up to him, where he’s at in his career. But I want people on my team who are all about winning. That’s my focus.”

Howard spent the entire Q&A talking about winning, about pushing himself and his teammates to get to the next level. He said everything a Rockets fan could want to hear.

That off-season improvement likely is not enough in the West, hence the drive for a third star.

Getting Anthony or any star will require some financial gymnastics — trading Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin without taking any salary back, plus possibly letting Chandler Parsons walk (he’s a restricted free agent so the Rockets can match and offer, and they have his bird rights so they can go over the cap to re-sign him, but that has to be after the star signs for there to be room to add a player like that).

Last season was a bit of a learning curve year for the Rockets, one where Howard and Harden tried to adjust to one another. The Rockets should be better next season no matter what moves GM Daryl Morey makes, the problem is they are in the West and better may not be good enough against the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers.

So the Rockets want another star. Howard wants that, too. He’s not going to recruit guys, but he’s on “the same page” with the front office.

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.