NBA denies it asked Raptors to remove Drake to avoid fine

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We’re talking about $25,000 here. To you and me, that’s a lot of money. To an NBA team, that’s nothing. A slap on the wrist. At best.

So the idea that the Raptors would have dropped Drake as their “Global Ambassador” after they threw a big press conference to promote him last year, all over $25,000, was crazy. Drake is tied to the team as they try to rebrand it, his popularity and being a Toronto native make him a great fit as spokesman for the team.

The idea the Raptors would drop him is crazy that the league didn’t even ask, according to league spokesman Tim Frank, speaking to the National Post.

“As the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake must follow our anti-tampering rules,” Tim Frank, the league’s senior vice-president of basketball communications, said in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “At no point did we suggest his title be removed but we were clear that as long as he acted as a representative of the team, he is subject to the league’s rules.”

When you go back to the original story where this rumor started, the tone of it is to make the Raptors as the poor, picked on victims of a secretive NBA agenda. Frankly, it was kind of sad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the writer (or sources trying to sell this same sad story) would exaggerate what the league actually told Toronto.

The NBA likes having big name celebrities like Drake associated with it. The agenda would be to get his face in front of more people talking about the league, not less.

Was the fine silly? Sure. But I don’t have the space here right now to list all the silly fines the NBA hands out because someone violated the letter of its laws. And this did violate the letter of the league’s bylaws. And the Raptors are probably good with that, part of the reason to have Drake on the masthead is to recruit players. Just not directly in public.

The fact is the NBA is fond of Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the guy who helped bring in Drake to the Raptor family. Leiweke is a guy who dreams big and pushes the big picture. He was part of getting Los Angeles’ Staples Center (and the very successful LA Live center around it so many other teams want to mimic) built. He came closer to bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles than anyone.

Heck, the NBA gave him and Toronto an All-Star Game. There is love there.

More than that Raptors fans, you have a good team, an improving team that could be top four in the East and make it past the first round of the playoffs. A team that plays hard and is entertaining. Savor that, enjoy it. Don’t get sucked into a “woe is us” mentality. You’re better than that.

Michael Beasley had his truck stolen out of his driveway

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Michael Beasley will be getting buckets, shooting long twos, and playing inconsistent defense for the New York Knicks next season (the analysis is just based on recent history).

But first, he’d like to find his truck. Which was stolen.

Well, I did see a Dodge Ram 1500 on the road today, but since I’m on the West Coast and I have no idea what color/year Beasley’s truck is, I’m going to assume the guy I saw didn’t perpetrate the heist.

Still, that sucks for Beasley, even if he can easily afford to replace it.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.