Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford: Dwight Howard can return to All-Star level

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte coach Steve Clifford is confident he can help newly acquired Hornets center Dwight Howard become a dominant force and an NBA All-Star again.

Clifford is familiar with Howard, having coached him for six seasons as an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles.

“I know what he has to do to play well,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He understands that I know him. I know his game. Being around him in different settings I have a feel for what he likes to do… There is no reason he can’t get back to playing at a really high level.”

General manager Rich Cho said Clifford’s familiarity with Howard is a major reason the Hornets pulled the trigger on a trade that sent guard Marco Belinelli, center Miles Plumlee and the No. 41 overall pick in the NBA draft to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Howard and the No. 31 overall pick. It meant taking on Howard’s contract, which will pay him $47 million over the next two seasons.

Now the question becomes if Howard can bounce back from two tumultuous seasons in Atlanta and Houston, and also fit in in Charlotte.

Howard was an NBA All-Star eight straight seasons from 2007-14. But Howard didn’t play in the fourth quarter two of Atlanta’s first-round playoff games last season, something that irked the 13-year NBA veteran. Atlanta dealt Howard to Charlotte just one year into a three-year, $74 million contract.

While Clifford acknowledges that the 31-year-old Howard isn’t as athletic as he once was, he said the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center will bring defensive toughness and physicality – something the Hornets woefully lacked last season while finishing 36-46.

Howard is the NBA’s leading active leader in shots blocked and rebounds.

He’s also a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and has been selected to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

“For three years when people looked on the schedule and saw we’re playing Charlotte on Wednesday it was like, `Oh man that’s not going to be easy,”‘ Clifford said. “But last year, in the last 25 games, it was easier. And we’re not going to win that way. Dwight can go a long way toward changing that back to the way it was.”

Howard was not present at the news conference Wednesday at the Hornets arena and has not commented on the trade.

However, Howard spoke with team owner Michael Jordan on Tuesday night and indicated that he was “pumped up” about joining the Hornets, Cho said.

Howard wasted little time Tuesday night changing his photo on his Twitter page to the Hornets logo.

Clifford doesn’t buy into the notion that Howard is a locker room cancer who can be a disruption to his teammates. Having coached him for six seasons, Clifford said he thinks Howard will be welcomed in Charlotte and fit in nicely.

“Listen, this is an easy guy to like,” Clifford said. “This isn’t some guy who is hard to deal with. He’s bright, he’s fun-loving and has a great sense of humor and great wit. … I think he will fit in very well.”

Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004, has averaged 17.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 954 career games played. Howard’s 58.5 shooting percentage ranks fourth all-time in NBA history and he is coming off a season in which he made a career-high 63.3 percent of his shots.

Howard has appeared in 95 postseason games, averaging 18.4 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.

Jason Kidd says Giannis Antetokounmpo offered to save his job minutes before firing

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The stagnant Milwaukee Bucks shook things up by firing head coach Jason Kidd  Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with the news. So much he called up Kidd and offered to help save his job, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Antetokounmpo is understandably close to Kidd — he’s been the coach who helped transform the Greek Freak into an NBA superstar. Kidd is on his way to the Hall of Fame as a player, and as a coach had the vision to put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands as a point guard. Antetokounmpo trusted Kidd.

However, the Bucks’ growth has been stagnant — this is a team where the players talked about being a 50-win, top-four team in the East with a strong defense, instead they are a team on the way to around .500, barely hanging onto a playoff spot, with the point differential of a team that wins 36 games. They are not taking a step forward, and the Bucks — with the approval of ownership, which was very close to Kidd at one time — approving the move.

There was nothing Antetokounmpo could have done. It’s life in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Gordon Hayward is shooting standing threes in an empty gym. That’s something, I guess.

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Having lost three games in a row at home, doubt seems to have crept into the minds of some Celtics fans. They’re the top seed in the East (and likely finish the season in that slot, again), but just how good are they really? Do they have enough to knock off the Cavaliers and LeBron James when he goes into playoff mode?

In the midst of that self-doubt, the wife of Gordon Hayward, Robyn, posted this.

Still can’t beat me… 🤷🏻‍♀️

A post shared by Robyn Hayward (@robynmhayward) on

For Boston fans still holding out hope Hayward returns this season, this is another sign. No brace, no chair, he’s draining threes. It’s a step forward.

This video also borders on meaningless — he’s not jumping, not moving, not showing us anything about his recovery we didn’t already know. Good to see him up and making progress, but that he can hit stand-still threes in an empty gym is about as shocking as finding out the next Transformers movie is going to suck.

Officially, Hayward is still out for the season. He’s putting in the work, and maybe he returns before the playoffs, but the Celtics are not going to rush him back for this season. Nor should they. The Celtics are on a multi-year plan to be the next dominant team in the East, no reason to push him and risk anything now.

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo “devastated” by Jason Kidd firing

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The Bucks have been a team of unfulfilled potential for a few seasons now, two steps up and one step back. Last season they were 42-40 and bounced in the first round of the playoffs, this season they are 23-22 and the eighth seed in the East, with the point differential of a team that should be 20-25 and on its way to a 36-win season.

That cost Jason Kidd his job.

That has not sat well with the team’s superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

You can’t blame Antetokounmpo, Kidd has been his coach the past three-and-a-half seasons and guided the Greek Freak’s rise to superstardom. Kidd also was the one who put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands and made him both the defacto point guard on the team and one of the league’s most dangerous players. Kidd did some very good things with these Bucks, and Antetokounmpo is understandably loyal to the man.

However, Antetokounmpo is under contract at a near-max salary until the summer of 2021, so he has no real leverage here.

Elite coaches will be lined up for a chance to coach Antetokounmpo and a very talented Bucks roster, but whoever gets the job next summer has to connect with the superstar first. Kidd had done that.