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.

 

Report: Otis Smith withdraws from Kings’ job search

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The Kings need to replace Scott Perry – an important vacancy in what has been a clownish front office run by Vlade Divac and overseen by Vivek Ranadive.

Sacramento won’t be hiring Otis Smith, the former Magic general manager who met with the Kings.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

https://twitter.com/BA_Turner/status/891002351594622976

I wouldn’t beat up the Kings about this. They quite possibly chose not to hire Smith and allowed it be framed this way as a favor to him – a fairly common courtesy.

But that the Kings were even considering Smith, despite all his failings in Orlando, doesn’t bode well for their search.

Kevin Durant breaks Guinness world record in India

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NEW DELHI (AP) Kevin Durant is in India to help the NBA make inroads in a nation of 1.3 billion.

Durant took part in a camp in New Delhi, where the Golden State Warriors star helped set a Guinness world record Friday for the largest basketball lesson – 3,459 participants across multiple venues. The NBA Finals MVP met young players at the NBA Academy, with hundreds more joining by satellite from four other cities across the country.

Durant’s first trip to India is the latest move by the league to grow the game there, much as it is doing in China.

The academy opened in May to train some of the country’s top talents. Since 2008, the NBA has staged more than 1,500 events in 30 Indian cities.

Clippers sound like they’re pulling out of Kyrie Irving trade pursuit

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The six teams – Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, Heat – that have reportedly proposed trades to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving are falling by the wayside, one by one.

The Heat denied making an offer. And it sounds as if the Clippers’ offer is leading them out of the chase.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Clippers:

The Clippers have DeAndre Jordan, who has made All-NBA teams in the last three years. They also have Patrick Beverley whose dogged defense and quality spot-up 3-point shooting would fit well with LeBron James, and Beverley would be a lower-paid replacement for Irving at point guard. Their only player on a rookie-scale contract is Brice Johnson, who has disappointed. But they can still trade their 2022 and 2024 first-rounders, theoretically one to Cleveland and one to get a rookie-scale player already in the league.

Jordan would be a bad fit in a frontcourt that already includes Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron. But it seems a three-team trade could work.

Alas, if the Clippers have resigned themselves to not finding a three-team trade, that matters much more than whether one is plausible.

Kyrie Irving confidant, reportedly: "He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him"

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In the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request – clearly a reaction to LeBron James – I’ve often thought about the above video.

A reporter asked Irving how LeBron has been like a father to him. A clearly flabbergasted Irving responds: “He’s been a great leader for us. I wouldn’t – I have one father. That’s my dad, Drederick Irving.”

LeBron never called himself Irving’s father. LeBron didn’t direct the reporter to ask Irving that question.

But LeBron’s presence, his leadership, how he presents his leadership all led the reporter down that road. Even if LeBron, like the rest of us, would’ve cringed at the question, the mere fact that he plays on the same team as Irving made it so Irving was put into that awkward position.

So, there may or may not be personal animosity between Irving and LeBron. There could still be a disconnect between the Cavaliers’ biggest stars.

Stephen A. Smith of The Undefeated:

“Kyrie isn’t saying he’s better than LeBron and should be seen that way,” a close confidant of Irving’s told me. “He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him … treating him like he’s the child and LeBron’s the father or big brother he’s supposed to look up to.

“Kyrie knows he’s a franchise-caliber talent. He wants to be treated like it. And he’s tired of hearing about what LeBron needs, and he’s damn sure tired of hearing LeBron sound like he always needs more. As if the crew they have isn’t enough.”

Is this about LeBron repeatedly saying the Cavs needed another point guard last season? He was clearly talking about a backup for Irving, not replacing Irving. Perhaps, Irving or someone close to him took it differently?

Or maybe LeBron makes even more noise behind the scenes about needing more.

He doesn’t have enough – not to have a reasonable chance of beating these Warriors. Irving and Kevin Love lead a strong supporting cast, but Golden State is one of the greatest teams of all time. For LeBron to win another title, he needs more. I don’t blame LeBron for pushing for it.

I also understand that – and so much else of what LeBron naturally invites – wearing on Irving.