Dwight Howard

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Dwight Howard: Kobe Bryant and I didn’t beef

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Dwight Howard spent a lot of time yesterday interacting with fans on Twitter, which was pretty cool, especially considering how willing he was to discuss any topic.

Beyond trading insults with a 16-year-old, the Hornets center also reflected on his time with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers:

I don’t know, that’s not how I remember it.

But Howard is image-conscious, and the popular Kobe is not a good enemy. Plus, time heals all wounds.

I’m not convinced there was never a beef. But I remain convinced Howard wants to put it behind him.

Report: Hawks signing Ersan Ilyasova to one-year, $6 million contract

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The Hawks are rebuilding – or at least should be.

They let their best player walk (Paul Millsap to the Nuggets) and traded their second-best player from last season (Dwight Howard to the Hornets). Arguably their third- and fourth-best players also left in free agency (Tim Hardaway Jr to the Knicks, Thabo Sefolosha to the Jazz).

Sure, rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, John Collins and DeAndre’ Bembry is uninspiring. But trying to win immediately with this roster is downright terrifying.

Yet, that continues to be Atlanta’s apparent direction under new general manager Travis Schlenk.

After signing Dewayne Dedmon (who turns 28 next month) to a 1+1 contract, the Hawks are adding Ilyasova (listed at 30) on a one-year deal.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

As a player on a one-year contract who’d have Early Bird rights next summer, Ilyasova will have the right to veto trades this season. Maybe he’d approve a trade to a better team, but he has a solid shot to start in Atlanta – an opportunity is unlikely to exist on a playoff team.

There’s a good chance Ilyasova’s value to the Hawks is tied completely to what he provides on the court this season.

And he’ll help. Ilyasova is a good 3-point shooter who takes enough charges to hold his own defensively. He has high basketball intelligence.

He’s just not good enough to lift Atlanta into relevancy. None of the other Hawks are, either. Maybe they’ll collectively exceed the sum of their parts, but this feels like a team – that if it gets all the breaks – tops out at just OK.

Now, the Hawks are also less likely to bottom out and draft a difference-maker or even just find a long-term contributor from this roster spot.

Reports: Dewayne Dedmon signs with Hawks for two years, $14 million

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Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap are out in Atlanta, and that left a huge defensive gap along the front line.

Enter Dewayne Dedmon.

The man who played some quality defense off the bench for the Spurs last season is taking his talents to Atlanta, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and confirmed by Sam Amick of the USA Today.

With a front line that includes Miles Plumlee, Mike Muscala, and John Collins, Dedmon could get serious run. If he does well and that and wants to test the market next summer and get paid, he can do that (although it’s going to be a tight market).

Statistically, Dedmon was one of the best defensive centers in the NBA last season — for example, he was second in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus among centers behind Rudy Gobert last season (yes that is a flawed statistic, we’re using it here just as a snapshot). He is athletic and bouncy, he can block shots and is in the right position.

The challenge for Dedmon is to provide something on offense and make teams guard him and not just help off him. He’ll get his chance next season with a rebuilding Hawks team.

Report: Hawks re-signing Mike Muscala to two-year, $10 million contract

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The Hawks face a big-money decision on Tim Hardaway Jr., who signed an offer sheet with the Knicks.

In the meantime, Atlanta is locking up another one of its free agents for far less – Mike Muscala.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sport:

This is nice value for the 26-year-old. If I were the Hawks, I would have explored paying him a little more annually to lock up him for another year or two. Perhaps, they did.

Muscala can play either big-man position, which, in the modern NBA, means he should probably play more center. But that depends what else Atlanta does. With Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard gone, Muscala might even start this year.

That exposure could put him in line for a raise next season. His range extends beyond the arc, and he’s an acceptable defender inside and out. Muscala is far from elite, but he loosely fits the coveted skill set for bigs.

The Hawks have Muscala’s Bird Rights, and he’s held at just $1,471,382. So, they can use their remaining cap space then exceed the cap to officially re-sign him.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.