Kurt Helin

Report: Dwight Howard has July 1 meetings with Boston, Atlanta

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Boston is in need of star players, even ones past their prime. At this point Danny Ainge will talk to anyone.

Atlanta is Dwight Howard‘s hometown.

The center is a free agent come July 1 and he is setting up meetings, too. The two on the list so far are named above, reports Marc Stein and Chris Broussard of ESPN.

The Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are the first known teams to secure face-to-face recruiting meetings with free-agent big man Dwight Howard, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that Howard is likely to meet with as many as five teams in free agency, with a return to the Houston Rockets widely seen as unlikely after Howard declined his $23.2 million player option for next season.

Unlikely? That’s putting it kindly after the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as coach.

A number of other teams may look to talk to Howard once they lose out in the Hassan Whiteside sweepstakes — he is the much hotter target at center. Teams such as the Heat and Mavericks, among others, who are targeting Whiteside likely have Howard as a fallback.

Boston is going to go after every star on the market. Atlanta is more complicated, in the past Howard has been resistant to a return home (many players are leery of the off-the-court distractions and demands that come with playing in their hometown). However, Howard may be more open to the idea as his other options shrink.

Howard averaged 13.7 points a game on only 8.5 shot attempts per game, and added 11.8 rebounds a night. He played good defense, although not at the pre back surgery levels. Howard hopes to get a max contract, which will start at $30.8 million for him (with the projected salary cap of $94 million).

Teams will be hesitant to pay that much. However, more important to some than the money is the years — with Howard’s history of back issues, many teams are hesitant to offer a contract even three years in length.

However, as the options for other teams shrivel up in free agency more and more will take a second look at Howard. And when he signs a lot of people will shake their head at the contract.

Report: Miami Heat nearing contract extension with Erik Spoelstra

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Pat Riley has his protegé’s back — Erik Spoelstra is not going to be a lame duck coach.

He was entering the final year of his contract, but management is working out an extension for Spoelstra, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Miami Heat are progressing on completion of a multiyear contract extension for two-time championship coach Erik Spoelstra, league sources told The Vertical.

Owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley have been eager to secure Spoelstra beyond the final year of his contract in 2016-17, assuring that one of the league’s elite coaches never reaches the free-agent market.

Stunning stat of the night: Spoelstra has been the Heat coach for eight years, making him the second longest tenured coach in the NBA (behind only Gregg Popovich).

This is a smart move by the Heat; Spoelstra is a smart, quality coach who gets the most out of his players. Miami was 48-34 last season with a roster that was challenged by injuries — such as losing Chris Bosh after the All-Star break — and yet made the second round of the playoffs (where they went seven games against Toronto). There are few better in the league than Spoelstra and the Heat should take care of him.

Reports: Utah Jazz interested in smart targets of Solomon Hill, Luol Deng

Associated Press
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There are few organizations making smarter moves consistently right now than the Utah Jazz. They have a fantastic young roster, and they made a great trade before the draft giving them depth at the point with George Hill (who fits what they need).

Who are they targeting in free agency? They are not big game hunting, but they are targeting guys who would fit with their growing young core. That starts with stretch four Solomon Hill, reports Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Utah Jazz have expressed interest in acquiring Indiana forward Solomon Hill once the free agency period opens on Friday at midnight, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned….

Hill distinguished himself this season as a versatile talent, capable of being a go-to perimeter defender, and an offensive threat. He established himself as a key member of Indiana’s rotation off the bench, and played arguably the best basketball of his career in the postseason.

Hill is an unrestricted free agent because Larry Bird vastly underestimated Hill and did not pick up his player option before last season. When Hill blossomed as the season wore on, that mistake became more and more glaring.

Utah has Derrick Favors at the four, but Hill would be a fantastic change of pace off the bench, he can play some three behind Gordon Hayward, and he would fit the age and style of their young players. If Hill doesn’t pan out, the Jazz could go with a veteran.

He played well for Miami at the four last season, he’s gritty and tough, and would provide a veteran, professional mindset off the bench.

The Jazz seem to be thinking chemistry and about the long term — both very good signs.

Report: Tim Duncan picks up $5 million option, keeps options open

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If Tim Duncan is coming back to the Spurs next season, he is doing so at a very reasonable $5.6 million salary — he picked up his player option for this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

It is “if” because he has yet to decide if he’s going to play another season.

Duncan, 40, is still seriously contemplating his desire to continue playing, as well as judging how his body feels, league sources said. The Spurs are allowing Duncan to make a decision on his own timetable, but there’s no question that this offseason is the most seriously he’s considered retirement.

The Spurs ideally would like Duncan to make a decision before free agency gets rolling because it would impact the moves they try to make. That said, if the Spurs do not land Kevin Durant, they could chase someone such as Pau Gasol who could either step in for Duncan or play in a platoon with him (or even next to him at times). Whathappenspenes, Gregg Popovich will put guys in good positions to succeed.

Duncan has earned the right to make his decision in his own time, and the Spurs are being the classy organization we have come to expect in not pressuring him.

 

Report: Orlando Magic to chase Jamal Crawford in free agency

Associated Press
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The Orlando Magic put together an interesting and potentially dangerous front line with their recent trade — Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and now Serge Ibaka. There’s skill, versatility, defense, and a lot of options and combinations for new coach Frank Vogel to play around with.

The price for that was a quality two guard in Victor Oladipo.

How will the Magic look to replace that offense? How about the veteran Jamal Crawford? So reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

Crawford has hinted he is looking for a change, although Doc Rivers wants to bring him back to the Clippers.

Crawford averaged 14 points a game last season, racking up a lot of those points thanks to his love of pull-up jumpers, plus he has one of the best crossovers in the game. He can be a streaky shooter, but the guy will get buckets. The problem is, at age 36 he is showing declining efficiency at age 36, and he is not a good defender. How much do the Magic (or any other team) want to invest in that? And for how many years?

Of course, this will come down to money. Like always. But you can see with their deadline trade and this move, the Magic are thinking like a team that wants to make the playoffs and turn the corner with their rebuild sooner rather than later.