Kurt Helin

Dwight Howard says his back is no longer a problem

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Dwight Howard has never quite been the same player since his back surgery in 2012. As a snapshot, look at his PER the three years before in Orlando were 24, 26.1, and 24.2; the four years since it has been 19.3, 21.4, 19.2, and 18.9. Those are still strong numbers, but not the dominant numbers we had seen in Orlando. He hasn’t looked like a No. 1 offensive option anymore, and he’s also battled knee and other issues that had him missing 52 games the past two seasons in Houston.

Howard is looking to change all that, to restore his reputation in Atlanta.

And his back is not going to get in the way, he told Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“My back hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever have an issue out of my back for the rest of my career,” he said without pause.

Even if he is healthy — and that remains a big “if,” everyone needs to see it — the question becomes will he buy into the Hawks selfless system? The Hawks success the past couple years has been based on team play, on moving and sharing the ball, on everyone accepting their role. Can Howard do that? Can he focus on defending and rebounding and not pout if he doesn’t get 15 post touches a game? Last season he led the NBA post touches, was second in the league in paint touches, and still said he didn’t get enough. When he gets them, the ball stops. Do that in Atlanta and the team takes a step backwards.

Maybe Howard has grown up and moved on, maybe he has become humble, maybe he can lead the Hawks and have them in that second tier in the East. But at this point, we all need to see it. We’ve all heard Howard say the right things before. Actions, not words.

Remembering Nate Thurmond

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The NBA lost one of the game’s greats Saturday, Hall of Famer and Warriors legend Nate Thurmond. He died at the age of 74.

Enjoy the video tribute above.

“Nate Thurmond was a giant of his era and one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “A fierce competitor with an incredible array of skills, Nate had a remarkable Hall of Fame career that included the first quadruple-double in NBA history.  Nate brought the same passion to his longtime community-relations role with the Golden State Warriors, who benefited from his deep knowledge of the game and warmth and kindness to everyone he encountered for more than 30 years.  We are deeply saddened by his loss.”

RIP Nate.

Suns’ Tyler Ulis drains buzzer-beating three, lifts team to Summer League semi-finals

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We had Kentucky’s undersized point guard Tyler Ulis as a sleeper in last June’s draft. While he’s 5’9″, he has fantastic ball handling skills, uses his quickness to get into the lane, has strong court vision, and he is a quality floor general. He’s not a future All-Star, but he can be a quality point guard off the bench.

Oh, and he can drain game-winning threes. The one above in overtime Saturday sent the Suns into the Summer League semi-Finals.

Ulis is having a strong Summer League. He’s averaged 14.1 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting, and is dishing out 6.8 assists per game. According to Synergy Sports, he has averaged using 14 possessions per game (a fairly high amount in Summer League) and is scoring a quality 1.02 points per possession.

The Suns did well with this pick.

Report: Brandon Bass reaches deal to join Clippers

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The Lakers locker room was not exactly the most mature, professional place in the NBA last season. To put it kindly. But in the middle of that were a few veterans who were good role models to any young players paying attention. Brandon Bass was one of those. He also remained a solid vet on the court — he struggled defensively early being asked to play the five off the bench, but by the end of the season he had settled into that role. He remains a solid pick-and-pop big who can score, the Lakers just gave him far fewer chances than he was used to.

Maybe the Clippers will give him more touches next season.

Bass is moving down the hall at Staples Center, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Despite a strong pursuit from the San Antonio Spurs, free agent Brandon Bass reached agreement on a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, league sources told The Vertical.

Bass had been deciding between veteran-minimum offers from the Spurs and Clippers, but the recruitment by Clippers coach Doc Rivers – who coached him in Boston – and several Los Angeles players swayed him. Bass resides in Los Angeles and is expected to be a trusted rotation player for Rivers.

Bass is someone Rivers can trust and will lean on off the bench. He shot 61.9 percent true shooting percentage last season and had a PER of 17.4, both comfortably above the league average. He can score from the post or pop out to the midrange.

Bass will likely come in off the bench behind Blake Griffin, getting a fair amount of minutes with g Marreese Speights at the five. Can those two, plus Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers, start to shore up a bench that has been a Clippers weakness for a few seasons now?

The Clippers and the Spurs will be battling to be the second best team in the West during next regular season. Bass is going to help.

Pat Riley thinks NBA should have “franchise tag.” Of course he does.

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The move of Kevin Durant from small market Oklahoma City to form a superteam in Golden State — right in the middle of ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the NBA and players’ union — has put an old favorite of owners and GMs back in the spotlight:

A franchise tag in the NBA.

If owners want to ensure a work stoppage in 2017 that causes games to be missed, insist on a franchise tag (or a hard cap). But of course, GMs and team executives love the franchise tag idea.  Including Pat Riley of the Miami Heat, via Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

The NFL has a franchise tag, although the NFL players’ union has historically not been nearly as strong as the NBA’s. Actually, that’s far too kind — the NFL union has been steamrolled more than once. There’s a lot of things in the NFL CBA that would never fly in the NBA.

The NFL version gives a tagged player a one-year contract for at least the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position. What Riley seems to be proposing is somewhat different — one tagged player where a team can void the max contract numbers to offer more to keep a player in a market. In theory, the Thunder could have tagged Durant and offered him $40 million a year in this scenario.

There is zero chance the players’ union goes for this — it restricts player movement. What they want for their players isn’t only money, it’s options. If Durant spends nine years in OKC and fulfills his end of the contract, he should have the option of changing work locations just like you or I can. This is important to the union and a line in the sand it would not cross. It would lead to a lengthy lockout.

A better idea — why not just do away with max salaries all together while keeping the cap? No way Stephen Curry and Durant end up on the same team when both could make $45 million a season and there is even a soft cap. The biggest opponents of that are the NBA’s well-paid role players (of which there are far more than star/max players) — the cap on max salaries leaves more money for them. If Durant makes $20 million more, the role players on that team make less.

(One interesting tangent: What if teams could tag a player, but said player could still leave? For example, if the Thunder could tag Durant, ignore max salary restrictions and offer $40 million a season, but he could still choose to leave for less with Golden State. Is that acceptable to the players? I doubt it would be to the owners, but it’s an interesting hypothetical topic.)

I heard mixed things in Las Vegas about the possibility of a 2017 lockout. The Durant move seemed to galvanize hard-line owners — mostly from small and middle-sized markets — who want hard caps or franchise tags. Of course, what a lot of those owners want is another few percentage points of “basketball related income” (the money the league takes in from national television deals, ticket sales, jersey sales and much more) — the players used to get 57 percent, now it is 49-51 percent (depending on a number of factors each year), but greedy owners want more. It’s all about the money. There is zero chance the players union under Michelle Roberts goes for that after feeling they gave up too much last time. But there will be some push to restrict player movement.

On the other side , there is a lot of optimism a lockout (at least one that costs games) can be avoided, in part because there is simply so much money in the system with the new television deal there is faith cooler heads will prevail. The two sides are already talking, the dynamic is different with Adam Silver and Roberts, and they can find enough common ground to make this work. NBA owners are seeing profits, NBA players are making more than ever before, who wants to kill the golden goose?

My experience with the rich (players) and ridiculously wealthy (owners) is that they never think they are making enough money. Never underestimate human greed. I just hope I’m wrong in this case.