Otis Smith will not consider trading Dwight Howard, no matter what

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Otis Smith talked to the Orlando Sentinel Friday night and gave what could commonly be considered the GM’s equivalent of “famous last words.” Dwight Howard’s  a free agent in 2012. He’s made it pretty clear he’s going to enter free agency, while playing the oh-so-tactful play of “I love Orlando, I just want to win a championship” which is code for “I’m simultaneously playing to the fans while giving myself an easy out.” The reason we know this is he’s about the fiftieth guy to take that approach towards their exit out of town. But Smith’s not worried, and won’t be taking calls about a trade for the best center in the league. And he has gotten calls. But why won’t he even listen to offers (assuming he’s being honest)?  From the Sentinel:

Smith wouldn’t divulge the teams who have made a run at Howard — or the fellow GMs who tried to hoodwink him during Dwight’s raw, formative years, he said.

Smith expects clubs to come calling before the trade deadline, thinking the Magic would rather receive compensation instead of letting Howard walk as a free agent.

Smith made it clear: He’s willing to take the risk.

“Sure,” he said.

There’s a reason he feels that way.

He reiterates that teams dealing superstars never get fair value, which is true, but there’s something more.

Smith believes — and this is obviously encouraging news for Magic fans — that Howard will stay in Orlando when all is said and done, texted and tweeted.

“That’s my sense,” he said.

via Orlando Magic: Orlando Magic expect to field trade offers for Dwight Howard – OrlandoSentinel.com.

I’m not trying to be a jerk here. Orlando fans have already started reacting to talk of Howard’s departure from the media as if we take some exquisite glee in the idea of Howard leaving the fans hanging just as Shaq did over a decade earlier. It’s not that at all. It’s that those Orlando fans need to ask fans in Cleveland, in Toronto, in Utah, in Denver.  This is what is happening. And for someone as attention starved as Howard, all the attention being showered on these stars by big name clubs in big name cities is attractive.

As Blogger-in-Chief Kurt Helin pointed out to me, what else is Smith supposed to do here? “Oh, yeah, we’ll totally explore trading him. He’s got us in a tough position and we have no leverage because of his free agency. So please, send over a great offer now that I’ve said that?”

Or, “Well, he’s probably gone. I know that I’ve made about fifteen trades trying to build around him, and spent a huge amount of money for a small-market franchise to try and put a contender around him, and helped him get to the Finals, but in reality, look at the guy’s behavior. Does that look like a guy who’s going to stick around in Orlando?”

Of course not. Smith can’t do either of those things. He has to stick to the script. Which puts confidence and strength in the organization and its fans. But if Smith’s actually not taking calls, he’s not doing his job. He needs to prepare for the future. Denver and Utah have shown that your entire contention doesn’t have to be destroyed by trading your best player. Utah fell off the map at the end of this season, but Utah also has set themselves up well for the future. They have potential and a stronger sense of depth. Denver on the other hand is wrecking ball right now. Those who did not pursue such a trade? Cleveland and Toronto are just sad.

Howard represents the Magic’s best chance at a title, at multiple titles, and Smith knows that. But at some point next season, he’s going to have to get as clear an answer from Howard as he can about his intentions, judge the positioning of teams like Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, and decide whether he’s going to have the pull to retain his star. Howard says he just wants to win a title. But the commercials, the media appearances, his entire approach has been to increase his exposure, including a movie in China. The biggest problem is those bigger markets have proven they have a leg up in the ability to win championships and to get him greater exposure. That’s the reality of the league, and something David Stern needs to take a good long look at while his owners continue to hardball negotiations and refusing to discuss revenue sharing. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Maybe Howard will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll re-sign this summer. Maybe the Magic will shock everyone and make a Finals run that nets them a championship and convinces Howard to stay with the one who brought him. Maybe he’ll see the pain that would be on the faces of Magic fans if he abandoned them and that will be enough to convince him to stay.

I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m just looking at history.

 

Raptors right to swing for fences with Kawhi Leonard

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Raptors are one step closer.

To seriously contending for a championship? To actually rebuilding?

We’ll see.

But Toronto is racing toward a resolution, one way or another.

Last offseason, the Raptors positioned themselves for a breaking point in the summer of 2020. They gave Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka three-year contracts, matching the timeline of Jonas Valanciunas‘ contract ending. The hitch was DeMar DeRozan‘s huge deal, which ran through 2021. If it reached the point Toronto president Masai Ujiri wanted to retool in 2020, perhaps DeRozan wouldn’t be as appealing on the trade market. Keeping DeRozan – central to the Raptors’ identity – could have been even more limiting.

So, Ujiri got ahead of that potential problem by trading DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20-protected first-round pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

The move was extremely risky. Leonard missed nearly all of last due to injury. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and he’s reportedly eying Los Angeles.

But Leonard is just 27 and only one season removed from being an MVP candidate. He could lift Toronto to a championship this season. He could re-sign. The upside is so high.

The downside is starting a rebuild that probably would have come anyway.

First, the Raptors will give it their best shot this season.

They re-signed Fred VanVleet – the driving force behind their excellent bench – to a two years, $18 million contract. That likely assures aying the luxury tax for the first time since 2004, though there’s still time to shed salary before the tax is assessed on the final day of the regular season.

Greg Monroe was a very nice addition at the minimum. If all goes well, he might even allow Toronto to dump Valanciunas’ salary.

And don’t forget about Green, who’s a solid contributor on the wing, not just a throw-in with Leonard.

Firing Dwane Casey to hire first-time NBA head coach Nick Nurse was another risk. I wonder whether Ujiri would have done it if he knew he’d acquire Leonard later in the summer.

The Raptors could be excellent this season and beyond. They could be excellent this season then fall off dramatically. They could be far worse this season and stay down a while.

But after years of strong regular seasons and playoff disappointments, it was time to change the status quo.

Fortune favors the bold.

 

 

Offseason grade: A

Heat camp arrives, and Goran Dragic says he’s more than ready

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MIAMI (AP) — This time last year, Miami’s Goran Dragic was already tired and the season was just getting started.

It’s very different now.

When the Heat hold their first practice of the season Tuesday, Dragic expects to be as rested and ready as he’s been for any training camp in years. The point guard who went to his first All-Star Game last season wore down as the year went along, in part because of the grind he put himself through last summer while leading his native Slovenia to the European championship.

This summer, he played less – and is hoping that pays off this season.

“I feel amazing. I feel great,” Dragic said. “I think one of the smartest moves I made was retiring from the national team, because I feel energized and pumped for this season. I always kind of hit a wall toward the end of a season, but I feel like this season is going to be a totally different story.”

At 32, Dragic is Miami’s third-oldest player – among those in the Heat locker room, only Udonis Haslem (38) and the entering-his-final-season Dwyane Wade (36) have seen more birthdays. But Dragic is still a starter, still a very intregal part of everything Miami envisions for this season, and is coming off a year where he averaged 17.3 points.

“The band is still together,” Dragic said. “I’m very happy that I’ll be part of this last dance with Dwyane.”

The biggest malady Dragic was dealing with at the end of last season was tendinitis in his right knee, something that bothered him for several weeks. He still led Miami in scoring during its five-game playoff appearance against Philadelphia, averaging 18.6 points.

He wasn’t the only Heat starter ailing when last season ended. Josh Richardson was playing through a bad shoulder, Hassan Whiteside had knee problems, James Johnson had a sports hernia and Tyler Johnson‘s thumb needed surgery. The Heat – who are one of the many teams that have been talking to Minnesota about a trade for Jimmy Butler – are hoping some health luck comes their way this season.

“I think we’re going to be good,” Dragic said.

If nothing else, he’s not coming into this season as harried as he was last fall. Dragic has been back in Miami for about a month, after spending most of his offseason in Slovenia. A year ago, the European championships meant Dragic was still playing right up until the start of Heat camp.

It wasn’t a popular decision in Slovenia for Dragic to stop playing for the national team, which didn’t qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in China and now faces an uphill climb if it’s going to reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“But it was the right decision for me,” Dragic said.

The Heat sat out this past June’s NBA Draft in part because of the deal they made in 2015 to bring Dragic to Miami. The package sent to Phoenix included two first-round selections, the first of which was used this year at the No. 16 overall spot. The other will be used in 2021.

The price was steep, and the Heat aren’t complaining.

“I’d much rather have Goran Dragic than those two picks,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Dragic is hoping to give Riley even more bang for his buck this season.

The All-Star nod – even though it came as an injury replacement – was particularly meaningful for Dragic, and he felt that last season was one of his better seasons anyway.

His goal for this season is simple: Be even better.

“I want to be at a high level for as long as possible,” Dragic said. “If you come into a season without goals, you’re just going through practice and it doesn’t mean anything to you. But if you set goals, you’re pushing yourself. And for me personally, my goal is to have a better season than I did last year. I don’t want to drop a little bit at the end this season. I want to be energized, fresher, more consistent the whole way this time.”

Dwight Howard challenges Shaq on Instagram, Shaq roasts him

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Shaquille O’Neal is still not Dwight Howard‘s biggest fan. And Shaq still loves the tired “ringzzzz” argument.

It all started because Shaq was watching a couple of guys roast Howard on MTV’s Wild N’ Out. Shaq liked it so much he decided to post it to Instagram.

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Dam lol

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

Howard took the bait and responded in the comments. He should have known better.

Let’s be clear: Dwight is a future Hall of Famer. No question. The Orlando version of Howard was an MVP-level player who was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight time All-NBA and All-Star, who was a beast on the boards and averaged 17.4 points and 12.7 rebounds a game for his career.

And yet Shaq’s right, Howard’s not on his level. Not close.

As Sunday winds down, Miami heats up talk of Jimmy Butler trade

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There has been much speculation over the past 48 hours about where disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler will end up once owner Glen Taylor finds a suitable trade partner for him. We have already discussed at length where Butler might fit best, and Sunday morning saw an influx of new teams ready to come to the Timberwolves with an offer now that it is known that Butler is on the table.

As Sunday came to a close, it became apparent that yet another team is trying to work their way into the Butler sweepstakes.

According to multiple reports, the Miami Heat have been active and are trying to get a deal done for Butler. Once thought of as a middle-of-the-pack suitor, the Heat have apparently been one of the more engaged teams as a deal for the Timberwolves guard is sought before the team opens training camp on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Miami joins the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in teams looking to exchange parts for the next season on Butler’s contract.

No doubt league GMs are trying to weigh the risk vs. reward when it comes to Butler. His contract has a player option for the 2019-20 NBA season, which he will almost certainly opt out of in order to become a free agent. That means that without a guarantee that Butler will re-sign, any team trading for him will need to be careful with what young assets they leverage for the present.

For example, one report out of Portland says that the Blazers are unwilling to give up who they see as their young main core for a one-year rental on Butler. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic are all off the table for the Blazers.

We still don’t know what the asking price for Butler will eventually be, or how the Timberwolves prioritize getting a solid return for him vs. shipping him outside of the Western Conference. For now, we have to wait and see what happens.

At least until Tuesday.