Orlando loss casts shadow over Dwight Howard’s future

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Magic fans don’t want to draw the line connecting the dots. You can’t blame them. But the loss to Atlanta seemed to move those dots toward being in a straight line.

And if things don’t change Dwight Howard could connect them himself and devastate the Orlando franchise.

The starting point is here: every time Dwight Howard rejects talking in any detail about his future free agent plans — he can opt out in the summer of 2012, but rightfully says that is too far away to think about — he falls back on two themes.

One, he really likes Orlando and its fans. Secondly, that he wants to win championships.

You can be sure that part two outweighs part one. He has said as much.

That brings us to Saturday. When the Atlanta Hawks smacked the Magic around pretty good in a win. Howard was a monster — 46 points on 16-of-23 shooting, with 19 rebounds. Jameer Nelson pitched in 27 points on 18 shots.

After that, the remaining seven Magic who played had 20 points on 8-of-34 shooting (23.5 percent). And their defense was about that good as well, with Howard having to block shots and try to clean up his teammates mess.

The Magic need more talent on the roster. Here’s the problem: With the moves the Magic made this year to bring in Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic are pretty locked into this roster. There is no easy overhaul or shake up. All players can be moved, but the Magic would have a hard time getting someone to take on Arena’s contract and give them a valuable player in return.

Suddenly the idea of the Magic wining a ring with Howard and this unit looks about as daunting as climbing K2.

It’s not just we outsiders who can connect the dots. Nate Drexler over at the Magic Basketball blog wrote this.

I hate to start making LeBron James comparisons from 2009, but this is looking too similar. You’ve got a league juggernaut that has been with the same team since the beginning. He was the centerpiece of a budding organization, the reason for an economy boost in the city, the MVP on a perennial playoff contender, and the owner of zero NBA championship rings….

It’s probably too early to start panicking and burning jerseys, but losing to Atlanta in the state-of-the-art Amway Center does not bode well for the Dwight faithful.

Magic fans are worried, and you can’t blame them. Howard could leave the Orlando Magic in a Carmelo Anthony situation next season — telling them he will opt out at the end of the season and walk, so they have to trade him or get nothing.

But we are a long, long way from that. For one, the Magic still should bounce back in this series — the Hawks killed it from the midrange in a way that is not sustainable. Secondly, we have no idea what the economic landscape will look like with a new collective bargaining agreement in place (if there is a franchise tag, the game changes for Howard).

But that loss to the Hawks cast a long shadow, and it could make things pretty cold in Orlando in the future.

Report: Nets’ Kenneth Faried charged with marijuana possession

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The Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried to the Nets this summer.

Now, Faried is feeling the consequences of moving from Colorado – where recreational marijuana is legal – to New York.

Valerie Gordon of 27East:

Southampton Town Police said Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis, 29, known as Kenneth Faried, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested on Montauk Highway at 1:30 a.m. and charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Police said that Mr. Faried was the rear passenger of a vehicle that was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint and was found to be in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

According to the police report, Mr. Faried’s money was seized and he was released on $500 bail.

We shouldn’t outlaw marijuana. That is getting fixed incrementally, but not quickly enough for Faried and many others who just happen to be in the wrong jurisdiction in the wrong year.

The forfeiture of Faried’s money is another evil that must be curbed. Why should he lose his money just because he possessed a small amount of marijuana? I doubt Faried – who will earn $13,764,045 next season – was carrying more cash than he can afford to lose. But police often seize money from people who can’t afford to lose it and who then face insurmountable legal hurdles to getting it returned – even if they’re never convicted of a crime. That is the egregious behavior that should be outlawed.

Speaking of fixes: Why does the NBA still punish players for marijuana? The first violation comes with a warning, the second with a $25,000 fine unannounced publicly and the third with a five-game suspension. If Faried is convicted of possession, that counts as a violation.

Faried is now caught in multiple backward systems.

With Dennis Schroder trade, Trae Young knows Hawks have bet big on him

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The Atlanta Hawks bet big on Trae Young — they traded away the rights to EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic to land Young on draft night.

But that’s not the time it really sunk in on Young how much the club was banking on him. Instead, it came a month later, when the Hawks traded former starting point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Here is what Young told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy (Lin) in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Young showed some of the potential Atlanta is betting on at Summer League. Certainly not in his first couple of games in Salt Lake City, where he struggled, but in how he grew and adapted. By the time the Hawks were playing in Las Vegas Young was putting up numbers, looking more comfortable with the athleticism and what he needed to do at the Summer League level.

For new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, those summer games were just a benchmark, and the fact Young improved fast was promising, but only a start.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included,” Pierce told NBC Sports. “And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for (the rookies) to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

It’s also what he’ll do this fall and winter. The Hawks are rebuilding, it’s not going to be about wins this season as much as steps forward. Particularly for Young, who will face a lot of scrutiny and comparisons because of the draft-night trade.

Young at least understands everything expected of him.

Kawhi Leonard’s “preference” reportedly still to sign in Los Angeles

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The Raptors are going to make a season-long pitch to Kawhi Leonard — they have already brought in a friend of his to the coaching staff, they have a passionate fan base, and they should win a lot and be a serious threat to make the Finals out of the East.

Right now, however, Leonard is still leaning toward Los Angeles, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski in an Ian Begley story at ESPN.

The Raptors would be able to offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract next summer. If Leonard leaves the Raptors, he could sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a team with the available salary-cap space.

So far, Leonard’s preference is to sign in Los Angeles with either the Lakers or Clippers next season, sources told Wojnarowski.

This is not new news or a surprise, but here are few thoughts anyway:

• I know Lakers’ fans are convinced he is coming to join LeBron James at Staples Center, but there are legitimate reasons I’ve heard from sources as to why the Clippers must be included in that mix. The Lakers are still the favorite according to most, but the Clippers cannot be left off the list, it is possible he lands there.

• If the Raptors are going to win Leonard over, it won’t happen this quickly. It’s going to be a process.

• How much might the money factor into Leonard’s decision, if at all? What about winning?

• The biggest difference between Leonard and the Paul George situation in Oklahoma City — where his people let it be known before the trade he wanted to go to Los Angeles, but after a season in OKC he decided to stay — is George came in with an open mind. Convincing Leonard to stay is going to be more difficult.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.