Dwight Howard: “I don’t know what else I can do” in Orlando

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Once the lockout clock mercifully stops, the “what will Dwight Howard do?” clock will start. (Chris Paul will have one, too, but that’s not our focus today.)

Every time Howard speaks directly about Orlando, he says loving and glowing things. But ask him about his legacy and free agency — as Esquire Magazine did — and he sings a different tune. He sounds conflicted.

The tune he sang in Esquire to Scott Raab cannot make Magic fans feel comfortable.

“There’s more you can do in a bigger place. I’m stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I’m at, I’ve done so much. And I just don’t know what else I can do. I can’t live for everybody else. I don’t know what decision I’m gonna make as of right now. It’s been crazy. Everybody wants me to come here, come play here, come to our team, do this. It’s a great feeling, though, to be wanted….

“The toughest part for me is the city — the people. They’ve got burgers named after me in Orlando, they’ve got a Web site saying, “Please stay.” I love the people in the city. I’ve literally sat on the bench with a towel on my head crying, because I feel the passion in the stands. I just think about what’s going to be best for what I want to accomplish in my life. And I don’t want that door to close on me, wherever that door is. I don’t want it to close.”

As we said in our look at the Magic after the lockout, GM Otis Smith has put himself in a corner. They need more talent around Howard, talent that fits better. They have a lot of big contracts from guys that are only moderately helpful, even if they can use the amnesty clause on Gilbert Arenas there is little room to maneuver. The only trade chip of real value is Jameer Nelson, but moving him creates a new hole to fill. There are a lot of challenges and not a lot of options.

To add to that, Howard talked Stan Van Gundy and coaching styles in his interview.

“Stan’s a great guy away from basketball,” Howard said. “He’s passionate. He loves the game. I have no problem with him off the court. The only thing I had a real problem with was the way he coached. It was very tough with Stan, because he yelled a lot, and I don’t want to be that guy to yell at my teammates along with my coach. Because they’re going to turn it all off. I had to find different ways to motivate my team. Sometimes when you have so much negativity, it’s really hard to be positive. I had a lot of negativity growing up, so I understand how to block the negativity out.”

This is the NBA, not a YMCA youth league, so there isn’t really a focus on positive vibes. Still, that factors in — if you don’t think the Magic would kick Van Gundy to the curb to keep Howard, you kid yourself.

I honestly think that Howard does not yet know what he is going to do, but he seems to be leaning going not staying.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.

Rumor: If Warriors land No. 1 pick they would take Anthony Edwards

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The only consensus about the 2020 NBA Draft is that it’s not a very good class.

Not only is there no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant level player at the top of the board, but there’s also no consensus on who is the best player in the class. James Wiseman has some backers, while others lean LaMelo Ball because he has a high ceiling if his shot and decision making dramatically improve.

If the Warriors get the top pick — they will have a 14 percent shot at it in the draft lottery — they would take Anthony Edwards, reports Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to multiple league sources The Chronicle contacted in the past few days, the Warriors — contrary to what mock drafts might suggest — aren’t believed to be high on two of the three players being mentioned as possibilities at the No. 1 pick: former Memphis center James Wiseman and point guard LaMelo Ball, who last played for the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League. As one source put it, “I think they’d only take one of those two if they were trading down in the draft and taking them for another team…

If the Warriors land the No. 1 pick in the draft, they’ll be open to trading it. But if Golden State doesn’t receive a worthy offer, it would likely take Edwards with the top selection, according to a league source.

What the Warriors would do with the top pick was a topic on this week’s ProBasketballTalk Podcast. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster suggested Golden State’s best move is to trade down a few spots then take players who can help more now such as Isaac Okoro or Obi Toppin. However, if they kept the top pick because offers were not good enough, he suggested Edwards was the best call.

Over at ESPN, draft guru Mike Schmitz said if he were the Warriors he would take LaMelo Ball. The logic there is he has the highest ceiling of any player in this draft if his shot comes around and his decision making improves (he shot 37.5 percent overall and 25 percent from three in Australia this season, choosing to jack up a lot of questionable shots). The Warriors would not put up with off-the-court antics from Ball — that’s a strong locker room with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry — but whether Ball can reach his ceiling is an open question.

It’s sort of the same thing with Wiseman. He’s the best positional fit for the Warriors, who would love a rim-running and defensive big, but he seems to be years away from reaching that potential if he does at all (there are questions about his passion for improving and if he would accept the rim-runner role). The Warriors are win now, they aren’t waiting around for a non-elite player to develop (there are no projected elite players in this class).

Whether the Warriors will be faced with this decision — or what they will do with the pick they do get — is all on hold. The date for the NBA Draft Lottery and the draft itself remains up in the air. The draft process itself this season is filled with challenges for every team.