Report: Magic may keep Howard, try to land Steve Nash

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More and more, it feels like the Orlando Magic may not trade Dwight Howard — despite Howard’s trade request still being on the table — do what they can to keep him and roll the dice that he doesn’t opt out of his contract and walk away leaving them nothing this summer.

How do they keep him? How about convincing the Suns to throw in the towel on Steve Nash and trade him to Orlando? That’s one option the franchise is considering, reports Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.

The Magic, sources say, remain committed to playing out the season with Howard, perhaps adding a piece to push the team to elite status and hoping that all of it — plus the additional $25 million-$30 million Orlando would be able to pay him as a free agent — will be enough to persuade Howard to stay.

League sources say Orlando has not ruled out making a play for Steve Nash in the event the Suns decided to trade the point guard to a contender before the March 15 deadline. Nash, even at 37 and even on a rental basis, could push the Magic back to the NBA Finals at a time when the Celtics are faltering and the Heat are showing signs of wear and tear.

This is probably about as likely as Eddy Curry making the All-Star team.

First, the Suns have said they would only trade Nash if he asks to be traded and he has said he is not going to ask for a trade. Phoenix is loath to move Nash, while they are not even a .500 team with him right now (5-9) he is loved in the community and there would be a backlash if he were shipped off.

Berger goes on to talk about why the Clippers should consider a Blake Griffin for Howard trade (likely after this season in a sign-and-trade deal), citing the basketball reasons that Dwight is better and a better fit with Chris Paul. I’ll grant him that. But the Clippers are not going to trade Griffin for marketing and business reasons. This was the league’s laughingstock franchise and Griffin changed that on the court, changed the culture in the locker room (goodbye Baron Davis) and is the guy the fans latched on to. He is the face of that franchise, the fans hero, not the best player (that is Paul). The Clippers will not trade Griffin.

That’s where we are with Howard now. The speculation gets wilder as the team sits back doing nothing and Howard just keeps playing — and playing well. But the Magic’s patient strategy runs some big risks, as the Nets can offer him a big deal as a free agent this summer and Howard could walk for nothing. If Dallas can find a sucker to take on Shawn Marion’s deal, they could offer Deron Williams and Howard near max deals.

For now, we wait.

Can Mike Budenholzer lift Milwaukee to top of East?

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Bucks and their new coach in the spotlight.

Jason Kidd was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just more than a week ago, and with that came the flood of memories (and videos) of what a legendary player he was at his peak, leading the New Jersey Nets to the Finals in the early 2000s.

Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Jason Kidd’s offensive and defensive philosophies seemed stuck in that same era. The Bucks’ corner offense was run at a slow pace and lacked much strong-to-weak ball movement or shooting that would have created space for stars to operate. Kidd’s defense was ultra aggressive to the point teams turned that against the Bucks with a couple of passes, which led to quality shots. In spite of that Milwaukee kept winning because of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the talent on the roster, but talk to other teams around the league and they did not fear the Bucks. What they feared was the day the Bucks started using that talent in a modern way.

Enter Mike Budenholzer.

The former right-hand man to Gregg Popovich who went on to coach the Hawks to a 60-win season was brought in as an Xs and Os guru who would simplify the defense, then put Antetokounmpo and other Milwaukee players in a faster offense that worked to get their stars better looks.

How much can a coach and a system lift a team? Milwaukee is going to find out, and they are betting it’s a lot.

The Bucks don’t want to waste seasons of a top-10 player, a potential MVP such as Antetokounmpo (plus they are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city, this is win-now time in Milwaukee). Budenholzer has never had a talent like this on his roster as a head coach, and one of the first things he did was have a breakfast with the Greek Freak and talk about how together they would get him to take the next step.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about coming to Milwaukee, but there’s no doubt that Giannis is one of them,” Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference this summer. “He’s so important to our success, I think he embraces his leadership role and how he needs to grow, improve and get better along with all the rest of us. So the excitement is through the roof, and how we can use and implement him defensively and offensively, it started some at breakfast and it will continue into the weight room today, tomorrow and the next day.

“And those are conversations I look forward to having with Giannis, and listening to Giannis too. I think he’s a smart player at 23, and he has an IQ and an understanding of the game. Together, I think he and I will push each other, but I look forward to pushing him. He believes it and I believe it, but he’s going to get a lot better as we watch him over the years.”

“A lot better” Antetokounmpo should scare the rest of the league.

Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy and motion offense fit better with the Bucks’ talent. He wants to run and get the ball out in transition, then use pace, misdirection, and side-to-side ball movement to create space for their stars to work in the half court. Then there’s the floor spacing, the Bucks were 25th in the league in percentage of shots from three, but a new philosophy and adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova this offseason should help change that. The Bucks are going to shoot threes and that should open up lanes for Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe to get to the rim. This should look like a different Bucks team.

However, the bigger changes and improvements need come on the other side of the ball. Despite the dated style under Kidd, the Bucks still had an offensive rating in the top half of the league. The defensive side, however, was the Bucks’ biggest weakness.

“The thing that probably stands out to me first is the potential on the defensive side of the ball,” Budenholzer said. “I would say that’s been always something that’s prioritized. We want to be great on both sides of the ball, and whether it be the last five years in Atlanta as a head coach or San Antonio at the end of the day has always been great defensively.”

Budenholzer has talked about simplifying the system and reads on defense, something that should be welcomed in the Bucks’ locker room. The team has good defenders on it, just put them in better positions and understanding the system should improve the Bucks on that end of the court.

Can Budenholzer make the Bucks a threat to Boston this season? Unlikely. But if everything comes together in a new system, how good can this Bucks’ team be, if Antetokounmpo looks like an MVP candidate again and the defense is improved. Philadelphia and Toronto may want to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on the Bucks.

This team might finally start living up to its potential.

Karl-Anthony Towns denies Jimmy Butler rift due to Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend

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Karl-Anthony Towns reportedly won’t sign his contract extension until the Timberwolves handle the Jimmy Butler situation, which escalated with Butler’s trade request.

What’s the problem between the teammates?

Robert Littal of BSO:

Towns:

OK then.

Same company to appear on Trail Blazers jerseys, reportedly endorse Damian Lillard

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers have announced a multi-year jersey sponsorship deal with Performance Health, an Illinois-based company that manufactures products for the rehabilitation and sports medicine markets. The company will also reportedly endorse Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A logo for the company’s product Biofreeze will be featured on the left shoulder of Portland’s uniform. With the deal, the Blazers become the 24th NBA team to include a corporate sponsor on its jerseys.

Biofreeze is a topical pain reliever. Snowboarder Shawn White and tennis player Sloane Stephens are among the product’s individual athlete endorsers.

The NBA first allowed jersey sponsorships last season. Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan said Portland was close to deals last year but they fell through, and so the team took its time in finding the right partner.

The Biofreeze logo will also be featured on the team’s practice apparel.

Report: Jimmy Butler wanted Timberwolves to add four years, $155 million to his contract this summer

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Jimmy Butler rejected the largest-possible extension the capped-out Timberwolves could offer him this summer – a four-year deal worth $100,514,631 ($25,128,658 average annual salary).

After all, his projected max in free agency this summer is about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually) if he re-signs or about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually) if he leaves.

But Minnesota’s extension offer wasn’t technically the largest possible this summer. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could have cleared cap space to renegotiate his salary upward then offered a richer extension based on his new salary.

And apparently that’s what Butler wanted – and didn’t get – before requesting a trade.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler was hoping for a renegotiation and extension of his contract this summer, one that would have raised his salary for 2018-19 to $30 million and added another four years and $145 million on to that.

The Timberwolves could have trimmed their roster to only their starters – Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. That would have meant using sweeteners to unload Gorgui Dieng‘s negative value contract, dumping recent first-round picks Justin Patton, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie and not using the mid-level exception on Anthony Tolliver. Only players who signed for the minimum could have still wound up on the roster.

Minnesota still wouldn’t have had enough cap space to renegotiate Butler’s salary up to $30 million.

Perhaps, Butler wanted the Timberwolves to take more drastic measures like trading Wiggins for little to no returning salary. But they clearly weren’t going to do that, and they’d long gone down the opposite road of adding salary. They weren’t coming close to clearing the $10 million of cap space necessary to raise Butler’s salary that much.

This is all raises questions about timing. Nearly every report on Butler’s wishes has gone out of its way to say contract concerns – not problems with Wiggins and Towns – were the primary driver of the trade request. But if that were the case, why now? Butler had to know for months he wasn’t getting his desired extension.