Dwight Howard rumor storm begins: here is where we stand

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All-Star Weekend is in the rear view mirror, the NBA trade deadline is just more than two weeks away (March 15), so now the focus of the NBA world becomes this:

Where will Dwight Howard be playing March 16?

There are 8 million rumors out there in the naked city right now, here is where things stand as of today:

• The ball is in Magic’s court right now — until they decide they are going to trade (or not trade) Howard everything else is paused. Here is what the Orlando Sentinel reports on that front.

The Magic have said all along that they will speak to Howard at some point before or on March 1 to see what he plans to do when he can become a free agent this summer. The Magic then would assess their situation from there.

What the Magic will hear in that meeting is what they have heard all along from Howard and his representatives — he will not sign an extension in Orlando — reports Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated.

Sources with knowledge of Howard’s thinking say nothing has changed about his outlook. And while his wish-list of teams still includes the Nets, Lakers and Mavs, New Jersey is far and away the leader.

That said, the Magic are clearly undecided. It would not at all be surprising if they look at the trade options that start to flow in and decide to keep Howard anyway and take their chances this summer. This is not a team that wants to rebuild, and that’s an order from ownership.

• Why New Jersey? Because they are going to be Brooklyn soon and they have an elite point guard in Deron Williams, reports Amick.

Though it may pain the purists, it’s not just about basketball for Howard. He wants to take his brand global, to leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov while building his brand as Brooklyn’s first star. His wandering eye is enticed not only by the Barclays Center that is set to open next season, but the businesses in the booming area around it that could afford many off-court opportunities.

• What about the Lakers? One of the big rumors All-Star Weekend in Orlando was Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to Los Angeles for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That is not happening. First, the Lakers have said multiple times they would not trade both Bynum and Gasol in a deal for Howard (or anyone else). Second, there is this from the Orlando Sentinel.

Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Sentinel the rumor is wrong.

Howard has had conversations with Kobe Bryant but does not have Los Angeles at the top of his list. From Amick at Sports Illustrated:

He wants, as one source said, to “be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant.”

Part of that also stems out of the conversations Howard had with Kobe, one where Kobe reportedly said the Lakers would still be his team and at times Howard could be the third offensive option behind Bryant and Pau Gasol (Kobe has denied that is how the talk went). Whatever happened in that conversation, the Lakers are not Howard’s top choice and Lakers ownership is not happy, Amick reports.

The Buss family that owns the Lakers, in turn, is said to be irked by Bryant’s alleged role in the matter and hopeful that Howard — who they see as the business and basketball draw for the next decade — can still be convinced otherwise. But Howard’s focus, one source close to him insists, was on the Nets regardless of Bryant’s perceived influence.

• What about Dallas? Howard wants to play with Deron Williams, and Williams has made noises he would like to return to his hometown of Dallas and play when he becomes a free agent this summer. From the New York Daily News.

“I always like playing (Dallas),” Williams said. “It’s my favorite arena – one of my favorite arenas to play in – probably my favorite to play in. I just enjoy playing here – enjoy playing in front of my friends, family. It’s always good to get the chance to come and see me play.”

If Howard is coming to New Jersey, Williams likely stays. He has said multiple times he really enjoys living in New York.

But as Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBC’s SportsTalk, watch the Shawn Marion situation — if Dallas can find a taker for his $8 million deal next season, they would have the money to offer max deals to both Howard and Williams to play with Dirk Nowtizki. Don’t put it past Mark Cuban to pull that off.

But that is the summer. Right now, the fate of Dwight Howard really rests with what the Magic decide to do in the next couple of weeks.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch in NBA’s MVP race

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It was difficult to limit this list to just five.

The NBA’s race for the MVP award seems wide open this season. LeBron James is the favorite of the Las Vegas books (thank Lakers’ fans for that) and James Harden has been first or second three of the past four years, so he cannot be counted out. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have each won it before, although they tend to cancel each other out on the same team.

This year feels like we could see new blood winning the award. Maybe Anthony Davis of the Pelicans. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. Maybe Kawhi Leonard is back to form in Toronto and we shouldn’t count him out. Joel Embiid is touting himself in Philly.

I make my prediction and talk about the players to watch in this new PBT Extra video.

Warriors reveal reversible championship rings

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The Golden State Warriors received their championship rings on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, even with Patrick McCaw not in attendance.

The 2017-18 NBA champions have grabbed three titles in four years, and as such you’d expect them to get inventive with their hardware at this point.

Enter this season’s championship ring.

The Warriors revealed the ring’s design on social media on Tuesday, and it has one very specific feature. Specifically, the center area of the ring is completely reversible.

Check it out:

Championship rings are objectively ugly, gaudy things. But if someone offered you one, you certainly wouldn’t turn it down. Everyone wants to have a championship under their belt, and having a ridiculous ring with 74 diamonds in it and a twist-off top is just wild.

Glen Taylor says Tom Thibodeau’s job isn’t in danger

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Jimmy Butler is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, at least until the team finds a suitable trade partner. It seems the talks between the Wolves and the Miami Heat have gone dormant, and there isn’t an openly-interested party in sight.

Meanwhile, Butler is attending practices and is expected to play in the first game of the year for Minnesota against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. As the team looks for trade partners, the question remains what will happen with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Things have quickly gone south under his watch, and many are calling for his firing from the outside.

In a conversation with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which Taylor owns, Taylor said that Thibodeau’s job is safe.

Via Star-Tribune:

Thibodeau has three years left on a five-year contract worth about $40 million. Is he coaching for his job?

“No, no, the only thing now is that we are starting to play games and I am asking him to concentrate on coaching,” Taylor said. “GM Scott Layden will help to see if any trades are available.”

Is Taylor still happy he hired Thibodeau in April 2016?

“Yes, yes, he is a good coach and I have faith in him,” he said.

Meanwhile Taylor says that he’s not thinking about selling the team, and that they will try to grit themselves through from here on out.

It’s a tougher Western Conference this year, and it was already up in the air whether the Timberwolves were going to be a playoff team. Now, it seems as though they are destined to miss the postseason yet again after making it last year.

Three Things to Know: Jayson Tatum is a star. Markelle Fultz…

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. It’s good to have real basketball back — let’s get to it.

1) Kyrie who? Jayson Tatum is the star Boston was waiting for on opening night. So… anyone still want to argue Danny Ainge didn’t own the Sixers when he traded away the No. 1 pick to move back two spots and get Jayson Tatum?

Boston had stumbled its way through the preseason (to put it kindly) and the main issue then followed the team into the regular season: Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the lineup was not going to be simple plug-and-play. Irving missed his first eight shots and ended the night 2-of-14 from the floor. Hayward was 4-of-12 and it’s clear he still lacks explosion on his first step. Those two will be fine, eventually, but there is a lot of work to do.

What the Celtics have is depth. And Jayson Tatum.

Tatum picked up right where he left off in last season’s playoffs dropping 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and showing off his improved handles. Just ask Joel Embiid.

Boston leaned on Tatum (28.6 percent usage rate, higher than he ever had playing with Irving last year) and the fact they were willing to go to him is a good sign. Not only will the Celtics need Tatum while Irving and Hayward settle back in, but if Boston really is going to be a threat to Golden State they will need him to be elite.

It wasn’t just Tatum that was working in Boston. Marcus Morris had 16 points off the bench, and Terry Rozier was fantastic with 11 points and a +22. Al Horford is not Boston’s best player but he is their most important — he played great defense in the paint with five blocks, scored nine points, and just did whatever needed to be done to get the win. He is the glue that makes the whole thing work.

Don’t read much into Game 1 of 82, but for Celtics fans this was the kind of win that can fuel very big dreams.

2) Can the Sixers just blame everything on the China trip? Off-the-record (and occasionally on it), every team that does the NBA’s annual preseason trip to China complains when they get back about how it throws them off for weeks into the regular season. The Warriors felt that way last season, but I’ve had that conversation with a lot of teams who have made that trip. NBA owners love the idea of going (and expanding their franchise brand in that massive market) until they do it once and see the impact on their team when the games matter.

It would be nice to blame the Sixers struggles opening night on that.. but their problems against the Celtics were bigger than frequent flier miles in the preseason.

It starts with Markelle Fultz — his jumper is simply not a threat, defenders are backing off of him because of it, and Fultz is not yet confident attacking into that space. What that leads to is a clogged halfcourt offense. This isn’t a new concern, a lot of people (myself included) wondered before the season how the Sixers starting lineup would work having Fultz, Ben Simmons (not a jump shooter) and Joel Embiid (he can hit threes but needs to be in the paint primarily) on the court together. We saw it a lot in the first half — it was tough to make post entry passes to Embiid because defenders backed off Simmons and Fultz and took away the pass, daring them to shoot.

Fultz, Embiid, and Simmons were on the court for 14.3 minutes in this game and during that time the Sixers shot 38.7 percent overall and 18.2 percent from three. To be fair, they were +1 as a team in those minutes, but the offense struggled. It’s just one game, but Fultz showed that while he has made strides in improving his jumper, he’s not yet back to where he was.

The Sixers need another shot creator off the dribble besides Simmons and the underrated T.J. McConnell. By the fourth quarter Tuesday it seemed Landry Shamet was getting minutes that could have gone to Fultz — and he should have. Shamet played well.

It’s a long season and what matters is where Fultz is come March and April, not October. That’s a long time from now, but he has a long way to go.

3) Dennis Schroder may be what Oklahoma City needs off the bench. Schroder, in his first game for the Thunder (after five seasons in Atlanta), was thrust into the starting lineup Tuesday night because Russell Westbrook isn’t yet cleared after having his knee scoped in the offseason. In that starting role, Schroder was up and down — defensively he was asked to track Stephen Curry at times and Steph dropped 32 on the night.

But offensively, once he is coming off the bench with the second unit, this may be a fantastic fit. Schroder finished with 21 points (on 19 shots) and had nine assists on opening night, showing his value as a shot creator.

Things were not perfect — he shot 4-of-12 from the midrange, which is both a low percentage and too many shots from there — but the potential is there. He was hitting spot-up looks and played defense at times.

Westbrook will be back soon (possibly even Friday against the Clippers in Los Angeles) and when he is Schroder goes to the bench. If he accepts that role and creates shots the same way with the second unit (and just shoots a little better, something that will come, he had a solid 51.5 true shooting percentage last year) he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate leading that unit.