J.J. Redick opens up about “weird” season, Dwight Howard

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I’m not sure any word but “weird” does justice to the Orlando Magic season.

It started with then Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide essentially drunk-dialing Dwight Howard and asking him to stay in Orlando. It didn’t seem like things could get more odd, but that was just the start, something that culminated in the day coach Stan Van Gundy told the media Howard wanted him fired just as Howard unknowingly walked into the press conference. The season ended with Howard injured and the Magic easily ousted by the Pacers.

Orlando guard J.J. Redick was on NBC’s SportsTalk and opened up about the year to host Russ Thaler. Great interview. Below are transcripts of the highlights.

About Howard:

“Within the team I think our perception has changed a little bit. I don’t see any way it couldn’t. But I am a Dwight supporter, I played with him for six years, I’ve been through some battles with him, won a lot of games tagging along side of him. He has been great for our organization.”

“I think as anyone can attest, sometimes we get confused in life. Sometimes we get bad advice. I think Dwight at his core, at his heart is a great kid, a great person. Maybe he just got a little confused, a little sidetracked about what was important and then at the end of the year he gets hurt and can’t play. It wasn’t a great year for him. I’m sure he’ll bounce back, get healthy and have a great year next year.”

On Howard’s relationship with Stan Van Gundy:

“To be honest with you, it didn’t seem worse or better than any other year. Those two have built a relationship based on winning and before things really started to turn for us we were 32-18 and had the fifth best record in the league. So for 50 of the 66 games this year that relationship was pretty solid.

“I’m not sure what happened and what transpired with management, with Dwight’s alleged request for Stan to get fired, I’m not privy to all the inside information. Certainly at some point that relationship started to change a little bit in March, and from that point on things got weird.”

About the press conference where Van Gundy said Howard wanted him fired, then Howard unknowingly walked in on it.

“We were all a little shocked. I cold plunge right after shootaround (take an ice bath). I had got my shots up after shootaround and had sort of seen Stan talking to the media and everything seemed normal from afar. Well I went back, grabbed my phone and jumped in the cold plunge and I have like 15 text messages and my twitter account is blowing up with “What did Stan just do?” So I pulled up the video and saw it. By the time I got out of the cold plunge and back in the locker room all the guys on the team knew what was going on.

“It was a little shocking in that it’s not something you see every day, obviously. I think Stan, for whatever reason, just decided to put it all out there. He said in the interview he is not a fan of BS and I can attest to that having played with him for five years. He doesn’t like BS and decided not to BS with the media, I guess.”

On Dwight’s plans:

“I don’t know. I think there are going to be some decisions made about the future and direction of our organization. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Otis Smith, our GM, I don’t know what is going to happen with Stan. “

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.