Report: Four-team deal sending Howard to Lakers finalized, awaits league approval

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Finally, Dwight Howard is being traded.

A complex four-team trade that sends Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets and involves the 76ers and Magic has been approved in principle by the teams and will go to the league for formal approval on Friday, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources close to the process told Stein and ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne that a trade call with the league office has been scheduled for Friday to secure the necessary NBA approval to make the deal official.

The deal means the Lakers get Howard; the Magic get Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, just drafted Moe Harkless (No. 15 pick in this draft) and a first round pick from each of the three other teams; the Sixers get Andrew Bynum and take on Jason Richardson and his contract; the Nuggets get Andre Iguodala.

That varies from the original report but fits with reports that Pau Gasol is not part of the deal. Expect some changes in the final form, but that seems to be the core of it.

This makes a lot of sense for the Lakers — they would start Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Antwan Jamison (probably), Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and off the bench… does it matter? They would move up with the Heat as title contenders, and we can debate it but I think it moves them just past the Thunder.

However, Howard will not sign an extension with the Lakers. He shouldn’t, if he does he only gets three years at lower raises than if he becomes a free agent and re-signs with the Lakers. That would let him get a five year max deal with larger raises. Still, there is some risk for the Lakers.

Also, there is concern about Howard’s back — he had surgery on it and is rehabbing it in Los Angeles. That said he does not have a history of injury concerns (like Bynum), before last season he had never missed more than three games.

I get this for the Nuggets, who have wanted Iguodala for a while.

I get this for the Sixers, who get an anchor big in Bynum — and they are reportedly willing to gamble they can re-sign him. Philly athletes will tell you that if the fans in the city respect you and your effort it is the best place in the world to play… Bynum lived up to that last season, but before not so much. Bynum also grew up in New Jersey about an hour from Philly. Bynum is very money motivated and the extra cash the Sixers can offer with his Bird rights will play a big role. Also, Richardson’s deal is less painful than Iggy’s.

For the Magic, is this really better than what they were offered before? Afflalo is a quality NBA wing, Vucevic is young and could develop into a solid big, Harrington can be bought out after this season, Harkless is a rookie. There are three picks but all are lower in the draft.

Is that better than what the Nets offered with Brook Lopez and picks? Is it better than the picks and cap relief the Rockets are offering?

Or, is it something you can at least sell to your fan base as good? That may be the case.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.