Dwight Howard/Nets trade rumor shot down. True or not, consider Howard rumor season open.

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The point here is not the specific rumor itself but what it signifies.

This morning there was a report on Real GM that seemed to sweep across twitter and the Internet like a buffalo stampede — the Nets had interest in acquiring disgruntled Laker Dwight Howard. (I’m calling him disgruntled because I watched him play the last couple games.) The rumor comes from Jared Rudolph, who has shown in the past he has sources tied into Howard’s camp. The rumor called for a three-way trade that would send Howard to Brooklyn, Brook Lopez to Minnesota and Kevin Love to the Lakers. Rudolph says the idea died when Love broke his hand, needed surgery and was out a couple of months.

I’ll say the rumor was dead long before that. As in it never really existed in a viable way. For one the Timberwolves were never called, but if you were them would you trade Love for Lopez? Also:

• The Nets quickly shot the rumor down. Here is what is reported at Nets Daily.

In an email, received minutes after NetsDaily reported on the rumor, the source wrote, “Total BS, Jarrod What ever His Name Is just fabricated a story.” The response was extraordinary and unprecedented in its speed and aggressiveness.

Later, a second Nets source said simply of the report, “Not true.”

• The Lakers got Howard with an eye toward the long term and while he has struggled and looked disinterested of late, that’s a long way from the Lakers bailing on their plan of making him the future. Of course, he’s had a rough half a season so some impatient Lakers fans are ready to trade him for Sasha Vujacic and a rack of shoot around basketballs, but management is not so eager.

But here’s why the rumor matters:

Rudolph’s sources are close to Howard’s camp. If there are people in Howard’s camp thinking he may choose not to re-sign with the Lakers then Los Angeles has to consider options for him as other offers come in around the deadline. And after watching how unhappy he seemed of late, you can bet teams will try to pick the Lakers apart on a deal.

You also can bet the Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak will ask Howard and his agent about whether or not he plans to sign. Not that he will get a direct yes or no, but he can start to gauge intentions.

I would be very surprised if Los Angeles pull the trigger on any deal for Howard. He remains the guy they want to bring back this summer and lead them into the post Kobe era. I don’t these 41 games changed that. And despite everything I’m not sure Howard thinks the grass will be greener elsewhere (and remember the Lakers have his Bird rights and can pay more than anyone else).

But the rumor suggests that an idea that seemed unthinkable — the Lakers and Howard parting ways soon — is moving into people’s thought process. And you can bet teams will inquire about it what it might cost to get Howard.

Let the rumors begin.

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).