Kobe doesn’t need to say it anymore, it’s obvious Howard needs to play with urgency

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When Kobe Bryant said Dwight Howard needed to suck it up and play through pain, this was not what he had mind.

Kobe wanted a sense of urgency, he wanted leadership, he wanted a guy who would shows some fight to help push the Lakers toward the playoffs. He wanted passion.

Thursday night Howard showed none of that. He looked slowed by injuries and he looked rusty. Howard was unimpressive against an undersized Celtics front line the Lakers needed him to dominate — 9 points (4-of-8 shooting) 1-of-6 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Howard also is supposed to be anchoring the Lakers defense, but his rotations were slow, and he was terrible helping on screens and pick-and-rolls.

It wasn’t Howard’s fault the Lakers were blown out of the Boston Garden 116-95, that was a total team (lack of) effort. But if you are one of the team’s leaders you need to bring energy to try to turn the momentum in games like this. Howard was part of the scenery.

Mike D’Antoni was asked after the game if Howard needs to play better for the Lakers to have a shot at making the playoffs (answer via a tweet from Kevin Ding).

“He has to. We don’t have a whole lot of other solutions.”

That is where the Lakers are at — their season rests on Howard’s sore shoulders and aching back. Pau Gasol is out six to eight weeks (at least), holding down the paint falls to Howard now. It’s going to take more than a protective sleeve to get him right. He’s clearly still slowed by the injury, but he also isn’t showing a lot of fight.

Howard wanted out of Orlando because he wanted to be in a bigger market where he was the focus of an elite franchise. Be careful what you wish for. This is what it takes to lead an elite franchise.

Kobe tried to push Howard into that leadership role with his comments to Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday. But after Thursday night Kobe was backing off that — because he could. The need for urgency was obvious because Boston played with it. Kobe didn’t need to say it again, he didn’t need to say anything.

Kobe went the “things were blown out of proportion” line of defense, here is his quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“I think the statements from yesterday were just really overblown, to be honest with you. I didn’t say anything that was offensive or try to take a run at him. It’s pretty shocking in terms of how everybody reacted to it. I wasn’t trying to do anything. It’s pretty simple. If he’s healthy, he’ll play. If he’s not, he won’t. I didn’t say anything that was groundbreaking. Do we need urgency? Yeah, we need urgency but if he’s hurt and it’s going to get worse, he can’t play. It was a pretty interesting day to see how everybody kind of jumped on those statements….

“If I had a message in mind, I’d make it pretty black and white. I don’t need to be surreptitious about it.”

I don’t know about you, but “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal … We need some urgency” didn’t seem very surreptitious to me.

But Kobe doesn’t have to say anything anymore. It’s obvious.

It’s about Dwight Howard for the Lakers now. We’ll see if he responds differently in Charlotte on Friday. And in Miami on Sunday. Lose those two and the Lakers are back to six games below .500 and…

Well, we don’t need to say that, either, it’s obvious, too.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.