Dwight Howard says this season was ‘like a nightmare’ after getting ejected in Lakers season-ending loss to Spurs

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LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard didn’t stick around for the end of the Lakers Game 4 loss to the Spurs on Sunday, and maybe it was just because he couldn’t wait another moment for the season to finally be behind him.

Howard picked up his second technical foul of the game with 9:51 remaining in the third quarter, and was ejected with the Spurs already leading by 21 points at the time.

It was an ignominious end to a season full of seemingly endless disappointment, and when Howard was asked to sum up his first year in Los Angeles afterward, his response was hard to dispute.

“It was like a nightmare,” Howard said. “It was like a bad dream, and we couldn’t wake up out of it. That’s what it felt like. It seemed like nothing could go right from the start — injuries and all that stuff. But we’ll get an opportunity to get some rest for guys who are injured or coming off of injuries, get a chance to rehab, and think about what we can all do to better ourselves.”

It would be easy to be disappointed in Howard for allowing himself to get frustrated to the point where he put himself in a position to where the referees could toss him. But Mike D’Antoni sympathized with his starting center, and said given the situation of both the game and the series, the frustration level was understandable.

“I hate it for him,” D’Antoni said. “He gets banged up so much in there. I’m sure he didn’t mean to [get ejected], but he takes a pounding. And after a while it gets on his nerves or whatever. But obviously we were in a deep hole anyway, so I just felt bad for him.”

When asked if he thought Howard needed to be smarter with his emotions, D’Antoni essentially said that it’s easier said than done.

“Understand it’s easy when you sit there like us and just watch, but when you’re playing you’ve got your line of adrenaline going,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a hard situation, and obviously it wouldn’t have happened if the series was a bit different.”

Howard didn’t want to talk about what specifically led to the ejection, but did admit he needs to work on controlling his temper in certain situations.

“It’s over with now,” Howard said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of trying to keep my cool. It’s very tough when you’re out there playing. It’s an emotional game. You don’t want to lose, and sometimes when things don’t go your way sometimes you react the wrong way. I’ve just got to keep my cool.”

“I’m sure he’s disappointed in himself,” D’Antoni said. “Like I said, I felt sorry for him. Because he — if you watch the tape he just gets beat, and beat hard. It’s a learning experience, and he’ll bounce back from this. His play from the last couple of months after the All-Star break, he was a 20 and 16 guy every night. We forget sometimes how good defensively, and how many stats he can put up easily.”

The Howard the Lakers saw in the second half of the season is the one they signed up for, and the one they’d like to sign to a max contract once Howard hits free agency this summer. There are a lot of reasons Howard will likely return to Los Angeles, financial and otherwise. But he’s going to pursue all of his options before making that long-term commitment to the Lakers.

“I’m going to step away from everything for a couple of weeks and clear my head before I deal with or talk about anything as far as next season,” Howard said. “I think I deserve that.”

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.