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.”

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.