Dwight Howard’s popularity decline as measured in All-Star fan votes

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When the surprise announcement came that Kevin Love and Blake Griffin had leapfrogged Dwight Howard to become All-Star Game starters this season — leaving the Rockets’ big man for the coaches to pick as a reserve — my first thought was “that’s a huge Lakers fans base that he pissed off.” They took their vote elsewhere (to Love, who Lakers fans think will be in their colors in a couple of years).

However, Howard’s issue bigger than just the Lakers — how he handled his exit from Orlando (trying to force a trade, then pulling back on that and waiving his opt-out, then forcing a trade again) followed by the injury-riddled disaster in Los Angeles last season has hurt Howard’s popularity everywhere. Howard’s demeanor of wanting to have fun can be spun as a guy not serious about winning or his craft (which isn’t really true), and that doesn’t sit well with fans.

You can see it in the number of All-Star votes Howard has gotten over the years, which were compiled by Jeff Caplan of NBA.com and he added some other notes.

Orlando, 2009: 3,150,181 (top overall vote-getter)
Orlando, 2010: 2,360,096 (third)
Orlando, 2011: 2,099,204 (second)
Orlando, 2012: 1,600,390 (first)
L.A. Lakers, 2013: 922,070 (eighth)
Houston, 2014: 653,318 (12th)

Howard’s 653,318 votes this year account for 10.2 percent of the total Western Conference “frontcourt” votes (the top 15 vote-getters the NBA releases). Last year his votes accounted for 15.6 percent of the total West “frontcourt votes. In 2009, when he was the overall leading vote-getter, he accounted for 19.6 percent of the Eastern Conference “frontcourt” vote (under the old format I used the top five vote-getters at “center” and the top 10 at “forward”).

There are other factors in play here, for sure. The biggie is the NBA removed the “center” designation on the ballot last season so fans didn’t have to vote for a center, they could vote for an undersized front line where LeBron James has to play center if they want (which the fans did this season, pairing LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George up front for the East).

Also, there are young stars on the rise in Western frontcourts — Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and others. They siphon votes away from Howard.

But obviously Howard’s popularity has taken a serious hit as well.

As I’ve said before, Howard can repair that image by winning — Kobe Bryant and LeBron also took serious PR hits in the past but in this country winning trumps that. Those two have largely re-written their image. It is the only model for Howard — and the Rockets are a good team, albeit one still trying to really find its identity. They are inconsistent right now, but should grow out of it (and there will be roster tweaks coming).

This is also why you suddenly see Howard back in the pool to play for Team USA, maybe at the World Championships this summer, maybe at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Howard has a gold medal from Beijing, but his image could use another one.

With some wins you’ll see Howard’s image change again, slowly. With that you could see changes in the All-Star voting. But the fan vote is a popularity contest and right now Howard is losing.

Dwyane Wade gave Kevin Hart a toddler-sized Heat jersey (VIDEO)

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Kevin Hart and Dwyane Wade are friends, although the two have hammed it up for cameras over the years as purported enemies from time-to-time. The relationship between the two has always been jocular, and the recent joke Wade played on Hart was no different.

As Hart saw his way to Miami this past week to play a show in American Airlines Arena, Wade showed up to his team’s home building to give Hart a special gift.

Via Twitter:

Hart tried to play it off like the jersey was a gift for his son, Kenzo, who will turn 1 in November.

Looks like Kevin is the comedian but Dwyane’s the one who got jokes.

Ben Wallace says he battled depression in years following retirement

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Ben Wallace was a four-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champion with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. Wallace’s final season in the NBA was in 2011-12 during his second stint with Detroit, and since then he’s not been in the eye of the general public.

Wallace made nearly $90 million during his time in the NBA, and his retirement at age 37 should have set him up to find new challenges and enjoy the rest of his life. But according to Wallace, life without basketball was extremely difficult in the two years following his final NBA game.

In a recent article in The Undefeated, Wallace detailed his trip into depression in the years following his retirement. Wallace said that he lost weight, and felt as though he had no purpose.

Via The Undefeated:

“Basketball is sort of mind-controlling,” said Wallace. “It takes you on a journey of extreme highs and extreme lows. It almost makes you need it. One day I can go out and get 20 rebounds and tomorrow I can come out and get seven or eight. Now, you’re sort of waiting for the next time to prove yourself. When you retire, you start feeling left out, no one’s really checking on you, you ain’t getting no phone calls that you used to get. Then you start to get low, but there’s no game tomorrow to lift you up, so you just keep sinking and sinking.”

Wallace has since rebounded from his darkest days, seeking out help through friends and re-involving himself with basketball. Wallace reached out to the likes of Rick Carlisle, Mike Woodson, and Doc Rivers, all of whom helped him dip his toes back into organized basketball.
Wallace is now part-owner and chairman of a G-League team, the Grand Rapids Drive, and stays busy as the owner of an RC car company.

The stigma around mental health discussions in the NBA has slowly started to fade with the help of several current stars. It’s great to see Wallace speak about his problems openly, and that he’s been able to find new purpose in his life.

Report: Stephen Curry won’t face suspension after stepping off bench during Lakers dust-up

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Lance Stephenson is already mixing things up in Los Angeles. The Lakers wing got into an altercation with Golden State Warriors backup Quinn Cook during a preseason game this week, and was ejected after throwing a punch at Cook’s head.

Meanwhile, the NBA reviewed the tape and determined that no other discipline would be necessary, including any toward Stephen Curry or DeMarcus Cousins.

Ever vigilant, a league is particularly sensitive to players leaving the bench area during an altercation ever since Game 4 of the 2007 playoff series between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs in which Robert Horry hip check Steve Nash into the scores table.

The league review the tape and found that both Curry and Cousins took steps off their bench. However, neither will be suspended thanks to how the league views the actual dust-up between Stephenson and Cook.

Via Yahoo!:

The two stars will not be reprimanded because the league did not deem the activity of Lakers guard Lance Stephenson and Warriors guard Quinn Cook as being an “altercation,” sources said.

Had Curry been disciplined, he would have been forced to sit out Tuesday’s anticipated season-opener at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Cousins would have served his suspension once he returned from an Achilles injury.

What this appears to mean is that the league saw the ejection as a one-sided swing from Stephenson and nothing more.

Plus, it would be hard to imagine the season starting without Curry on the floor for the Warriors.

Charles Barkley says he thought he was going to be Orlando Magic GM in 2017

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There’s no doubt that you have watched countless hours of former NBA player Charles Barkley on “Inside the NBA”. Often bombastic and always opinionated, Barkley stands as one of the more controversial talking heads on that show.

There’s no doubt that Barkley is very good at his job and the role that he plays. But would he make a competent NBA general manager?

That’s the question many have after Barkley revealed that he thought he was going to take over the top management spot for the Orlando Magic in 2017.

Speaking on the radio in Chicago this week, Barkley said that he interviewed for the position and was sure he was going to be the man for the job.

Via Twitter:

Barkley would have certainly been an interesting choice. One can only imagine the roster construction and theory behind any squad he would cook up.

Meanwhile, that teams get close to hiring former players to do anything at a top level — coach or GM — remains incredible. His co-host Kenny Smith had interviewed for the Detroit Pistons job this summer, but didn’t get plucked. These are all corporations valued at more than a billion dollars, and yet they give more weight that’s due to guys who have played in the league.

Elton Brand for the Philadelphia 76ers makes sense, having worked in player development and been the GM of a G-League team before his hiring. Hell, Vlade Divac worked in basketball administration for a full decade before becoming the Sacramento Kings GM, and that’s not working out so hot.

But Chuck and Kenny? Entertaining as all get out on TV, but shaky choices for top GM spots.

NBA teams stay doing NBA team stuff.