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Report: Rockets expect Dwight Howard to opt out next summer

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Dwight Howard is reportedly unhappy taking a backseat to James Harden on the Rockets. Howard insists that’s untrue, but this much is clear:

Howard’s 2016-17 salary is slated to be $23,282,457 if he opts into the final year of his contract.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

a person with knowledge of the Rockets situation said they are expecting him to opt out and become a free agent.

Howard’s max starting salary next summer projects to be about $30 million. That’d mean about $170 million over five years if he re-signs or about $128 million over four years elsewhere.

Teams – including Houston – ought to think before offering Howard that much.

Howard is on the wrong side of 30 and playing his worst basketball since his rookie year. That situation typically doesn’t improve with time, especially not for big men with Howard’s playing style.

Yes, the salary cap is skyrocketing under the new national TV contracts. But that revenue is already coming in and raises Howard’s max. This isn’t quite like last summer, when max contracts didn’t reflect a new environment the league knew was coming. Next summer, that new world be here, and max contracts will be structured accordingly.

But this is probably still a good move for Howard.

The sudden and drastic salary-cap increase will give an unprecedented number of teams major cap space. Likely, at least one of him will pay a premium for his serves.

Even with his decline, Howard is a good player. Teams trying to win now can use him, especially ones with enough depth to limit his playing time.

He might need to choose between a max starting salary and a max contract length, but that’s not much of a concern relative to his player option. Howard can get short of the max and still come out way ahead. There’s a wide range between $23,282,457 and the $30 million max , and any dollar over $23,282,457 in Howard’s 2016-17 salary is a bonus to him. Plus, he’ll lock in whatever extra years he can get at age 30 instead of at age 31. That’s also to his benefit.

All that said, how do the Rockets proceed with this expectation?

Daryl Morey didn’t match Chandler Parsons‘ offer sheet from the Mavericks, because the Houston general manager believed matching would have reduced his team’s chance of winning a championship. Giving Howard a five-year max or near-max could similarly set back the Rockets. It’d hurt in the short term to lose a helpful player, but the Rockets clearly aren’t winning a championship now, anyway. Howard declining over a long-term deal could hinder their ability to get there.

If Morey doesn’t want to give Howard a major deal next summer – and this is hypothetical – why not trade him now and get something in return? The Rockets’ continued struggles make it increasingly unlikely Howard contributes to any meaningful success in Houston this season. And if he’s leaving next summer, there’s no point just letting him play out the string until then.

Essentially, Morey should determine his plan for Howard before the trade deadline.

That’s no simple task, and it’s not even enough. Howard, who will be an unrestricted free agent, could always spurn a mega offer from Houston to sign elsewhere. This is where his happiness level becomes especially important.

Complicating matters even further, Howard could change his mind (again). Even if he says today he plans to opt out, that might not be the case tomorrow.

But with the financial interests clearly dictating he opt out, I think he’ll follow through this time. That puts the Rockets implement a plan – one that should focus on either trading him or going all out to re-sign him.

Khris Middleton drops career-best 51 on Wizards, Bucks win without Antetokounmpo

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored a career-high 51 points in the absence of injured teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 151-131 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Middleton, hoping to be chosen an All-Star reserve for the second straight year on Thursday, helped the Bucks hold off a second-half Wizards rally. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 16 of 26 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee (41-6) scored a franchise-record 88 points in the first half, finished with its highest total of the season and won its ninth straight game despite the absence of Antetokounmpo, who sat out with a right shoulder injury.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (15-31) with 47 points, his second straight 40-point game and sixth of the season.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points but the Wizards rallied in the third quarter, putting up 41 points to cut their deficit to 117-104 entering the fourth. Washington got within seven points in the final period but could not get closer.

Eric Bledsoe had 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Bucks. Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points.

Middleton responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter as he scored the most points by a Bucks player this season. He pounded home a dunk to go over 50 points and give the Bucks a 13-point lead late in the final quarter.

Antetokounmpo had 50 points on Nov. 25 against Utah.

The Bucks came out firing from deep, hitting eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. Milwaukee converted 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 42-28 lead.

And they kept going in the second quarter. Middleton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to give the Bucks a 69-43 lead with 5:46 left. Middleton nailed two more 3s to finish the half 6 for 6 from 3-point range and with 28 points.

The Bucks sank 14 of 24 3-pointers in the half and established a franchise best for points in a half as they grabbed an 88-63 lead at intermission.

The previous mark for points in a half was 87 set against New Orleans on March 14, 1979.

Joel Embiid’s Kobe tribute: 24 points while wearing uniform No. 24; 76ers’ win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Wearing No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant, Joel Embiid scored 24 points in his first game in three weeks, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash. Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand.

The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson.

Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn’t affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons had “Mamba Forever” and “RIP Gigi” (for Bryant’s daughter, among the nine killed in the crash) on each sneaker and scored 17 points.

The Sixers were the latest team to honor Bryant in a pregame ceremony. Bryant led suburban Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school’s first since 1943. His framed No. 33 Aces jersey was displayed at midcourt and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence of Bryant and the other eight victims in Sunday’s crash. The Sixers rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance. The Sixers skipped pregame introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant’s last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving.

Yes, all teams have been affected by Bryant’s death, but it struck particularly hard in Philly, where the former NBA star had a turbulent relationship with Philadelphia. His high school coach Gregg Downer spoke to the media for the first time earlier in the day, and wore Bryant’s No. 33 Lower Merion warmup jacket.

The mood in the building also was tempered, in part, because the 10-win Warriors gave the Sixers a serious challenge. The Sixers were 12-point favorites but D'Angelo Russell, who scored a team-high 28 points, kept the Warriors within single digits for most of the fourth quarter.

Al Horford buried a 3 and Shake Milton followed with another to push it to a 16-point lead and send the Sixers on their way to a whopping 22-2 record at home.

 

A tearful Shaquille O’Neal talks about his time, relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Shaquille O’Neal told Justin Tasch of New York Post: “I’m not doing well. I’m sick” about the death of his former teammate Kobe Bryant (along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna).

A lot of people can relate to that, but Shaq pulled it together enough to talk about his former championship teammate.

When it came to what he could no longer tell Kobe, Shaq teared up.

Shaq and Kobe had legendary feuds back in the day, but in later years made up and were friends.

Like many people, Shaq is still trying to process all of it. That’s going to take a long time.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

A post shared by Chris Paul (@cp3) on

Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.