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Dwight Howard says he’s focused on helping Lakers win, not arguing with Shaq and Kobe

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Dwight Howard says he is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers with a new outlook on basketball and his place in it.

The veteran center hopes the Lakers fans- and a couple of retired Lakers superstars – who learned to loathe the old Dwight over the past six years will give him another chance.

Howard called it “a very big blessing” Wednesday to re-sign with the Lakers , who chose him as the improbable replacement for injured center DeMarcus Cousins.

The 33-year-old Howard spent the eventful 2012-13 season with the Lakers before abruptly leaving as a free agent. After six up-and-down seasons away from LA and a self-described difficult offseason in his personal life, Howard is energized by the chance to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a familiar jersey.

“Not too often in life do you get second chances,” Howard said on a conference call in his first public comments about the reunion. “This is an awesome experience. I’m just looking forward to being the best teammate, the best person in the community I can be. … Six years ago doesn’t seem like a long time, but a lot of things have happened. I’m just excited.”

Howard said he has repaired his mental state through meditation, reading and introspection. That might be why he didn’t seem to be bothered by the criticism he received online last week from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers greats had a brief disagreement on social media before they united in publicly making fun of Howard, who clashed with the businesslike Bryant during their season together in LA.

“Shaq and Kobe are some of the greatest players ever to play this game,” Howard said. “I have nothing but love and respect for those guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish. … My job is to come here and help this team win. It’s not to get into any fights or arguments with Shaq or Kobe or anybody. I won’t let anything distract me from winning a championship.”

 

Howard realizes that some Lakers fans may be less excited: He has been booed every time he stepped foot in Staples Center over the past six years – even by Clippers fans. He hopes everyone will recognize he’s ready to repair his relationship with Los Angeles.

“I never had any ill will toward the fans in LA,” Howard said. “I loved this city from the moment I started playing here. … It was just a decision I made. I love this city. I loved playing in LA. None of that stuff even matters to me anymore. I think we all have a fresh start. I’m big on new beginnings, and this is the time to start up a new time. I’m just looking forward to having a fresh start with the fans and show them my only dedication is to put another banner up here in Los Angeles.”

Howard also said he is eager to go back to work after a rough 12 months in his personal life. He hasn’t played a game since November after getting injured early in his only season with Washington, and he didn’t go into detail about off-court problems he has previously described as “rock bottom.”

“It was just stuff in my personal life,” Howard said. “Mentally, physically and spiritually. It had nothing to do with me as a basketball player or anything like that. It was just personal things that I had to deal with which made me stronger.”

Howard wasn’t the Lakers’ first choice to play alongside JaVale McGee and Davis at center, but he won over both big men and team leader Rajon Rondo while trying out for the Lakers’ top brass last month. Howard said he vowed to be a supportive teammate dedicated to team goals, but he realizes public declarations are cheap.

“I’d rather show you guys than say it,” Howard said. “I’d rather my actions be something that you guys can critique instead of my words. I’ve always said a lot of words, but I’d just rather show you guys.”

Report: Players argued to Adam Silver they would’ve been punished for tweet as costly as Daryl Morey’s

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is suffering “fairly dramatic consequences” economically from Daryl Morey’s tweet, which supported Hong Kong protestors (who are trying to maintain and expands their freedoms) and angered many in China.

Silver also said the Rockets general manager won’t face punishment from the league.

ESPN:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a tense meeting with players from the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers last week when he arrived in Shanghai, sources told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

During the meeting with the players, sources said, Silver was directly asked whether anything would happen to Morey, as several players said they believed that if a player had cost the NBA millions of dollars because of a tweet, there would be repercussions.

We already knew LeBron James spoke up in this meeting and later criticized Morey for sending the tweet when/how he did. Good luck convincing anyone LeBron wasn’t among the players who said a player would’ve been treated differently.

Are they right?

We can’t know, but I don’t think so. The financial damage in China likely would’ve been similar, but it would have been an even bigger public-relations mess in the United States to censor a player. Players are far more familiar and have bigger fan bases than general managers. The domestic backlash against the league would’ve been even stronger, deeper.

Management sometimes gets a pass that labor doesn’t, and the players’ suspicions are understandable. Again, we can never know what statements would’ve followed a player’s pro-Hong Kong tweet. But I think Silver meant what he said in his third remarks on the issue:

However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.

PBT Podcast: Lakers? Clippers? Jazz? Rockets? Breaking down race out West

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What are the odds that one of the teams from Los Angeles is in the NBA Finals?

Could the Utah Jazz surprise the Lakers and Clippers, returning to the Finals for the first time since Stockton and Malone?

Or is it Denver’s turn to step up? Maybe James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston’s turn? How about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?

The NBA’s Western Conference really is the Wild West this season where anything can happen, and Mark Medina of the USA Today joins me to break down the conference, who could come out and make the Finals, and how, in a very deep conference, there will be no easy path forward.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

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Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a three-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now,” Randle said. “So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.”

“(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important,” he said. “That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

“So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.”

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

LeBron James says Daryl Morey was “not educated on the situation” with China Tweet

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When Stephen Curry was asked about how the NBA moves forward in its relationship with China, he gave an answer backing Commissioner Adam Silver’s second position and playing it straight down the middle.

LeBron James was a little more aggressive, saying he didn’t have the necessary information to comment, and suggesting Rockets GM Daryl Morey had no idea what he was getting into. Via Marc Spears of ESPN and Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.

LeBron’s comments quickly blew up on Twitter, and soon after he clarified what he meant, saying he was referring to the backlash from the Tweet.

This issue will not die.

Both the NBA and China would like it to, and both are working on relaxing tensions, including NBA preseason games being shown in China again. Both sides want to move on. It’s not good for the NBA’s bottom line, and in China the NBA is incredibly popular with younger generations.

But the questions about relations between the NBA and China are not going away, and issues are going to flare up again.