Dwight Howard

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Report: Dwight Howard would intentionally whiff on screens if next option was him posting up

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Dwight Howard‘s teams have repeatedly celebrated his departure.

Why?

John Hollinger of The Athletic:

Multiple sources indicated that in at least one recent stop, Howard would intentionally whiff on screens if he knew the next option was a post up for him.

To be fair to Howard, he’s an easy target. People look for reasons to ridicule him.

How many times did Howard connect on a screen when the next option would’ve been a post up? How many times did he whiff on a screen when it wasn’t followed by a post up? I wouldn’t be surprised if selective memory influenced this assessment.

This is the type of story people like to spread about Howard… in part because it sounds exactly something he’d do.

Now with the Lakers, Howard said he’ll be on his best behavior. That means not doing things like this.

Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.    

They should have traded Bradley Beal.

I’m reluctant to declare whether a team should or shouldn’t trade a player. It depends on so many factors outsiders don’t know. Mainly, what are other teams offering (or demanding in salary dumps)? The return (or cost in salary dumps) is essential to any trade evaluation.

But the Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal.

Beal is a young star locked up two more seasons and plays a position, shooting guard, in demand around the league. Look at the astronomical returns Anthony Davis and Paul George generated for the Pelicans and Thunder. It’s hard to believe Beal wouldn’t have fetched something similar.

Of course, Washington would like to build around Beal. Right now, he’s saying all the right things about staying.

But the Wizards will likely stink next season. After living through that experience, will Beal actually want to stay long-term? I would’ve rather traded him this summer with an additional season on his contract than wait to find out.

That was never in the cards, especially because Washington went through key portions of the offseason without a permanent front-office leader. That was a failure of Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He fired Ernie Grunfeld in April and didn’t remove Tommy Sheppard’s interim title until mid-July, once free agency had quieted. This is a 365-day-a-year job. Washington missed opportunities.

Sheppard’s big move was drafting Rui Hachimura No. 9. I rated Hachimura No. 25 on my board. That could just be a difference of opinion. But I fear the Sheppard – unsure of his long-term status – gravitated toward the player with major marketing upside. If Hachimura struggles, it won’t matter that he’s Japanese.

Sheppard also re-signed Thomas Bryant (three years, $25 million) and sold that as a key step in keeping Beal. An enthusiastic young player, Bryant definitely helped Washington last season. But c’mon. He’s still Thomas Bryant.

Otherwise, the Wizards lost several rotation players via free agency – Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky (sign-and-traded to the Bulls for two second-rounders). That was tough on a team with limited mechanisms to add outside players. With John Wall’s high salary serving as a major block, Washington was capped out.

The Wizards had to get creative to form even this barely tolerable roster.

They used most of their mid-level exception on Ish Smith (two years, $12 million). He should be fine as a stop-gap starting point guard. However, I suspect many of contributions will come just through his professionalism amid a losing season.

Washington got Davis Bertans from the Spurs, who unloaded his salary before Marcus Morris reneged on San Antonio. The Wizards also dealt Dwight Howard for the more-functional, but slightly higher-paid C.J. Miles.

Isaiah Thomas was a worthy bet at the minimum, but hope is fading of him bouncing back. He’s already hurt again.

Washington jumped into the Anthony Davis trade when the Lakers wanted to clear cap space for a run at Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards got a second-rounder for taking Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones. Washington got another young prospect, No. 42 pick Admiral Schofield, for effectively taking $1 million of dead salary from the 76ers.

These new veterans likely aren’t good enough to get the Wizards anywhere. The new young players carry only limited promise.

Washington’s short- and long-term hopes rest mostly on Beal – as long as he accepts that burden.

Offseason grade: D+

LeBron James says Lakers offense needs to run through Anthony Davis

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Lakers players got the memo: Don’t talk about a title. Don’t talk about the incredibly deep West or that other team in Staples Center. Instead, talk about process and building chemistry. Talk about one day at a time, do not talk about the end result.

“I think our biggest opponent is in the mirror. We’ve got to look at ourselves as a team,” GM Rob Pelinka said, adding he would define success as a good two practices tomorrow.

“Been very quiet this summer, for a reason. My mother always taught me, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ That’s where I’m at,” LeBron James said.

It felt well rehearsed, but saying it in a Lakers’ practice facility where 10 Larry O’Brien trophies sit gleaming in a window overlooking the courts, where 12 banners representing 16 championships (the Minneapolis one has five on it) hang overhead, the words fall a little flat.

Everyone knows what the expectations are. The Lakers may have missed the playoffs for six seasons in a row, but with Anthony Davis now, a refreshed LeBron James after the longest summer break he’s had since 2005, and with a lot of veteran role players, the expectations are title or bust. From the fans and from the Lakers themselves.

First that means turning a lot of new faces into a real team.

LeBron said that starts by running the offense through Anthony Davis.

“We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there’s no sense to have him on the floor,” LeBron said. “He’s that great. It doesn’t mean every time down, we throw it to him, we throw it to him, we throw it to him. But we have the ability of doing it.”

“Aw, he said that?” Davis said later, almost sheepishly. “Very kind of him. We’re going to feed off each other tremendously. I think we’re two guys who are very selfless and just want to win, when we have two guys like that it makes both of our jobs easier.”

Nobody really questions if LeBron and Davis can be elite, and probably form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league.

The question is everyone around them. Can Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy from the stress reaction in his leg — become the No. 3 option on this team?  Is Dwight Howard willing to accept a role and play it well as a big who just sets picks, rolls hard, grabs boards and defends the rim? Do they have enough shooting with Danny Green, Quinn Cook, and Jared Dudley, plus a little Davis? Will this team defend well.

Also, can this team coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts?

“Guys understand the importance of the opportunity and the magnitude of the situation,” Green said, at points referencing a team bonding trip to Las Vegas recently. “It’s a win-now situation. [Last season in Toronto] guys put their pride and egos to the side, and knew it was the team. I see it here already… It’s about the team, and everybody knows that. In order for us to make it, we have to continue that attitude moving forward.”

Guys want to play their roles. Kuzma may be at the heart of what happens, the Lakers need him to take the steps as a smart offensive player he showed in flashes with Team USA before his injury. And he has to play better defense.

Dudley wants to help get him there.

“My guy would be Kyle Kuzma,” Dudley said, adding he wants to do is take him under his wing as he did D'Angelo Russell last season in Brooklyn and Devin Booker in Phoenix before that. “What can I do off the court to help him get to his full potential? He’s really the key for us.”

Optimism abounded at Lakers’ media day, as it should. Guys are mostly healthy, rested, and ready to get after it.

On this first day, the Lakers stuck to the script. They also understand the expectation of those trophies and banners overhead.

“As a team, me myself, need to get the Lakers back to what they’ve been accustomed to every year,” LeBron said.

 

 

Dwight Howard inspired by play of Draymond Green

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Dwight Howard continues to say all the right things.

Which is both irrelevant — it’s about actions, not words — and has been enough to win over first Jason Kidd then the Lakers organization (to a degree, he doesn’t have a guaranteed contract) to give him a shot as their center after DeMarcus Cousins went down injured.

Howard’s “I have seen the light” media tour continued with a sitdown with Shams Charania of The Athletic where Howard praises the play of Draymond Green and said the Warriors’ lynchpin and former Defensive Player of the Year inspired him.

“I hated Draymond. I’m like, ‘This dude is a**.’ But I sat back this year and really watched everything he did and I was really impressed. They said he might not have been the best shooter, that’s fine he’s going to shoot with confidence when he get that shot. He might have a shot, but instead of shooting it he’s going to have to find the best shooter on the team at the right time and make the right play. I was like ‘Man, I really like that.’ And if he know the game is getting out of hand he’ll go and take three or four charges. He’ll try to get all the rebounds. Just all the little things he did that might not show up on the stat sheet.”

That’s Howard saying all the right things.

He’s said the right things before, then has turned around been selfish, has not been the guy willing to do all those little things that might not show up in the stat sheet. Maybe this time will be different because he’s matured, because LeBron James will keep him in line, and because he knows this is his last NBA contract if he doesn’t. Maybe. But Howard will have to prove it.

If he does that’s a big boost for the Lakers.

Can James Harden and Russell Westbrook fit the pieces together? Will that be enough?

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This story tips-off NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video, and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

“We’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs.”

That was a very rational sounding James Harden, echoing the mantra of his coach (for now) Mike D’Antoni: Great players figure out how to play together.

Harden enters this season paired with the third superstar who was going to help him bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Houston. First, there was Dwight Howard, an experiment that dissolved like Skittles in water. Then came Chris Paul, where the team had success but ran into the juggernaut of Golden State.

Now it’s Russell Westbrook — and from the moment the trade to land him went down, the questions about “how is this going to all work?” started to pop up.

We heard those same questions a couple of years ago: How are Harden and CP3 going to fit together on offense, they both need the ball in their hands? The answer turned out to be “very well, thank you” — the Rockets had one of the top two offenses in the league both seasons CP3 wore red. Both players had high usage rates but learned how to play off one another.

Can Harden and Westbrook — friends since high school who have played together before — find a fit that makes the Rockets even better?

Will that even be enough to lift Houston above the rest of the deep and very talented West?

There are no easy answers.

ABOUT THAT FIT…

The fit questions with Westbrook and Harden on offense focus on two key areas: Usage and three-point shooting.

Harden and Westbrook have been two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA in recent years (this is very different than when they played together on the Thunder years ago). Harden had a usage rate last season of 40.47, the second-highest in NBA history — behind Westbrook from two years ago. With Paul George on his team last season Westbrook’s usage rate came down to 30.9, still 10th highest in the NBA.

Harden also is the most isolation-heavy player in the NBA, with 48.7 percent of his possessions being in isolation last season (via NBA.com player tracking). Westbrook was ninth on that iso list.

Both players are used to having the ball in their hands and working without much help, so how is this going to work?

Probably better than people think. Eventually. As Harden said, “there are going to be ups and downs.” But one thing we will see is Houston getting the ball more to Westbrook to push the ball in transition — Chris Paul slowed the Rockets down the past couple of seasons (against D’Antoni’s instincts). Westbrook will speed them up, pushing from end-to-end and being a force of nature. And, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe pointed out recently, it’s easy to picture Harden being the trail man on those plays and stepping into wide-open threes.

“I think we’re going to get back to transition being more of a weapon for us,” Rockets GM Daryl Morey told the Houston Chronicle. “That was something Mike did very well his first year for us. Mostly because we were an elite halfcourt team, we got away from it. With a weapon like Russell in transition, you have to use it.”

Also expect D’Antoni to stagger the minutes for Westbrook and Harden a decent amount, making sure they each get their time to shine.

All that said, Harden is a much, much more efficient scorer in the halfcourt. When both stars are on the court and the play settles down, it would be a mistake by Houston to take the ball out of Harden’s hands. He is the best scorer in the league right now, with an unstoppable step-back, and he’s an elite playmaker for others. He wins games getting buckets and the Rockets need to let him keep doing that.

Maybe the most interesting thing to watch is D’Antoni’s impact on Westbrook’s shot selection.

Houston launches more threes than any team in the league, and players who go there and see D’Antoni’s flashing green light universally see an increase in attempts (usually by more than 20 percent). The past two seasons, Westbrook has averaged 4.8 three-point attempts per game, hitting 29.3 percent of them. Do the Thunder want him taking more threes?

Also, Westbrook took as many midrange shots per game as the Rockets entire team last season. Westbrook took 4.9 shots a game between the paint and the three-point arc (and he shot a dismal 31.8 percent on them), the Rockets as a team averaged 4.8. Those are not shots the Rockets want and you know they are going to encourage Westbrook to take the rock all the way to the rim and attack. He should, and try to start drawing fouls at a high rate again. If that results in a bump in efficiency for Westbrook, it’s good for everybody.

The bottom line: Harden and D’Antoni are right, star players tend to figure it all out. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant did, with neither taking a big step back in usage rate. It’s been the same with other stars, including Harden and CP3. Westbrook can’t become a spectator when he doesn’t have the ball (as has been an issue at points in the past), but on offense expect the Rockets to figure it all out and be one of the top three offenses in the NBA.

WILL THAT BE ENOUGH TO WIN A TITLE?

This is the bigger question, and it rests on depth and defense.

Houston can roll out a closing five of Westbrook, Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela. That’s impressive. Few teams can put a better five on the court.

After that… things are less impressive. Austin Rivers is a solid backup point, and they have Danuel House and Gerald Green on the wing. Backup center, Tyson Chandler. Backup at the four, Gary Clark. Things get thin along the front line, and really once that first five is off the court this team is far less of a threat. Injuries can undo any team with title aspirations, but the Rockets, in particular, are not well equipped to be without one of their key guys for a lengthy stretch.

That’s another reason to expect D’Antoni to stagger Harden’s and Westbrook’s minutes during the regular season — he will want the offensive punch. Also expect some load management for the Rockets’ stars, even though neither is a fan of resting when healthy.

The bigger title question: Can this team defend well enough to win it all with Harden and Westbrook on the court a lot together in the playoffs?

The Rockets were 17th in the NBA in defense last season, although they were much better — 4.8 points per 100 possessions — better after the All-Star break (after assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik got them back in shape, but he’s in New Orleans now). Harden is a better defender than his reputation, he has quick hands and can get steals, but he’s not great on ball, and off-ball his focus can wander. Westbrook, for all his athleticism, also has a lot of defensive lapses and the Trail Blazers went at him at points in the playoffs a year ago.

Tucker is a quality, physical defender, and Capela can protect the rim, but can the Rockets slow down the West duos of LeBron James/Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard/Paul George, or even Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray? Nobody is going to stop those duos — just like nobody is going to stop Westbrook and Harden — but the teams that can best slow the other top duos down in the playoffs will have the best shot to advance. That’s where it’s hard to see the Rockets as elite.

Can Westbrook and Harden figure out how to play together and become an offensive force? The smart money is they do.

Is that going to be enough, or will the Rockets remain the second or third best team in the West? That is the real question, and Houston fans may not like the answer.