HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s no secret that the Dwight Howard drama — Dwama or Dwight-mare, your choice — is causing a strain on the Magic franchise. Here we are, 48 hours or so from the trade deadline, and there’s no resolution. This isn’t something the Magic want to stretch until the last moment.
But is it causing friction within the organization? Perhaps.
It’s already well-known within Magic circles that Dwight and general manager Otis Smith, once chummy, have a frostier relationship. In fact, the task of sweet-talking Dwight was assumed long ago by Alex Martins, the team president. Dwight and Smith haven’t always been on the same page with regards to trades and signings. And making things more complicated, Dwight in the past has also clashed with coach Stan Van Gundy.
Now comes word, via ESPN.com, that the Magic have told Dwight, in so many words, that he can choose his coach and general manager if he re-signs with the team this summer. That would bring a whole new meaning to the term “franchise player” because, if true, Dwight would really own the franchise then. Here’s the story from sleuths Marc Stein and Chris Broussard:
One source close to the situation told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher that the Magic have promised Howard that they will add a quality player before Thursday’s deadline and that Howard can decide the fate of both GM Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy at the end of the season if he signs an extension. Bucks swingman Stephen Jackson, frustrated in Milwaukee, is available and sources say he and Howard have talked about playing together.
Giving Howard the keys to the kingdom would border on insanity. And knowing Martins, I’m not sure he’d do that.
Just recently, Martins said Howard isn’t bigger than the franchise and, if necessary, the Magic would trade him at the deadline, however reluctantly. In addition, Martins is a huge fan of Van Gundy. Finally, how would Howard come off, in public anyway, if he gave the “off with their heads” signal to the Magic? He’d never live it down, although there are more than a few Orlando fans who wouldn’t be too sorry to see Smith replaced.
As for Van Gundy? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time he ran afoul of his big man (see O’Neal, Shaq).
By Monday afternoon, Martins was quashing the Dwight-as-GM rumors with the following statement obtained by the Orlando Sentinel:
Magic officials released a statement from Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins that read: “The only person(s) who have the final say on coaches and management is the Orlando Magic ownership.”
Beyond that, Martins would not comment. As he has before, Martins cited an agreement that he has made with Howard in which both parties pledged that they would not divulge the details of their conversations.
Martins has taken the lead role in attempting to convince Howard to remain with the franchise, and Martins has kept in almost daily contact with Howard since Martins was promoted to the CEO’s job in December.
Howard would not speak with reporters after the Magic completed their shootaround today to prepare for tonight’s game against the Miami Heat.
As with all things Dwight-a-palooza thus far, though, a statement doesn’t signal peace as far as this is concerned. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says Howard’s wishes for the Magic to build him a stronger team where he is and then he’ll stay put is looking like a ruse:
With the combination of Howard’s disdain for confrontation, desire to be liked and a pragmatic belief that a trade is no longer in his best long-term interests, Howard has created an illusion with the Magic that there are factors that could cause him to sign an extension with the team.
“Dwight’s gone, and [Magic CEO] Alex Martins is the only person who doesn’t believe that,” a league source with knowledge of Howard’s intentions told Yahoo! Sports.
Howard is privately telling people the acquisition of an All-Star player and more complementary players could sway him to stay, league sources told Y! Sports’ Marc Spears, but that scenario is far-fetched given the limited appeal of Orlando’s trade assets. A proposed three-way trade between the Magic, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, which would send Andrew Bogut to Golden State and Monta Ellis to Orlando won’t happen unless Milwaukee also finds a team to take Stephen Jackson. And the Magic are hesitant about accepting Jackson’s contract, which has one remaining year worth $10 million, unless they’ve been assured Howard will re-sign.
Magic general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy have known Howard the longest. They know he will leave them and they want a deal done prior to Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. The gulf between Martins and his basketball operations staff has become vast, full of mistrust and animosity. “Otis and Stan want the circus to end,” one source close to them said. “They want a deal.”
…Orlando has few assets that teams want but is still the team that can escalate payroll and absorb talent. After taking on millions of dollars more in future money on the salary cap in the Gilbert Arenas trade a season ago, Martins is threatening to do it again at the deadline. For all the talk of a potential Ellis trade to the Magic, the Golden State Warriors have been adamant they won’t make any deal with Orlando that doesn’t bring Howard back as a rental for the rest of the season.
For the first time on Tuesday, Van Gundy seemed to publicly push back on upper management’s undermining of his GM and himself. “Sometimes, I feel like our coaching staff are the only people in Orlando who care about the results of games,” Van Gundy told reporters.
AINGE QUIETS RONDO RUMORS … FOR NOW
When you’re talking about the Celtics and trades, only one player comes to mind: Rajon Rondo. He’s young, an All-Star, has a reasonable contract and therefore is an asset. Of course, the Celtics could also hold onto Rondo to help them transition from the pending breakup of the Big Three. Which raises another question: Should the Celtics get a jump on the breakup and just do it now, rather than waiting?
According to A Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, you can forget the Rondo trade talk — at least that’s what Danny Ainge told him:
A number of Boston Celtics players will continue to be the subject of trade rumors up until the 3 p.m. deadline on Thurday.
But there’s one player that isn’t going anywhere — Rajon Rondo.
“Rondo’s not being traded,” Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com prior to the Celtics facing the Los Angeles Clippers. “I don’t know how many times I have to say it. Rondo’s not being traded.”
“Rondo, from the beginning of this year, has shown a lot of maturity in dealing with all this, back to the Chris Paul rumors and stuff,” Ainge said. “Rondo and I have had open dialogue and conversation. He knows where he stands with our organization and how important he is.”
Whether Ainge’s assurances end up being true or not, I’m in the camp that says the Celtics should ride it out with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen the rest of the season and see what the playoffs bring. Of course, the Celtics are hardly championship-quality at this stage, with KG and Allen well on the downside. But it’s better to just give them one last shot at glory, let their expiring contracts slide off the cap this summer and then make a move. Very likely, Rondo will have to hold it down until Pierce’s contract is up in two years. Then the Celtics can build in earnest.
Owner Wyc Grousbeck is on board with whatever Ainge decides here in the stretch run of the trade deadline, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
Management’s activity before Thursday’s trade deadline could determine the state of the franchise in the coming years, and whether the Celtics remain a contender in the Eastern Conference. Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said he believes the team is playing better and could be a contender this season.
“I just had lunch with Doc [Rivers] and he was saying he likes the way they’re playing and they’re coming together and I do, too,’’ Grousbeck said. “I see energy and heart. I do see [Sunday against the Lakers] as a game of energy and effort and we could have won it. We didn’t. I like the way they’re playing.”
WARRIORS PURSUING A POOR MAN’S DWIGHT?
The next-best big man on the block might be Hornets center and former All-Star Chris Kaman. In truth, he was on the block the moment he arrived from L.A. in the Chris Paul trade, so discussions for Kaman have gone on for quite a while. Strangely enough, the Hornets would be trading a double-double big man; aren’t those the kind you’d like to keep? Anyway, Kaman becomes a free agent this summer and evidently,the Hornets either believe he’s too old or will demand too much money for them to keep, so it’s better to send him along now.
The Warriors, who are a complete long-shot for Dwight — check that, they have no shot — are warm on Kaman, believing he can elevate them to playoff contender if he’s paired with David Lee. The obvious trade bait is Monta Ellis, born and raised in the Bayou area (Mississippi) and brings plenty of scoring punch to a team that could use it. Odd that the Warriors are looking to make moves now, when making the playoffs would seem a stretch, rather than waiting until summer. But new owner Joe Lacob is the anxious type and wants to make a splash.
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t seem so convinced that the Warriors are serious players just yet:
The Warriors have become big trade scuttlebutt themselves this season, being mentioned in discussions about Orlando’s Dwight Howard, New Orleans’ Chris Kaman and New Jersey’s Brook Lopez. Warriors sources said the buzz about Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut is “nothing more than hype.” It can be argued that the Warriors franchise has shown progress just by getting into these conversations. But the rumors can also affect the usually harmonious locker room that has “Just Us” written on its wall.
Coach Mark Jackson saw the need last week to address the rumors with his team. He said it would be ridiculous for the Warriors to trade Monta Ellis to Orlando in a deal that didn’t net Howard. Other than that, he offered no promises.
“They understand that we’re in this together, but they also understand that this is a business,” Jackson said. “You never want to get it twisted and think that you’re going to be here, or anywhere else, forever.
Kaman would be a big help to a championship contender, and in the past, the Spurs showed strong interest. Obviously, the Hornets are looking for youth and/or picks for Kaman, which would help them find … a center that can put up numbers similar to Kaman.
LAKER PROBLEMS? WHAT LAKER PROBLEMS?
Interesting interview from Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times with Mitch Kupchak, who essentially says all is well in Lakerland, despite what you might have heard. Kobe Bryant? He’s happy. Pau Gasol? It’s all good. Jim Buss? Far wiser than you know, says Kupchack. Of course, you’d say that, too, about your boss.
Anyway, he’s the most interesting passage from Kupchak:
Bryant went public with a trade demand in 2007 but had since cooled his opinions because he had “great faith in the organization, the front office and ownership,” Kupchak said.
“There was some frustration a few weeks ago, but really, that’s the first time he’s spoken out. I’ve sat with [Bryant] and talked to him since then, and our relationship hasn’t changed. I’m not any more inclined to tell him what’s going on day to day, although I’ll ask his opinion from time to time on a player, which is what Jerry [West] would do with Earvin or Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. I think that’s what most general managers do.
“But you can’t keep players in the loop day to day. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be remembered as one of the greatest players with the most championships of all time. He doesn’t want to be involved in the criticism that may come with being a part of something that runs” a team.
Bryant was mainly looking out for Gasol when he told the front office to make up its mind, Kupchak said.
In a weird way, Gasol has earned Kupchak’s sympathy, even though the four-time All-Star isn’t guaranteed to remain on the Lakers’ roster until Thursday’s trade deadline passes.
“This has been a really hard, hard period for Pau,” Kupchak said. “He’s been ridiculously professional. I can’t imagine going through what he’s gone through the last two or three months. The way the whole thing unfolded with what took place in training camp, it’s just been one big unavoidable mess, and unfortunately Pau’s in the middle of it.”
My take on Pau? He signed a contract with the NBA, not the Lakers. Trade talk, and trades themselves, are all part of being a professional. He should deal with it in the same manner that he dealt with being traded from the Grizzlies to the Lakers. How’d that work out?
Besides, it’s not like the Lakers are talking about reducing his salary ($60 million over the next three years) or shipping him to the NBA D-League. So play on and don’t worry about things you can’t control.
IS PHILLY PHINE FOR NOW?
The Sixers are one of those teams in a bind. They’re loaded with solid young players who may become potential stars. Or maybe not. At the very least, they’re assets that can be used in a trade, although at this point with the Atlantic Division title within their grasp, the Sixers will probably stand pat for now. It helps that Evan Turner has stepped up his game considerably; he’d be the most likely name to be thrown into the mix.
The Sixers, however, need a bonafide star. The dilemma for any team in Philly’s situation is weighing whether to be patient and wait, or package a player or two and grab a star from a team that can’t keep him. Here’s what vice president Rod Thorn says, courtesy of the fine Daily News writer Bob Cooney:
As for the trade front, president Rod Thorn didn’t say the Sixers wouldn’t do anything, but it sure sounds as though nothing will happen.
“There’s always a lot of talk going on at this time of the year; we’ve talked with most of the teams throughout the league,” Thorn said. “Right now, to say if anything is going to transpire or not, you just don’t know. I couldn’t say one way or the other. You listen to everything and try to see if there’s something that could help your team without breaking it up.”
Around the All-Star Break, when the Sixers had lost eight of 10 games and were offensively mired in muck, a move not only seemed like a good idea, but probably was necessary. Now, with Turner bringing new life into the offense and the return of [Spencer] Hawes on the horizon, staying status quo seems to be the way they’ll go.
Still, if I’m the Sixers, I’d at least look into getting Josh Smith from the Hawks. He’d form a good frontcourt tandem with Andre Iguodala and would bring some excitement to the building. Plus, Smith is still in his prime and would likely connect with coach Doug Collins. Worth exploring, at the very least.
ANYONE JAZZED ABOUT UTAH?
Apparently, the Jazz, threatening to become mediocre, are hoping to make some noise by Thursday. The Deseret News spoke to GM Kevin O’Connor, who said:
With Thursday’s deadline approaching, Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor admitted the team is “actively looking” at trade scenarios.
“In the job that I have, one of the responsibilities is to improve the team,” O’Connor said. “Now you can’t improve the team without looking to make trades, and that’s what we do. There’s 29 other guys that have the same responsibilities to their teams, and they do the same thing. There’s a lot of conversations.”
O’Connor noted that not much trading has gone on yet around the logjammed NBA. But he likes the Jazz’s “flexibility” approaching this deadline and in the offseason.
“We’re active. We’re listening,” O’Connor said. “We’re aggressive in trying to talk (about) things.”
Which means: You can have Devin Harris if you want him. Hello? Anyone?