HANG TIME, TEXAS– No matter where he plays next season, Dwight Howard should have his agent sign an endorsement deal with IHOP. Only a pancake griddle has more flip-flops than his story.
He’s going. He’s staying. He’s going. He’s staying. He plans to retire and become a coconut farmer on an island in the South Pacific. OK, we made that last one up. We think.
After meeting on Wednesday with new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, the word is that the All-Star center wants to be in L.A. in this summer, Brooklyn in January or Dallas next July.
But according to Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM, the one scenario that Howard will not consider for a moment is a return to Orlando for the 2012-13 season:
Hennigan’s pitch to Howard had a heavy focus on the two men developing a relationship that would be valuable to the Magic moving forward. He expressed a sincere interest in getting to know the six-time All-Star and working with him to improve the team. Howard, however, was expecting an outline of how the team planned to improve and get back to a championship-contending level, something he didn’t receive during the hour-long meeting, according to sources. Howard was staunch in his stance and again made it clear to Hennigan that he has no desire to return to Orlando. He told the 30-year-old general manager that he would “never sign another contract with the Magic,” according to sources that spoke with RealGM. During the meeting, Howard informed Hennigan that he would be willing to re-sign with the Lakers at the end of the 12-13 season if the two teams were able to complete a trade.
The scenarios Howard was open to during the meeting were: An immediate trade to the Lakers, a January trade to the Brooklyn Nets or a clean break at the end of the 2012-13 season. But he was clear that he would not return to the Magic, choosing to leave as a free agent after the season, sources told RealGM. Hennigan informed Howard that he didn’t have any deals in the works and wasn’t quite sure how to respond to what he was told, according to sources. Hennigan was noncommittal on any of the discussed scenarios as the meeting ended. Hennigan’s noncommittal approach has only frustrated Howard more as it’s believed that several acceptable offers have been presented to the Magic only to be turned down due to a lack of a true intent to trade him, sources said. (more…)
HOUSTON – After all the wins and losses, makes and misses, cheers and jeers, along comes a season like this one where the post-lockout schedule is cramming 66 games into just 124 days and it’s something unfamiliar … even to a lifer like George Karl.
Is it harder or just different?
“I think it’s both,” Karl said. “I think it’s different because there are actually so many teams that still have a chance. And none of the teams think it’s impossible. I mean, Utah could win five out of six. We can win four out of six. Then look at Dallas. I know we’re all hoping that we can make the playoffs. But everybody’s watching and it’s nerve-wracking, it’s stressful, it’s different and it’s hard. You can stay positive, but there are moments when you go to the negative side.”
Not now. Not when Karl has just seen his Nuggets play a splendidly clutch second half to complete a back-to-back, home-road sweep of the Rockets to solidify, at least for a night, their position in this hair-raising Western Conference playoff race. A week ago, the Nuggets were on the outside looking in, but now they’ve won four of their last five games and have climbed back safely up the ladder into sixth place.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU – The Denver Nuggets, sans superstar, have the second-best offense in the NBA.
Through Friday, the Nuggets rank second in offensive efficiency, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions, a hair less than the three-star offense in Miami, a shade more than the two-star offense in Oklahoma City, and miles ahead of their former franchise player’s offense in New York.
The Nuggets are efficient even though they don’t give themselves a lot of second-chance opportunities (ranking 27th in offensive rebounding percentage) and even though they don’t take care of the ball all that well (ranking 19th in turnover ratio).
What the Nuggets do do very well is shoot the ball and get to the line.
Top five offenses, through Friday
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
eFG% = Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (3PM*0.5))/FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA
The numbers above indicate that both the Heat and Thunder have similar offensive profiles as the Nuggets. But when we look at how and where the Nuggets’ shots are coming from, we really see just how unique they are.
Is Denver a legitimate championship contender or merely a flashy second-tier team? After losing at home to the Clippers and then on the road in Memphis, the Nuggets need a win in L.A. to prove that their season will not yield still another pile of fool’s gold.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are in full sail. After a slow start, and with Chris Paul finally healthy, they seek to establish themselves as the righteous successors to Dallas.
HOW THE NUGGETS CAN WIN: While there’s no doubt that Danilo Gallinari is a budding star, he must be more consistent. If his treys are falling, defenders have to honor every ball fake, which will enable Gallinari to plow his way into the paint. Also, when Gallinari is shooting bull’s-eyes from beyond the arc, the Clippers’ defense will be sufficiently stretched to allow more open spaces and lanes for his teammates to attack the rim.
Ty Lawson is back in action and adds quickness and speed to Denver’s already potent offense. Since CP3 is an habitual head-turner and not an effective man-to-man defender, he resorts to looking for steals. Accordingly, Lawson must protect the ball and take advantage of Paul’s somewhat risky maneuvers. Also, Lawson must force Paul to either drive or pull left. And since Paul’s shooting has dramatically improved season after season, Lawson does not dare to offer any defensive help.
Nene has to set sturdier screens than is his wont, hit his mid-range jumpers and overpower DeAndre Jordan in the low post. (more…)
*** HANG TIME HQ, ATLANTA — It’s a big man’s game, always has been and always will be, and if you doubt that, just check out the number of zeros on Kwame Brown‘s paycheck.
And yet: The season of the point guard is taking shape quite nicely. With few exceptions, the majority of championship contenders and playoff hopefuls are getting strong play from the point and in some cases, two point guards. This isn’t a surprise, though; we all saw this coming, because of the number of point guards taken recently in the Draft who have developed quickly and efficiently.
Let’s take a quick sampling:
The Wolves are flourishing with Luke Ridnour starting and Ricky Rubio finishing games. Coach Rick Adelman is doing the right thing by bringing Rubio along slowly and keeping all pressure to a minimum. The kid’s going to be special, why rush it?
Ty Lawson has come into his own in Denver, and the quality of play at the point doesn’t suffer when he’s replaced by Andre Miller. The Nuggets are getting 12.5 assists a game from the duo and are off to a credible start.
While they aren’t challenging for a title anytime soon, the Bobcats are giving heavy minutes to both D.J. Augustin and rookie Kemba Walker, who often are on the floor together; arguably, they’re the Bobcats’ best hope for the future. That is, if Charlotte doesn’t trade one of them (Augustin most likely) in the future.
Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul have been the starting backcourt for the Clippers all season. This is an ideal situation because the Clippers are loaded with finishers, primarily Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so it helps to have a pair of guards who know how to deliver the ball. Lob City, you know.
Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook in contract drive, and then with Eric Maynor lost for the season with a torn ACL, Reggie Jackson had 11 points and four assists off the bench against the Spurs on Sunday.
In Miami, rookie Norris Cole has been a big discovery, and he has lit a fire under Mario Chalmers, who was big (29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Atlanta last week.
Of course, there’s also the returning MVP, Derrick Rose; Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash are among the league leaders in assists and Kyle Lowry is having a career season in Houston. And we should mention the No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft, Kyrie Irving, is beginning to blossom with the Cavs.
Interestingly, point guard was a big topic Sunday in D.C., where Rubio had 14 assists and outplayed John Wall, the No. 1 pick a few years ago. This was a curious case because the Wizards gave Minnesota the No. 1 pick that became Rubio. Here’s how it happened: Back in 2009 the Wizards were in the lottery, but when they drew the No. 5 pick, they decided to ship it to new Wolves GM David Kahn for immediate help. Kahn sent Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards, who figured Foye (the No. 7 pick in 2006) was ready for a breakout and would be better than anyone available at No. 5.
Kahn then took heat for drafting two point guards, Rubio and Jonny Flynn, back-to-back. And Rubio’s people were very hesitant to send him to the Wolves, a perennial loser; Rubio subsequently re-signed with his team in Spain. Meanwhile, the Wizards were expecting a big 2009-10 season, with Gilbert Arenas back from knee surgery and ready to regain the form that made him dangerous at both ends.
Well, we know what happened. Gilbert brought his guns to the arena five months later and the Wizards crumbled. At least they grabbed the No. 1 pick in the next lottery, and Wall had a promising rookie year. But Wall has regressed, especially his shooting. He made only 3-of-10 against the Wolves and two of those were dunks. Plus, the Wizards fell to 0-8. Rick Kamla of NBA TV had an interesting question: If you were starting an NBA team today, would you want Rubio or Wall?
Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked when Rubio — who has started the season by playing every second of every fourth quarter — was going to be promoted to starter.
“I get real tired of answering that,” he said. “He’s doing just fine.”
Fine enough that one Verizon Center press room wag commented on how Rubio, at first glance, makes his teammates better while Wall doesn’t. The Wolves, by the way, have seven players on their roster who were top-six lottery picks. The Wizards’ only other player chosen that high is last summer’s No. 6 pick, Jan Vesely.
“If it had been Rubio, who knows, John Wall might not have been here,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said, referring to that 2009 trade the Wizards hoped would bolster a team that at the time included Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. “There were a lot of things that went into the whole equation.”
Rubio said Sunday he is happy where he is.
“I don’t know, Minnesota was the team that drafted me and I don’t think anything else,” Rubio said. “They were the ones who trusted me and I’m so glad they did.”
Rubio is only a month younger than Wall, but he was just 17 when he started for the silver-medal-winning team from Spain in the 2008 Olympics. He also won a Euroleague title with FC Barcelona in 2010 and won the Spanish League title last season. Rubio didn’t put up great numbers in Europe or in the European championships last summer, but he has found an NBA game that is more compatible to his style of play.
“Here, you can find more space to penetrate and for passes,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to say I played bad last year. My team won almost everything, so I did something well, right? So that’s teamwork and sometimes you don’t need to shine for your team to win.”
Oh, and speaking of teams off to a poor start, the Nets are still optimistic about re-signing Deron Williams next summer, when he becomes a free agent. And if Williams does sign up, would Dwight Howard follow? That’s a good bet, because while this is a big man’s league, Howard wants and needs a point guard to make him look even better.
But we’re also well aware of what goes on when a true superstar is added to the mix of an up and coming team and just how important it is to have the right quarterback in today’s NBA. That’s why we’re still watching the Clippers’ every move, and ignoring the venom.
Sunday’s Clippers-Trail Blazers game offered up the perfect case study on the importance of the right point guard for the right situation, as both Chris Paul of the Clippers and Raymond Felton of the Trail Blazers displayed their wares, and why the Clippers must be taken seriously with Paul at the helm.
Paul has the ability to take over games in ways that only a select few players in the league can. He was brilliant down the stretch against the Trail Blazers, executing on both ends of the floor as he and his crew handed the Trail Blazers’ their first loss of this season.
Faced with losing a 17-point lead over Portland on Sunday in a game the Clippers considered a measuring stick of their progress after being spanked by San Antonio and Chicago, Paul simply took over and refused to let them lose.
He steadied his teammates’ nerves with his poise, elated them with his shotmaking and wowed them with his ability to win a crucial jump ball against a five-inches-taller Jamal Crawford with 4.3 seconds left.
If not for his leadership the Clippers would not have celebrated their first home victory this season, a gutsy 93-88 decision over the Trail Blazers that inspired the crowd to chant his name in tribute for what figures to be the first of many times.
“Great players can not only make shots but, more importantly, make plays,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said, “and Chris can do both. That’s what makes him special.”
Lost in the aftermath of Paul’s dazzling performance is the fact that Felton has provided the perfect match for Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who has run through a long list of point guards during his tenure. It’s one of the only criticism we have of McMillan, a longtime HT fave.
A NBA scouting friend suggested to me earlier today that it was basically an even swap.
“Miller is older at 35 but these guys do pretty much the same things,” he said. “They know how to run teams, are effective on both ends and they both have plenty of playoff experience, so you know they understand the dynamics of the job they have to do in a winning situation.”
But I’m not so sure.
Miller is a seemingly ageless wonder, much like his point guard elder statesmen brethren Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. But Felton is just 27. And he has always struck me as guy capable of so much more than he’s shown. He was on the road to showing off exactly what I’m talking about in New York last season, when he played All-Star caliber basketball, only to be traded to the Nuggets.
You put him at the controls of a Blazers team that boasts LaMarcus Aldridge down low and Brandon Roy and Wes Matthews on the wing with his old buddy Gerald Wallace (they played together in Charlotte) tossed in for good measure, and I’m seeing big things for Felton in his new role.
Rather than arguing back and forth with my scout friend I thought we’d let you help end this debate:
The Nuggets and Blazers have had discussions about Denver trading point guard Raymond Felton and the 22nd pick for Andre Miller and the No. 21 pick. The talks appear to be dormant for now, with Portland balking at including other assets in the deal.
Earlier in the day, DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givonyreported via Twitter that the Magic and Blazers were discussing a swap of Orlando’s Jameer Nelson to Portland for Miller and the No. 21 pick. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins, however, refuted that report:
Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith joked the other day on a local sports-talk radio show that trade rumors always surround Jameer Nelson.
Add another unsubstantiated rumor — with heavy emphasis on the words “unsubstantiated rumor” — to the list, courtesy of Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com.
Givony said over Twitter today that the Magic “are talking about” a trade with the Portland TrailBlazers that would send point guard Jameer Nelson out west for point guard Andre Miller and the 21st overall pick in tonight’s 2011 NBA draft.
However, an NBA source indicated to the Orlando Sentinel that the report is being overblown — at least for now.
In other words: No matter how juicy this rumor seems to be, you’d be best-served to temper your expectations of it actually happening.
DALLAS – Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki hears “MVP” chants from the American Airlines Center crowd nearly every time he steps to the free throw line late in a tight game. A decade worth of superstar performances has a way of winning over the home crowd that way.
Tyson Chandler has only had 10 months to prove to Mavericks fans that he’s worthy of a chant of his own. Put together another performance like he did in the Mavericks’ crucial 93-82 Game 5 win over the Trail Blazers Monday night, though, and the fans might have to save some of those MVP chants for Chandler.
The 7-foot-1 rebounding machine and defensive menace was certainly the Mavericks’ MVP on this night. He outworked the Trail Blazers’ entire frontline, collecting a playoff career-high 20 rebounds (13 offensive) while also recording his first career playoff double-double (14 points) as the Mavericks surged ahead to 3-2 in this series.
“If he’s out there, that’s what he’s got to do in order for them to win,” Blazers point guard Andre Miller said. “He brought some toughness for that team tonight inside and everybody fed off his energy.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Portland’s Nicolas Batum wasn’t the only star to step up for his tea with the game on the line last night.
His buzzer-beating catch of an Andre Miller inbound pass did finish off the Spurs and earn the top spot on the Top 10 Plays from a glorious Friday night around the league.
Blake Griffin did his usual in the Clippers’ loss to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Battle of LA. And Dwyane Wade was on fire as the Heat knocked off the Sixers in Miami and Derrick Rose making it clear that Chicago is his city and not Tony Allen‘s, just to name a few.