Posts Tagged ‘Clyde Drexler’

Long-shot Mavericks make short, straightforward pitch to Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s Texas tour and what’s next

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If Carmelo Anthony isn’t all that keen on seeing himself plastered on buildings like a monster-sized Fathead in a uniform he’s never worn and holding a trophy he’s never hoisted, then maybe the Dallas Mavericks’ simplistic approach will give them a chance to land the coveted free agent.

Unlike the red-carpet recruiting jobs that the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday unveiled for their guest of honor, Mavs owner Mark Cuban and his team of recruiters kept their meeting with ‘Melo to old-school basics: A conversation.

“What I can tell you is that we made this purely a business meeting,” Cuban wrote to Mavs fans who follow him on his CyberDust app. “No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.”

Dallas is considered the dark horse in this supposed five-horse race with Anthony’s Knicks, the Bulls, the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, who get their crack at Anthony on Thursday. On Tuesday he spent eight hours meeting and eating with Bulls brass and players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

James Harden, Dwight Howard and even Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler entertained Anthony during his six-hour stay in Houston. The Rockets opted for the special effects, splashing images of Anthony in a Rockets uniform adorned with the No. 7 — that being Jeremy Lin‘s current No. 7 — outside and inside the Toyota Center just as the Bulls had done at the United Center the day before.

Anthony then departed for Dallas, landing at Love Field late in the afternoon. A black limousine whisked him to Cuban’s sprawling Dallas mansion. All-in-all, Anthony was in and out in less than three hours, sparking a round of Twitter jokes of all the things that can’t be done, or take much longer, than the Mavs’ time with Melo.

https://twitter.com/DwainPrice/status/484514426515492865

There was no stopping off at the American Airlines Center to pick out a locker stall or to catch a glimpse at the Mavs’ basement practice court (Dallas remains without an off-site practice facility), or even just to check if maybe somebody had photoshopped him into a blue and white, No. 7 uniform (no word how 2013 second-round draft pick Ricky Ledo would have felt about that).

The plan going in was to sell Anthony on settling for less than a max deal by convincing him that the franchise’s impressive track record under Cuban, the craftiness of coach Rick Carlisle and a roster that includes an aging, but capable Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and now Anthony’s former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler could deliver him to the promised land quicker than any other team.

The incumbent Knicks can offer New York’s native son the most lucrative contract by a long shot — $129 million over five years. The Mavs as well as any other team can offer four years and a maximum of $96 million. Dallas would have to shed payroll to get close to a starting salary of $20 million.

One way would be for Nowitzki to take less in his own negotiations that are on hold until they get final word from Anthony. Nowitzki, 36, has said all along he plans to take a significant pay cut from the $22 million he made last season, likely in a similar deal to three years, $30 million Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs in 2012.

The Mavs have targeted a big fish in each of the last three summers, failing to land Deron Williams in 2012 and Dwight Howard a year ago. If Anthony makes them 0-for-3, next-tier candidates include the likes of Luol Deng and the Rockets’ restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, plus the Mavs’ own free agents Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

If time allotted per team means anything, Anthony’s decision will likely come down to the two team’s most expected anyway, his hometown Knicks and the hard-charging Bulls.

Rockets’ pitch puts ‘Melo in Lin’s place


VIDEO: David Aldridge and the NBA TV crew talk about where Carmelo Anthony might land

There have always been unwritten rules of the game:

— Taking out the starters in the fourth quarter of a blowout.

— No dunking or nailing a 3-pointer at the buzzer with a double-digit lead.

— Don’t throw the ball off an opponent’s face to get an out of bounds call.

But apparently there are no rules of decorum these days during the offseason. Or they’re getting a lot harder to define.

First we had Jason Kidd making a full-court press to replace Larry Drew as head coach of the Bucks even though Drew still held the job at the time.

Now we have the Rockets rolling out the welcome mat as part of their pitch to Carmelo Anthony by installing an image of the free agent over the front door to the Toyota Center wearing a No. 7 jersey.

Trouble is, that No. 7 belongs to Jeremy Lin and he’s still on the team.

Of course, if Anthony were to decide to throw in with Dwight Howard and James Harden and move to Houston, it would require that the Rockets trade Lin in order to clear out space under the salary cap. The word is that general manager Daryl Morey even has a deal — Philadelphia? — already lined up in the event that Melo picks the Rockets.

Still, is this a Lin-sult?

It is not the first time that Anthony and Lin have been a bad fit in the same colored uniform jerseys. Back in the early part of 2012 when Linsanity was the toast of New York and became a global phenomenon, Anthony was injured and on the sidelines. When the All-Star forward finally returned to the Knicks’ lineup, the pair did did not mesh, the offense bogged down and Anthony griped loudly.

The Rockets pursued Lin, who was a free agent in the summer of 2012, and eventually wrested him away from the Knicks by including a “poison pill” offer of a $15-million salary in the last of a three-year contract. Anthony called that “a ridiculous contract.” The Knicks didn’t match the offer and Lin has gone on to enjoy two seasons of being an integral part of the Rockets’ rotation. Until now.

After spending Tuesday in meetings with the Bulls, the Melo-thon moved onto Houston for a Wednesday morning meeting with the Rockets that turned into lunch before he was scheduled to fly to Dallas to meet with the Mavericks.

The Rockets welcoming committee consisted of team owner Leslie Alexander, team president Tad Brown and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, along with Howard and Harden. According to reports, the two sides met into the middle of the afternoon.

“It was just a really good meeting,” Drexler told reporters. “Carmelo is probably one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA. Anytime you have a chance to get a guy of that magnitude, you’ve got to pull out all the stops.”

It goes without saying that Lin wasn’t on hand to offer a hug or that No. 7 jersey.

What’s interesting is that if Anthony were to choose the Rockets, he might not even opt to wear No. 7. He wore No. 15 in college at Syracuse and at his first NBA stop in Denver. He couldn’t wear No. 15 in New York because it had already been retired in honor of Hall of Famer Earl Monroe. That number has currently been assigned to Rockets’ first-round draft choice Clint Capela, but something surely could be, ahem, worked out.

Apparently, the unwritten rules are even harder to read in the summer.

 

Heat seek to join ‘three-peat’ history

Three-peat.

It is a familiar part of the lexicon now, one used to distinguish the greatest of our sports champions.

A term coined by Byron Scott in 1988 and trade-marked by Pat Riley, it slides across the tongue as smooth as a scoop of ice cream and defines a dynasty as readily as a crown atop a monarch’s head.

But there is nothing at all easy about the three-peat.

When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat take the court Thursday night, they’ll be attempting to become only the sixth team in NBA history to go back-to-back-to-back as champs.

Here’s a look at Fab Five:

Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)

“Geo Mikan vs. Knicks.” That was the message on the marquee outside Madison Square Garden on Dec. 14, 1949. It succinctly said everything that you needed to know about George Mikan, the man who was the NBA’s first superstar. In an Associated Press poll, the 6-foot-10 center was voted the greatest basketball player of the first half of the 20th century and he was later named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in league history. Mikan was such a dominant individual force that the goaltending rule was introduced to limit his defensive effectiveness and the lane was widened from six to 12 feet to keep him farther from the basket on offense.

However, Mikan still flourished and when he was teamed up with Vern Mikkelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin, his Lakers rolled to three consecutive championships. The Lakers beat the Knicks for their first title in a series that was notable for neither team being able to play on its home court. Minneapolis’ Municipal Auditorium was already booked and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Garden. With Mikan double-teamed, Mikkelsen carried the Lakers offense to a 3-3 split of the first six games and then in the only true home game of the series, the Lakers won 82-65 to claim the crown. The Lakers came back to beat the Knicks again the following year 4-1 and the made it three in a row with a 4-3 defeat of the Syracuse Nationals in 1954.


VIDEO: George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers dominate the early NBA (more…)

Russell’s 80th Highlights Legends Brunch

VIDEO: Bill Russell tribute at the Legends Brunch

NEW ORLEANS – With so much talk leading up to and through the NBA’s 2014 All-Star Weekend about “Mt. Rushmore” candidates of monumental greatness, it was L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul who gave the fun exercise a little spin. Speaking at the annual Legends Brunch on Sunday in the Great Hall of the city’s sprawling convention center, Paul set up his selection of all-timers as some sort of personal half-court playground game.

“If it’s a 2-on-2 game, it’s going to be me and Bill Russell,” said Paul, still wildly popular in the host city this weekend after spending his first six NBA seasons with the New Orleans franchise. “If it’s 3-on-3, it’s me, Bill Russell and another guy. If it’s 4-on-4…

“One thing for sure, Bill Russell is going to be on my team because all he did was win.”

Eleven NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, to be exact, the most prolific winner in major U.S. team sports. Russell was honored with a special tribute at the Legends Brunch, pegged to his 80th birthday Wednesday. A big cake in the shape of “80” (green icing, naturally) was wheeled out at the end and the crowd stood to sing “Happy Birthday,” accompanying a trumpet player on the tune.

The five-time NBA MVP and the man for whom the Finals MVP trophy is named was front and center Sunday, feted not just for his birthday but because – as a native of Monroe, La. – he also fit nicely with the Legends tradition of acknowledging great players with connections to the host market. Three others with ties to the Big Easy and Louisiana were celebrated, including future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who burst on the scene as a freshman at Louisiana State. Three years later in 1992, O’Neal was the league’s No. 1 draft pick; he was named Legend of the Year Sunday.

O’Neal was introduced by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, a lanky 6-foot-3 who nonetheless found himself scooped up and carried like a small child by the massive O’Neal. The 15-time All-Star, who played for six NBA franchises, stood 7-foot-1 and weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 325 pounds, reminded the audience that he was big even when he was little.

When he first met LSU coach Dale Brown, O’Neal was a 6-foot-9 teenager. The Tigers coach mistook him for a member of the military. “He asked, ‘How long have you been a soldier, son?’ ” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘I’m only 13.’ ” The big man pantomimed Brown in a state of shock: ” ‘What?! Huh?!’ He wanted to hide me from the other coaches.”

Hall of Famer Karl Malone, who grew up in Summerfield, La., and was something of a sleeper pick (No. 13) out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, was presented with the Community Service Award. In a nice touch to connect the NBA’s greats to its budding Legends of tomorrow, Philadelphia’s dynamic rookie Michael Carter-Williams introduced Malone.

“A long, long time from now, I hope to be sitting in the audience,” Carter-Williams said. “You guys have no idea how much this means to me.”

Malone, No. 2 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (36,928) behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), has been active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has traveled to Afghanistan and elsewhere to visit U.S. troops. “This honor is great,” he said of the award. “But it’s not about me. We’re a taking society. I try to be a little more about giving back.”

The third honoree with local roots was a HOF power forward who set the league’s standard for Malone and so many others. Bob Pettit – of Baton Rouge, LSU and the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks – was honored with the Hometown Hero Award.

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your 50th birthday,” Pettit told Malone after the former Utah forward introduced him (Malone hit that milestone last summer). “I’ve been retired for 50 years.”

Then, referencing a video clip of his old-school game from the 1950s and ’60s that was shown on multiple screens in the vast ballroom, Pettit poked a little fun at himself. “You saw that hook shot? The first time I shot my hook shot against Boston, Bill Russell caught it,” Pettit said. “I retired that shot after that.”

Now 81, the trim, 6-foot-9 Pettit – Malone called him a “spry young man” – still ranks eighth all-time at 26.4 points per game, third at 16.3 rebounds per game, ninth in minutes (38.8 mpg) and seventh in player efficiency rating (25.3). He was an All-Star in each of his 11 seasons and the game’s MVP three times.

Pettit – also on hand this weekend to remind current players of the 1964 All-Stars’ near-boycott of the showcase game, a tactic to earn their union clout with the owners – won the league MVP award in 1956 and 1959 and finished as low as sixth in the balloting only once. In 1957-58, he averaged 24.6 points and 17.4 rebounds – and scored 50 points in the Game 6 Finals clincher – to help St. Louis beat Boston and win the only NBA title the Celtics didn’t from 1957 through 1966.

And here’s a fascinating what-if: He was two years into his career when the Hawks drafted Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 1956 draft. They traded him that day to the Celtics for eventual Hall of Famers Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley, but still…

Russell sat, nodded and occasionally cackled that famous laugh of his through a steady stream of stories and tributes Sunday. Rev. Jesse Jackson talked about the Celtics star’s career in terms of “knocking down walls and building bridges,” less as a pro athlete than as a civil rights activist marching at the elbow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A panel of other NBA greats – Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Clyde Drexler – also shared impressions and tales about Russell. Abdul-Jabbar, for instance, said that through studying Russell’s style of play he realized how it was possible for someone to dominate from the defensive end of the court.

Johnson said he chased Russell in terms of championships won (he fell six short) and now chases him for impact away from the game. And Erving spoke of the friendship the two have had dating back to 1970 or so, when the man later known as Dr. J still was at the University of Massachusetts. At 19, Erving said, “I sat down and talked with him for three or four hours about everything but basketball.” The two eventually stayed at each other’s homes and became golf buddies.

Russell admitted that he never much enjoyed participating in All-Star Games because, in his heart, he only played basketball for the Celtics. But in 1963 in Los Angeles, he invited his father to the game and told him, “We’re going to win and I’m going to win MVP.” The next day, Russell did just that with 19 points and 24 rebounds in a 115-108 East victory.

His father’s reaction? “I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I never talked about basketball with my family,” Russell said. “But my father was my hero. He taught me to be a man by being one.”

And now, when Russell sits in the stands to watch the game’s current elite performers in the All-Star Game? “I hate to admit it,” he said, revving up for another cackle. “My thought is, I can kick his ass.’ “

Jordan’s First Retirement, 20 Years Ago, Hit NBA Hardest

a

It was 20 years ago today, Michael Jordan said he wouldn’t play…

Hmm, nothing very lyrical about that. More like Sgt. Peppers Broken Hearts Club Band.

As anniversaries go, this one may have lost some oomph after two decades because, sooner rather than later, it lost its exclusivity. Jordan, the consensus pick as the greatest NBA player of all time, eventually would make that same statement again, and then again. But when he dropped the news on the sports world and the American culture on Oct. 6, 1993, that he was retiring from the Chicago Bulls at age 30, no more pebble-grained worlds to conquer, as far as any of us knew, he meant it.

That was it. One and done.

“I didn’t understand it,” Hakeem Olajuwon said a few days ago, looking back across time. Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets’ Hall of Fame center, and Jordan were born 27 days apart. They famously entered the NBA in the same 1984 draft. When Jordan stepped away, it was Olajuwon’s Rockets that stepped up to win consecutive championships. As the 1993-94 season approached, the two stars were in their primes, nine seasons into their treks to Springfield, Mass.

“It was more of a drastic decision,” Olajuwon said, “where I couldn’t imagine that he was comfortable to walk away for life. So I was surprised.”

Jason Kidd was a 20-year-old sophomore at Cal, one more college basketball season away from being drafted into the suddenly Michael Jordan-less league.

“As a guy you looked up to and wanted to be like, here he retires,” said Kidd, also Hall-bound and now the Brooklyn Nets’ rookie head coach. “Now you’re saying ‘The best has left the game,’ and you’ll never get to guard him or play with him. That was disappointing.”

Jordan’s decision to quit the NBA after capturing three consecutive championships with the Bulls from 1991 to 1993, earning three MVP awards and three Finals MVP trophies and winning seven scoring titles was harder to absorb and believe than it was, upon reflection, to understand. He had lived life, for most of his pro career anyway, at a fever pitch, with nonstop basketball commitments, the pressures and obligations of being the game’s most dominant player, the Olympics and other offseason endeavors, and the time and commercial demands generated by his unprecedented rise as a marketing icon and corporate pitchman.

Added to that, in barely a month after the Bulls’ ’93 title, was the loss of his father James Jordan, murdered in a roadside robbery. Then there was the ongoing speculation about Jordan’s golf and casino-style gambling habits, and his alleged association with unsavory characters who might have dragged down not just the player’s integrity but the league’s.

(more…)

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

.

HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.

Frantic Free-Agent Pursuit Of Howard Proves Talent Rules Over All



.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Let the current Dwight Howard derby playing out in Los Angeles serve as Exhibit A for the defense. It’s talent over everything else where NBA free agency is concerned.

The same things that Howard has been bashed for the past year and half — his inability to make up his mind, a less than Dwight-like performance after back surgery, an emotional vulnerability while serving as a musclebound pinata for the pundits, etc. — are the same things that inspired the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers to ignore the rest of the free-agent field or what it will cost them in luxury-tax penalties (in the Lakers’ case) for an all-out pursuit of Howard’s services this summer.

Howard, 27, is far from washed up and is in the midst of his physical prime. And despite opinions to the contrary (sorry, Shaquille O’Neal, but you and plenty of others are wrong on this one), Howard is still the best big man in basketball. And Howard with a chip on his shoulder, with his talent, is a player all of these teams would love to build around.

The man Shaq suggested was ready to dethrone Howard as the top big man in basketball, Andrew Bynum, didn’t play a single second in Philadelphia this season and is low on the priority list for most teams.

Al Jefferson, the only other potential All-Star-caliber center in this free-agent class, is being pursued by the Charlotte Bobcats. But not with the fervor of these teams that are chasing Howard.

Can you envision Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Yao Ming (via Skype), Jerry West or any of the other stars who have volunteered to help their respective teams chase Howard in free agency doing the same for Bynum or Jefferson?

That’s not to say Howard hasn’t had his issues. And he’ll have to work to rebuild his brand with fans wherever he goes. But his stock is sky-high with the folks whose professional livelihood depends on them getting this right.

Howard changes the dynamic in places like Houston, Dallas, Golden State and Atlanta. Those teams instantly move into a championship-level tax bracket with Howard as the centerpiece of their franchises. (The Lakers tried it already and barely made the playoffs.)

“Don’t let all of that chatter from the season fool you,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “Dwight was going to be the game-changer in this free-agent class no matter what. He could have sat and rested that back through All-Star weekend and he’d still command this kind of attention in free agency. There is no one else in his class as a big man when he’s right.”

With Rockets, Howard’s Future Is Now

a

a
HANG TIME, Texas
— The potential of youth and talk of a bright future were definitely served in the dinnertime pitch to Dwight Howard upon the opening of free agency.

But the Rockets are also delivering the message that they can be immediate championship contenders if the seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year makes the move to Texas.

While the Houston contingent included Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and a long-distance Skype call from Yao Ming as links to the franchise’s past, the emphasis was placed on how quickly Howard could return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2009 (when he led the Magic in a five-game series loss to the Lakers).

That’s where all of the horse-trading and maneuvering done by general manager Daryl Morey over the past several years could pay off with the biggest dividend. Even after the Rockets dealt second-year forward Thomas Robinson to Portland to clear the necessary salary cap space to make Howard a four-year, $87 million maximum contract offer, Morey has positioned the Rockets to add more than just Howard to next season’s roster.

Through salary cap exceptions and future Draft picks they hold, the Rockets can build around the core of a young lineup of Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik with the kind of experienced, veteran talent that could solidify the team in the playoffs.

Chances are, none of the other contenders in the Fight for Dwight could look Howard in the eye and tell him that he’d have a real shot at squaring off against LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat next June.

The Hawks do not possess the second elite-level player the Rockets have in Harden. The Warriors would have to work a sign-and-trade agreement with the Lakers to offer Howard a max contract and, in doing so, would probably have to shed the kind of teammates that would attract Howard.

Even in Dallas, owner Mark Cuban is admitting that his plan to get back into championship contention would likely take two years. With the aging Lakers, well, the clock just keeps ticking and they have virtually no cap room to boost the roster significantly immediately.

The Rockets are coming off a 45-win season and a first-round playoff series when they pushed No. 1 seed Oklahoma City to six games.

“They’re building something great in Houston,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said after that series.

The key is the bricks are in place to do it right now with Howard.

Rockets Make Their Pitch To Howard

.

From NBA.com staff reports

No matter what team Dwight Howard chooses on July 10th (as reports indicate that is when he’ll reveal his pick), the Houston Rockets have to know they did all they could on July 1 to put their best foot forward.

The Rockets began their presentation to Howard last night/this morning (depending on your time zone), which started with a meeting at 9:01 p.m. PT. According to reports, the Rockets’ contingent traveled to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in a Mercedes luxury van where they met with Howard to begin making a formal pitch to him.

Houston also brought in several key decision-makers to the process (we understand now why the needed a van!), including owner Leslie Alexander, coach Kevin McHale, president Tad Brown, GM Daryl Morey, vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones and executive vice president Gersson Rosas.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has details on the meeting, which included video messages from ex-Rockets Dikembe Mutombo and Yao Ming and Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler being face-to-face with Howard in the meeting as well:

They prepared information about the marketing potential that comes with playing for the Rockets, still wildly popular in China with its enormous and avid fan base. They were ready to present information about living and playing in Houston, about their new basketball facilities and the camaraderie and chemistry they believe they have with their players, past and present.

There were books and an Ipad with much of the information presented to be left with Howard and his representatives, along with video testimonials from, among others, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo.

But the Rockets hoped their greatest advantage would be their potential to become contenders by adding Howard in the middle.

Howard has repeatedly insisted his primary objective in free agency is to find the team with the best championship potential. Considering themselves to be in the strongest position in that measure, the Rockets sought to make their case they also would be positioned to make improvements even after signing a second player to a max contract.

The youngest team in the NBA last season, the Rockets were prepared to argue they would keep their young core untouched and would have the salary-cap exceptions and first-round picks in coming seasons. The youth was expected to be a point of emphasis. James Harden will be 24 next season, Chandler Parsons 25.

Harden and Parsons, their best player and team captain, respectively, have become friends with Howard and were part of the presentation.

Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon traveled from around the world for the meeting. Drexler flew in from Taiwan, arriving after a 13-hour flight Sunday afternoon. Olajuwon traveled from Jordan for the meeting. (His appearance at the NBA draft in Brooklyn on Thursday was added to his itinerary after the Rockets let the NBA know they were flying him in.)

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports says the Rockets are in the lead now for Howard’s services after last night’s meeting focused on the championship-level team Howard would be a part of should he come to Houston:

The Houston Rockets’ dinner presentation to free-agent center Dwight Howard at the Hotel Bel-Air centered on the franchise’s championship history and an infrastructure designed to give Howard a chance at multiple titles, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Yahoo! Sports.

Houston has emerged as the frontrunner to sign the Los Angeles Lakers center, league sources said, and those close to Howard confirmed late Sunday that the Rockets did nothing to dampen Howard’s enthusiasm for the possibilities of playing for Houston.

“Hakeem didn’t say much, but what did he say was very impactful,” one source in the room told Yahoo! Sports. Olajuwon talked about the Rockets as a destination for championships and drew upon his own personal relationship with Howard, sources said.

Rockets stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons pitched Howard about how they wanted him as a teammate, how the chemistry of the locker room would welcome him. Without bringing up the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets could sell two things that the Lakers likely can’t: a chance for a close connection with the franchise’s star players; and an immediate chance to be a championship contender.

“His main focus was winning and we will give him the best opportunity to do that,” Parsons told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears.

Howard was flanked with his agent, Dan Fegan, and Happy Walters, the CEO of Relativity Media and an agent in the company. What those close to Howard had been saying privately for months was clearly apparent through the probing that Howard did himself with Rockets officials: Winning was his most important priority in the process, and most of the evening was spent discussing how the Rockets had a history of constructing themselves around iconic centers in pursuit of championships.

McHale made it clear to Howard that he planned to build his system around him, and that, ultimately, he would hold Howard accountable every day in the franchise’s pursuit of a title. The Rockets had long believed that McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward, would be an immense asset in the recruitment of Howard. Howard had never had a head coach that could identify with him so well, who could literally look him in the eyes.

Agents talking to the Rockets about potential additions to the roster say they’re searching for shooters and complementary players to surround Howard. “They’re progressing on everything with Dwight in mind,” one prominent agent said Sunday night. “They seem very confident.”

After the meeting, things were pretty positive on the Rockets side as Morey tweeted out the following:

All that said, the Lakers weren’t about to be trumped by a Western Conference rival at the stroke of midnight, either.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met with Howard before the Rockets’ wooing of him began just after 12:01 a.m. ET:

The Los Angeles Lakers were assured they would get the last word when it came to Dwight Howard’s free agency pitch process. Turns out they got the first word as well.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met briefly with Howard face-to-face shortly after 12:01 a.m. ET Monday night when NBA free agency officially opened up, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The details of the meeting between Howard ans Kupchak are unknown, but according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com, it was a brief chat:

And there’s this as well from Kennedy:

The Hawks and Warriors are up next to make their pitches to Howard today, and the Mavs and Lakers close things out on Tuesday. Who knows where Howard will end up, of course, but here’s one important nugget (courtesy of Feigen) to keep in mind as this Howard-a-palooza rolls along:

With the lack of a state income tax in Texas, Howard would net more over four years with the Rockets or Mavericks than in the first four years of a contract with the Lakers.

Rockets Ready To Fill Howard’s Plate

g

HANG TIME, Texas — When the Rockets sit down for dinner tonight in Los Angeles to begin the official courtship of Dwight Howard, the menu will include an appetizer plate full of history — but also a main course of red meat that is playing for future championships.

The Rockets contingent — led by team owner Leslie Alexander, general manager Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale – will include the Hall of Fame pairing of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler as links to the past, along with current players James Harden and Chandler Parsons.

While Olajuwon and Drexler can show off their gaudy jewelry won nearly two decades ago and make a pitch based on emotion and their love for the city of Houston, it is Harden and Parsons who should turn Howard’s head with the potential for getting his own championship ring.

That the Rockets are getting the first crack at Howard may or may not be significant in the outcome. But the truth is this should not even be a close decision for Howard if, as those around him say, it is strictly about basketball and which team holds the best chance to get him back to The Finals fastest. It is the Rockets with a 23-year-old All-Star in Harden, a dynamic 24-year-old running mate in Parsons and enough salary cap space and flexibility with contracts and trade exceptions to fill in any holes in the roster.  Toss in Omer Asik as Howard’s backup and Jeremy Lin as an open-court starter to the fast break and pick-and-roll dealer and the Rockets would clearly vault to the upper echelon of the Western Conference immediately.

The real ace in the hole, it would seem, is Howard getting a chance to work on an everyday basis with McHale, perhaps the greatest low-post player in the history of the game.  More than an occasional workout with Olajuwon — who played a completely different style — McHale could show Howard the way to take the next step up as an elite center.

Yes, the Lakers have a couple of All-Stars of their own, but 34-year-old Kobe Bryant is trying to come back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and soon-to-be-33-year-old Pau Gasol was never a comfortable fit together in the front court last season.  The rest of the Lakers roster was old and slow and simply not good enough to get any further than the first round of the playoffs, and little is going to change next season.

The Warriors will get their chance to sit down at the table with Howard and there will always be the appeal of playing before the most loyal, dedicated and rabid fans in the NBA. But to fully take advantage of the low post tools that Howard possesses would mean Golden State giving up much of the helter-skelter style and pace that Mark Jackson used to get his team into the playoffs and onto the second round.

The Mavericks will tell Howard that Dirk Nowitzki is willing to give up his position as the main cog in the offense to accommodate him.  However those two alone are not enough to make Dallas a contender, and that leaves the big man hoping that a deal could be made to bring in a talented point guard such as Rajon Rondo to run the show. Yet that is all just hope and hype to go with the promise that club owner Mark Cuban will make Howard the centerpiece of the franchise down the line and include him in all personnel decisions.

If it is strictly about basketball and winning championships, why would Howard return to a Lakers model that already failed and might take a step back Bryant’s health, a Warriors team that doesn’t play to his strengths or the Mavericks’ promise of building a team?

The basic parts are already in Houston and they’ll be sitting at with Howard tonight when menus are passed out.  The history that Olajuwon and Drexler bring will be tasty, but it’s the red meat of Harden and Parsons that should fill up his plate.