Posts Tagged ‘Dwight Howard’

Losing a star does not mean losing hope


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about trading Love to Cleveland

What next for the Timberwolves was, predictably, damage control. Ads promoting the future that now includes Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 picks, their own 2014 first-rounder, Zach LaVine, and veteran Thaddeus Young. A catchy slogan — “Eyes on the rise” — to accompany the planned ascension.

Really, though, there was nothing else to do. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders, also the coach, was forced into a trade he wouldn’t have made without a loaded contract to his head, so an outbound ticket for Kevin Love it would have to be. There was something to be said for putting the mess behind them, and Saunders did about as well as could be expected while bargaining from a position of weakness, with the entire league knowing he had to deal at some point, and the Warriors drawing the line in the sand at the toes of Klay Thompson.

There is also the tangible reason for encouragement, the fact the other teams have been pushed down the same dark hole and lived to tell. The Timberwolves can look west to Denver and see that starting over doesn’t have to mean a giant step back. They can turn another direction, southeast to Orlando, and be reminded that losing the best player does not have to equal losing hope.

While each of the major trades forced by players in recent years is unique, depending on time and place, the first days of life without Love should come with knowing that moving an All-Star power forward against their true wishes does not have to be a major hit. The Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony, heard a lot of talk about needing time for the package of prospects to develop, then made the playoffs the same season. The Magic were pressured to offload Dwight Howard, took criticism for passing on what seemed to be the obvious idea of Andrew Bynum as replacement center, and got a better outcome, times a million, with Nikola Vucevic.

Some recoveries have been muddled by additional circumstances. Some have yet to lead to so much as a playoff appearance. But it also shows there is reason to actually keep an eye out for the rise in Minnesota.

TEAM: JAZZ

Player: Deron Williams

Trade: Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash on Feb. 23, 2011.

Long-term perspective: Utah moved Williams before the situation had a chance to deteriorate into the distraction other franchises had, and would, endure. The Jazz got back to the playoffs the next season, but have mostly gone through difficult times that have yet to lead to a clear direction. They will start this season amid predictions of another lottery finish.

It has not gone unnoticed that the lack of a consistent point guard has been an issue since Williams’ departure, though the arrival of Trey Burke in the 2013 draft and Dante Exum in 2014 has raised hopes that it is a problem of the past. The biggest redemption factor for the front office, strangely, is D-Will himself. He generally has not performed like a max player and was stained by the impression his actions led to the departure of beloved coach Jerry Sloan, so the split, however much of a setback on the court, probably does not feel like much of a loss around Salt Lake City.

TEAM: MAGIC

Player: Howard

Trade: Howard to the Lakers on Aug. 10, 2012, as part of a four-team deal that included Bynum and Jason Richardson going to Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, Arron Afflalo and Vucevic to the Magic.

Long-term perspective: The Howard breakup was different than any other, played out over seasons, plural, and with theaters full of drama that eventually felt like nausea. And when it happened, there was wreckage everywhere. New roster, new coach, new questions about which superstar Magic center in his prime would end up with the Lakers next.

Two seasons later, it doesn’t look so bad. Drama followed Howard to L.A. in some coincidence, reminding people in Orlando what else they were losing, before he left the Lakers for Houston as a free agent. Wanting Vucevic instead of Bynum has turned out to be a genius move and the Magic will open 2014-15 as a possibility for the playoffs. It helps to be in the East, as opposed to the others trying to make the climb, but there is a real future in Orlando. Again.

TEAM: HORNETS/PELICANS

Player: Chris Paul.

Trade: Paul and two second-round picks to the Clippers on Dec. 14, 2011, for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick.

Long-term perspective: That hurt Paul too, after the years of building a connection to the city of New Orleans. The team he left behind suffered on the court, with losses piling up, an ownership change, a name change and very little to show in return for the face of the franchise. Kaman and Aminu are already gone, the pick was spent on Austin Rivers — ironically the son of the current Clippers coach — and Gordon has struggled to stay healthy or come close to reaching what once seemed to be star potential.

TEAM: NUGGETS

Player: Anthony

Trade: Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter to the Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011, as part of a three-team trade that sent, among others, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, three picks and $3 million to the Nuggets and Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to the Timberwolves.

Long-term perspective: Denver made the playoffs that season, signaling there would be no post-Carmelo rebuilding, and then built on that by pushing the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the first round the next year. Coach George Karl loved the spirit of that group, and there would even be a third consecutive postseason appearance.

And then it went wrong. Karl was fired. General manager Masai Ujiri, Denver’s point man for the complicated negotiations, left for Toronto. Gallinari blew out his knee. The Nuggets are an uncertainty heading toward this season, waiting to see how much they can count on Gallinari and prospects, but not because of the trade. That generated forward momentum. It’s everything that happened after.

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — August 10


NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning delivers his moving Hall of Fame speech

Durant’s National Team dues have been paid | Ray Allen will play in 2014-15 season | Lakers still feeling the sting of deal that never happened

No. 1: Durant’s National Team dues have been paid — Eyebrows around the globe went up when Kevin Durant officially withdrew from the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup late last week, citing physical and mental exhaustion. Folks will continue to debate whether or not it was the right decision. But our Jeff Caplan insists Durant’s dues have been paid:

In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James,LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

(more…)

Durant has paid his Team USA dues

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Durant withdraws from Team USA participation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In the words of Pat Riley: Get a grip.

Kevin Durant‘s decision to walk away from Team USA little more than three weeks before the start of the 2014 world championships is hardly the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the Americans’ chances to defend their 2010 gold medal, when Durant cleaned up as tournament MVP.

So Team USA’s leading scorer on the 2012 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad will join LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight HowardKevin Love and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as stateside spectators. After participating in last week’s training camp in Las Vegas that opened with Durant inundated by questions about his coming free agency — in 2016! — and ended with the jarring snap of Paul George‘s right leg, Durant on Thursday informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski that he needed to take a “step back.”

In a statement, the Oklahoma City superstar explained his decision for reneging on his commitment to the national team. Mentally and physically worn down from last season and a busy summer of commitments, the NBA’s MVP said he needed these final 50 days or so of the offseason to recharge before beginning another long, expectation-laden season.

So get a grip.

Criticism of Durant having bailed on the national team, or worse, on his country, or of putting the squad in a bind weeks before departing for Spain are unjustified. Durant has for years been an enthusiastic supporter, a valiant competitor and a gracious ambassador for USA Basketball.

As I noted on July 30 as Durant was being grilled in Vegas about playing for his hometown Washington Wizards two summers from now, Durant didn’t have to be there. He chose to be there. With all due respect, the rebranded World Cup isn’t the Olympics, the créme de la créme of international competition as far as an American audience is concerned. And if we’re being honest, that goes for American basketball players, too. The world championships have always, and likely always will mean more to Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who, by the way, is foregoing the World Cup one year after leading France to its first-ever European championship.

It was Durant’s sense of commitment to USA Basketball in the first place that led him a year ago to announce his intention to anchor this squad. But the day after the Thunder lost in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Durant openly spoke of how physically and mentally grueling the season — half of which he carried the Thunder without injured co-star Russell Westbrook — had truly been. Nobody amassed more regular-season minutes and then more postseason minutes than the MVP.

And as Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry pointed out, Durant has pushed his body to the limit over the last five seasons — both for the Thunder and Team USA.

Durant came away from the Vegas training camp and looked ahead to the commitment that followed. Team USA continues training in Chicago on Aug. 14-16, moves on to New York on Aug. 18-22 for workouts and exhibition games and a few days later heads to the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, to complete its preparations and exhibition schedule. It begins World Cup play on Aug. 30 in Bilbao, Spain. The gold-medal game is Sept. 14 in Madrid. NBA training camps open two weeks later.

Did Durant’s decision come as a surprise to Team USA? Yes. Was his timing tough? Sure. But the American pool is deep even with many of its top dogs — and particularly at the forward positions — having withdrawn. Team USA’s candidates at the wing include Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and newest addition Rudy Gay. There’s not an MVP among them, in fact, not even an All-Star save for 2014 East reserve DeRozan.

But that’s OK. That’s what opportunity is all about. Gold isn’t a cinch, but why should it be? Team USA remains well-equipped to play on the final day in Madrid, and Durant, who has worn his country’s colors with honor, has earned the right to take a step back, regardless of when he came to that decision.

So everybody get a grip, and enjoy the games.

Nelson happily moves on to fresh start with Mavericks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson is moving on to Dallas after 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.

Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.

“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’

“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”

Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. 

Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.

The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.

“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.

“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”

Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.

“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”

In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.

“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”

Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.

“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”

The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.

His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.

“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”

Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.

But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.

Love’s knuckle pushups, twist of fate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: News on Kevin Love

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA — on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade — which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.

Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?

While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”

The omission of “we’re and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.

And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.

Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.

Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.

History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.

The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.

The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.

He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.

Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.

We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.

And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.

Heat take LeBron-sized hit, but they’re not done for yet


VIDEO: Chris Bosh stays put in Miami and assumes the No. 1 spot?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chris Bosh has been saying it for a while now. He believes in his heart of (basketball) hearts that he is already a sure-fire Hall of Famer, not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but of all time.

With the free-agent dust finally settled a bitLeBron James heading to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony sticking around in New York and many other moves — Bosh will get a chance to prove his point.

Bosh could have slipped off to Houston for their max offer and continued his career as the No. 2 or No. 3 option with the Rockets alongside All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. But Pat Riley convinced him to stick around and keep it going in Miami to the tune of five years and $118 million, not to mention the challenge of proving to folks that he’s more than the third wheel he was for much of the Big 3 era.

As crazy as it sounds to some who didn’t pay attention to Bosh before he donned a Heat jersey, he is the man now like he once was in Toronto. And like everyone else in the post- LeBron era in Miami, he’ll get a chance to prove that the Heat was more than just a one-man show.

We all asked the same question when word of LeBron’s coming home letter spread. What’s next for the Heat? Will they fold up and head for the lottery the way Cleveland did in 2010 when the decision was made for James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade to join forces in Miami?

Riley, laying flat on his back after LeBron’s latest decision, quickly dusted himself off and saved the Heat from disaster. Wade and Udonis Haslem, who also opted out of their deals along with LeBron and Bosh to give Riley the flexibility to retool the Heat this summer, were never going anywhere. But Bosh had one foot out the door headed to Houston.

Riley, armed with $30 million more in cash than Houston was offering and the challenge of being “The Man,” went to work on Bosh and got the deal done. Free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger had already agreed to join the party. He locked up Luol Deng on a two-year deal, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Mario Chalmers, before the weekend ended, keeping the Heat in the thick of what should be a wide-open Eastern Conference race next season.

“He saved that franchise from who knows how many tough years,” said an executive from one of the Heat’s Southeast Division rivals. “They were on fumes Friday night after the LeBron news. Everybody goes into free agency with contingency plans. But that’s a death-blow, losing the best player in the game. But you have to give [Riley] credit, he didn’t flinch. He had to pay Bosh more than he probably wanted to or should have. But he held it together. He had to or else they were done for at least a year or two.”

Where this Heat team ranks in the Eastern Conference now is hard to tell. Chicago, with Pau Gasol on the way, suddenly looks a while lot better, provided Derrick Rose returns to form. The Indiana Pacers aren’t going anywhere. And the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks all plan on being in the playoff mix. Throw in LeBron and the Cavaliers and the field is suddenly as crowded as ever … and lacks a clear-cut favorite.

And that’s why Riley should be lauded for the work he did over the weekend.

The Heat aren’t going to be anyone’s favorite to win the East. But they’ll certainly be a viable playoff team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they climb into that top four, too. Especially if Bosh lives up to his own Hall-of-Fame hype and Wade plays with a chip on his shoulder (and through whatever pain is in his knees).

They’ve both carried teams before, with varying degrees of success.

It’s been a while, of course. And they won’t have that 6-foot-8, 250-pound security blanket they’ve relied on the past four years.

But Riley, defiant to the end, believes in the culture and crew, including coach Erik Spoelstra, that remains. He made that clear in the wake of LeBron’s departure.

“Over the last 19 years, since Micky (Arison) and I teamed together, The Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others,” Riley said in a statement released by the Heat. “Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”

Rumors of the Heat’s demise might have been greatly exaggerated.

Only time will tell.

Rockets back to spinning wheels again

HOUSTON — This is the game the Rockets have chosen to play. Go Fish at a high-stakes poker table.

It was less than a week ago when Dealin’ Daryl Morey bet on a starting lineup that would have included Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

Sometimes you draw to a busted flush.

Bosh spurned the Rockets’ $88 million, four-year offer to stay in Miami for $118 million. Simple math.

Now Parsons walks up I-45 to Dallas for $46 million over three years. Simple gaffe.

The Rockets could have kept Parsons for the upcoming season for the final year on his rookie contract, roughly $964,000. But the team chose not to pick up the option in order to keep the right to match any offer that he received. Then they didn’t.

Nice season the Rockets had there in 2013-14. They won 54 games, grabbed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and were feeling pretty good about themselves until nobody covered Damian Lillard with 0.9 seconds to play.

But when the heartache of that Game 6 loss and sudden ouster in Portland finally faded, there was reason to look ahead. Until this. Now the Rockets are back on the hamster wheel making no progress.

No offense to Trevor Ariza, but he doesn’t move the Rockets up in the West pecking order, doesn’t move the overall program forward.

Then again, the Rockets don’t actually have a program other than to keep swapping names and players and draft choices and salary cap spaces like trading cards. For a fellow who looked like the smartest guy in the room last summer when he landed Howard, Morey celebrates the first anniversary of that coup by telling Houston fans: “See you next summer. Please.”

While the Spurs win their fifth championship in 15 years by building a sense of family and togetherness, the Rockets are like the guy dealing three-card monte on the sidewalk, looking to just outsmart all of the other saps. They’re not looking for a path to long-term stability and success, just shortcuts to the top.

The Rockets brass reportedly also did not believe that a core lineup of Howard, Harden and Parsons was a championship contender. They wanted and needed Bosh with his champion’s pedigree because there remain serious questions about whether Howard or Harden can ever be the lead horse to pull a wagon. So how good is that lineup without Parsons?

The Rockets did not match the Dallas offer to Parsons because they did not want it to eat up too much of their payroll, so they could jump back in and play this game again next summer.

How do you develop real fan loyalty when you keep asking them to trust you and trust you and trust you for a future that’s out there in a world of analytics and promises beyond the stars?

What’s there to sell? Salary cap space, trade exceptions, maybe another video display on the front of the Toyota Center where they could photoshop LaMarcus Aldridge or LeBron James into the jersey of another current player next July.

Hopefully, that cap space and trade exception can come off the bench for some significant minutes, because in all of the grand hustle, an already thin roster became positively anorexic with the leaving of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Parsons.

There was a palpable sense of shock and betrayal in Houston when Bosh — who definitely played the flirting game — did not jump into the Rockets’ arms as soon as James announced his return to Cleveland.

But there is no room here for hurt feelings. The Rockets, just like the Heat with LeBron, have to know and understand this game they like to play is the equivalent of a pickup in a singles bar. Sure, we can have some fun. But did you really think we were getting married?

It’s all those fans that keep going home alone at closing time who get stuck with another tab.