Posts Tagged ‘Hakeem Olajuwon’

Blogtable: Future for 7-footers?

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: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEODebating the merits of playing small vs. big

> After watching the “small ball” Finals, what does the future look like for a 7-footer in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Frankly, the NBA better hope that its 7-footers, however rare, aren’t eradicated from the scene. Last I checked, no one was goosing the TV ratings to watch a 6-foot-5-and-under league. Part of the appeal of pro basketball always has been its big men and, in my view, the NBA’s Competition Committee needs to dial back some of the things that favor the shorties. My suggestion: Widen the court and extend the 3-point line an extra foot or two all around. The game has gotten too 3-heavy, diminishing the mid-range game, which always showcased some of the most creative and athletic shot-making. More mid-range ultimately means greater roles for the bigs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There will always be a place for skilled big men in the NBA — emphasis on skilled. Going forward, there should be emphasis on developing an all-around game that includes passing and shooting as a way to spread the floor on offense and ability to come away from the low post to defend.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comCan the 7-footer shoot and move? It’s not the size, it’s the skill set. I would have thought Andrew Bogut plays no matter what because he can be a facilitator on offense as well as defend, not some plodding center who can only impact within arm’s reach of the basket. So if he spends a lot of The Finals riding pine, all bets are off. Be mobile or be increasingly worried.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe future looks like Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor and the next potentially great center coming from the Draft. I don’t buy the idea that the big man is obsolete. Mediocre big men are obsolete. Crummy big men are obsolete. But the next Hakeem Olajuwon won’t be sitting on the bench in The Finals, trust me.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere’s space for seven-footers, and there will be a few — Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez — that will get big contracts this summer. You need to be mobile and bring some skills to the table, preferably on both ends of the floor. But there’s room in today’s pick-and-roll, spread-the-floor offenses for a big guy  (Tyson Chandler is a good example) who just has to be able to set a good screen, roll hard to the basket, catch the ball and finish. Layups are still more valuable than 3-pointers, and a good roll man opens things up for good shooters.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It depends on what kind of 7-footer you are. The days of big man battleship basketball in the NBA have ended. They went away when Shaquille O’Neal cleared out the big man division. Any dominant big man since then either has been a hybrid/stretch four or a some variation. The skilled 7-footer will always have a place in basketball. So much will depend on the training young bigs get on the way up. If they are schooled in all facets of the game, we’ll see some new hybrids enter into the mix. Work on your free throws and face-up game, young bigs, and you will be fine. I did enjoy the small-ball portion of these Finals, though, and wonder how many more teams will be forced to embrace that approach?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It depends where he is playing. If the Cavaliers had entered The Finals at full health then we might now be discussing the renewal of the 7-footer – we may even be talking about it this time next year, based on Cleveland’s potential to go big with LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. Small-ball succeeded, but that doesn’t mean the death of traditional lineups. Depending on the size and speed of your team, and the strengths and weaknesses of your stars, there are all kinds of ways of winning the championship – and Mike D’Antoni’s system is now officially among the options.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d say it looks brighter than ever. It took David Blatt a game, but once he figured out how to deploy Timofey Mozgov against that vortex of 6-foot-7 players, Mozgov had a pretty big impact on Game 6. Small lineups are the easiest to deploy, mostly because small players are the easiest thing to find. But uncover a seven-footer who can get up and down the court and he can destroy versus a small lineup. One of the oldest maxims in the NBA is height doesn’t grow on trees. And it still doesn’t.

Rockets’ Capela is ready for his close-up

VIDEO: James Harden sends pass to rookie Clint Capela for dunk.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Even Clint Capela didn’t think this could happen.

Seven months ago, the rookie arrived in training camp hoping to find a place in the Rockets future. Two months ago, he was in the NBA D-League toiling for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Now, if a sprained left knee keeps Dwight Howard out of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Capela might find himself in the starting lineup against the Warriors. Or at the very least, getting significant playing time.

“When I was in the D-League, no, I would not think this was possible,” said the precocious 21-year-old native of Geneva, Switzerland. “I thought I’m not going to play this year, maybe next year. I was just trying to keep working hard and be ready when they would call me up.”

But with a live, aggressive body and a willingness to learn, Capela forced his way into the consciousness of the Rockets coaching staff and then into the playing rotation.

“Clint came in early in the season from the D-League because we’d been having injuries and we needed him to practice,” said coach Kevin McHale. “Then everyday you watched him in practice, you liked him a little bit more. We’re like, ‘Man, he’s playing better and better and better.’ He’s an easy guy to coach. He’s easy guy to gain confidence in because he’s so diligent and he’s just a hard-working kid.”

A kid who coincidentally was born in the year (1994) when the Rockets won their first NBA championship behind superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon and now is being regularly tutored by the Hall of Fame most days in practice.

“He tells me just little details on the game,” Capela said. “How I can defend. Attack on offense. What I can do now. What I will be able to do later. Just little things like that.”

The little things have added up to produce moments through the Rockets playoff run this spring when Capela is taking a feed from James Harden or Josh Smith to slam home a dunk or is coming from out of nowhere on defense to rise up and reject a shot. There is buoyancy to a his step, an insouciance to his demeanor that tells you that the moment will not overwhelm him and he feels right at home.

“Yeah, I know it’s the D-League to the NBA, but I feel like it’s just the same sport,” Capela said. “It’s just basketball and we’re all human. OK, the leagues change, sure. But in my mind I’m saying, ‘I’m just going to play basketball and that’s it.’ ”

Capela played 13 minutes after Howard was injured in Game 1, shooting 4-for-4, scoring nine points and pulling down four rebounds in 13 minutes. Most impressive was the way he consistently and fearlessly stepped outside to defend guard Stephen Curry, the league’s MVP.

“Even when I was younger, I was the bigger one, but I was always trying to defend all the little guards,” Capela said. “Because I always had the quick feet. It was pretty exciting to be able to be on (Curry). I hope I do better next time. In my mind, I think I can stop (him), do something.”

Howard says if the rookie has take on the burden of his minutes, there’s only way for the Rockets to approach it.

“Just gotta let him play,” Howard said. “Only advice I can say is he’s just gotta go out there and play as hard as he can. For his first playoff run, he’s done an excellent job of giving it everything he’s got.

“He’s been in the D-League for most of the year. Then to come out here and play with us, getting the minutes that he’s getting, he’s done an excellent job of playing defense and getting up on those guards…I think he’s playing great. I’m really proud and happy for his growth as a player.”

Capela smiled and nodded.

“I will get my mind ready,” he said.

NBA’s Frantic Four trying to change history


VIDEO: Relive the biggest moments from the semifinals

There’s no official and catchy distinction for the last teams standing in the NBA semifinals, no Final Four or Frozen Four or anything like that, but here’s one that might best describe the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets: Frantic Four.

Yes, there’s more than a sense of desperation. These are four franchises that haven’t won an NBA title in a combined 162 years. Not since 1958 for the Hawks (based in St. Louis then), since 1975 for the Warriors, since 1995 for the Rockets and since, like, never for the Cavs. There are adult fans of those teams who’ve never known the thrill of the ultimate victory or seen a parade or felt the need to brag. In the case of the Hawks, they’ve never been to the East finals before, and once they beat the Wizards last week and advanced, Atlanta nearly reacted as though it won a real championship.

And so, with regard to these four teams searching for a change of fate, we examine their level of desperation for this 2015 title and rank them accordingly.

No. 4: Houston Rockets


VIDEO: Houston wraps up its second championship in 1995

In the midst of a celebration in June of 1995, Rudy Tomjanovich grabbed the mic and uttered one of the most memorable lines in NBA history: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” Rudy T was tweaking those who thought the Rockets were too old to repeat, which they did, but it’s been a 20-season long dry spell since. Evidently, everyone correctly estimated the staying power of the Rockets.

That two-time championship team died gradually. The Rockets tried to tape it together with an old and broken down Charles Barkley and that crew eventually made the 1997 West finals. But they had to watch as John Stockton sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 (in Barkley’s face) to send the Utah Jazz to The Finals. Then, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they added another dinosaur: Scottie Pippen. Within four years, all of the important pieces of the championship era were gone, including Hakeem Olajuwon, looking grotesquely out of place in a purple jersey with a cheesy reptile in Toronto.

Houston did give it another go with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but injuries kept interrupting their time together and the Rockets advanced beyond the first round only once.

Since 1995, the Rockets have basically been a mixed bag, reaching the West finals once and then being mercifully teased by the T-Mac-and-Yao era. GM Daryl Morey then stole James Harden from OKC and signed Dwight Howard as a free agent and, well, here they are. In that span, they moved to a state-of-the-art downtown arena (Toyota Center) and enjoyed big crowds. Not exactly the picture of doom, which means, life without a title hasn’t been totally dreadful. (more…)

Olajuwon gives Capela high marks


VIDEO: Clint Capela grabs the alley-oop for the dunk

HOUSTON — When the structured part of the Rockets practice is over, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard drift naturally toward one another.

If Olajuwon isn’t dipping his shoulder, spinning on one foot and giving Howard a few pointers on technique in the low post, then the pair are just huddled, chatting, nodding heads and trading tales and secrets of the paint.

But while the Hall of Famer gets most of his attention these days for working with the eight-time All-Star, Prof. Olajuwon did take notice of the fresh-faced member of his big man class. With Howard in foul trouble early, 20-year-old Clint Capela was first off the bench in Game 1 and opened a few eyes with his eight points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes.

“He has tremendous potential,” Olajuwon said. “I’m just trying to encourage him to play to his strengths because he does so many things so well. To work with a guy like that is wonderful because his potential is great. His first experience in the playoffs, he played confident and played his game.”

The pregame advice from the legendary Rockets center to the newbie?

“Just to be himself and be comfortable,” said Olajuwon.  “He’s playing with a lot of veterans out there. Just play his game.”

 

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”

If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.

He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.

But never been more ferocious, more driven.

You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.

“M-V-P.”

While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.

Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.

James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.

“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”

*** (more…)

Believe it Dirk, No. 7 all-time coming soon

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nowitzki optimistic about upcoming season in Big D

DALLAS — When the NBA season opens next Tuesday night with the Dallas Mavericks taking on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on TNT, two of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game will resume their more than a decade-and-a-half-old rivalry.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, 38, enters his 18th season, all with the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki, 36, begins his 17th season, all with the Mavs. Both players have won titles in the last four years and both accepted  significant pay cuts to help keep their teams competitive. And both will continue to climb multiple all-time lists on their way to enshrinement in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

When it comes to the latter, all eyes will focus on the 7-foot German’s rapid ascension up the NBA’s most coveted list of all — the game’s all-time greatest scorers.

Nowitzki enters the 2014-15 season at No. 10 with 26,786 career points, a number that just doesn’t seem possible to the Wurzburg, Germany native no matter how many times he hears it.

“Not really. That is still weird to me,” Nowitzki said. “All these guys on that list I admired and watched, so that’s weird. That’s weird.”

Thing is, Dirk, it’s going to get weirder. Fast.

Nowitzki is 161 points away from passing No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon, arguably the league’s greatest foreign-born player. He’s 528 points from passing No. 8 Elvin Hayes and 624 away from passing No. 7 Moses Malone. If Nowitzki averages 20 points a game, he’ll assume No. 7 all-time just 32 games into the season, his first under a new three-year contract.

At that point, he’ll only be about 1,170 points shy of No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, a takeover that ultimately might have to wait until next season, but it will happen. Nowitzki would need to average around 24 points if he were to play in no fewer than 75 games to do it this season.

He averaged 21.7 points last season and totaled 1,735 points, the most points he’s scored in a season since topping 2,000 in 2009-10. What Nowitzki will average this season will be intriguing. He’s surrounded by the most potent supporting cast since the 2011 title team.

During that championship season, Nowitzki scored 1,681 points. He missed nine consecutive games with a knee injury and struggled for a time after admittedly returning too early as the team fell apart without him. He played 62 games during the lockout season, struggled with knee issues early, and finished with 1,342 points, and followed that with 917 points in 53 games following knee surgery prior to the start of the season 2012-13 season.

Now, with Chandler Parsons adding scoring pop at small forward in place of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler back at center and Monta Ellis capable of dropping 20 a night, owner Mark Cuban has said he doesn’t expect Nowitzki to average 20 a game. In fact, Cuban said he doesn’t want anyone to average 20 because if that happens it will mean coach Rick Carlisle‘s movement-based offense will be getting everybody involved.

Even if his scoring takes an expected dip (just as his minutes are expected to once again), Nowitzki, assuming good health, will pass Shaq no later than early next season. And by the time he’s closing out his contract, No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) will likely be making room for Dirk, who now says he might even entertain another couple of years once he reaches that point.

“I think that’ll sink in once my career is over and as I get older and more time goes by, I think that’ll be sweet then,” Nowitzki said. “Right now I’m still so worried about winning games, staying in shape, competing with the young guys that come into the league every year. I think stuff like that is going to be way sweeter once my career is over, and then maybe I show my kids and grandkids. That will be unbelievable.”

Duncan begins the season at No. 19 with 24,904 points. He will also continue up the charts with No. 17 Jerry West (25,192), No. 16 Reggie Miller (25,279) and No. 15 Alex English (25,613) all in striking distance before the All-Star break.

However, how high Duncan moves up depends on how two more still-chugging future Hall of Famers do. No. 18 Paul Pierce (25,031) begins his 17th season and first with the Wizards, and No. 14 Kevin Garnett (25,626) is looking for a bounce-back with the Nets in his 20th season.

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 17

Griffin reaching breaking point | No longball for Lakers | Dwight for MVP? | Pistons and Celtics make deal

No. 1: Griffin reaching breaking point — Clippers forward Blake Griffin is one of the most athletic and high-flying players in the NBA. And as frequently as he drives hard to the rim, he just as often finds himself at the end of a lot of hard fouls. Thus far, Griffin has managed to take the physicality in stride, keeping a cool head time after time. But after another incident last night in a preseason game against the Utah Jazz, Griffin noted that his patience is reaching its breaking point. Dan Woike of the Orange County-Register has more

After the game, Griffin was asked if it was difficult to keep things from escalating.

“I was going to (take things further), and I thought, ‘It’s preseason. It’s not worth it. That’s not the person I’m going to waste it on,’” Griffin calmly said.

[Trevor] Booker was called for a flagrant 1 foul, and Griffin, Booker and Chris Paul were all called for technical fouls for their roles in the incident.

After the game, Paul didn’t hide his amazement at picking up a technical, as he said he was trying to play peacemaker.

“That was ridiculous,” he said. “…He gave me a tech. He said it was because I escalated the fight. You can fine me, do whatever. I know Trevor Booker. I’m trying to keep him away. Like, I know him personally. And they give me a tech. It’s preseason. Everyone’s trying to figure it out.”

Griffin admitted to trying to figure out what to do with the extra contact he takes. Following the Clippers win, Doc Rivers said he thought Griffin gets hit with more cheap shots than anyone in the league.

“I don’t think it’s close,” Rivers said.

Griffin, who has been often criticized for his reactions to hard fouls, realizes he’s in a bit of a Catch-22.

“On one hand, everyone tells me to do something. On the other hand, people tell me to not complain and just play ball,” Griffin said with a smile. “That happens. You’re not going to please everybody. I just have to do whatever I think is right and use my judgment.”

***

No. 2: No longball for Lakers — Over the last decade, NBA teams have increasingly noted the importance of the 3-point shot, even designing offenses around the long-range shot. But just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean the Lakers under new coach Byron Scott will do the same. This is not only because the Lakers are currently coping with injuries to perimeter players such as Nick Young and Steve Nash, but it’s more of a philosophy Scott is embracing. Baxter Holmes of ESPN Los Angeles has more:

“You’ve got a lot of teams that just live and die by it,” Scott said after the team’s practice here Friday. “Teams, general managers, coaches, they kind of draft that way to try to space the floor as much as possible. But you have to have shooters like that; you also have to have guys that can penetrate and get to the basket, because that opens up the floor.”

But does Scott believe in that style?

“I don’t believe it wins championships,” he said. “(It) gets you to the playoffs.”

Seven of the last eight NBA champions led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes.

And it’s not as though Scott isn’t familiar with the 3-point shot. During his second season with the Lakers as a player, he led the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage in 1984-85 (43 percent) and was in the top-10 in that category in three other seasons. Scott also ranked sixth in the NBA in 3-point attempts (179) and ninth in makes (62) during the 1987-88 season.

But are the Lakers’ low 3-point attempts this preseason a reflection of injuries or of how the Lakers will really end up playing this coming season?

“I don’t think that’s an indication of what we’ll be when we’re fully healthy,” Scott said. “I think it will still be 12, 13, 14, 15 (attempts per game), somewhere in that area, when we’re fully healthy.”

***

No. 3: Dwight for MVP? — With Kevin Durant out with a fractured foot, the MVP race doesn’t have a clear leader at the start of the season, at least if you’re eating at our Blogtable. But with all the names being tossed around, former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon says don’t forget about Houston big man Dwight Howard, who by all accounts is healthy and ready to return to the dominant style of play he showed in Orlando. Dwight himself says he’s never felt better. Our own Fran Blinebury has more

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

***

No. 4: Pistons and Celtics make deal — Neither Detroit nor Boston are expected to contend for an Eastern Conference crown this season, but they found themselves able to do business together yesterday. The Pistons moved reserve point guard Will Bynum to Boston in exchange for reserve big man Joel Anthony. According to the Detroit Free Press, the trade clears room for recent draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie.

The first trade of the Stan Van Gundy era wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, but it does give insight into the Detroit Pistons’ thinking as the Oct. 27 deadline for roster finalization looms.

The Pistons today added frontcourt depth by acquiring NBA veteran Joel Anthony from the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Will Bynum.

The move signals that the team is comfortable with second-round draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie as the No. 3 point guard as he continues to rehab the left knee injury he suffered in January.

Dinwiddie is progressing nicely and recently took part in 5-on-5 drills for the first time. So Bynum, whose days were numbered when the organization hired Van Gundy as its president and coach, became expendable.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sixers organization is offering support for Joel Embiid, who’s younger brother was tragically killed in a vehicle accident in Cameroon … After undergoing “a minor outpatient surgical procedure,” Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders will miss the rest of the preseasonDeMarcus Cousins is dealing with achilles tendonitis … Glen “Big Baby” Davis is out indefinitely with a strained groin … Jason Kapono says if he doesn’t make the Warriors, he will “go back to chillin'” …

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?


VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ’em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

Injury blame game is small thinking

It was small thinking back in 2003 when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided that the price to re-sign a 29-year-old Steve Nash was too high and broke up a partnership with Dirk Nowitzki that had only begun to flourish. All that Nash proceeded to do was get voted onto the Western Conference All-Star team six times and win back-to-back Most Valuable Players honors in 2005 and 2006.

It was another case of small thinking when Cuban decided that once was enough in 2011 after his Mavericks won the only NBA championship in franchise history and broke up the team. In the interest of salary cap management and to chase quixotic free-agent fantasies, Cuban decided it was time to cut the cord with big man Tyson Chandler, their long-sought rim protector and anchor. Rather than remain among the league’s elite, the Mavs fell into the morass in the middle of the standings.

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Now, in the wake of the injury to Paul George last week in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Mavs’ outspoken and often highly-entertaining owner is thinking small again by saying that NBA players should not be playing in the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup.

“The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA,” Cuban said. “The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint … Teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.”

It is a natural and understandable knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a player of George’s caliber, especially in Indiana where the Pacers’ bid to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference will likely go on hold for at least a year while he mends. Yet in blaming the IOC for the broken bones and restating his old case for an NBA sponsored world tournament, Cuban is both misguided and conflating the issues.

First off, injuries occur in sports and in life. The Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore up his left knee in the final minutes of Game 1 in the 2012 playoffs, sat out a full season and then suffered a tear in his right knee barely a month into the 2013-14 schedule. Clippers top draft pick Blake Griffin suffered a stress fracture in his left kneecap in the final exhibition game in 2009 and missed his entire rookie season following surgery.

They were accidents that can happen at any time. Grizzled vet Moses Malone used to spend summer nights in the stifling heat of Fonde Rec Center in downtown Houston, staying in shape and schooling any challengers, including a pupil named Hakeem Olajuwon. Either one of them could have torn a ligament or broken a bone at any time. Michael Jordan specifically had a “love-of-the-game” clause written into his contract with the Bulls because he wanted to be able to pick up a ball and step onto a court to feed his competitive fire whenever and wherever the urge struck.

Sure, George’s injury is a devastating blow, to the player, the Pacers and to the NBA. However, Cuban’s screed against the IOC isn’t to get every NBA player resting on a bed of pillows every summer, but rather have them play instead in an NBA-sponsored tournament, where the league and the owners can get their cut of the money.

“The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money,” Cuban said. “The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball.”

Ask yourself if Pacers fans would be any less melancholy today if George had run into a stanchion at an official NBA event in July.

In thinking small, Cuban is also selectively squinting to avoid recognizing how much NBA participation in the Olympics has changed the league and the game for the better. His own star Nowitzki was inspired as a teenager in Germany by the 1992 USA Dream Team that included the icons Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. By taking the best of the best to the Olympics, the NBA spread the gospel of the game, cultivated new generations of talent and established basketball’s firm footing as the second-most popular sport on the planet, behind soccer.

When the Dream Team was assembled 22 years ago, there were only 21 foreign-born players in the NBA. Last season that total had quadrupled to a record-tying 84, including a staggering 10 on the roster of the 2014 NBA champion Spurs. In the interim, Yao Ming was literally and figuratively a giant bridge to Asia and helped turn the largest continent on Earth into a hotbed of fan interest and a lucrative market that lines the pockets of NBA owners.

Perhaps Cuban can be forgiven for not grasping the importance of the international effect on the game, since he bought the Mavs and joined the league in 2000, after the tap had been turned on and worldwide cash was already flowing. But that’s an awfully benevolent benefit of doubt for the shrewd entrepreneur billionaire. It would be wrong for the wounded fan base in Indiana to ignore the vast benefits derived from the Olympics and point the finger of blame that way, too.

Or, it could simply be  just small thinking.