Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Smith’

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.’ “

Live From New Orleans … It’s State Farm All-Star Saturday Night!




VIDEO: Distance is never a problem for Stephen Curry and won’t be during All-Star Saturday night

NEW ORLEANS — Showdown Saturday night is here, finally.

We’ve been waiting for days down here in New Orleans for things to get officially started and for years All-Star Saturday served that purpose for the NBA’s showcase weekend. This year is no different, as we come to you live from the Smoothie King Center and State Farm Saturday night well into the wee hours.

This has long been the domain of the league’s best and brightest, from Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and so many other of the league’s greatest dunkers, not to mention the most prolific 3-point shooters and skilled technicians.

Is there someone in tonight’s field for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest … say someone like this Paul George fella below?



VIDEO: Paul George has all of the tools to become one of the league’s all-time great dunkers

Your All-Star Saturday night schedule can be found here. And we are going to provide you with a non-stop in-arena feel for what’s going on down here in the Big Easy.

First up is the Sears Shooting Stars competition, followed by the Taco Bell Skills Challenge , followed by the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and, we saved the best for last, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

I’m going to go ahead and get my predictions out of the way now. Here are my winners …

– Sears Shooting Stars: Team Curry looks lean and mean. They win this one for the Western Conference.

– Taco Bell Skills Challenge: The West has two wicked teams in this one (Trey Burke and Damian Lillard on Team 1 and Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson on Team 2). I have to roll with Team 1! Another win for the West.

– Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: The Currys need to adopt me, because in Steph Curry I trust when it comes to a shooting contest. (East coast bias … where?)

– Sprite Slam Dunk: The defending champ, Terrence Ross, and the East will be tough to beat. I’ve been hearing rumblings around town that Ben McLemore has some crazy stuff planned. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m rocking with my man “Ross” and George and John Wall.

Get your popcorn ready …

Sears Shooting Stars

– Team Bosh vs Team Durant in the championship for the Sears Shoot Stars.

– Team Bosh with the repeat thansk to Chris Bosh … ain’t nothing but a winner! Durant finishes second again … unreal.

Swin Cash going all Seattle Seahawks and Doug Baldwin on the TNT crew after Team Bosh was handed the trophy was a most appropriate way to finish off the opening event of the night. Straight Cash homie!

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

– East rookies MCW and Victor Oladipo representing for their side with a 43-second run in their run through the course. Too easy for two youngbucks like that.

– It’s still not the Year of the Dragon. Burke and Lillard come through with a 40.6 second-run on the course and keep my prediction alive.

– 45.3 second run for the rookie team in the finals. Always believe in Burke baby! West delivers a 45.2 to take the title. My dude Burke has mad quicks (not that NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has noticed. He’s too busy hating on the best rookie in the league.)

– A little controversy on All- Star Saturday never hurts! We’ve got to get the replay.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

– Redemption time for Steph Curry. This is your night sir. This is your event. Do what you do!

– Chuck picks an upset and goes with Bradley Beal (his mom calls him Bradley, so I’m going with Bradley).

– Great field in this competition. All-Stars in Lillard, Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

– Who jinxed me and the Curry clan tonight? Steph is watching the finals like me. Ugh!

– RapCam turns up shots of Ludacris and Nelly sitting courtside. These young rappers clearly need to step their game up if the vets are getting all of the major Jumbotron play tonight. #whereyouatDrakeand2Chains?

– Nice theme music for Arron Afflalo, Robin Thicke‘s Magic Touch playing as he hits the stage and his 15 is the new score to beat.

Bradley Beal has the high-mark with 21. Kid has wicked range and an absolutely pure shooting stroke.

– The Kendrick Lamar concert/interlude is coming up soon. Just FYI

– Belinelli didn’t smile at all during the final round tale of the tape interview with Nick Cannon and Beal. Not sure how to take that. I know you want to win and everything but have a little fun with this thing fella. His method worked, though. Dropped a 19.

– Beal struggles on his money ball rack but rallies down the stretch for a 19 to tie it and now we get these guys in a 60-second tiebreaker.

Belinelli wins it with a monster effort in the OT. Fantastic showing by both guys.

– Kendrick Lamar’s tearing it up. perfect intro for what I hope will be a spectacular Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

Sprite Slam Dunk

– So I’m 0-for-everything going into this final contest of the night. Somebody on this East team needs to get greasy from the start so I can get back on track. Judges are Dr. J, Dominique and Magic. No worries with those judges.

Kevin Hart and Cannon doing their two-man routine before we get started. Mr. Box Office himself is picking Lillard. And Hart goes with McLemore (who got roasted by Barkley and Hart for his ‘fro … cold blooded).

– East had one day of practice for that routine they turned in for the freestyle portion of their program. Impressive!

– West had a couple of decent dunks but the choreography was way off.

– East wins that freestyle round easy!

– Someone pulled Vanilla Ice out of uh, moth balls … I’ve seen it all now. Bring on the battle round!

– Ross comes out with Drake as an assistant. Battle Round brings out the human props and a cape … and a between-the-legs jam that looks way better on replay after he missed it the first time.

– Lillard’s nights end mercifully without any hardware. The effort was outstanding, though.

Harrison Barnes has some explaining to do after this NBA2k14 dunk …

– McLemore dunking over Shaq and getting crowned had the crowd on its feet. Dunk looked much better on replay, of course. But no one has nailed that all-important first attempt …

– Until now. Thank you JohnWall, the reverse over the mascot and the Nay Nay with George after the dunk. Energy back up just like that. Even the judges agreed on that one. The East wins it. The new format is still being digested as we await the word on the individual champ … well, the dunker of the evening. Wall!

All-Star Starting Lineups Tonight on TNT


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the latest All-Star voting returns

Will the Eastern Conference again play small ball with a frontcourt lineup that does not include a traditional center?

Could a couple of high-profile wounded warriors limp into the top two places in the Western Conference backcourt?

NBA All-Star 2014Those are the two biggest questions left to answer when the results of fan balloting to choose the starting lineups for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight on TNT (7 p.m. ET).

If the pattern from the previous round of voting holds up, the East will take the floor for the opening tip with a prolific trio of forwards in LeBron James of the Heat, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks and first-time starter Paul George of the Pacers up front.

James (1,076,063) was the top vote-getter overall when the latest totals were announced on Jan. 9. George (899,671) was second up front for the East and Anthony (702,869) third. In that case, Indiana center Roy Hibbert would be the odd man out. He is the top center in the conference, but was a distant fourth (385,964) in the last front court voting.

The East backcourt appears set with Dwyane Wade of the Heat and Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers holding a commanding lead over Chicago’s injured Derrick Rose and Washington’s John Wall.

In the Western Conference, the race is between the star power of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Clippers’ Chris Paul, neither of whom will be able to play due to injury, and the Warriors’ rising star Stephen Curry, who has never made an All-Star team. Curry. Bryant (844,538) has led the way at every previous count of the ballots and Curry (677,372) was in second place, but with only a narrow lead over Paul (651,073).

The West frontcourt starters will likely be the same as last season with the Thunder’s Kevin Durant (1,054,209), the Rockets’ Dwight Howard (509,116) and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin (500,964) leading the way.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “Inside the NBA”, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Lakers at the Heat (8 p.m. ET) and the Nuggets at the Blazers (10:30 p.m. ET).

From there it will be up to the the coaches in each conference to fill out their respective rosters with seven reserves each.

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also broadcast live on ESPN Radio, will collectively reach fans in 215 countries and territories in more than 40 languages.

Long, Bumpy Road Finally Smooths Out For Former Dunk Champ Gerald Green


VIDEO: Gerald Green has emerged as a solid contributor for the Suns this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The dunk was so unbelievable that TNT analyst Kenny Smith hyperventilated to broadcast partner Charles Barkley during the 2008 NBA All-Star slam dunk contest.

He blew it out, Chuck!” Smith gasped. “Chuck, he blew it out!

Gerald Green indeed puffed out a candle stuck into a cupcake on the back of the rim. The reigning slam dunk king soared above the cylinder, blew out the flame and flushed the basketball in a single, stunning move.

The joint blew up. Green lapped it up. And for one night, the then-22-year-old Green was no longer just a bench warmer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Green is now days from turning 28, and he has never been happier. He is worlds removed from that sizzling February night in ’08, his cupcake dunk never more meaningless. These days, he is a key contributor for the surprising Phoenix Suns.

The wildly athletic wing wants substance to define the rest of his career, a journey that began as a straight-out-of-high-school phenom, the Boston’s Celtics’ first-round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.

A rocky NBA start

Gerald Green (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Gerald Green
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Green came out of high school with a remarkable athleticism and a tantalizingly smooth jumper. He was a mostly good-natured but naive kid, a skinny baller from Houston’s southeast side. His dunks soon became the stuff of legend.

Still, Green was incapable of thinking the game beyond a playground level, oblivious to the pressures and demands of the NBA world.

“I always treated basketball when I was younger like a hobby, something I loved to do, something that kind of kept me away from doing something bad or doing something crazy,” Green told NBA.com during a phone conversation on the team’s recent road trip. “It was an extracurricular activity in my life. But once I did it for a living, I still kept treating it as a hobby instead of a job.”

After a forgettable 2008-09 season with the Dallas Mavericks, his fourth NBA team in four years, owner Mark Cuban laid out Green’s essential flaw in front of an audience of NBA executives and basketball writers at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the context of explaining how valuable advanced statistics can be, Cuban turned to fellow panel member and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and famously said: “We had Gerald Green. You had Green. He does stuff [athletically] that makes you say, ‘Oh My God!’ …  He just doesn’t understand the game of basketball.”

Most NBA executives were in agreement. Green just didn’t get it.

‘The tools to be successful’ now

There is irony today in Cuban’s comment. In ’05, Suns first-year general manager Ryan McDonough was cutting his teeth in the Celtics’ front office. He scouted Green extensively and liked what he saw. Boston drafted Green with the 18th pick overall, but two unimpressive seasons later packaged him in the deal to Minnesota that landed Kevin Garnett.

This summer, McDonough traded forward Luis Scola to Indiana for young center Miles Plumlee and Green.

“The way coach [Jeff] Hornacek and I wanted to play, we wanted to go up and down and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s, and Gerald checked all of those boxes,” McDonough said. “I think he’s proved now that he does have the tools to be successful. It just took him a little while to put it together.”

It doesn’t mean Green’s sharpening basketball IQ is quite Kobe-esque yet. Last week at Minnesota, Green swished a difficult baseline fadeaway in the final seconds, first freeing himself to get the ball and then rising high to release it over the defender. On Monday, he went 2-for-16 in a painful overtime loss at New York to end a disappointing trip at 1-4. (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 138) Featuring Inside Stuff Co-Host Kristen Ledlow



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For those of you old enough and bold enough to admit it, Inside Stuff was your gateway to the NBA growing up.

Long before NBA TV and League Pass, before mobile apps and smart phones, there was Inside Stuff on Saturday mornings to help feed your insatiable appetite for all things NBA (yes, Ahmad Rashad was the man of the hour on Saturday mornings during our formative years).

Kristen Ledlow, the new co-host of Inside Stuff with Grant Hill, is doing her best to bring that feeling back for the next generation of NBA lovers.

She drops by for her first visit to the hideout on Episode 138 of the Hang Time Podcast, where we discuss everything from  Kobe Bryant‘s return to practice with the Los Angeles Lakers, the work LeBron James is putting in without Dwyane Wade in the lineup for the Miami Heat, the simultaneous meltdowns by both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, the players’ only team meeting in Cleveland and plenty of news, notes and observations from around the NBA.

You get all of that — not to mention the latest edition of Sounds of The Game and this week’s update of Braggin’ Rights (there is a tie at the top that does not involve Lang Whitaker) — on Episode 138 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Inside Stuff Co-Host Kristen Ledlow:

LISTEN HERE: LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business, Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


Isiah On Open Court: Malone Utah’s ‘Weakest Link’; Regrets ’91 Walk-Off





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When you spend the bulk of your life pursuing and achieving the excellence that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas has, you tend to spare yourself the agony of looking back, second guessing or worrying about the sensibilities you might have offended along the way. Winning championships at every level affords you that luxury.

But Thomas, an NBA TV analyst these days, decided to look back a little anyway when he hit the couch next to TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and a cast of other TNT and NBA TV personalities.

Isiah didn’t hold back during shooting for the premiere of the critically acclaimed show’s third season (it will air on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBA TV) . In fact, he made sure “Open Court” will get off to an explosive start when he identified his former rival and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the man who cost the Utah Jazz a title.

“I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship,” he said. “They had the system, the players, the toughness, they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.”

When pressed by Johnson about using the term “weak link” in regards to Malone, Thomas didn’t flinch.

“That’s a weak link, because at the end of a game when you are playing at that level, you come down to the last 30 seconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can’t make fouls shots then he’s the weak link. He’s the guy that you are fouling, the guy you want to put on the line. You’re not fouling [John] Stockton. You’re not putting him on the line, you’re not letting him take the shot. Everything is going to Malone. I thought Malone’s inability to hit free throws is what stopped them from winning a championship.”

Thomas expressed regret for not handling things better against Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons were swept at home in that series and infamously marched off the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls, a move that sparked a decades-long feud between stars on both sides — most notably Thomas and Jordan.

Ernie Johnson asked if Thomas wishes he’d have handled it differently. The response was immediate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “… looking back, we all should have taken the high road.”

But in the heat of the moment, and with what he called Chicago’s posturing in the media leading up to Game 4, Thomas said the walk-off was orchestrated because he didn’t feel the Pistons were being afforded the respect befitting two-time champions.

Don’t miss all that and more on the Oct. 8 premiere of “Open Court” on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET).

Rating Ray Allen’s Big 3-Pointer





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Ray Allen‘s clutch corner 3-pointer that sent Game 6 of The Finals to overtime didn’t even rank among the top three impact plays in the final analysis of that epic contest.

My main man and NBA.com’s analytics expert John Schuhmann said something about the shot only increasing the Heat’s win probability by 10.8 percent, from 22.0 percent to 32.7 percent, or something like that.

But if the measurement was “Most Memorable 3-pointers Made in The Finals,” Allen’s shot that saved the Heat’s season (for at least 48, or more, minutes) has to rank among the best clutch shots from long distance anyone has made.

Win Game 7 Thursday night and, years from now, Allen’s shot will be the one that sticks out. It’ll rank right along some of the greatest clutch 3-pointers in the history of The Finals … shots like these:

Big Shot Bob (aka Robert Horry)’s dagger for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 …


John Paxson’s crunch-time strike for the Chicago Bulls in 1993 …


TNT’s Kenny Smith’s money shot for the Houston Rockets in 1995 …


Dirk Nowitzki’s long-range shredder for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 …

Jerry West’s 60-footer (it was only worth two points then) for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 …

And finally, Ron Artest’s (now Metta World Peace) game-saver for the Lakers in 2010 …

Dwight, D’Antoni And The Lakers’ Big Rift?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For months it appeared the Los Angeles Lakers’ free-agent summer plans would hinge on the relationship between two men, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers’ two biggest stars had to find common ground if this multi-million dollar experiment is going to bear fruit in the future. They had to be on the same accord going into the summer for Howard to ignore the other options he has as an unrestricted free agent and stick with the Lakers after a tumultuous first season in Hollywood.

Not everyone is convinced that the Howard-Bryant dynamic is the linchpin to the Lakers’ plans, though. Another man, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, could very well be the central figure on the Lakers’ side. Perhaps it’s his relationship with Howard, and not Bryant, that holds the key to the future between the All-Star big man and the franchise known for Hall of Fame big men.

As folks in Orlando can attest, this could be the start of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak‘s very own Dwightmare!

While Howard hasn’t so much as spoken a word publicly about his future, there are rumblings in Los Angeles that he plans on entertaining free-agent pitches from the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, instead of simply agreeing to the $118 million offer the Lakers have planned for him on July 1 when free agency opens.

Howard’s rationale for listening, however complex, apparently has as much to do with his murky relationship with D’Antoni than any of the other factors, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.

Every player was afforded the opportunity to meet with Kupchak individually after D’Antoni left the room, but few spent as much time as Howard and Kupchak did together. Antawn Jamison also had a separate meeting with Kupchak without D’Antoni present, but that was because of a scheduling conflict.

Kupchak left the meeting with Howard undeterred, telling reporters he was “hopeful” and “optimistic” that Howard would be back with the Lakers next season and beyond, yet there have been several developments in the last couple weeks that could have an effect on Howard’s decision.

D’Antoni chose not to retain assistant coach Chuck Person, a Howard confidant, on his staff for next season. Also, Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who was with Howard in Orlando for five seasons before both of them came to L.A. last year, has become a hot head coaching candidate, interviewing with Milwaukee and receiving interest from Charlotte.

One source described the potential departure of Clifford, coupled with the loss of Person as “removing the buffers,” between Howard and D’Antoni, “which is a bad thing.”

Howard’s relationship with Bryant seemed much healthier at the end of the Lakers’ season than it did at any other time throughout the season. He visited Bryant at the hospital after he’d had Achilles surgery and Bryant spoke glowingly of Howard during his exit interview.

Bryant is going to do his best to mend fences and rebuild bridges this summer for the Lakers in what is truly a colossal summer for the franchise. The NBA’s social media king took to Twitter to spread that message to the masses:

But if there is a rift (spoken or not) between Howard and D’Antoni, even Kobe might have a hard time fixing it. Especially with all of the other options that will be presented to Howard in about six weeks.

The Lakers cannot afford to enter the 2013-14 season with Bryant still on the mend from that Achilles injury and only Nash and Pau Gasol as headliners in a Western Conference that could be as deep as it’s been in years. Having Howard on board would keep the Lakers among the playoff crowd. Without him, there is no telling where the Lakers land.

While the situation seems dire to some, Kupchak believes he has a better grip on things than the rest of us think. More from McMenamin:

Kupchak did not seem worried about any potential rift between player and coach.

“I think Dwight likes winning, he likes performing at a high level,” Kupchak said. “I think he’s fine with Mike D’Antoni, but I’m not really concerned if players like a coach, so I don’t ask that question. Our coaches are evaluated by wins and losses.”

Kupchak was further pressed about the possibility of a coaching change being dictated by a player.

“This organization has a precedent with that kind of a situation and I think we learned our lesson,” Kupchak said, referring to when Paul Westhead was fired in the early ’80s and the decision was tied to Magic Johnson‘s wishes. Whether that was the real story or not, both Johnson and the Lakers organization took a hit for how it was perceived.

We’ll know better in six weeks just how big a rift there is, if at all, between Howard and D’Antoni.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your latest Dwightmare!


Shaqtin’ A Fool: Top Five Hard Fouls


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Shaq unveils a special edition of “Shaqtin’ A Foul” as he counts down the hardest fouls in NBA history.

#shaqtin

The First 50 Years With Sir Charles

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When you walked into Charles Barkley’s little slice of the locker room, you might as well have stepped into a whole different world. It was a world where heads were shaved, complimentary tickets distributed, insults hurled, jokes told, social commentary delivered, reporters sent away sated and one of the best basketball players on the planet had to prepare himself for the next game. All of it seemed to occur in the space of five minutes.

“There will never be another player like me,” Barkley once said. “I’m the Ninth Wonder of the World.”

You know? He was right.

Here is Barkley, 13 years after lacing up his sneakers in an NBA game for the final time, more popular than ever as a television personality, opinionator and, well, just plain liver of life.

If Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday on Sunday felt like a royal occasion with seemingly everyone in the basketball world taking time to genuflect in the throne room, then Barkley’s, coming just three days later, has all the trappings of the morning after a keg party. In other words, a lot more fun.

The Chuckster’s persona — and at times, even his person — has almost grown large enough to be one of those floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and that’s actually the perfect image, full of hot air, constantly changing course with the wind and barely tethered to earthbound reality.

He says so many things, and it is our job to figure out which ones he really means. For in these ongoing best days of his life, it seems that everybody still wants to know the real Charles Barkley. Trouble is, the answer has always been a lot more complicated than the question.

During his playing days, was Barkley the obnoxious, overbearing sort who once charged toward the stands to spit on a boorish fan and wound up hitting an 8-year-old by accident? Or the sincerely apologetic type who responded by buying season tickets for the little girl and her family?

Was he the nit-picking critic that found fault in every single thing done wrong by his teammates? Or the selfless, ideal team players who charmed the socks off everybody in the locker room and at the same time lifted them to heights?

Is Barkley the fun-loving fellow who likes to joke and cajole his way through encounters with the media? Or the guy who would always tackle the tough issues of race and child-rearing with his whip of a tongue?

Remember the stir he created with a simple phrase: “I’m not a role model.”

How out of touch is that view today in an era of Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius?

His was the first voice you normally heard upon entering the locker room and usually the last you heard on the way out. And truth be told, for all the the times his teammates would roll their eyes at some of the things he said, that role of spokesman/court jester was one they needed him to fill almost as much as the slot as one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

“I know a lot of people say a lot of things about Charles Barkley,” his former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said. “But I’ve never seen a guy who loves this league more than he does. He follows the game. He loves the game so much.”

Who else but Barkley could sit there on the TNT set week after week on Thursday nights and be so outrageous? And who else but Barkley would constantly take the wildly popular show to new heights by allowing himself to be the constant butt of jokes.

There was the time Kenny Smith played the role of a bouncer controlling the velvet rope outside the “Champions Club” and kept taunting the ringless Barkley about the partiers inside.

“Hey Chuck, Zan Tabak’s in here,” Smith said laughing. “Look it’s Jack Haley, Chuck. Jack Haley!”

And, of course, there was Barkley paying his “I’ll kiss your ass” bet to Smith when the rookie Yao Ming hit the 20-point mark in a game.

Smith showed up the next week with a donkey in the studio, but only Barkley would have unthinkingly believed he had to actually pucker up to the back end of the four-legged ass.

He could have an MVP season and carry the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals, grab a career-best 33 boards in single game (more than the entire opposing team) and, at an honest 6-foot-4 1/2, toil away to be the shortest player ever to lead the league in rebounding.

Mostly, Barkley could be himself.

Once, when pondering such a milestone birthday, he said: “I just want to be living the day after I turn 50.”

In that case, check in tomorrow when The Chuckster will still be living turribly large.