In case you missed it over the weekend, Dwight Howard still wants to be traded, his agent still has permission to talk to only three teams — the Lakers, Nets and Mavericks — and his current team is still better than two-thirds of the NBA.
Last night, despite one of the most unproductive games of Howard’s career (he had 0 points and 0 rebounds at halftime), the Magic won in Sacramento to improve to 6-3. The 104-97 victory came on the heels of an interview of Orlando general manager Otis Smith by Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel in which Smith revealed that he has received physical threats while trying to perform the balancing act of fielding a contending team and figuring out what to do with Howard.
Foul trouble was the reason for Howard’s 5-point, 4-rebound output against the Kings as Orlando began a four-game road trip that continues Tuesday at Portland and Wednesday at Golden State before the Magic have four (!) consecutive days off before playing the Knicks in New York.
Those four days off are a rare quirk produced by the lockout-shortened 66-game season.
Another quirk is every team having to play at least once on three consecutive nights, but it hasn’t had the impact that many expected. Six teams have done it so far, and you know how they’ve done on that third consecutive night?
They’ve won. Every single time.
Oklahoma City was the latest to go back-to-back-to-back, and the Thunder became the first team to go 3-0 over one of those stretches by easily handling the San Antonio Spurs 108-96 to improve the NBA’s second-best record to 8-2.
Sunday was a night with only six games on the schedule, and every game was a blowout with the exception of the Lakers’ eight-point home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Los Angeles is now 6-1 at home.
So let’s get back to Howard.
Here is the key excerpt from the Sentinel’s Q & A with Smith:
Sentinel: “Has anything changed with Dwight’s situation?”
Sentinel: “Has he pulled back the trade request?”
Sentinel: “Has he expanded his list of preferred destinations?”
Smith: “Not to my knowledge.”
Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz broke down the particulars and peculiarities of what might happen with Howard, the trade talks and the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers, throwing one scenario out there that may be the only way for the Magic to keep Howard in Orlando: Go out and get Deron Williams from the Nets if New Jersey fears that Williams will bolt as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Schmitz wrote: “New Jersey is said to be Howard’s first pick because they are moving to New York (Brooklyn) next season. The Nets also have all-star point guard Deron Williams … for now. There are indications that Williams is restless and uninspired playing on a dreadful club that lost center Brook Lopez (broken foot), the biggest trade chip in a possible Howard deal. Williams might be leaning to joining Dallas, and play in his hometown – with or without Howard at his side. Maybe, though, the only thing stopping Williams from forcing his way to Orlando via a trade is Howard. If Howard finds that the Magic won’t gamble on Lopez and accepts the fact he won’t be the clear-cut star in either Dallas or L.A…..why doesn’t he say, “Deron, come on down to O-Town?!” The tables could turn dramatically. The Magic could try to deal, say, Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick for Williams. Anderson and Redick have increased their value.”
Sam Amick of SI.com also covered the Magic-Kings game and broke down the temporary status quo: “(Howard) untied those enormous shoes that the Magic still don’t know who they’ll get to fill, then gave them to a fan who had put in a request of his own. He gave up his jersey, too, stripping down to a padded undershirt and handing over the top that would be an instant collector’s item if Howard just so happened to be traded before Wednesday’s game in Portland. Howard still wants out of Orlando, a point that he reiterated Sunday night when he said “nothing has changed” in terms of his desire to get out and his hope to land with Dallas, New Jersey or the Lakers. But with the Magic taking the slow approach on the trade front and Howard having settled the mood around this team that was justifiably jarred by his stance, this is the in-between existence that they must continue to deal with for now. ”Nothing has changed,” Howard had said before the game. “There’s no need to focus on anything else besides going out every night and playing hard for 48 minutes or however long I’m on the court. All that other stuff is up to the Magic and up to my agent. ”And I’m going to go be Dwight every night — have fun on the court, entertain the fans, block shots, run the floor, rebound, do whatever I’ve got to do to win. That’s the only thing that I can control at this point…I’ve said all I can say about it.”
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports also caught up with Howard in Sacramento, and his report indicates this current holding pattern is going to last at least another month, maybe two — and maybe even longer. “Howard has not rescinded his trade request, but he told Yahoo! Sports he thinks there’s a “100 percent” chance the Magic won’t trade him before the Feb. 26 All-Star Game at the team’s Amway Center. Team officials still hope to convince Howard to commit to staying with the franchise for the long term. “ I don’t think they are going to do anything right now because we’re winning,” Howard said. “Even if this is the last season, let’s go out hard, regardless.” When asked if he expects Orlando to trade him by the NBA’s March 15 deadline, Howard said: “I don’t think so.”
My take on the situation?
I’ve said it before: If I am Magic owner Rich DeVos, and I am 85 years old, I am all-in on winning a championship this year, and I’m hanging onto Howard (even at the risk of losing him for nothing as a free agent) because keeping him gives DeVos his best chance of winning a title.
If you are 85, you don’t want want to go into a rebuilding mode that might not pay dividends until you are pushing 90.
A few other items from last night’s six-game slate:
- Kevin Durant scored only 21 points, dropping to fourth among the league leaders in scoring (behind LeBron James, Kobe Bryan and Carmelo Anthony). But part of the reason was that he got to watch from the bench as the Thunder’s matchup with the Spurs was decided by the end of a third quarter in which OKC outscored the Spurs 37-21 to take a 22-point lead into the fourth.
- Bryant had 26 points and nine assists, Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 13 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who have won six of eight after an 0-2 start while matching Oklahoma City for the NBA’s busiest early-season schedule. The Lakers have back-to-backs Tuesday and Wednesday against Phoenix and Utah, and then Friday and Saturday against Cleveland and the Clippers. Of those four games, only one will require travel — the game against the Jazz, who are 4-0 at home.
- Ricky Rubio had 13 points, a career-high 14 assists (one fewer than the entire Wizards team) and six rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench as the T-Wolves defeated winless Washington 93-72. The Elias Sports Bureau notes it was Rubio’s eighth NBA game, and his assist total tied the all-time single-game high that early in a player’s career. Three other players posted 14 assists in one of their first eight games: Ernie DiGregorio of the Buffalo Braves in his NBA debut in 1973, Bryan Warrick of the Washington Bullets in 1982, and Greg Grant of the Suns in 1989. Kevin Love did his usual work — 20 points an 16 rebounds. Dude is a machine.
- Steve Nash had 17 assists in the Suns’ 109-93 win over the Bucks. It was the 40th time that he recorded as many as 17 assists in a game. Another nice nugget from Elias: One player in NBA history had a 17-assist game at a more advanced age than Nash, who will turn 38 next month. John Stockton had a 17-assist game at age 39 in 2001.
- The Cavs came crashing back to earth with a 20-point loss at Portland, dropping their record to 4-4. The quote of the night on the Cavs came from a dinner party in Kensington, Conn., where columnist Chris Bernucca, who works here, said: “You know what? The Cavs started 4-3 last year, too. And then you know what they did? THEY LOST 26 GAMES IN A ROW!!!”