Heisler: It’s Magic! Now you see 7-foot superstar, now you don’t

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Dwight Howard’s decision to stay another season didn’t turn out to be such good news for the Magic, after all?

Gosh, who’d have thunk it?

Before zeroing in on the Magic, I should note, in fairness, it’s hardly the NBA’s only dysfunctional organization.

Actually, as a former GM noted the other day, dysfunction is the rule, not the exception.

Take the Lakers.

They’ve been as sharp as anyone despite a sibling rivalry between Jim and Jeannie Buss, with father Jerry supporting Jim and former coach Phil Jackson supporting Jeannie, backed tacitly by Kobe Bryant, who all but shared a brain with Phil at the end.

The Trail Blazers are a monument to dysfunction looking for their fourth GM in four seasons as owner Paul Allen, surrounded by bloodless, Seattle-based Vulcan Corp. lieutenants, moans about losing money.

With a $13 billion personal fortune, five times that of Mark Cuban, who lost tens of millions and never uttered a peep, Allen spearheaded the movement to prolong the lockout to force a Draconian agreement on the players.

Unfortunately, no labor deal could make up for the team’s fall after years of corporate second-guessing and infighting in the wake of the injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy.

Take Atlanta, please.

As promising as the Hawks are, or were, the search for an owner continues after eight years of being bought, sold and seeing the new owners sue each other.

If Orlando’s organization isn’t as screwed up as the Trail Blazers and Hawks, the Magic is the one with the superstar center whose next move will reconfigure the NBA’s balance of power.

Yes! It’s just like their last superstar center, Shaquille O’Neal, who reconfigured the balance of power from his departure when he left to join the Lakers in 1996 to his last title in Miami in 2006.

The Magic organization isn’t as much dysfunctional as lame, with the DeVos family casually monitoring the goings-on from Michigan.

The man on scene was son-in-law Bob VanderWeide from the early years when Shaq and Penny Hardaway took them to the 1996 Finals… to the lost years after losing Shaq… to their rebirth, after lucking into another No. 1 pick who became the game’s best big man.

The Magic didn’t screw things up with Howard, a unique guy with joy in his heart, a warrior ethic on the floor, a stubborn streak off it, and few clues in general.

The organization has been looking down the barrel of this cannon for years as Dwight signaled he was leaving as soon as his deal ran out.

The one the Magic screwed up was Shaq, who, for all his distress about being a whale in a goldfish bowl, wanted to stay, having built a mansion there—which he returned to every summer after leaving town—and moving his mother and sisters there.

Showing that ownership involvement doesn’t solve everything, paterfamilias Rich DeVos ran that negotiation personally.

Conservative and idealistic, his priority was running a principled organization. To him, that meant avoiding an unseemly bidding war, noting he told Shaq, “I want your heart, not just your body.”

DeVos also wanted to keep the price down, noting he would have to give Penny Hardaway, then ownership’s fair-haired young player, just as much in a year.

Unfortunately, that meant lowballing Shaq, starting with a four-year offer, increasing it only as the Lakers increased theirs.

At $99 million, Shaq turned the Lakers down–since his priority was getting more than Alonzo Mourning’s $105 mill.

The Lakers sent Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver—with the rest of the West going “No! No!” as GM Stu Jackson signed off–enabling the Lakers to offer $117 million.

The Magic, which could offer anything it wanted, matched the $117 million, pointing out its enhanced value with more up front and no 8% state income tax, like California’s.

Shaq, who obviously wanted DeVos’s heart as much as his money, bolted, turning out the lights on their four-year party in Orlando.

Amazingly, as Portland was once faced with an excruciating choice between a big man and Michael Jordan and years later, another one between Oden and Kevin Durant, the Magic is once again looking at losing the game’s top center.
Unlike O’Neal, Howard’s first instinct is to go.

It’s also Dwight’s second, third and fourth instinct. We don’t know if he has any desire whatsoever to stay… but to date, he has turned down all extension offers.

With Magic officials understandably strung out, VanderWeide admitted to having had a few glasses of wine at a party before placing a late-night call to Howard.

Howard’s people said VanderWeide had called in the early hours of the morning, under the influence, begging Dwight to say.

In any case, VanderWeide then resigned.

His replacement, Alex Martins, wasn’t a family member, but a long-time Magic retainer who worked his way up from team publicist.

With Howard’s family and friends in Orlando recoiling from the negative publicity, Dwight did a 180 at the trade deadline, opting in, with the team claiming that otherwise it would have traded him to the Lakers.

Amidst the rejoicing and talk of loyalty in Orlando, Coach Stan Van Gundy noted the whole thing would start over this summer.

It turned out even that was too optimistic, starting over within weeks.

Van Gundy had already spent four seasons dealing with Howard’s immaturity to help him realize his potential.

When Van Gundy arrived, Howard’s repertoire consisted of dunks. Now he shoots jump hooks with both hands, knocks down the occasional mid-range jumper and has been the Defensive Player of the Year the last three seasons.

Dwight fought Stan Van Gundy every inch of the way, as when he criticized the coach’s game plan after the Magic fell behind the Celtics, 3-2, in their second-round series in 2009.

This was taken as a death knell… whereupon Orlando won Games 6-7, then upended LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the East Finals, before the Lakers took the Magic out in five games.

The Finals turned on Game 2 in Staples Center where Van Gundy diagrammed an inbounds play that sucked in Bryant, who chased the ball and lost his man, Courtney Lee, who then missed the layup that would have tied the series, 1-1, going back to Orlando.

“Just a hell of a play by a hell of a coach,” said Bryant.

Unfortunately for the Magic, that was as good as it got.

The Lakers then polished them off.

GM Otis Smith let Hedo Turkoglu walk because he wanted too much, and traded for Vince Carter, then took Turkoglu back—making $9 million per—to get rid of Carter.

Amazingly, they continued on their improbable way with Dwight continuing to roll his eyes at Stan and the team winning 59 and then 52 the last two seasons.

Despite this season’s din of distractions that saw them start 12-9, they were 22-13 at the trade deadline when Dwight did his U-turn.

After that, things went back to normal, with Dwight and fellow co-captain Jameer Nelson making a show of not joining the huddle in a March 28 wipeout in New York.

Now with everyone focused on changes Dwight would need to stay, it wasn’t forgotten like all his other displays of insubordination.

Finally, Van Gundy, noting he hated BS more than anything, said someone at “the top” of the organization told him Howard wanted him fired.

Van Gundy has since been pilloried for not keeping Howard’s secret and hurting Dwight’s feelings.

Van Gundy, undone by O’Neal in Miami—prompting Shaq, now a TV commentator to note he couldn’t discuss details of their relationship—took this job determined to do what he thought best and let the chips fall where they would.

It was remarkable that Stan, the no-BS guy, took Dwight’s this long, and the only reason they accomplished as much and lasted as long.

Van Gundy and Otis Smith are now dead men walking, with Howard yet to show he won’t put them through this all over again next season.

The answer is clear, if painful: Trade him this summer unless he extends.

Not that they’re the only franchise like this, but the Magic didn’t get here by knowing which way is up.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear Wednesday and his columns appear Thursday. Follow him on Twitter.

Perkins: Magic is good enough to be third-best in East

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Infamous "Pull my finger" Sports Illustrated cover

MIAMI – Two days ago Dwight Howard was in the visitor’s locker room at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena. It was pre-game and the media had just entered. Howard, wearing only his underwear, farted loudly. Twice. Then he laughed. And almost everybody, players and media, laughed along with him. (D-12′s flatulent tendencies have been chronicled before.)

Now, that’s leadership.

But it’s not enough leadership to propel Orlando to the title. For that, Howard needs help.

So let’s credit the Orlando Magic for keeping Howard, the most dominant center in the NBA.

Now, let’s see what the Magic does. Howard is a leader (as we clearly see from the above example) but he can’t do it alone. And right now, in a sense, he’s alone on the Orlando Magic. They’re good, but still not quite good enough. Howard needs more help. The Magic can’t throw a 1-2 punch at opponents without a 2.

But here’s the thing, I’m not sure who, or what, fixes the problem this season. It’s pretty much all on Howard unless someone – Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson –steps out of character and leads a Magical playoff run.

And from where things stand right now, meaning Miami and Chicago seem as though they’ll remain intact, Orlando faces the same problem next season.

Coach Stan Van Gundy identified the problem after Monday’s humiliating 85-59 loss at Chicago.

“When you play the way we played tonight,” he said, “this is a team-wide thing.”

He’s right. Orlando’s issues are team-wide.

Orlando’s offense is pretty good, but it could use someone who can create his own shot, put the ball on the floor, make decisions, and is hard to defend. Once upon a time that was Turkoglu. He handled the ball late in games, could dish, and hit that late-game dagger. Orlando, which is fourth in three-point shooting (.382) and 24th in points per game (93.6), needs that missing dimension, something it had when it went to the Finals in 2009.

Orlando’s defense is good, but another perimeter defender wouldn’t hurt, maybe someone to try to limit Miami’s Dwyane Wade-LeBron James combination, or someone to throw out there against Chicago’s Derrick Rose-Rip (Whenever He Gets Healthy) Hamilton duo. Once upon a time that was Mickael Pietrus.

Coaching? Yeah, it could probably be better in some areas, too. At least that’s what Van Gundy said.

The point is, Orlando is in a tough spot right now because there’s no move/acquisition the Magic can make to cure their ailment this season. They’re stuck with what they’ve got.

That doesn’t mean the Magic should give up. They’re a good team, and they’ve been that way for years. But you get the idea with that statement. Orlando, the third-best team in the East, needs something to get it over the top, push it over the edge, make it a special team. They need more on-court, lead-by-example leadership.

Orlando has needed that for years. And it could happen next year, but it looks grim for this year.

Being the third-best team in the Eastern Conference is good, but it often means you don’t get to the conference finals. That’s falling far short of the goal for a team such as Orlando, which has four consecutive 50-win seasons and went to the Finals three years ago.

Atlanta showed it in last season’s playoffs. Let Dwight gets his, and focus on everybody else. It worked. The Hawks beat the Magic in six games. None of the guys aside from Howard did much.

For a further snapshot of Orlando’s problems, look at the offensive inconsistency the last two games. The Magic’s 85-59 loss at Chicago on Monday? It was a franchise record for the Bulls, the fewest points Chicago has ever allowed.

Orlando preceded that with Sunday’s 91-81 loss at Miami.

“Our problem with them is our offense,” Van Gundy said about the Heat. “It’s not all us, their defense is terrific, but I think we have an idea of what we need to do playing against them. We just didn’t get it done.”

All too often that happens for the Magic – they don’t get it done against the good teams, or the title-contending teams.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra thinks Orlando is ready right now.

“They’re definitely a title contender,” he said before Sunday’s game.

Van Gundy, a close friend of Spoelstra’s, bristled.

“He’s only saying that because they play us tonight,” he said dismissively.

Perhaps. But let’s face facts: unless something unexpected happens, Orlando will be just good enough to lose to Miami or Chicago in this year’s playoffs.

Magic general manager Otis Smith, who has never been shy about making a deal, has until next year’s trade deadline to add a significant piece to the Magic’s core, or else Dwight Howard will create another stink.

Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.



Biyombo outplays Howard as Magic lose to lowly Bobcats


If you are Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, what are you thinking as you wake up this morning?

For one thing, you’ve got to be grateful to be walking the earth for another day, still having your wits about you.

But on the other hand, your team just had its most embarrassing loss of the season, your coach sounds apoplectic, your superstar’s intentions are unclear, and there is no way in hell you can convince yourself that your team is capable of winning that NBA championship that has eluded you throughout your ownership of the Magic.

Not after blowing a 20-point lead and losing on the road 100-84 against the Charlotte Bobcats, the worst team in the NBA.

Then again, when you’ve been around for 85 years, you come to learn when it is time to shake off a bad day. And maybe that is what Mr. Devos is doing this particular Wednesday, looking forward to the next four games — all tough ones against the Bulls, Pacers, Heat and Spurs — to use as the measuring stick for what will be the biggest decision the franchise has made since it low-balled Shaquille O’Neal in the summer of 1996 and lost him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The trade deadline is now eight days away, and the Orlando Magic are going through one of the icier portions of what has been an up-and-down, hot-and-cold season.

“We will not play 48 minutes. We just will not,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said after his tam blew a 20-point lead.

From Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Rookie Bismack Biyombo – he of the near-triple double – summed up a 100-84 victory over the Orlando Magic this way: “Anything is possible when you work hard.’’ Which seemingly speaks both to Biyombo’s arrival (he finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks) and the possible departure of power forward Boris Diaw. For the first time in 384 games, pre-dating the trade to Charlotte, Diaw did not play Tuesday. Whether Diaw ever plays again here seems in question. Diaw’s agent has asked that if his client is not traded by the Mar. 15 deadline, that the Bobcats consider a buyout that would free Diaw to play elsewhere. What’s undeniable is the energy and resolve that fueled a Bobcats team that had lost 31 of 35 games. They overcame a 20-point first-half deficit. They outscored the Magic – a team that had beaten them 13 of 14 previous times – 28-13 in the fourth quarter. And most impressively, rookie Biyombo played Orlando’s Dwight Howard, the NBA’s premier center, to a standoff. Howard finished with 15 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks. “He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen and he’s tough,’’ said Bobcats coach Paul Silas of Biyombo. “Before he came, he could hardly make a shot. Now he’s turning around and making them.’’ Silas spent the second half in the locker room after being ejected by referee Tony Brown. Silas’s son, lead assistant Stephen Silas, took over and drew high praise from the players for his rotation and play-calling.“Steve knows this game in-and-out,’’ said small forward Corey Maggette, who led the Bobcats with 29 points. “We executed just how Steve told us to do: Be patient, don’t get rattled.’’ And recognize a glaring mismatch. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, continuously abusing J.J. Redick, also a former Duke star. Henderson made 4-of-6 shots in the fourth quarter, either physically overwhelming Redick or fading for jump shots.”

Resolution will come on way or another in the next eight days, with general manager Otis Smith saying he is actively involved in trade discussions with a handful of teams that would be willing to take Howard on as a rental.

Still, the decision will ultimately belong to Mr. DeVos, whose coach was flabbergasted by the beating his team absorbed.

From Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “We went up 20 points and everybody got selfish,” Van Gundy said. “We quit playing the way we played to get the lead.” Van Gundy said he felt fine after the stunning loss. He experienced mild chest pains Monday night in Toronto during the game, but kept coaching. Van Gundy, 52, continued to have pain and was sent to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital as a precaution. He was cleared after tests determined he did not suffer a heart attack and left the hospital about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. Van Gundy hopped on a mid-morning flight for the Magic’s game in Charlotte. He said he was concerned “like anybody else in their 50s would be. I thought, ‘Man, I’m 52.’ It gives you some perspective.” Doctors told him he had an irregular heartbeat, but he said it runs in the family. ”The doctors asked me how my pain level was, from 1 to 10. I said it was a one,” he said. “It was never that much pain. I didn’t feel like I was having a heart attack. But it’s good they checked me out.”

Whether they keep Howard or trade him, the Magic will continue to keep looking up in the standings at two teams that are better than them.

One of those teams is the Miami Heat, who had their full starting lineup intact — for most of the game, anyway, as they put a 30-point beating on the visiting New Jersey Nets.

From Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “With center Brook Lopez sidelined, and with point guard Deron Williams having taken care of a week’s worth of his scoring allotment with Sunday’s 57-point performance in Charlotte, the Nets were kind enough to simply get out of the way in what turned into a 108-78 Heat rout. “The reality is tonight is we faced a team that probably, naturally, was a little bit deflated coming into this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “To lose Lopez again probably was tough. And, at the same time, [they were] facing a team that was very motivated coming off our disappointing road trip.” After losses to the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, the Heat returned home whole — at least for a half — with (Chris) Bosh back after missing the three-game western swing in the wake of the death of his grandmother. Spoelstra praised his team’s ability to “own it” when it came to accepting the failures of the previous two games. ”In the last two games, we did not play the way we’re capable of,” Spoelstra said. “And our guys owned it and sought out to make amends for that.” In their totality, the Heat simply were too much for an opponent looking ahead to the draft lottery, the possible acquisition of Dwight Howard either through trade or free agency, and next season’s move to Brooklyn. Of course, the Nets looked so bad that at one point in the fourth quarter, a fan blurted, “Dwight Howard is never going to play for you bums!” And that was before Eddy Curry got in and dunked on them.”

Curry’s old team, the New York Knicks, are struggling through a post-Linsanity dip (combined with a Boston Celtics surge) that is solidifying their grip on the No. 8 seed in the East.

They made a nice second-half comeback on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, but Dirk Nowitzki scored nine points in a late 14-0 run.

From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: “The Knicks’ comeback came with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. The Mavs’ comeback came with Anthony on the floor. A bizarre and ultimately frustrating fourth quarter for the Knicks was a 12-minute exercise in futility for Mike D’Antoni’s best player. Somehow, Melo was invisible even when he was visible.
“It was just one of those nights,” Anthony said. “It gets frustrating out there when things aren’t going your way.”
The Knicks overcame a 19-point third-quarter deficit only to collapse in every way imaginable over the last four minutes. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks had no trouble involving their star forward, Dirk Nowitzki, and rode the NBA Finals MVP to a 95-85 victory. The loss was the Knicks’ second straight and they are 18-20 entering Wednesday night’s game in San Antonio. Moreover, they are 2-4 since Anthony returned to the lineup. His partnership with Jeremy Lin is officially off to a slow start. In fact, Anthony admitted that it’s been difficult for him to adjust to no longer having the ball to make plays. “Any time you go from having the ball and me distributing and now just waiting for it to come to me . . . that’s part of the adjustment for myself,” said Anthony, who scored six points, none in the second half.

The Knicks are now 2 1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics, who got seven of Paul Pierce’s 30 points in overtime of a 97-92 victory over Houston. Boston has won five straight since the All-Star break, including two in a row in overtime. Houston has lost four in a row.

Kevin Garnett grabbed 13 rebounds, giving him a career total of 13,100 — one more than Shaquille O’Neal.

From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “The Celts, who have won five straight and the last two in overtime, are about to put their tired joints to an endurance test with their first game of the season against the division-leading Sixers tonight in Philadelphia. The C’s, at 20-17, are percentage points behind the 22-17 Sixers. Their past troubles considered, the Celtics are grinding out the kind of wins that would have routinely eluded them three weeks ago. “It was a grind game, it was probably one of the ugliest games we’ve played in awhile,” said Rajon Rondo, who didn’t score beyond the first quarter last night in his nine-point, 12-assist follow-up to Sunday’s epic triple-double against the Knicks. Instead, Rondo was a reflection of last night’s ugliness, including the open transition layup he missed with 30 seconds left in regulation, setting the stage for Goran Dragic’s game-tying baseline jumper with three seconds left for an 84-84 deadlock. “No excuses,” said Rondo. “There were a lot of things going on on that play, and it didn’t work out. It was a recipe for disaster.” But Rondo, like everyone else, appears to be developing an immunity to these problems.”

One problem the Los Angeles Lakers cannot seem to shake is their inability to win on the road.

General manager Mitch Kupchak is just as busy as Smith, his counterpart in Orlando, in looking at potential deals that can re-elevate his team into the upper echelon of its conference.

The Lakers dropped an 88-85 decision to the Detroit Pistons, making them 6-13 away from the Staples Center, where they are 17-2.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “Whatever gratitude they earned with their victory against Miami was whisked away with an 88-85 overtime loss at the Palace. Bryant couldn’t find his shot, Metta World Peace returned to Earth and the Lakers’ reserves uncorked their worst game yet. … Bryant blamed his woeful eight-for-26 shooting night on fatigue related to the whiplash injury and concussion he suffered in the All-Star game. He played with incredible efficiency in his first three games after a hard foul from Dwyane Wade that also caused a broken nose. But he disintegrated Tuesday after ditching the clear mask he had been wearing for a black mask with smaller dimensions. He missed five of his first six shots and traded the black mask for an equally small clear version. Nothing helped. His one solid moment, a 19-footer that sent the game to overtime with the score tied at 78-78, was quickly forgotten after he missed all three of his overtime attempts. He finished with 22 points. ”Everybody just kind of played tired,” Bryant said. “I definitely was a little tired. I should have stayed in bed like I’ve been doing instead of coming to shoot-around [Tuesday] morning.”

In Tuesday night’s only other game, Josh Smith had 27 points and nine rebounds, leading the Hawks to their third straight victory, 101-96 over Indiana. Smith scored 13 points in the first quarter, 11 in the third, and fell three points shy of his season high. He will go up against a more worthy opponent tonight as the Hawks visit the Heat.


Trade talk: Howard wants Magic to get Nash, Rondo on the block


Dwight Howard has asked the Orlando Magic for a lot, hasn’t he?

Over the past couple of years, Howard has asked management to try to acquire a handful of players, including Monta Ellis and Deron Williams.

During the preseason, he asked for a trade. Then he asked that any trade be limited to a handful of teams – the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks — that his agent was given permission to talk to.

Now, Howard apparently again is asking the Magic to acquire a player. But not just any player – Steve Nash. As in two-time MVP Steve Nash. As in pick-and-roll genius Steve Nash. As in model of unselfishness Steve Nash.

Howard reportedly won’t opt out of his contract this summer if the Magic can acquire Nash, who becomes a free agent this summer.

From Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld: “The Orlando Magic has made offers for Nash in the past and sources close to the situation say that they’ll attempt to acquire the 16-year veteran in the next two weeks. Dwight Howard has asked the front office to pursue Nash and sources close to Howard believe he won’t exercise his early termination option if the team is able to acquire Nash and re-sign him this summer.”

The report did not say Howard would sign an extension with the Magic. Rather, he would stick around for another season – at a groovy $19.2 million – and take a longer look at what Orlando offers, with the benefit of a full training camp and an 82-game season.

Prying Nash away from the Suns won’t be easy. As we discussed in Thursday’s Trade Talk, he is committed to playing out the season with the Suns and will not ask the team for a trade, preferring to enter free agency – where he will get more attention than any 38-year-old in NBA history.

In addition, the Magic have nothing to offer the Suns in terms of cap relief. They do have desirable players in Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick and would certainly have to surrender at least one of them in a deal for Nash. Incorporating a third team might be their only route.

But the continuing uncertainty around Howard’s future in Florida has not deterred Magic CEO Alex Martins, who still believes his superstar can be convinced to stay in Orlando.

From Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Martins said on our radio show Thursday that he still believes the Magic can convince Howard that Orlando is the best place for him to win a championship. “We have a couple of weeks until the trade deadline, which is a critical point on the calendar to determine how we can move forward together,”  Martins said of the ongoing Dwight saga.  “Our conversations with Dwight continue, and I feel good about the conversations we’ve had. … I’ve said all along our reason for not trading Dwight at the beginning of the season is that time would be on our side one way or another. Time would be on our side in the fact that we could work with Dwight to address his needs and ultimately convince him to stay. Or time would work on our side in that if Dwight made the decision that he didn’t want to stay, we would have more time to talk to other teams about what trade possibilities exist.”

During the Magic’s home loss to the Thunder on Thursday, GM Otis Smith was interviewed by Craig Sager, whose flat line of questioning produced several “Nothing has changed” responses. Game analyst Steve Kerr likened Smith’s answers to a former teammate’s meeting with the media.

So today, the Fight for Dwight probably looks like this: 1. New Jersey; 2. Orlando; 3. Dallas; 4. LA Lakers; 5. Golden State.

But consider this, also from Bianchi: “My take (and this is just a theory on my part): The reason the Magic are still trying to convince Dwight to stay is because that is their only option at this point. I believe Dwight wants to become a free agent at the end of the season and therefore will veto any potential trade.”

Aside from Howard, the most prominent name being thrown around in rumors is Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

There was a report light on details that Boston was considering moving Rondo to Golden State for Stephen Curry, which GM Danny Ainge shot down.

From the Boston Herald’s Celtics blog: “You never say never where Ainge’s willingness to make the right trade is concerned – especially in the case of a valuable asset like Rondo – but he is downplaying that possibility now. “I anticipate him being here for a long time,” the Celtics president said when asked about Rondo’s immediate future. Though the ever-stubborn Rondo has had his moments of petulance this season, most recently with a two-game suspension for throwing the ball at referee Sean Wright, Ainge insisted that the guard’s relationship with coach Doc Rivers has actually improved. As documented in a Herald story last December, Rondo threw a bottle into a video screen during a team meeting during the playoffs last season in response to a critique by the Celtics coach.”

Later, however, the newspaper refuted Ainge’s statement with a full story that said the GM has been trying to trade Rondo for over a year but is finding few takers for the moody point guard.

From Mark Murphy of the Herald: “Indeed, Rondo’s trade value has taken a hit. The Celtics can’t hope to get back equal value for him, according to the other source. “There are irreconcilable differences between him and the team, and it’s been that way for a couple of years,” the source said, citing Rondo’s well-documented stubborn streak. “His value around the league has taken a hit. He’s not exactly the Chamber of Commerce’s man of the year. They’ve been kidding themselves for years. Doc can put an arm around him and give him a kiss and try to make it all better, but that just ain’t happening. He was cut from the national team (prior to the 2010 FIBA World Championship),” the source said. “I know the reason they gave was that he had to leave for personal reasons, but that’s baloney. He was cut. He’s a moody guy who has trouble fitting in.” According to the source, there is a dearth of interest in Rondo around the league.”

And Rondo apparently isn’t the only member of the Celtics that Ainge is trying to move. The expiring contracts of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are supposedly on the block, as is Paul Pierce, who has two years and $32 million left on his deal.

From Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: “Team president Danny Ainge realizes that the Celtics won’t win the title and can only make the playoffs. That’s not good enough for a franchise that proudly flies 17 championship banners. With the Big Three’s window now shut, Ainge is trying to land Atlanta’s Josh Smith and other young studs, while offering up Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can also be had, for young players and draft picks. Rajon Rondo might be leaving, too, with the Lakers and Utah seen as possible destinations.”

Finally, Mavs owner Mark Cuban met with the agent for AWOL forward Lamar Odom, whose name was linked to Nash in a report Thursday. Odom is going to play one tuneup game with the Texas Legends of the D-League before returning to the Mavs.

From Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Odom left the Mavs on Feb. 22, the morning they played Odom’s former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Odom went to be with his father, Joe Odom, who was ill. But late last week, Joe Odom told TMZ that he only had an upset stomach, and that his son did spend the night with him on Feb. 22. So, where is the missing Maverick? “He’s just dealing with issues and like we do with anybody else that’s had personal issues, our job is to try and help them out and not to comment beyond that,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He’s got to figure these out and that’s what we’re trying to help him do.” Cuban met with Odom and Odom’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, on Wednesday in Dallas at the W Hotel, where Odom lives. A source said Odom has backed off his desire of wanting the Mavs to buy him out of his contract so he can return to Los Angeles and play for the Clippers, and that he wants to finish the season with the Mavs.”

A buyout of Odom – now or this summer – is a more likely choice than a trade for the Mavs, who have a master plan to acquire Howard and Deron Williams but must clear their salary cap to do so.


Melo makes a point (one) as Knicks end slide


Louis Amundson, Jeff Pendergraph, Gana Diop, Bismack Biyombo, Dexter Pittman, Ed Davis, Gary Forbes, Robin Lopez, Sam Young, Luke Babbitt.

No, it’s not another edition of The Bernucca List, because we’re going to give you the answer right away. Of the 115 players who took the floor in Tuesday’s five NBA games, those were the 10 who did not score.

Those were also the same 10 who Carmelo Anthony managed to outscore.

That’s Carmelo Anthony, fourth in the NBA in scoring at 25.7 points per game.

Melo scored one point – again, one point – in New York’s game at Charlotte. He took seven shots, missed them all, and only got off the donut when a technical foul shot crawled in, saddling him with a career low.

And the Knicks? In full-fledged panic mode with six straight losses, a sputtering offense, a $100 million decoy in Amar’s Stoudemire and a coach about to take the fall for it all?

They won by 33.

The worst game of Anthony’s career coincided with the best game the Knicks have played in weeks. They shot 50 percent from the field, had assists on 26 of their 39 buckets, shot 33 free throws and racked up 111 points, their most in a win in 2012.

From Al Iannazzone of Newsday: “The Knicks won’t win many games when Anthony doesn’t make a shot. But they played the Bobcats, who were led by Bronx product Kemba Walker’s 22 points. Charlotte is 3-15 and without two starters in point guard D.J. Augustin (foot) and Corey Maggette (hamstring). The recipe for success for the Knicks was there, though. They moved the ball and had balanced scoring and shot distribution. Six players scored at least nine points and 12 was the high shot total, by Stoudemire and Landry. “That’s just a smart way to play the game, just moving the ball,” Stoudemire said. The Anthony-Stoudemire dynamic has been a major topic lately, especially following the Denver game. Anthony was 10-for-30 and Stoudemire attempted just nine shots, one after the third period. The two spoke and played as if something clicked from their conversation. Anthony passed more while Stoudemire got shots in the flow of the offense. “We talked about how we can get everybody involved and create some wins right now,” Stoudemire said. “We can’t really panic right now but we definitely have to get this going on the right track and start racking up some wins.”

In his previous four games, Anthony had been 35-of-105 from the field with 16 turnovers, which means he was personal responsible for a maximum of 86 empty possessions, or more than 21 per game. After Saturday’s loss to Denver – in which he hoisted 30 shots – he said, “Maybe I need to stop shooting a lot, I don’t know.”

On Monday, he backed off those comments, saying, “That was me just beating myself up. If I had made some of those shots, I wouldn’t have said any of that.”

Maybe he should reconsider. While getting one point from their 25-point scorer isn’t the answer to the Knicks’ offensive woes, Anthony – who is clearly banged up – was responsible for just eight empty possessions against the Bobcats. Not exactly efficient, but when you add 11 rebounds and four assists, certainly less inefficient than he has been lately. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

From Marc Berman of the New York Post: “Maybe this is how it should be until Anthony gets 100 percent. The Knicks, who play in Cleveland tonight, played selfless ball with Melo in the background. … Stoudemire and Anthony had a big talk about how to coexist better. And for one night, it was good — at least for Stoudemire and Chandler. Chandler said Anthony’s presence still helps. “Even if he doesn’t take a shot the entire game, the other team has to respect him,’’ Chandler said. “They’re never going to leave him.” Coach Mike D’Antoni said Stoudemire’s and Chandler’s breakouts were not by design. “The philosophy should be if the ball flows, some nights it will find Tyson, some nights Melo, some nights Amar’e,’’ D’Antoni said.

The ball may also flow better with the season debut of point guard Baron Davis, which should be sometime this week.

More from Berman: “The Baron Watch took all sorts of twists and turns yesterday. Whenever Baron Davis makes his Knicks debut — be it tonight in Cleveland or, more likely, Saturday in Houston — his former coach Paul Silas believes they will get the floor leader they have lacked this season. Yesterday morning, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni would not rule out the injured point guard making his Knicks debut tonight against the Cavaliers, who cut Davis this offseason via the amnesty provision. But after Davis performed poorly in a 3-on-3 scrimmage in the afternoon, the point guard admitted he felt it was unlikely. “I’m taking it one day at a time, see what happens when I go out and work out and get shots up and see how I feel [this] morning,” Davis said last night. “I would love to play, but I don’t think it’s possibly going to happen.’’

Off the court, the Minnesota Timberwolves have locked up Kevin Love. Or have they?

The Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex has two newspapers, and each have decidedly different versions of what’s going on with Love and the Wolves.

Ray Richardson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says it’s a done deal – four years, $62 million. That would be one year and about $17 million less than the max deal the Oklahoma City Thunder gave Russell Westbrook, who joined Love on the Western Conference All-Stars last year.

However, Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a much longer story that said (a) Love had not agreed to a deal and (b) had sources conflicting on the length and amount of the contract extension: “One team source told me tonight that the Wolves are closing in on a five-year maximum contract deal that would pay him more than $78 million and despite such a forthcoming deal, David Kahn hasn’t won any brownie points with Love in this negotiation. Another said that as of Monday afternoon, the team still hadn’t moved off its four-year, $61 million offer. I still believe the Wolves will reach a deal with Love by 11 p.m. Wednesday and it will be that five-year “designated player” deal with Love. An agreement could come as soon as Tuesday morning or considering the unnecessary wait so far, it could stretch toward that deadline, just like the Al Jefferson contract four years wasn’t finalized until just minutes before the deadline.”

If you think the Wolves are nickel-and-diming their franchise player, the line forms at the right. Zgoda also wrote that owner Glen Taylor may be letting Commissioner David Stern indirectly do the negotiating for him.

“New Orleans shooting guard Eric Gordon told Yahoo! Sports Monday night that he’s waiting to see if NBA commissioner David Stern — not Hornets GM Dell Demps — will extend him a contract offer by Wednesday night. Now remember that Wolves owner Glen Taylor is the chairman of the NBA Board of Governors who has Stern on speed dial and it’s very possible he’s waiting to for Stern to move with Gordon before he finalizes any deal with Love. I got the distinct impression from Taylor last week that he doesn’t believe the league, which owns the Hornets, is willing max out Gordon.”

Try to guess which faction of owners Taylor was siding with during the lockout.

The Wolves appear to be playing a game of chicken that they can’t win. Getting Love to sign a four-year deal can only alienate their franchise player and send a message to Ricky Rubio and what he can expect when it’s his turn for an extension.

Minnesota has a legitimate star in Love, a star in the making in Rubio and an exciting unknown quantity in Derrick Williams. They also have desirable pieces in Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea, Wesley Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver and Wayne Ellington. With the right trade of kids for a veteran and a smart free agent signing, they could be contending very quickly.

Why would you do anything to upset that applecart?

The Wolves aren’t even talking about an extension for Michael Beasley, also part of the 2008 draft class.
Others eligible for extensions before the midnight Wednesday deadline include Danilo Gallinari, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee and Ryan Anderson. Unlike Timberwolves management, Magic GM Otis Smith isn’t conflicted on Anderson.

From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith indicated Tuesday that it is unlikely the team will extend the contract of power forward Ryan Anderson before Wednesday night’s 11:59 EST deadline to do so for members of the 2008 draft class. Anderson is on course to become a restricted free agent in July, and the Magic would have the opportunity to match any offer sheet that Anderson could sign with another team. “The fact of the matter is that there are very few guys that get extended contracts like that coming off rookie deals,” Smith said before the Magic faced the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We like Ryan. We’d like to keep him on our team. Quite honestly, we still have the right of first refusal because he’d be a restricted free agent. It could backfire, and we could have to pay more. But that’s the risk we’ve chosen to take.” Smith acknowledged that Dwight Howard’s unsettled situation did factor into the team’s decision because the team does not know what its roster will look like in the months and years ahead. Not extending Anderson’s contract helps maintain some flexibility.”

Elsewhere …

  • The Heat had to work harder than most expected for a 92-85 home win over the Cavaliers. LeBron James was 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter, which had the folks at the overindulgent Heat Index again picking nits. By the way, Chris Bosh scored 35 points – his most in any of the Heat’s 32 uniforms – and Miami improved to 7-1 without Dwyane Wade.
  • The Magic showed a little bit of backbone, shaking off their 56-point embarrassment in Boston one night earlier for a 102-83 victory at Indiana. Anderson bounced back from an 0-for-8 at the Gaah-den to go for 24, including five threes. Dwight Howard became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, passing Nick Anderson.
  • Indiana’s loss means the only team still unbeaten at home is the Bulls, who learned forward Luol Deng has a torn ligament in his wrist and will be out “a while,” according to coach Tom Thibodeau. Big deal. We have yet to see the Bulls player whose absence affects their ability to win. Derrick Rose has missed five games, Joakim Noah has missed two, Rip Hamilton has missed 10, Taj Gibson has missed two and Deng has missed one. And the Bulls are an NBA-best 16-3.
  • There was no comeback this time for the Grizzlies, who saw their seven-game winning streak end when they ran out of gas in the second half of a 97-84 loss at Portland. Marcus Camby, who was questionable with a groin injury, grabbed 22 rebounds.
  • In the Colangelo Invitational, Andrea Bargnani returned after missing six games with a strained calf to score 36 points as the Raptors – one of the seemingly endless supply of awful teams in the Eastern Conference – ended an eight-game skid with a 99-96 road win over the Suns. The last time Toronto beat Phoenix anywhere was Feb. 10, 2004. One of the reserves for the Raptors in that game was Lonny Baxter, who really never developed a good shot.