In today’s NBA news, Mavericks forward Brandan Wright will be out of action for a while with a small fracture in his left shoulder; Rodney Stuckey fractured his thumb on a car door; and Dwayne Wade returned to action for the Miami Heat.
NBA games are back, baby.
Dwight Howard’s reputation took a major dive over the past couple of seasons due to all the drama surrounding his status as a free agent and his indecisive behavior. It didn’t help that his level of play dropped a notch after joining the Los Angeles Lakers last season after undergoing back surgery. Rather than receiving praise for stepping up and playing earlier than he was supposed to, he was scrutinized for being part of an underachieving team.
Now that Howard has found a home in Houston for the next four years, the center can go back to doing what he does best – dominate with jaw-dropping athleticism – and may now be in position to do so, with back issues seemingly behind him. Joining forces with rising superstar James Harden makes them a scary tandem, and they are expecting big things heading into the upcoming season.
Here are some thoughts from Howard about his current state of mind, from Jason Friedman of Rockets.com:
JCF: From a physical standpoint, is there any way to compare how you feel today versus how your body felt a year ago when you were still trying to work yourself back from back surgery?
DH: I’m so much better. My body feels a lot better. The little aches and pains that I was having for the most part of last season are gone already. It’s going to continue to get better. I’m very excited. I’m excited about the possibilities of what I’ll be able to do this season because my body is so much healthier. It’s a big difference. Last year I couldn’t really move the way I’m used to moving until the end of the season. Some of my bounce is coming back. I’m so happy about that.
JCF: Do you have individual goals that you’ve set for yourself this season?
DH: I just want to win a championship and Defensive Player of the Year and get back on top.
JCF: You have an elite pick-and-roll practitioner in James Harden on your team and another very good pick-and-roll player in Jeremy Lin. You’re probably the preeminent pick-and-roll big in the league. Have you guys had conversations about the work you plan to do together in that regard?
DH: We’ve had a lot of conversations about it. The main thing that I tell any guard that I play with is that when I set the screen, attack that big. Make the defense make a decision. Make my man make a decision. If he’s going to stay with me, you’re going to get a dunk or a layup. If he leaves me, just throw it to the rim. We’ve talked about all of this. The biggest thing I tell those guys is that every time they get the ball in the pick-and-roll is to just be aggressive – it opens up the whole floor. I want to be aggressive in rolling, but there’s times where, the way that I set those guys up, it’s going to open up everything for everybody else. I’m going to get my shots.
People who know basketball understand the effects of a good screen-and-roll. It starts with the point guard, it goes on to the bigs and then the rest of the guys on the perimeter. So I’m looking forward to it.
JCF: I asked Jeremy about this but I want to get your take on it as well: tell me about your one-on-one games with him in Aspen.
DH: (laughs) I love playing one-on-one with the guards. Actually he won one game and then I won the last game. When I play against the guards it’s good practice for my defense because I want to get my footwork back to where it needs to be. So playing against those guards really helps me – that’s the biggest reason why I like to play against them; it’s all about defense.
And here are some notable thoughts from Harden about some of his goals heading into the season, from Friedman:
JCF: I saw a quote from you earlier this summer where you said one of your goals is to be the best player in the NBA. What do you feel like you need to do to get into that conversation?
JH: I need to expand my game and win. You look at the best players, their teams are always winning, whether it’s Jordan or Kobe winning championships to LeBron now. So to be the best you have to win games and you have to produce every single night. Obviously it’s not going to come easy, but I’m working hard and I’m shooting for it.
JCF: I talked to Coach Sampson last week and he was talking about how he really wants to see you focus on becoming more of a two-way player. How are you approaching the defensive end this season?
JH: it’s definitely a huge focus of mine. Last year everything was new for me: playing that amount of minutes and having to do so much on the offensive end. My defense was slacking, I can admit that. In my previous couple years in Oklahoma City my defense was very good. So I’m trying to get back to good principles, good habits, and being more solid guarding the ball — that’s what I’m working on.
JCF: You don’t look like you’re 24-years-old. You don’t speak like you’re 24-years old. Do you feel like you’re 24, or do you still have to remind yourself sometimes that you’re one of these young guys, too?
JH: Yeah, I’ve got to grow up fast. I’ve got to be more mature out here. Things that I would normally do, I can’t do those things any more, whether it’s on the court or off the court. I’m just trying to be a leader; like you said, not just by showing but communication wise as well. I’ve got to work hard and I’ve got to be the best player out there at all times. I need to work harder than anyone. I need to take time to explain things to the young guys. I need to be a leader both by showing them and speaking when necessary, too. I’m still learning as well. But the more I work at it, the better off I’ll be.
To summarize, Howard wants to return to being the defensive player of the year, while Harden wants to become the best player in the league. The scary part of it is that the goals are actually reachable for both, although Harden will have his work cut out for him to be better than LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Okay, so maybe it’s unlikely for Harden to reach his goal, but he certainly has the talent to be in the conversation to be a top 5 player in the league (no matter what Dwyane Wade thinks).
The Rockets head into the season with high expectations. With two of their leaders looking to dominate their positions, they have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.
Onto other news from around the league:
- DeMarcus Cousins has been locked up by the Sacramento Kings for the next four years, according to Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: “The Kings have reached an agreement on a contract extension with center DeMarcus Cousins for four years worth approximately $64 million. The most Cousins was eligible for under the collective bargaining agreement was five years and $80 million. The contract takes effect for the 2014-15 season. The deadline for first-round draft picks from 2010 to agree to contract extensions is Oct. 31. If the Kings had not reached an agreement, they could not sign Cousins until an agreement until after this season. Cousins joins Washington guard John Wall and Indiana swingman Paul George as members of the Class of 2010 to sign maximum extensions.”
That’s the impression the league left most of us with after making the decision to not suspend Serge Ibaka for taking a shot at Blake Griffin’s jewels, fining him $25,000 instead.
- Derrick Rose has suggested this trade: Carlos Boozer, who earns $13.5 million and other player, possibly a point guard, for Gasol. Marca.com
- Sean Deveney: Jeremy Lin on ESPN headline: They apologized and I don’t care anymore. I have to learn to forgive. I don’t even think that was intentional. Twitter
- According to source, Mike D’Antoni threw out his back on Monday before the club flew to Toronto and has been in obvious pain sitting through press conferences. But his backache could turn into a headache as he figures out a new rotation that could have J.R. Smith and Baron Davis in it, pehaps by tomorrow vs. Nets if not today vs. Dallas. D’Antoni even suggested Davis could eventually start. New York Post’s backpage today was perfect on Lin-Baron situation: “WaffLin”. Sulia
- Dallas Mavericks guard is not overly impressed with what New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has been able to accomplish. Especially those NBA record 45 turnovers Lin has produced, which are the most by a player in the NBA since the league started keeping turnovers in the 1977-’78 season. “I’ve been a point guard in this league and (45 turnovers in seven games) would have gotten me on the bench real fast,” Terry said. Fort Worth Star-Telegram
- Stefan Bondy: Nets need a small forward, and a source says they’re looking at Renaldo Balkman Twitter
- Until something, or nothing, happens, Gasol continues efforts to keep his enjoyment of the game a high priority, not exactly an easy task. “There has been so much going on from talks, from rumors, situations that have changed. That makes it more challenging than usual, the amount of games that we’ve played now this season. That makes it a little more complicated. I want to have as much fun as possible doing well and doing my part,” he said, “but it’s been difficult at times.” Most times, I’d say, which is why that smile Tuesday stuck out. To me, and to him. “It was good,” Gasol said. “I enjoyed it.” ESPN.com
- He had every chance in the world to discourage talk about returning to the Cavaliers. Instead, he encouraged it and embraced it. James can opt out of his contract in the summer of 2014. If James wants to return to the Cavs, they must find a way to make that to happen. News-Herald
- Ginobili said he was encouraged Sunday morning that inflammatory medications he received on Saturday already had lessened the pain from the rib injurfy. “I don’t think it is as bad as I feared it was,” said the veteran guard, who already has missed 22 games this season because of a fractured fifth metacarpal on his left hand. “Last night it was very bad, but the inflammatories (medicagtions) already are working. “We’ll know more tomorrow, but I am hopeful.” San Antonio Express-News
- “First of all man, I wanted to call in to ESPN and say something when I saw them saying [Anthony would mess it up],” Martin told SI.com. “Melo wants to win. The man is a competitor, and he wants to win. He’s as competitive as they come. ”Smart basketball player, and the best player on that team — hands down. So I don’t understand why people are questioning whether he’s selfish or not. No, the man is not selfish. The man wants to win. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t think he’ll mess nothing up. He’s going to come in and be Carmelo Anthony.” SI.com
- Under CBA rules, McGrady would be eligible for a trade on March 1. He didn’t go so far as to say he wants out of Atlanta but said he wants to play a bigger role for the Hawks. “Hopefully, I’m here,” he said. “I like it here. I like the guys. That’s what I love most about it. I like the guys in this locker room. But at the same time, I still can play. No doubt in my mind.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution