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NBA PM: Hornets Betting On Howard

The Charlotte Hornets are betting that Dwight Howard is healthy and just what the team needs, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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In July 2016, center Dwight Howard signed with the Atlanta Hawks. In a tear-filled press conference, an emotional Howard showed how much he appreciated the opportunity to come home to Atlanta and play for the Hawks. It didn’t hurt that the Hawks offered a three-year, $70.5 million contract to do so. Unfortunately, the honeymoon didn’t last long as neither the Hawks nor Howard played up to expectations, which led to an unexpected change of course.

On June 20, 2017, the Hawks traded Howard and a 2017 second round pick (No. 31) to the Charlotte Hornets for center Miles Plumlee, shooting guard Marco Belinelli and a 2017 second round pick (No. 41). The hope for the Hornets is that Howard is the missing piece the team needs in order to get to the next level. This would translate into making the playoffs after coming up just short last season and having made it the season before that.

Why is this trade so important? The Hornets need to improve and revitalize the team with new energy – especially on defense. As covered in this space last season, head coach Steve Clifford’s team had maintained a top 10 defense but they were still giving up more points per game compared to the season prior. In addition, the team’s defense had been especially insufficient in late game situations.

If the trade does significantly improve the team, it will be a coup for a franchise that wants to win badly but has been hamstrung by big contracts that haven’t added up to a consistent winning formula.

But haven’t we heard this before? Many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Hawks will gladly explain all the reasons why Howard didn’t work out for their respective team and they likely won’t hesitate to place much of the blame at Howard’s feet. Howard spoke to Hornet’s Director of Interactive Marketing Matt Rochinski after being introduced to the media and addressed these issues.

“They [fans] talk real negative about a player when they leave a city, stuff like that, or get traded. For the fans here to say that this is a prayer being answered and stuff like that, you know it means a lot,” Howard said.

Howard has been criticized in the past for being too sensitive or susceptible to outside criticisms. On the flip side, Howard did not hesitate to talk about how much he felt embraced by his new city. When asked why he thought this opportunity would work out better than previous opportunities, he pointed to a couple of factors. Howard specifically responded to whether success is tied to being in the right place, at the right time. Howard spoke about this concept generally and specifically as to himself.

“It is always about that [right place, right time]. It’s a discussion that NBA players have all the time. It’s the right system, the right opportunity. There’s a lot of guys that have been in the league who are really great talents but didn’t really have the right opportunity,” Howard stated. “Once you get it [the right opportunity], you have to take full advantage of it.”

The Hornets and Howard are hoping that he takes full advantage of it. Although Howard hasn’t missed much playing time the last few years, he has been slowed down due to nagging injuries, aging, and issues relating to chemistry and his fit with his past teams. These factors have contributed to decreased scoring and overall diminished impact. Howard addressed this as well.

“One. I’m back in a healthy spot, you know, as far as my body. And mentally, and spiritually. Two. Opportunity, you know, this is a great opportunity. Three. It’s the system,” Howard stated.

If Howard remains not only injury free but motivated as well, this could end up being a tremendous acquisition. In his prime, Howard nabbed three straight defensive player of the year awards but has seen his defense sag over the years. It is established that Clifford is a defense-first coach and Howard should fit in if he does his best to anchor a Hornet’s defense that lacked consistency in the post last year.

The system Howard refers to may look a lot like the one that the Orlando Magic ran with Howard when Howard experienced the most success in his NBA career, both personally and team wise. Clifford was a part of those teams and may have the necessary pieces to recreate this system. Making this system work begins with a capable point guard who can run an effective pick-and-roll with Howard, can score, pass to Howard (who should be diving hard to the rim) or hit an open shooter. All-Star Point guard Kemba Walker is that type of guard and Howard is excited to team up with him.

“Man this guy [Walker] has what it takes,” Howard exclaimed. “Can’t wait to get out in the pick-and-roll with him.”

Howard’s desired system relied on a point guard like Walker and capable wings who can score from the outside, facilitate or keep the ball moving. Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are versatile and talented forwards who should fit well alongside Walker and Howard. Batum is a savvy passer, scorer and defender who is paid well at $25 million to be a second-star type of player. Williams has developed into an effective veteran wing who can do a little bit of everything for the team. Kidd-Gilchrist is an elite defender but has struggled with injuries and his jump shot. The hope is that Kidd-Gilchrist can address these issues and take the next step in his development, which would be a major boost for the team.

The Hornets are betting that this trade improves their team significantly without too much cost. The trade allowed the two teams to swap second round picks (No. 31 and No. 41), with the Hornets getting the better of the two. In addition, the Hornets were forced to surrender Belinelli whom they had acquired from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for their 2016 first round draft pick (No. 22).

One player that helps to ease that sting is Hornets rookie Malik Monk, who was selected by the Hornets with the 11th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Monk offers the Hornets an athletic wing who can handle the ball, be an effective scorer and hit three-point shots, skills that are key when playing with Howard. Monk’s coaches and teammates will need to stay on the Kentucky product to make sure his defensive skill and impact keeps pace with his offensive talents. While Monk will likely struggle through the early growing pains that all NBA players his age go through, he should be a nice addition to a team that could use additional help on the wing.

Assuming Howard is relatively healthy and motivated, the system comes into place and the team’s defense plays up to Clifford’s standards, the Hornets may be poised for an unexpected level of success in a depleted and rebuilding Eastern Conference next season. Howard has watched many other teams win at a high level over the years, including his Finals opponent when the Magic fell to the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals. He is motivated to change his and his new team’s circumstances for the better.

“It hurts, it hurts to see someone else win and holding up the trophy, to see the confetti and watch somebody have a parade. And you’re like, man, I want to experience that part of it. I was right there, I’ve tasted it. I want to taste it again,” Howard stated. “I want this city [Charlotte] to feel that.”

Charlotte took a bet that Howard can lead them to success. Let’s see if the risk was worth the reward.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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