The Veterans of Summer League
The NBA’s summer leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas provide the basketball world their first glimpse at the incoming rookie class and it’s always interesting to watch these potential stars make their professional debut. Some first-year players dominate right away, such as Damian Lillard, John Wall and Blake Griffin, all of whom took home the event’s Most Valuable Player award during their respective rookie seasons. This year, all eyes were on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and other members of this hyped up draft class.
However, there’s another group of players at summer league that are just as intriguing and noteworthy. Every year, a number of veterans show up in Orlando or Las Vegas in an attempt to display their skills and make an NBA comeback. These are players who are hoping that a strong performance in summer league will allow them to land on an NBA roster again so that they can salvage their career.
Some of these veterans have been injured and are trying to show that they’re once again healthy. Some have spent time overseas or in the NBA Development League and want to prove that they can still play with the big boys. Some are just looking for a permanent NBA home after bouncing around the league in recent years as journeymen. Some are under contract for next season, but have a non-guaranteed deal so they’re doing whatever they can to showcase their abilities and make their respective team.
Every offseason, there are a number of notable names sprinkled throughout the summer league rosters and this year was no exception.
Delonte West, Josh Howard, Shannon Brown, Kyrylo Fesenko, Brian Cook, Ivan Johnson, MarShon Brooks, Rodrigue Beaubois, Jerome Jordan, Daniel Orton, Nolan Smith, Donte Greene, Craig Brackins, DaJuan Summers, Darington Hobson and Trey Thompkins were among the veteran players with NBA experience who participated in summer league in either Orlando or Las Vegas.
The biggest summer league success story in recent years is Rasual Butler, who was invited to play with the Indiana Pacers in the Orlando Summer League last season. The 34-year-old did well, signed a non-guaranteed contract with the team and stayed on the roster for the duration of the season. By the end of the year, Butler emerged as a rotation player for the Pacers, playing in 11 of the team’s playoff games. Every veteran who donned a summer league jersey this month is hoping to follow in Butler’s footsteps.
West is the most notable player who suited up in this year’s summer league, playing with the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged six points, 3.3 rebounds 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals over three games. He did have a nice outing against the Miami HEAT, in which he contributed 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. After spending time in the D-League and in China, he’s trying to show teams that he’ll do whatever it takes to return to the league.
“I’m an NBA player, that’s where I belong,” West said. “If the process [of returning to the NBA] is going to the D-League, going to China and going to a summer league team then that’s where I’m at. It’s just playing basketball – D-League, summer league. Reporters come out and say, ‘Well, he had to humble himself to go play in the D-League.’ I mean, I didn’t look at it like that. That’s the jersey I have on, I’m playing for the Texas Legends. Fans may look at me and say, ‘Hey that’s Delonte West. I remember him from the Cavs or [Celtics]! You shouldn’t be playing with the Legends or playing summer league!’ But why not? This jersey says Los Angeles Clippers across my chest. I’m excited and I’m enjoying the process.”
While these veterans are hoping to stick with the team that invited them to summer league, they also recognize that the tournament is an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the NBA’s 29 other teams as well.
“When you come out here to summer league and you haven’t signed yet, you’re auditioning for every team,” said Nolan Smith, who played with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s definitely a huge opportunity.”
“For me, it’s all about showing all 30 teams – including the Timberwolves – that I’m ready and healthy and willing to do whatever to get back in the league,” said Kyrylo Fesenko, who played with Minnesota. “It’s important for me to get back there. For me, it’s pretty much my second time trying to get to the NBA [after being drafted in 2007]. That’s the main goal in my life. I’ve done everything I could to prepare for summer league. Either I’ll make it or I won’t.”
“I just want to show that I can be consistent and stay healthy; that’s a huge thing,” said Daniel Orton, who played with the Washington Wizards. “I love the game of basketball, I love what I do and I love getting better. I’ve always been focused on trying to perfect myself and just really work on everything. I’ve been getting better and I’m just trying to show that I belong in the NBA.”
“I’ve been working out really hard and now this is an opportunity to play in front of all of the right people,” said Darington Hobson, who played with the Toronto Raptors. “I was blessed that Toronto invited me to practice with them and then they added me to the team, so I’m just trying to show people that I can still play and, most importantly, that I’m healthy.”
Shannon Brown is under contract with the New York Knicks for the 2014-15 season, but it’s a non-guaranteed deal so he suited up for their summer league team in an attempt to showcase his game and increase his odds of making the team’s final roster. Knicks head coach Derek Fisher played with Brown on the Los Angeles Lakers for several seasons and the 28-year-old is familiar with the triangle offense, which should help him as well. Still, he felt like playing on the summer league squad could only help him as he fights to make the actual team. [Note: Brown was waived on Wednesday, one day after this story was published.]
“It was my decision,” Brown said when asked about playing in summer league. “I was thinking about it since I hadn’t played much all throughout last year and I had put on a little bit of weight, so I just wanted to go out there and show people that I can still play the game of basketball. It was tough to go from starting to not playing to playing a little bit – I’ve been in every situation. But I know I can still play the game. It was my decision and I just wanted to show people that it wasn’t over for me. I want to show that I can still play. … I love the challenge. I know if I go out there, do my job and just do what I’m supposed to do, everything will work out. It ain’t all about me; we’re a team right now. I feel like I can score or make a move anytime I want, but I’m trying to help the young guys too and put them in position to be successful as well as myself. I’m just trying to find that balance and then go out there and attack.”
Brian Cook hasn’t been on an NBA team since the 2011-12 season, since he took two years away from the game while his wife was battling cancer. Now, he’s hoping to get back in the league. He played for the Detroit Pistons’ summer league squad because of his close relationship with his former head coach Stan Van Gundy and he did well, averaging 9.3 points and five rebounds in four games.
“My wife had cancer, so I’ve had to be at home a little bit the last couple of years,” Cook said. “I’m ready to get some competition back in me, so it’s been good for me to get out here and be with these younger guys, these hungry guys, because I’m hungry too. I’m trying to squeeze out a few more years. … I’m hoping to get something this year; I love playing the game of basketball. I just want to compete. [Hitting open shots] is something I’ve always been able to do, but I’ve also been able to work on my body while I’ve been out. I’ve still got something left, a couple more seasons in me.”
Donte Greene was on the verge of signing with the Brooklyn Nets two summers ago, when he broke his ankle while working out. Ever since, he’s had trouble getting back in the NBA and spent last season in China. Now, he’s hoping to make a comeback and played with the Brooklyn Nets’ summer league team.
“It’s a blessing,” Greene said of returning to the court with Brooklyn’s summer league squad. “I had an injury that kind of derailed my career with the Nets. It’s good to be back out here and getting the chance to play with them. It’s good to be back here playing in the NBA and hopefully I can make the roster. I just have to go out and play my game – play hard, not try to do too much. I’m just trying to be that role player, that glue guy, who plays hard, defends, rebounds and creates for others.”
Greene isn’t the only veteran free agent trying to stick with the Nets. DaJuan Summers also played with their summer league team in Orlando and is hoping to receive a training camp invite from the team.
“I’m just trying to get onto the [Nets’] roster,” Summers said. “Obviously with Brooklyn, there are a couple spots that are open and they pursued me while I was in Ukraine last season, so I think this is a great opportunity and I’m just trying to fill it out now. I obviously want to play at the highest level and there’s no question that’s the NBA. Whatever I need to do to get back, that’s what my focus is.”
MarShon Brooks has played for four NBA teams in three seasons (as well as a number of stints in the D-League) and he’s currently an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old played summer league with the Sacramento Kings’ summer league in an effort to get a contract and find a permanent home rather than continuing to be a journeyman. He didn’t play much last season, so he felt that summer league was a way for him to get back on the court and display his skill set.
“It’s been good,” Brooks said playing summer league. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do and that was turn some heads while I’m out here. It’s been awhile since I’ve played, so I just wanted to show GMs that I still can play. Just because I was on the bench, it doesn’t mean I can’t play. Stay tuned.”
Ivan Johnson, who played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks before spending last year in China, suited up with the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team in hopes of landing another NBA contract. He believes he can bring toughness and energy to a team, and be a solid role player who does the dirty work. The 30-year-old didn’t want to be out of sight, out of mind and decided to play summer league to remind executives what he can do on the court.
“The biggest thing is showing people around the league that I’m in shape,” Johnson said. “I don’t really care what people say, I just get out on the court and work. I defend, rebound, run up and down the court and do a little bit of everything. On any team I’m on, that’s what I’m going to bring. … Excuse my language, but I’ve got to kind of f*** anybody in front of me. You know what I’m saying? That’s the type of mentality you have to have when you’re trying to make it back into the NBA.”
Johnson may be the only veteran who’s blunt enough to say it (and put it so eloquently), but that’s certainly how each of these veterans feel as they try to make their return to the league.
Julius Randle Holds Court
Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle discusses his summer league experience, the team’s offseason, his role as a rookie and much more in this video interview.
USA Men’s Select Team Announced
Today, USA Basketball announced that they have selected 13 players for the 2014 USA Men’s Select Team that will train July 28-31 with the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s National Team during its training camp in Las Vegas. The squad features eight players owning USA Basketball experience, including four members of the 2013-14 NBA All-Rookie first team.
The squad features Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors), Trey Burke (Utah Jazz), Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls), Tobias Harris (Orlando Magic), Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York Knicks), Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls), Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets), Miles Plumlee (Phoenix Suns), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics), Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Cody Zeller (Charlotte Hornets).
“USA Basketball’s Select Teams are critical for getting some of the game’s brightest and most promising young players experience at the USA National Team level, and getting them into our pipeline,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball National Team’s managing director. “Again this summer, as was done in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012, the members of the USA Select Team will play an important role in helping prepare the USA National Team for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“Being chosen for the Select Team is an honor and an important step in becoming involved in USA Basketball’s National Team program in the future. In the past, current national team players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, as well as many other outstanding players got their USA National Team start through the Select Team.”
The 2014 Select Team features five players who completed their rookie NBA season in 2013-14, three who wrapped up their second NBA season, two three-year NBA players and two players who will make their NBA debut in 2014-14.
Since the development of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team program in 2006, USA Basketball has selected and utilized four USA Select teams to help the USA National teams prepare for its major international competitions.The first USA Select Team was fielded in 2007 and featured up and coming players like Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, David Lee and J.J. Redick. USA Basketball assembled another Select squad in 2008 and this time it featured future NBA All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook among others.
USA National Team members who are confirmed to participate in the 2014 Las Vegas training camp include Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets); Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks), Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors).
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”
NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins
Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.
Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.
“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.
“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”
Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.
“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.
“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.
“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”
Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 18, 2017
With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.
“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.
With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.
“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”
Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.
In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.
“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”
While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.
Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.