Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of hoops talk. Jabari Davis and Lang Greene welcome Damien Barling (host of The Lo-Down radio show, 1140 KHTK) into the mix for what is certain to be an entertaining conversation.
Jabari: An honor to have you take a seat in the chair this week, Damien. I know you’re up there in Sacramento and covering the Kings, but let’s kick things off with a quick breakdown of which player/era/team(s) brought you to loving the NBA along the way?
Damien: Really happy to be a part of this. Thanks for having me. I was born in 1980. The Sacramento Kings got here in 1985, I really got into them in 88 or so. I loved the players we had here when I was young; Wayman Tisdale, Duane Causwell, on to Spud Webb and Mitch Richmond. Obviously, I was then introduced to Michael Jordan and I couldn’t turn back after that. I’ve seen Come Fly with Me and Playground more times then is probably healthy. From there I just gained an appreciation for basketball and players. I cover the Kings now but love basketball as a whole.
Lang: Good to have you, DB. Welcome. Here’s the thing about the Charles Barkley versus LeBron James saga. Barkley is a jokester. Part of being a great jokester is being able to be the butt of the joke once people stop laughing at your jokes and begin laughing at you in return. I love what LeBron said back to Chuck. Absolutely love it. But I also know that those words are going to bounce right off of Barkley and have minimal impact long term. It’s not like Sir Charles is going to deeply reflect on this. He’s made a living not really caring what people think of him. About the only time you see Charles get emotional about someone’s opinion of him is when his friendship with Michael Jordan is mentioned.
I think LeBron had to stand up for himself. I think he did a good job in changing the narrative into his respect for the game. Barkley can’t win in that regard. Barkley’s story is so confusing. He had to be an overachiever to do what he did at 6’5 – 6’6 versus the giants of the game – in a much more physical era. But there are so many stories of him not practicing hard and being out of shape that you can make a legitimate case of him underachieving. Weird.
Damien: I’m ok with both guys in this situation. I don’t believe athletes are supposed to sit back and not say anything when they’re destroyed in the media. I also don’t believe a guy like Charles Barkley shouldn’t say what’s on his mind. That’s what he gets paid a lot of money for. I’d be far more offended if I felt like he wasn’t being honest. The only problem I had was LeBron’s corny line, “There’s a new sheriff in town”. Come on man. Stop.
Lang: Yeah, LeBron’s new sheriff line was saucey. But he isn’t a good villain (see Miami 2010-11). But think about what we’re seeing here. The best player in the game being dissected at the HEIGHT of his powers. MJ, Bird, Magic, etc. never endured this type of criticism at the HEIGHT of their powers. In many ways, it’s blatantly disrespectful how we treat LeBron at times.
Jabari: Damien, first let me say I LOVE the fact that you mentioned all those old school players and RIP Wayman Tisdale, of course. I agree 1000 percent with each of you on the ‘Bron vs. Chuck discussion. Full disclosure: I may have affectionately been referred to as ‘Round Mound’ (of Rebound) by my family all throughout my childhood. I grew up in L.A. and had a rooting interest in the Lakers, but Chuck was ALWAYS one of my favorite players and (according to others) I played that style … you know, back when I actually did such things. Important for all of us to fully acknowledge this has been coming for a long time with these two. That discussion about LeBron “whining” and “not wanting to compete” was merely the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
‘Bron did go a bit far when he took it to the personal stuff (even though he could have named even more), but I also understand why he may have felt compelled to really drop the hammer when it particularly comes to Barkley. I also respect Barkley for taking it on the chin and not lashing back because I can’t say that I would have possessed quite as much discipline once ‘Bron came through with the verbal Gatling gun like that.
Keeping it in Cleveland, I’m sure you guys saw the news of their “mega workout” in an effort to appease James’ desire to bring in another playmaker from yesterday. Lance Stephenson is the most talented of the bunch, Mario Chalmers (familiarity) probably makes the most sense and Kirk Hinrich was tossed into the mix as well. If YOU are in that front office … which direction are each of you going?
Damien: The whole workout thing is laughable. Lance Stephenson? Mario Chalmers? Kirk Hinrich? Those are playmakers? This is what LeBron meant? Come on man. Not a chance. Yes, the Cavs need a guy to control the ball so LeBron can work the post when June comes around. But that’s not it. Steph, Klay and Dray added Kevin Durant. LeBron, Kyrie and K-Love add … Mario Chalmers? This is all about Golden State and the fear that Cleveland doesn’t have the hunger to win again. Why is LeBron averaging the most minutes in the league? Why do they give a crap about the regular season? It’s the annual LeBron-related panic. Last year there were subtweets to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Oh, and by the way, they fired their coach.
But who can the Cavs get? I have no idea. The Melo rumor is hot again but I don’t see it unless LeBron is gonna let Tristan get traded. Even that I’m not sure about.
If the above names are the names he has to choose from, it’s probably Chalmers. He’s gonna have to go back to getting screamed at by LeBron and him and Kevin Love will shoulder the hate if they lose.
Lang: If I had to pull the trigger, I would go with someone I have game footage of getting it done when it counts. Mario Chalmers. Provided he is fully healthy, of course. The Cavs need playmakers. So scratch the Kirk Hinrich noise. I spent the last 20 minutes trying to find a Hinrich assist highlight on YouTube in the past five seasons. No results found. No disrespect to Kirk, but he’s not what the Cavaliers need. Lance provides the most talent, but he also plays the same position as LeBron (at times) and if you shift him to SG … then you have a logjam with Shump, Korver and J.R. Smith (when he returns). Safe play here is Mario. Not scared of the big stage and won’t back down from the Warriors in June. Even though Lance has played good citizen in his last two stops … you never know when he will become unglued
Jabari: As, perhaps, the sole remaining “Lance guy” in this mix, part of me wants to believe he can capture lightning in a bottle and figure it out with a talented group like the one Cleveland has. He’s STILL only 26, but outside of a decent stretch last year with Memphis, he hasn’t played much meaningful basketball over the last three seasons. That said, I wouldn’t place a single dollar wager on that actually taking place, so I suppose I wouldn’t expect that to happen. I doubt these were the guys LeBron had in mind when he started speaking out, but I still think it will end up being Chalmers if his body is healthy enough.
Transitioning a bit, can we take a moment to talk about Damien’s Sacramento Kings? They were right there in the mix just a couple weeks ago, but have dropped seven of their last 10 and now find themselves closer to the basement in the Western Conference than the 8th seed. We’ll get to whether it will actually happen in just a second, but is it actually time to finally move Boogie? He’s 26 years old, in the prime of his career, and averaging 28.2. points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on the year. It still doesn’t look like they are any closer to getting over the hump, so is it time?
Damien: Believe it or not, they’re still very much in the mix. They’re three games back from the 8th seed. Funnier than that, they’d be in last place in the Eastern Conference. The West is a mess. It looks like Portland is most likely, and certainly most capable, of pulling away. It’ll be interesting to see how the Kings play back at home at the Golden One Center. They got the Phoenix Teenagers Friday, then the Warriors Saturday. They had a seven-game homestand that ended with Rudy Gay on the shelf for the year and a 1-6 record. They got on the road for eight and went 3-5 and the only two games they had no shot at were the first and the last. The Kings have no identity but they’ve started to move the ball better. They lack consistency but the loss of Rudy Gay has forced guys to be more aggressive offensively.
DeMarcus isn’t going anywhere for a long time. Any trade chatter, particularly that garbage started by some radio guy in Phoenix, is nonsense. He’s not being traded to Phoenix. He’s likely not being traded anywhere and if you asked me to bet on an extension or a trade in the next six months, I’d bet the extension.
Lang: Everyone that has followed me over the years knows how much I love DeMarcus Cousins as a player. Certified goodie monster. Check. Best center in the game today. Check. MVP type of talent? Yes, indeed. But I am also a realist in terms of how much we can expect out of a team with him as the top dog. I understand the franchise hasn’t exactly been world beaters in assembling talent in Sacramento, but at what point does a guy with all of the talents I just mentioned start to elevate the guys around him?
Quick – name the second leading scorer on those Toronto Raptors teams Chris Bosh led to the playoffs for consecutive years in 2007 and 2008? I’ll wait here for a second.
Like I thought. For those wondering, by the way, the answers are T.J. Ford and Anthony Parker. My point is, special talents lead their teams to the promised land. This is Cousins’ seventh NBA season and the Kings have never SNIFFED .500 since he entered the league. I love Cousins, as I said earlier … he is such a fantastic player. But the jury is out on whether he is a leader of men.
Jabari: Most trade rumors are bogus these days and given Sacramento’s history when it comes to Boogie, I tend to believe what Damien is saying. Would I be shocked to see them finally pull the trigger? Not necessarily … but it isn’t going to be for throwaway parts and trade machine filler as so many of the rumors would have you believe. Ok, so whether Cousins is ultimately moved or not, Damien, let me get a few players that you predict WILL or at least should be moved by the February 23rd deadline before we get out of here for the day.
Damien: Anytime Candace Parker’s brother can get worked into a conversation, you know you have a winner.
There are players in the league who can help DeMarcus and Sacramento succeed, but they’re not realistic. I always felt if you wanted Melo to succeed as a non-ball dominant guy, you had to put him with Chris Paul. The same is true for DeMarcus. He’s never had a number two and has certainly never had a 1A. Chris Paul is the perfect point guard for him. Yes, I know, it’s not happening but that’s the type of player he needs around him, a 1A with an Alpha personality.
Two guys who should be traded are Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony. That’s difficult to pull off given the complexity of their contracts and the caliber players they are. Melo with the Clippers works but they have to somehow salvage their role players. Austin Rivers would have to be involved, which is weird, but that window is closing fast and Doc and his group aren’t ready to compete with a healthy Warriors roster or healthy Spurs roster (for that matter, they may not even be able to beat Houston).
The Bulls are a mess as I fully expected and predicted with a certain Basketball Insider on our radio show before the season started. The term blow it up is old and played but … blow it up. Wade finishes his career elsewhere, coach probably fired and Rondo off to annoy coaches and fan bases in a different city.
Teams I’d watch to acquire players – Boston, obviously. And Washington. They are hot right now. There’s a real chance, if LeBron continues to lead the league in minutes, someone can catch the Cavs.
One more team to watch, Philly. One of the most enjoyable teams to watch with assets everywhere. Embiid said playoffs and I may have been the only one who didn’t laugh. I love this team. They have draft picks and young players, so one strong veteran could catapult that team for the next 2-3 years while they build their young guys. East is the new West – it’s where the excitement is.
Jabari: I’m right there with you in terms of the Bulls. Folks were looking at me sideways when I said it would only be a matter of time before Butler and/or Wade wanted to move on, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if it played out exactly the way you broke it down.
I love that you went so hard for Philly because it allows me to do something few in this field tend to do … I was flat-out WRONG about their approach a few years back. While Noel and Okafor certainly are not stars at this stage, the fact that Joel Embiid is AND they have Ben Simmons waiting in the wings and other pieces starting to shine proves it was all worth it in the end.
We’ll see how things work themselves out around the league in terms of player movement, but at least we have a somewhat back loaded schedule (in terms of big matchups) down the stretch of the season to look forward to. The playoff push and ultimate postseason tournaments from each conference should be phenomenal once again.
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.