NBA Saturday: Howard Ready To Deliver Title to L.A.
The Dwight Howard trade circus lasted close to 250 days, but found resolution this week as the Orlando Magic shipped the All-Star center to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four team blockbuster.
Throughout the saga Howard’s character and reputation took numerous unfavorable blows. Once known as one of the most charismatic and relatable players in the league, Howard began hearing his name associated with narcissism, selfishness and greed.
Howard says he’s putting all of the negativity over the past eight and a half months in the rearview mirror and is focused on moving on to the next step of his career.
“That’s behind us now,” Howard said during his introductory Lakers press conference. “For me, I want to be a great leader and I have the opportunity to learn from the best in Kobe [Bryant] on how to lead a team. In order to be a great leader you have to learn to follow. I’m looking forward to following the steps of Kobe and how he leads a team. And Steve Nash, Pau [Gasol] and the guys who have been here, the vets, I’m looking forward to learning a lot from those guys.”
Potentially transitioning to the Lakers organization was apparently one scenario that Howard has thought about at length recently.
“I had a lot of dreams about putting on this Lakers jersey and being here in L.A. and playing with Kobe Bryant. Now I’m here. Whatever happened before today is history for me. I’m looking forward to a new beginning,” Howard added.
After winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers have endured two straight seasons of being methodically picked apart and eliminated from the postseason in embarrassing fashion.
With Howard now in the fold, expectations will be much higher for Los Angeles to return to the top of the league’s hierarchy. Howard says his goal is to eventually lead the Lakers to another championship.
“One day I want to be a guy who leads the team to a championship and this is the perfect time to start,” Howard said.
With all of the drama surrounding Howard recently it’s somewhat easy to forget the type of dominating force the All-Star truly is as the best center in the league. The expectations will undoubtedly be high, but Howard almost carried the Magic to a title in 2009 as the leading man without a supporting nearly as strong as the one he’ll have in Los Angeles with Bryant, Nash and Gasol.
“Everybody is going to expect a lot out of us and I know for myself I’m going to give you guys 100 percent. That’s the way I play. I’m going to have fun, I’m going to smile, go dunk, block some shots, rebound and have fun. That’s what I do fun. I’m looking forward to getting back on the court again. I’ve missed it so much. It was taken away from me. I just want to get back on the court and just have fun again, dap up some fans. I miss it. This is the first step.”
Some of the issues Howard wanted to address and put to an abrupt end were the notions that he had mailed it in last season, quit on his teammates and faked his back injury – which required season ending surgery.
“There [are] a lot of things that have been said that upset me,” Howard said. “The biggest thing was me quitting on my team or faking an injury. Anybody who knows me and what I’m about, I would never quit on anything or fake an injury. I’ve never been a quitter. I’ve always pushed through the end. I’ve had injuries before and I’ve played through them. I’ve never been a quitter.”
Howard will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the veteran brushed off questions during his presser about signing a long term deal in the immediate future with the Lakers.
“Right now it’s about today and today is the day that I’m here with the Lakers and that’s the only thing that matters,” Howard said addressing his looming free agency. “Whatever happens a year from now, we’ll wait for that time. Right now it’s all about the Lakers and me starting fresh. I’m really excited about that.”
With Bryant slowly declining due to age, the Lakers acquired a piece who will lead the organization once the Hall of Fame bound guard eventually retires. According to Howard, Bryant has welcomed him to the club with open arms and his focused on bringing the Lakers another title before he hangs up the laces for good.
“I talked to him (Kobe) last night,” Howard said. “I called Kobe. He said ‘what’s up Dwight, how you doing.’ I said ‘I’m just happy.’ And he said ‘Yo, L.A. is happy to have you. You’re part of the team now and we’re looking forward to getting this ring. I’m happy for you man, it’s all over with’. I said ‘thanks Kobe I appreciate it. Get that gold medal and let’s get back to work when you get down here.’ That’s the first person I talked to and hopefully I can talk to the rest of the guys later.”
Before the duo can embark on their title quest, Howard must first receive medical clearance on his surgically repaired back. As of now it is still up in the air if he’ll be available by the start of training camp this fall.
“There’s no timetable right now,” Howard said. “Whenever he (doctor) says ‘Dwight you’re free to play’ then I’ll get back on the court. Until then I’m going to continue to rehab, get my back stronger. I haven’t lost any weight which is good. I’m looking forward to getting back on the court. We’ll see what the doctor says. If I’m ready for opening night I’ll be there, but I’m not going to rush it. The back is very serious so I’m going to take my time and make sure I’m 100 percent. I want to give everyone 100 percent, not 90, 80 percent. I want to give you guys everything I have.”
For now, Howard maintains he’s excited about his fresh start and nothing or anyone will be able to steal that overwhelming joy.
“Right now I’m excited and nobody is going to take away that joy about being in L.A. and being on this Laker team. I’m just excited about being here,” Howard said.
Jermaine O’Neal Heads West, To The Phoenix Suns
Lost in the mix because of the massive coverage on the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of All-Star center Dwight Howard is the fact Phoenix also added a veteran, former All-Star big man to their revamped lineup.
The Suns have agreed to terms with 16 year veteran Jermaine O’Neal on a one-year veteran minimum deal according to the Arizona Republic.
O’Neal worked out in front of Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks team officials earlier this summer at IMPACT Basketball in Las Vegas. O’Neal, now fully healthy, looked good in those workouts and by most accounts appeared as if he shaved five years of his birth certificate.
The Suns have had a busy summer in their own right and are ushering in a new era for the organization. At the forefront of change is the absence of two-time MVP Steve Nash. In are forwards Michael Beasley and Luis Scola and point guard Goran Dragic.
O’Neal was seeking an opportunity where he could contribute more on the offensive end of the floor. The past two seasons with the Boston Celtics, for O’Neal, were injury riddled and his offensive role was largely restricted under head coach Doc Rivers.
In Phoenix, O’Neal will serve as the primary backup for center Marcin Gortat after Robin Lopez’s trade to the New Orleans Hornets.
Up Close With Mason Plumlee
The second seeded Duke Blue Devils were unexpectedly eliminated by fifteenth seeded Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament this past March. That team had two players drafted in the first round of June’s NBA draft – Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee.
If Duke is going to have the same type of regular season success this season it will be largely due to the play of Plumlee’s younger brother Mason Plumlee.
Mason Plumlee enters his senior season and will be looked to for leadership on a young Duke squad. The younger Plumlee has increased his scoring and rebounding averages in each of his collegiate seasons.
HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis caught up with Plumlee recently at the Adidas Nations event in California. Plumlee spoke about playing about against top competition, his offseason workout regimen, preparation for the NBA and Duke’s outlook for next season. Check out the exclusive interview below: