Toronto Steals Lowry From Houston

It took Bryan Colangelo less than 24 hours to regroup from losing Steve Nash.

In a move that won’t have the same flash or sizzle of adding Nash, Colangelo made a bold move by stealing Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets for a heavily protected first round pick.

It may not be the sexy move, but it was probably a better move than adding Nash.

Lowry finished last season averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 assist and 4.5 rebounds. Keep in mind for a stretch of the season Lowry flirted with 20 points and 10 assists per game. During the month of January he averaged 15.0 points, 7.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds while playing gritty defense.

It’s not like Lowry is the only possible target for Colangelo. There was talk leading up to the NBA Draft that Andre Igoudala and Rudy Gay might be headed to Toronto. While new management in Memphis has quieted the rumours of Gay being dealt, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Igoudala dealt this summer.

Igoudala only averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds while having a player efficiency of 13.77. Hardly the stuff to excite fans in Toronto. But, due to the playing style of Doug Collins, the Sixers’ leading scorer last season was sixth man Lou Williams.

There are a lot of people in the NBA who feel that if Igoudala was playing in a system where he was featured it would allow him to average close to 18 points like he averaged a couple seasons back.

Plus, a huge bonus for Toronto is that Igoudala is a small forward known for being a gritty defender.

Here’s to hoping that Philly would be willing to take on some young pieces like Ed Davis or DeMar DeRozan while taking some expiring contracts like Linas Kleiza or Jose Calderon in the process.

While none of these moves have the luster of inking Nash trading for a valuable piece or two may turn out better.

Orlando Took Dwight Howard For Granted

The Dwight Howard saga appears nearing an end. The Magic franchise appears ready to part ways with their superstar center and are exploring their trade options to get some type of value in return for him. That was always something Orlando was determined to do, but the hope of having Howard sign an extension has waned.

The reports this weekend appear to have put a nail in that coffin. A divorce seems inevitable.

Why did this have to happen? What went so wrong in Orlando for Howard that he had to engineer his exit in such an embittered, secretive and senseless way? What brought the frustration level with the franchise so high that this was the way Howard had to go?

These are complex questions that do not have easy answers. Far from them.

In each of Howard’s statements he professes a love for the city of Orlando and a request fans stay patient with him and believe in him. But at the same time, he has avoided the truth that seems undeniable at this point: he does not want to play in Orlando anymore. His relationship with the Magic franchise has soured beyond the point of repair and he is trying (emphasis on trying) to secure an exit while maximizing his earning potential.

It has created an ugly divorce with the fans stuck in the middle.

Those same fans who have followed Dwight Howard the past eight years know this is not who Dwight Howard is. That is why hope that he would ultimately re-sign in Orlando remained — and why some fans I have talked to still believe Howard will stay if the team can gather the right pieces (bless those optimists, seriously).

Howard is a fun-loving, smiling center who plays hard and works hard. There is not a single reason to hate Dwight Howard the player. This is why fans attached to him and these Magic teams so much, creating a buzz around the team that was felt only once before in the franchise history (with a similarly gregarious center).

The Dwight Howard the Magic and Magic fans saw in 2012 did not seem to enjoy the game as much. He was serious and guarded, with every word carefully measured for some ulterior motive. Not the Howard that Magic fans grew to love in seven years.

This marriage did not seem destined for divorce. Not after the 2009 Finals trip. Not even after the Magic fell in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. The fate may have been sealed in December 2010 when the Magic boxed themselves in with two horrific trades.

And then with the landscape completely changed from one of hope and promise to one of mediocrity in the matter of a year and a half, the Magic began to ask the question of Howard — how long do you want to commit to this franchise? It is easy to see from that lens why you might hesitate to say yes and exert your leverage and power a little bit more.

Getting up to 2009 was a painstaking process of clearing some bad contracts — most notably, Steve Francis and Grant Hill’s expiring deal — and creating an atmosphere where the team could succeed. Stan Van Gundy pulled the right strings in getting Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu to play their best basketball surrounding Howard.

But after 2009, Orlando succumbed to short-sighted moves to fling the window open, hoping it would not come crashing down on the franchise.

A lot of the moves made in the summer of 2009 proved to be the correct ones for the 2010 season alone. Vince Carter replaced Turkoglu’s production (although he did not improve on it) and Orlando had a deep and versatile bench to call on for the Playoffs.

But there was one underlying assumption in how that summer-long rebuild was executed — Dwight Howard would fix everything.

It is a testament both to Van Gundy’s schemes and Howard’s excellence that the 2010 team tied for the top defensive rating in the league. After all, no one considers Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis elite perimeter defenders. Howard’s shadow cast all over the paint and he put together impressive defensive performances all by himself.

So when Otis Smith saw the wheels coming off his team in December 2010, this assumption still rested in the back of his mind. A quick fix could work because Dwight Howard can fix a whole bunch of holes.

And for a good chunk of the 2011 season, he did. Howard posted a career-best 26.0 PER and 7.7 defensive win shares. He was an absolute monster and carried his team to become third in the league in defensive rating. This was a team, mind you, that featured Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu as defenders in front of Howard.

The chance for a title was slipping though. Orlando struggled when teams could single cover Howard and no one else on the perimeter seemed able to step up in a six-game, first-round exit to the Hawks.

If you look at things through this prism, it is easy to see why Howard was frustrated by his waning voice within the franchise and his lack of help on it. Howard had to do everything. And moves and transactions were seemingly made with the assumption that Dwight Howard can make everything work on his own. He is so gifted and talented that, for a long time, he did make it all work by himself.

But that is not how he is going to win championships. That is not how you build a championship team.

And so, with his ability to exercise his leverage at its maximum, Howard asked out. Orlando had run out of time to build him a championship team and boxed itself in, unable to get him help. The Magic as a franchise, simply took Howard’s good nature and talent for granted, souring him away from the team’s plans.

This does not in any way excuse the bungled way Howard has handled his exit. It has been ugly and confusing. A fan base that appreciates and supports a superstar the way Orlando did with Howard deserves a straight answer from the player himself — the December 2011 press conference he held would have been fine if he let it stay at that. They certainly do not deserve the winding road and drama the franchise has endured.

The way Howard continually professes his love for Orlando makes you believe things really could have worked out if the Magic remained perpetual contenders and he had no reason to be discontent. But it is clear from the way things were run, Howard had plenty of reasons to be off put by the Magic’s next attempt to placate him.

It all started with the franchise and its personnel not living up to its potential and bungling move after move at a time when it could not. Howard played the good teammate and did everything he could. The problem was, too many mistakes around him were made. It seems like it made him feel like he was taken for granted and ignored.

Howard was no longer a good soldier. He wanted a larger say if he was going to expend the effort and energy to (literally) carry a team through the postseason. Orlando did not give it to him.

And so here we are, ready to divorce much more bitterly than it had to be. A relationship broken that did not have to be.

A Big Summer For Colangelo

I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is probably Bryan Colangelo’s biggest summer of his tenure so far in Toronto.

In the past, Colangelo has made headlines for signing Hedo Turkoglu, losing Chris Bosh via free agency or trading for Jermaine O’Neal. This summer Colangelo has oodles of cap space, a top ten draft pick to dangle in front of other teams and a need to make a move of substance if he wants ownership to keep him around past this season.

Colangelo is known for being quick to pull the trigger on moves, and with cap space and a need to impress ownership, look for him to make some bold moves this summer.

Starting on draft night, look for Colangelo to deal Toronto’s first round draft pick. Yes, the eighth overall pick could net Toronto a nice young player, but the reality is the Raptors won’t be starting two rookies next season. Jonas Valanciunas will be given the starting position at the five as long as he comes into training camp hungry so Dwane Casey can’t afford to give another raw rookie extended minutes next season.

Throw in the fact Toronto needs a veteran wing who can score and defend and the idea of a trade makes a lot of sense. Plus, Toronto has a bunch of cap space on draft night due to a trade deadline deal that saw Leandro Barbosa head to Indiana for a shipment of Gatorade. Just kidding, sort of.

Names like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and Kyle Lowry have been thrown around in recent weeks. While all of those players would provided an instant bump in Toronto’s starting five, the player who I would target is Josh Smith.

Yes, I realize Toronto wants to play Andrea Bargnani at the four and Valanciunas at the five, and Smith is a four, but why not insert Smith as a starting small forward? He has the athleticism to guard small forwards but his shot blocking and rebounding would make up for Bargnani not being a great rebounder.

Can you imagine the damage that trio would cause? It would make Casey salivate heading into training camp at what he could achieve on the defensive end with Smith and Valanciunas anchoring his defense.

Heck, it could even make some of Bargnani’s defensive woes look somewhat invisible.

Now, why would Atlanta deal a player who should have made the All-Star team last season? The salary cap next season is going to be close to $72 million and with only six players under contract they have already committed over $60 million in salary. Ouch. That’s not looking good for a franchise that is near the bottom of the NBA in attendance and has said they won’t pay the luxury tax.

Again, Iguodala, Gay or Lowry would look great in Toronto, but if Colangelo really wants to swing for the fences, the ideal target should be Josh Smith.

Lowry Demands A Trade If Dragic Returns

Kyle Lowry, who opened the lockout driven season as the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets, is now ready to pack his bags if things are not addressed.

Lowry, who was discussed as a potential All-Star game reserve, saw everything crumble after a dangerous bacterial infection took over his body. Lowry only played 47 games this season, while backup point guard Goran Dragic wasted no time picking up the slack.

As you can imagine the situation does not favor Lowry in the slightest. While the infection was out of his control, it essentially took him out of the loop. Lowry went from the future, to the past, after unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic outplayed Lowry during his absence.

The Rockets have made it clear that Dragic will be retained even though he is expected to be approached by multiple teams who are willing to pay him a large salary. If the Rockets do stay loyal to their words, then Dragic will be paid a salary that will demand him to be the starter.

If this sounds eerily familiar, then you’re starting to make the connection. The carousel of point guards have been rotating now for a few years. Dragic is now taking Lowry’s spot, while Lowry did the same to former guard Aaron Brooks. Lowry has clearly seen the trend catch up to him, and isn’t willing to sit on his hands and watch it play out.

“We’re both capable starters,” Lowry told the Houston Chronicle. “We both want it. It’s going to have to be a situation where they make a decision on one of us.”

Lowry continued to reiterate his dilemma, making it very clear that the assurance he needs will be met, or his services may no longer be worthy to the Rockets.

“It has nothing to do with Goran,” Lowry admitted. “I’m not happy with the way (the) coaches handled things. If management wants to do something to keep Goran, I think I’ll have to be moved.”

With that quote comes act two of this story. The act in which Lowry calls out his coach, while his coach surprisingly raises his eyebrows after the comment is relayed to him.

“If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved,” Lowry said.

McHale replied with what you would expect from a head coach.

“That’s very surprising,” McHale said. “I didn’t think we had too much of a problem coexisting this year. Everybody has a little beef every once in a while. I didn’t feel like (there were problems). He apparently did.”

The beef with McHale really hit the boiling point in a game against the Denver Nuggets, when Lowry and McHale shared some words. Lowry showed his anger on the court, but later downplayed the situation as the heat of the moment, took over emotions. Now Lowry is using that scenario to further emphasize his discomfort with coach McHale.

Lowry, who clearly feels insecure with his position on the team, did leave a slight window open for adjustments. But his demands are steep, and the Rockets are not leaning towards those changes.

While McHale struggled to get this team into the playoffs as the season came to a close, he also joined the team in a shortened NBA season, with virtually no training camp. The Rockets would shock most people if they let McHale go after one incomplete season.

General manager Daryl Morey remains upbeat about the situation, and doesn’t believe it needs to end in this manner.

“I think Kyle and coach McHale are both winners and both competitive guys,” Morey said. “I don’t anticipate any issues going forward.”

Lowry and Dragic are both capable starters, and splitting time for either is really not an option. Dragic has made it clear if he signs with the Rockets, he wants starting minutes. Lowry has now made it clear that he wants the same, along with another coach in the mix.

Honestly, Lowry packing his bags seems like a very realistic scenario now.

While some of us know that these two players make a great duo on the court, or when used interchangeably, we also know that both players believe they are ready to run a basketball team. Splitting time isn’t the same as running the show. Lowry may look selfish right now, but he is speaking freely. He is looking out for his own good. He sees that his progression as a point guard is stalling. The Rockets may not be in the position to kick start that stall, when they have another point guard they will be committing a large salary to.

The Rockets have some major decision to iron out, and Kyle Lowry will be right in the heart of it all.

Milwaukee May Not Spend Big Bucks For “Young Buck”

In the world of math, much is made about a concept called an inflection point–for the Milwaukee Bucks, July 1st will likely prove to be just that.

Effective July 1st, Herb Kohl, John Hammond, and the Bucks can officially negotiate and extend Brandon Jennings rookie contract–if nothing is done, the Young Buck becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013 season.

Now, before we address this current situation, let’s take a look at the last time the Bucks franchise faced a decision like this with a promising lefty.  In 2004-2005, the Bucks had a solid core of young players–none more promising than Michael Redd.  This was the final season of a four year, $12M total contract, and Redd spent each of the four seasons proving he was a scoring threat to be reckoned with, improving his points per game (PPG) each year.

Given his scoring prowess and fan likeability, after the season ended the Bucks lavished upon Michael Redd and his agent, Kevin Poston, a six-year, $91M deal.  The Bucks investment of max money seemingly paid off, as Redd continued his improvement in per game statistics the next two years–but showed signs of durability issues in 2006-2007.  His effective Bucks career ended January 29th, 2009–as Redd tore his ACL and MCL at the same time.

Redd was an exciting young lefty that was loved by Bucks fans everywhere–and is still loved–but his contract proved to be crippling for the franchise.  During the Michael Redd $91M dollar contract era, the Bucks never broke .500, as they could never put the right pieces around Redd to compete.

Fast forward to July 1, 2012.  Brandon Jennings is the current face of the Bucks–yet was only the 11th highest paid player on the Bucks roster at the end of the 2012 season.  He boasts humongous upside at a mere age of 22 – and has posted three continuous years of improvement in PPG, field goal %, turnovers, and thefts per game, and maturity – as well as maintained consistency in assists and rebounds per game.

On February 11, 2012, much was made of this ESPN article that stated Jennings was “keeping his options open” and is looking at “big market teams.” Many have even wondered if this quote from Jennings led to the trade of Andrew Bogut and the acquisition of Monta Ellis to replace Jennings.

More recently, John Hammond was asked about Brandon Jennings contract situation.

“It’s something that we’ll look at and we’ll explore,” he admitted. “It’s going to have to be a little bit of a two-way street, so to speak. Something that is important to them and important to us. I think that is. But, it’s not something that we have to do. And the one thing that we don’t want to do and we talked about this. We’ve talked about this for the last couple of years, is not put ourselves in a position where we have to do things. If we have to do things, I think we’re negotiating and working out of a position of weakness.”

The key quote from this intelligent GM is “If we have to do things, I think we’re negotiating and working out of a position of weakness.”

Hammond understands the risk involved of paying more than you have to in order to keep a young star.  Jennings is an amazing player – one that I’d love to see in a Bucks uniform for many years – but only at the proper price. While Jennings is the star and fan darling of the Bucks franchise, he is not amongst the elite players of the league and is not worthy of such an investment.

If I were GM, what would I invest?  Five years and $35M.

What will the Bucks do as they approach another potentially huge inflection point in their 44 year history?  Two of their best assets are front and center right now – will the spotlight belong to Ersan Ilyasova?

Or, will the Bucks shine on both the “Turkish Thunder” and the “Young Buck”?

While the rest of Bucks Nation ponders the possibilities of the .7% ping pong probability, I’ll be pondering this meteoric franchise decision.