NBA Training Camp Primer: Top Buzz and Latest News from Day 3

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2012

NBA Training Camp Primer: Top Buzz and Latest News from Day 3

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    Another day of training camp, another news nugget ripped straight from the headline that is Dwight Howard's life.

    Or, in Thursday's case, make that two news nuggets.

    Between his ongoing feud with Shaq (if you can even call it a feud) and the fallout from his year-long mess in Orlando, you'd almost forget that this guy is just now getting back into the swing of things after the back surgery heard 'round the world.

    Who needs Hollywood when you can just watch a day in the life of Dwight Howard?

    The third day of NBA training camps also brings more news about probable starting lineups, healing injuries, John Wall getting better and—you better believe it—Royce White and his bus. We're keeping track of all the biggest stories emerging from each day of training camp, and this season is already shaping up to be an intriguing one.

    Here's what you need to know about what's happening around the league.

D12 Is Talking Back to Shaq

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    Dwight Howard has been building lots of good will lately, with Los Angeles Lakers fans eager to see him get make his triumphant (and healthy) return to the floor.

    Too bad that good will doesn't extend to former Lakers.

    Now an analyst for TNT, Shaquille O'Neal made a perfectly reasonable—albeit entirely contrarian—argument for centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez being better than the more esteemed Howard (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):

    When I came in, it was Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, guys who played like true centers who played inside. What we have now are centers that are going to the European style, which is a lot of pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard, who's a pick-and-roll player, some people say he's the best center in the league, but me being an old-school center, I'm going to go with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum because they play with their back to the basket.

    Shaq admitted later that he meant to say Brook Lopez, Robin's brother.

    Of course, you don't have to agree, but it is Shaq's job to, you know, analyze things like this. And as one of the game's all-time great centers, his perspective on the question at hand is especially valuable. 

    Howard didn't see it that way, apparently balking at the notion that anyone would prefer another center's style of play (which is really all Shaq did, regardless of whatever motives you want to derive from those sentiments).

    So after practice on Thursday, Howard had this to say (again via McMenamin): "I don't care what Shaq says. Shaq played the game. He's done. He's gone. It's time to move on."

    And later:

    He hated the fact when he played that the older guys were talking about him and how he played and now he's doing the exact same thing. Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up. So, I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wants to say.

    Talking trash? I've always wondered what players muttered to one another when running back down the court jawing back and forth. Who knew it was things like: "Well, I consider you more of a European style, pick-and-roll center really—a step below the more traditional, back-to-the-basket sort."

    No, Shaq was not talking trash at all. He was just having an opinion—what he's paid (and entitled) to do. It may have been biased, but most opinions are. 

    Howard acts like he's above the fray, reiterating that he doesn't care as if the more times he says so, the truer it becomes. But if he really didn't care, he wouldn't say anything. After watching this guy spend an entire year ruining his image, you'd think someone would let him in on that whole "no comment" trick.

    Plead the Fifth, Dwight—or, in your words, "Just sit back and relax."

Royce White Got His Bus

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    In case you missed it, Houston Rockets rookie forward Royce White wanted a bus.

    It appears he got one, as he explained to FOX 26 Sports' Mark Berman:

    There's something down on paper as far as a plan of attack. Not a letter per se, but it's a plan and we're both agreeing to it.

    We're just going to go forward. The Rockets have shown me no reason to think otherwise. Everything that they've done up to this point has been stellar as far as trying to advocate for helping me and supporting me in this illness.

    It's hard to blame White for his fear of flying, even if he weren't diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. No matter how many times you hear that it's statistically safer than driving, there's just something about being thousands of feet in the air bouncing around in turbulence like a ping-pong ball.

    White was effusive in his praise of the Rockets organization, noting (again via Berman), "They've been stellar and what they pretty much are saying is that they don't care how I get to the games as long as I get to the games." 

    For their part, the Rockets hit a home run on this one.

    This wasn't just the right thing to do in this particular circumstance—it's a public gesture that raises awareness about something we don't hear all that much about. Not the fear of flying necessarily, but the underlying mental struggles we face on a day-to-day basis and how employers can accommodate those struggles rather than compounding them.

    With the bus matter settled, White should be at practice on Monday, Oct. 8.

Make That Harrison Barnes in the Lead for That Starting Job

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    Well, so much for the ever-so-brief belief that Brandon Rush was in the lead for that starting small forward job with the Golden State Warriors.

    The Contra Costa Times' Marcus Thompson reports that rookie Harrison Barnes may be the favorite to start after all:

    Late last night, after the evening practice, I was talking with a source about the small forward competition. This source, who I trust and has seen every second of practice, said rookie Harrison Barnes has been special the first two practices. He went as far as saying “it’s Harrison Barnes’ job to lose.” Coming from him, it says something. Trust me.

    Thompson goes on to explain that, "Barnes has been chasing around Klay Thompson to help improve his defensive skills," a good sign both in terms of the kid's priorities and choice of workout buddies.

    After all, Thompson is one of the reasons getting Barnes in that starting lineup actually makes sense. Along with Stephen Curry, these are the three players who most represent the Warriors' future.

    Though win-now instincts might caution against giving Barnes too much responsibility, it would be to the organization's long-term benefit to get him as much playing time as possible—and for him to build some chemistry with that starting unit of which he's destined to become a part.

Goran Dragic Is Still Sidelined for Saturday's Scrimmages

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    After spraining his left ankle prior to training camp, new Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic has had his practice debut put on hold.

    Suns.com's Stefan Swiat reports that he'll be returning within a matter of days, but he won't be back in time for a Saturday practice, according to sports broadcaster Craig Grialou:

    #Suns Gentry on Dragic, "He's feeling a little better...but theres no chance that he's going to play in the scrimmage Sat" #SunsTrainingCamp

    — Craig Grialou (@Craig620) October 4, 2012

    Given that he'll have missed just a couple of weeks, you can rest assured Dragic's sprain wasn't of the catastrophic variety. That's good news for the Suns, who will need to be at maximum strength for every possible game to have a legitimate shot at making the postseason.

    After Steve Nash's more-or-less expected departure, Phoenix is turning the page with a cast of impressive young talent including Dragic, forward Michael Beasley and rookie point guard Kendall Marshall. Though not quite as young, the club also added Luis Scola after the Argentinian was amnestied by the regrouping Houston Rockets.

    Of all the changes, though, adding Dragic has to be the most intriguing move general manager Lance Blanks made this summer. The 26-year-old had a breakout campaign with the Rockets last season, averaging 18 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals through the 28 games he started in place of Kyle Lowry.

    We didn't hear as much about the revelation given the deafening hype surrounding Jeremy Lin, but the Suns certainly took notice. 

Kobe Defends Howard's Orlando Exit

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    In the latest chapter of "Well, What Else Is He Going to Say?" Kobe Bryant predictably defended his superstar teammate's super annoying year-long spectacle (via CBS Sports' Ken Berger).

    There's a lot of double standards going on in professional sports, and basketball in particular. Because when it's a player's opportunity to make a business decision, they pull out the loyalty card. When it's ownership's or management's turn to make a business decision, it's a business decision.

    You can't have it both ways. And as a player, I've always just stuck to my guns. And when it's on me to make a business decision, I will make that business decision. And if you have to be criticized for it, you have to be criticized for it. But you must set a precedent for those coming after you that it's OK to make business decisions. Because management, at the end of the day, will do that themselves.

    Like so many of Howard's defenders, Kobe misses the point.

    This was never just about Howard staying or going. It was never just about loyalty. It was about the public and premature nature of the trade demands, the comically narrow list of preferred destinations, the ever-shifting positions, blaming a GM who made hasty moves on Howard's behalf, torpedoing his head coach behind the scenes and then—when it was all said and done—saying, "Everything happened the way that it was meant to happen."

    Bryant's a smart man, and it's no surprise that he'd engage an easily foiled straw-man argument. There's really no other way to defend what happened in Orlando.

    But even if this were just a question of loyalty and a re-hashing of an age-old debate, there's only a double standard in these criticisms if the critics allow there to be. There's absolutely no reason we can't (or shouldn't) call out players and organizations alike for their so-called "business decisions."

    You know, like the one to trade Laker fan favorite Derek Fisher.

    Kobe remembers that, right?

    Players certainly aren't the only ones to blame when it comes to treating these decisions like a corporate game of musical chairs. Organizations can let fame and fortune go to their collective heads, too. Bryant should know that as well as anyone.

Marcus Thornton To Be Kings' Sixth Man?

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    Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton was teamed with the second unit during Thursday scrimmages, according to The Sacramento Bee, a possible sign that he'll be taking on sixth-man duty this season rather than starting at the 2 spot.

    Such a move would allow Tyreke Evans to spend more minutes as his natural guard position rather than playing small forward on a full-time basis. The slasher was matched up against small forwards most of last season, thanks in large part to Isaiah Thomas' emergence, which made for a crowded backcourt.

    Thornton figures to be a perfect sixth man, anyway, on account of his shoot-first instincts and ability to handle the ball and score off the dribble.

    Now that point guard Aaron Brooks is also in the mix, the Kings have a solid young backcourt rotation—along with the less-than-appealing combination of John Salmons and Francisco Garcia at small forward. You can see why head coach Keith Smart had Evans playing forward.

Chauncey Billups Already Participating in Drills

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    After tearing his Achilles back in February, it's been a long road to recovery for 36-year-old Chauncey Billups.

    But Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi that the Los Angeles Clippers guard "participated in contact drills Thursday for the first time since he had season-ending surgery."

    Del Negro continued:

    He feels good. He's moving good. You can be in condition but the body contact and the up and down things, he's got to get in shape, but he's got plenty of time. As long as he keeps on, not having any setbacks and keeps on working, as he's been doing, he's going to be in good shape.

    Markazi also reports that it's unlikely Billups will return in time for the season opener on Oct. 31 but that we should be seeing a November return soon thereafter.

    With Jamal Crawford and Willie Green now in the fold, the Clippers don't need to rush anything with Billups. He's the kind of veteran presence that will be at his best in the postseason, anyway, so Los Angeles wants to makes sure he makes it that far first.

Wizards Owner Says John Wall Even Better Now

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    The good news is that Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis doesn't sound especially worried about John Wall's knee injury. But the even better news is that the 22-year-old could be in store for his best season yet, based on Leonsis' description to The Washington Post's Michael Lee:

    I am thrilled with his self awareness. That he’s our leader who we’ve rebuilt the team around and he worked incredibly hard this offseason to take that next step. His physiognomy changed. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. His athletic gifts are off the chart. He worked a lot on his shot.…But he’s a student of the game, so he’s everything you’d want in a young player, mature leader, someone who puts that pressure on him.

    The Wizards will need nothing short of a superstar performance from Wall this season. 

    Though the roster has certainly been improved thanks to veteran additions Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, this team is still relatively short on elite scoring options—especially proven ones. Rookie Bradley Beal will certainly have an opportunity to contribute (and all the more so while Wall's out), but there's no substitute for what Wall contributes as a scorer and distributor alike.

    It remains to be seen what "that next step" will look like in this case, but it's a good thing Wall's taking it.