NBA Training Camp Primer: Latest Buzz on Dwight Howard's Return and More
He'll look far better in some purple and gold, no?
The Los Angeles Lakers have been careful to not rush their prized center's return from April back surgery, so the news he'll play in a couple of preseason games is all the more impressive. He's been practicing in one form or another for weeks, but it's been a gradual process.
That's typically the case with rehabilitation, but rarely are so many actually paying attention.
Alas, there's more to preseason life than the Lakers' endless bounty of good fortune. Even LeBron James is making some news. Remember him?
From updates on Kevin Love's broken hand to the latest in Anthony Davis' evolution into a legitimate scorer, NBA training camps have been anything but uneventful. The games may not count for anything yet, but there's no better crystal ball for the season ahead than the month of October.
Here's the latest from around the league.
Dwight Howard Returning for Preseason Games
We knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, but we probably expected a bit later.
It's a good thing Dwight Howard is making a habit of surpassing expectations.
Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reports that the wait is over:
Lakers eye Dwight Howard debut Sun vs Sac,sources tell Y! DW expected to play in 2 of last 3 pre games but not both back to backs.Story soon— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) October 19, 2012
Of course, the Lakers' good news will have 29 other teams bracing themselves.
Los Angeles has eased its starriest summer acquisition back into action, and the selective return to action (playing two of three remaining preseason contests) suggests the club is remaining somewhat cautious.
It wouldn't be at all surprising to see Howard's minutes closely watched, both through the remainder of the preseason and early into the regular season. But any notion that this guy would be plagued by setbacks is looking increasingly less likely.
LeBron Dismisses Lakers Talk...Sort of
Okay, so messaging and PR aren't exactly LeBron James' strong suits.
He did his best though.
"I'm here, and this is what it's all about," he told ESPN's Michael Wallace. "I'm preparing for this season, preparing to defend our title and that's it. This is where ... I'm here now."
Yep, James is still there, still playing for the Heat—in case anyone wasn't sure. Should we make anything of the fact that his comments regarding the long haul were less assuring (or existent) than promises he made to Cleveland Cavaliers fans?
Either James is done with the promise-making business, or he isn't quite ready to—in those famous words—"put a ring on it." He's "here now," more interested in rings of a different sort, and one has to wonder if he's interested enough in those rings to make a run at them with Dwight Howard.
If he thought he was a hated man after taking that ego to South Beach...well, let's just say a pairing with D12 would be groundbreaking in more ways than one.
James was of course responding to a report from ESPN's Brian Windhorst which claims, "Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014."
The report didn't speak to James' interest, but the fact he isn't tattooing "Heat 4 Life" all over himself may be telling. The last thing Miami fans wanted to hear from LeBron was a reminder that he's "here now."
Absent a stronger commitment, the question will remain, "But for how long?"
Some Good News for Kevin Love
Maybe "good news" is too strong.
Let's call it "better news."
Despite initial predictions that Kevin Love would miss six to eight weeks with a broken hand, the revised prognosis is a bit less daunting, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
After meeting with a specialist in New York on Thursday to examine his broken hand, Kevin Love could be cleared within a five-to-six-week window to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a league source told Yahoo! Sports.
It's not uncommon for a game or two to decide that Western Conference playoff race for the eighth seed, so every week counts in this case.
The Associated Press also reports that Love won't need surgery, which is almost an afterthought to the bottom line of how much time he'll miss.
Love will still have his hands full when he returns—and even after Ricky Rubio returns. There's a reason the 24-year-old began creeping into the MVP conversation last season: Few players contribute quite so much to their club's wins. The power forward ranked fourth league-wide in scoring and second in rebounds, reflecting an evolution into one of the NBA's premier inside-outside threats.
Anthony Davis Is No One-Trick Pony
Well, so much for all those Marcus Camby comparisons.
Anthony Davis will undoubtedly establish his legacy with otherworldly defensive contributions, but he's already proving he's far more than the next elite shot-blocker—and he's not doing it with dunks alone.
The 19-year-old made eight of his 11 field-goal attempts for 19 points against the Hawks, notching his third straight contest reaching double digits, including a 22-point performance against the Charlotte Bobcats.
More impressively, though, he showed some versatility in the process, according to Nola.com's John Reid:
Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the June NBA draft, showed range against the Hawks. He made jump shots from 22 and 20 feet during the opening two minutes of the game. On the Hornets' opening possession of the game, Davis made a jumper from seven feet after catching a pass from point guard Greivis Vasquez.
It's worth remembering that it's still the preseason and that Davis hasn't had a lot of help from his fellow New Orleans Hornets in the scoring department. Go-to guy Eric Gordon is still out of action with a sore knee, and the rest of the club isn't exactly the second coming of the Denver Nuggets.
All the same, it's not Davis' production that's so noteworthy.
It's how he's getting his points. The rap on Davis when he was drafted was that he'd make the most of his stunning athleticism, but still needed significant work when it came to the more skilled aspect of his offensive game.
That almost certainly remains true to some extent—especially in terms of his post game—but Davis has quickly established his jump shot in ways similarly explosive big men like Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin failed to do in their rookie campaigns.
Jeff Teague Sprains His Ankle
There are times when it's nice to have three starting-caliber guys capable of running the point.
Now is one of those times for the Atlanta Hawks.
The summer acquisitions of Devin Harris and Lou Williams provided more than insurance alone, but they'll make it easier for head coach Larry Drew to rest starter Jeff Teague (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore):
#Hawks' Jeff Teague left Thursday's game vs. Hornets with left ankle sprain. Will not return.— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) October 19, 2012
If this is a minor sprain, it might not translate into much additional playing time for Harris and Williams come the regular season, but the extra preseason playing time certainly won't hurt their acclimation to the Hawks system.
It's worth noting that Teague sprained that same left ankle back in January against the Detroit Pistons, but he never missed a game because of it. In fact, he went 9-for-11 from the field and scored 24 points in his very next game.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Teague get some nights off regardless of the severity, though. There's no reason to rush him back.
Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass Hurting in Preseason Win over Nets
Though neither injury appears to be especially serious just yet, it's fair to say neither came at an especially good time either.
Paul Pierce hurt his ankle in Thursday's preseason win against the Brooklyn Nets, and Brandon Bass reaggravated the same right knee that gave him trouble late last season.
CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely reports that head coach Doc Rivers was unsure of either injury's severity, but also noted that Pierce, "still had a noticeable limp as he left the C's locker room following the win."
The Celtics initially sent their 35-year-old star to the locker room, but he returned to the game for part of the third quarter and scored another seven points. With the regular season not even two weeks away, this isn't when you want to see key rotation players coming up with bumps and bruises, but the upshot is that they appear to be nothing more.
Bass didn't return to the game, and he'll almost certainly be handled with kid gloves given that knee's history. Provided Jared Sullinger's emergence and Jeff Green's ability to play some minutes at the 4, Rivers has enough options to give the power forward some time off in the coming days or weeks.
Dion Waiters To Start for Cavs?
In news that's sure to provoke a "Yeah, no kidding," The News-Herald's Bob Finnan reports that rookie Dion Waiters is likely to start at shooting guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Judging from the last two games, Scott will start rookie Dion Waiters at shooting guard — ready or not. Waiters has been ordinary in the preseason. Much improvement is needed from the ex-Syracuse guard.
He's averaging 8.0 points and 2.2 assists and is shooting 36 percent from the field. There are some things to like about Waiters. His outside shooting isn't one of them.
Ordinary or not, the Cavaliers don't have many options in that backcourt, not without taking a look at the undersized Daniel Gibson—a far better fit for that sixth-man role.
This is just one of those things with which Cavaliers fans must come to terms. Theirs is still very much a rebuilding team. Kyrie Irving may be the best young point guard in the league; Tristan Thompson may be improving overnight; Anderson Varejao may be healthy.
But where are all the points going to come from?
At the moment, probably not from Waiters. Nevertheless, he'll have plenty of opportunities to develop his game while learning on the job, and perhaps the club will be better for it in the long term.
MarShon Brooks' Role Uncertain
After recovering from foot tendinitis, Brooklyn Nets guard MarShon Brooks saw his first preseason action on Thursday against the Boston Celtics.
That's the good news.
The potentially bad news is that head coach Avery Johnson still isn't sure how he's going to utilize Brooks this season, saying, "We’re not sure yet," when asked if the 23-year-old would become the team's sixth man (according to the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy).
After starting 47 games last season, the shooting guard lost his job to Joe Johnson, who was acquired this summer in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. Brooks averaged 12.6 points in 2011-12, ranking among the bigger rookie surprises after being selected with the 25th draft pick (originally to the Boston Celtics).
The Nets don't have a lot of scorers coming off the bench, but Johnson may be more interested in getting his second-unit defenders (like C.J. Watson) in the game first on account of his starting unit's limitations on that end of the floor.
It remains to be seen to what extent Brooks will be buried in this rotation, but this certainly isn't the way he'd hoped to kick off his sophomore campaign.
Matt Bonner To Rethink Pregame Handshakes
The San Antonio Spurs may have come up short in last season's title bid, but they're proving to have the wryest senses of humor in a league that isn't exactly replete with standup comedians.
We've come to expect it from head coach Gregg Popovich and, at times, the legendary Tim Duncan. They may not crack many smiles, but they're more than happy to have a little fun with the media (and one another).
Add the Red Rocket to that mix.
You might expect that Matt Bonner spends every waking moment of training camp shooting three-pointers, but it could be his pregame ritual that's required the most work as of late (via the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald):
“I had some 89-second handshakes worked out with my teammates,” forward Matt Bonner said. “I had to cut those out.”
Considering that Miami forward LeBron James’ elaborate chalk-tossing routine has become the stuff of shoe commercials, Bonner was asked if the new edict could rightly be called “The LeBron Rule.”
“No comment,” Bonner said. “I’m not going to say anything to get LeBron mad at me.”
Bonner was reacting to the league's new rule allotting players just 90 seconds to prepare for tipoff after the pregame introductions, a rule that probably won't impact the ever-mundane Spurs all that much.
Except for Bonner, of course.