From Comcast SportsNetDwight Howard's season is over. His chances to help Team USA win another Olympic gold are likely done, too.Orlando's All-Star center told ESPN.com he will have season-ending back surgery, and Magic general manager Otis Smith confirmed the plan to the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday night."It's in his best interests to have surgery sooner rather than later," Smith told the newspaper.Friday's operation in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disk also will keep him from playing in the Olympics in London, Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, told ESPN.com."I tried to play through it and it just made my back worse," Howard told ESPN.comHoward has been dealing with back problems since early March, but it wasn't until last week that a doctor discovered the herniated disk."He said I can start rehab right away and be back to full contact in four months," Howard told ESPN.com. "So I'm not really concerned. If anything, I'll come back stronger."Howard has missed the last six games because of the injury. Orlando holds the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and coach Stan Van Gundy said last week that he was preparing to play the rest of the season without Howard.Now it looks as if Team USA will have to plan to play without Howard as well.USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Thursday night he hadn't been told of Howard's plans and it was too early to speculate on the Olympic team.The final roster of 12 players and six alternates is due June 18 and the U.S. may have to consider increasing its pool of possible candidates with Howard out and fellow big man LaMarcus Aldridge iffy following right hip surgery."I understand exactly who's involved," Colangelo said. "The only thing I don't know is the extent of Dwight Howard's situation, and I really want to find out more about that. But we may have to consider, you know, invitations to a couple (other) players. That's a possibility. We'll talk about it."The Miami Heat may see Orlando in the playoffs. When the news of Howard's surgery hit their locker room Thursday night, Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- both likely Olympic-teamers -- wished Howard well and said it was disappointing not to have him in the mix for the London Games."He's a big part of our team for the Olympics and I hate to lose him because of an injury," James said. "I wish him the best."The surgery is the latest development in the Magic's soap-opera season that has grabbed more attention than the team's record.Howard was the subject of season-long trade rumors until declaring in February his intention to remain in Orlando for one more year. The controversy continued earlier this month when Van Gundy said Howard asked team management to fire him. Howard has since denied that. Another report from an Orlando television station this week said Howard called Magic owner Rich DeVos to say he was refusing to play for Van Gundy again.Before this season, Howard had only missed two games in his career because of injury.Howard is averaging 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds.The Magic also have been playing without Hedo Turkoglu (facial fracture) since April 5. He's averaging 10.7 points and is shooting 34.9 percent on 3-pointers.With Howard and Turkoglu sidelined, Van Gundy has started Glen Davis at center with Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson at forward. J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson start in the backcourt.
Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.
However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one. As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?
In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.
There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator.
Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.
Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.
Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?
It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it. Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.
Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.
Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation.
Email Felger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN New England.
FOXBORO -- It's not easy to pull off trades in the NFL around the deadline. Just look at how many are completed in the final days leading up to the deadline every year. Yet the Patriots have worked two already, and they have until Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. to execute another.
One of the trades they pushed through earlier this week saw them send a sixth-round pick to the Lions in exchange for a seventh-rounder and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. What helped that deal cross the finish line was the relationship between the front offices in Detroit and New England.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn spent the majority of his professional career working for the Patriots under Bill Belichick, serving most recently as Belichick's director of pro scouting until being named to his current position in Detroit.
Belichick acknowledged on Wednesday that there are times when having a long-standing relationship with someone can help a trade get done.
"I mean it could, yeah," Belichick said. "I mean, you know, there are a lot of teams that don’t . . . they seem kind of reluctant to trade -- this time of year, especially. But it’s one of those things that came up fairly quickly and just worked out. It wasn’t something we had talked about or anything like that previously. As I said, it kind of came up so we were able to work it out.
"Look, Bob's great to work with. But we made another trade with another team in our conference so if it’s there to be made, it’s there to be made. If it’s not, it’s not."
That other trade saw the Patriots send tight end AJ Derby to AFC rival Denver in exchange for a fifth-round pick.
Belichick doesn't seem to care much about who he's trading with -- "We’re trying to make our team better," he said, "that’s what we’re trying to do" -- but because of the league's reluctance to deal, it seems that if the Patriots are looking for help at tight end, along their offensive line, or at pass-rusher, they may be more likely to find it by calling old friends in Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Houston or Atlanta, where former Belichick proteges are now employed.