Surprise! Howard opts to stay in Orlando

704324.jpg

Surprise! Howard opts to stay in Orlando

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Magic center Dwight Howard has finally put an end to the back-and-forth NBA roller-coaster ride that he had taken Orlando on for the past four months. At least temporarily. Howard's 11th-hour decision before Thursday's trade deadline to waive the early termination option in his contract means he has a deal with the only franchise he's known at least through next season. "I'm glad this is finally over," Howard said at a news conference to announce the new pact. "...It's not as easy as some people think. It's been very hard. We're talking a career-changing event. Most people don't see that. "I'm very loyal and I've always put loyalty above anything." But loyalty only goes so far, the Magic wanted it in writing. Had Howard not signed the papers, he would have been gone. "It was real," Orlando general manager Otis Smith said of the possibility of dealing Howard before he signed the waiver. "We weren't rolling the dice." But unless the Howard and the Magic can reach a long-term deal before next season begins, they're start right where they left off before Thursday. And it hasn't been pretty. The Magic organization trudged through repeated closed door waffling on Howard's part about a desire to play with multiple teams and players, the city hosted an awkward All-Star weekend and pacifying a patient fan base. Teammates have been frustrated and the situation has had an already intense Stan Van Gundy ready to blow a gasket having to answer -- or refusing to answer -- daily questions about Howard's status. Even Howard's mother chimed in at one point during the drama, saying that she thought her son should remain in Orlando. The saga continued until just hours before the trade deadline. It was originally thought by both the Magic and league office that both Howard and agent Dan Fegan had to sign the forms. But turns out only Howard's signature was needed, opening the door for one more possible change of heart. Though he had previously alluded to "getting bad advice" from people around him, Howard refused to touch the subject Thursday. "It doesn't matter at this point," he said. Howard said he didn't think he'd had a full night's sleep since making his original trade demand. He offered an apology to Magic fans for the back-and-forth ordeal, but not for taking his due diligence to make it. "There's no decision about your life that you're gonna make in one day or one hour," he said. But the four months it took Howard to make a decision impacted a lot of other people. Howard first requested a trade during the preseason and at the time he expressed frustration with Magic management and what he felt was an unwillingness to include him in personnel decisions or to improve the roster around him. He went as far as to praise the relationship he felt All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has with Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban. He maintained that stance until changing his mind this week and expressing a desire to remain in Orlando this season, though he initially refused to waive his opt-out provision. Howard said he made his decision to waive the early termination clause in the hours after the Magic's loss to San Antonio Wednesday night and then notified the team via phone calls and text messages while on the team plane. His teammates were apparently unaware of the final change of heart, with Magic guard Chris Duhon posting on his Twitter account "Off to Orlando and the waiting game begins" shortly after the Spurs' game. But now Howard wants to put all that behind them. Howard says he's "all in" now and ready to give the organization a full season to improve the roster going forward. The Magic are 28-16 this season and seven games behind first-place Chicago. And despite everything Howard is averaging 21.2 points and a career-best 15.2 rebounds. "Now we can get back to playing basketball and having some peace and trying to win a championship," said Howard. "I feel like we have a chance to win want and I didn't feel like either one of us (he or the organization) should give that up." Howard said repeatedly Thursday he was both relieved and expressed a desire to make this a championship year for Orlando to make up for the off-court storms. But with no long-term commitment how long the calm will last is certainly still an open proposition. Unless Smith and Magic CEO Alex Martins can add pieces around Howard between now and the summer of 2013, this entire ordeal is set to play out one more time. Then there won't be an extra year to lean on. The Magic didn't make player moves Thursday, but Smith said improving the roster and resigning Howard go hand-in-hand. The Magic also would appear to have the advantage in signing Howard long-term because of provisions in the league's new collective bargaining agreement give the Magic the ability to offer Howard 30 million more than any other team if he becomes a free agent. Orlando can offer him a five-year contract extension with 7.5 percent annual raises, while other teams are capped at offering a four-year pact with only 4.5 percent raises. Martins, who has only been the Magic CEO since the preseason, said that part of the process was building a new relationship with Howard that he didn't have before. Martins said his focus will be on making Orlando what Howard needs it to be in hopes of getting the center to sign a long-term deal. But they can't come to an agreement, Howard could still be leaving Orlando -- just at a later date. Martins said having experienced O'Neal walk away in 1996, like his GM, was going to put the Magic first no matter what. "History plays a role in everything...and we were not going to suffer the same thing we did in the mid-90s," he said. "But if Dwight made a different decision, we were prepared. "Loyalty is hard to find ... he's gotta be commended for the loyalty he's showing here." Howard said his isn't concerned with the end of the next season. "When the time comes we'll deal with it then," Howard said. "I have to put my trust in Alex and Otis...I want to win a championship and that's the only thing that matters."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.