Surprise! Howard opts to stay in Orlando

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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."

Veljko Paunovic talks Fire's identity, home vs. away record and positive signs

Veljko Paunovic talks Fire's identity, home vs. away record and positive signs

Veljko Paunovic has talked about the Chicago Fire forming an identity throughout his first season as the club’s coach.

Now that he is nearly five months into the season, he says the team is starting to form that identity.

“We are committed to our style now, which is being tough,” Paunovic said on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. “Our identity is being a tough team at home, a team that fights until the end of the game, to win the game and we have that positive result for us. We fight to defend it.”

Despite being in last place in Major League Soccer, Paunovic says he has seen enough positive things from the club, at least in terms of improvement compared to the start of the season. The Fire are unbeaten in eight straight games at Toyota Park and have won three straight league games there.

[SHOP: Get your own Fire home jersey right here]

Now the road record, that’s another story. Even if you forgive the part of the current league-record 35-match road winless streak that Paunovic didn’t oversee, the Fire have been bad on the road this season, and have gotten worse. Since two promising draws at Orlando and New York City FC in the beginning of the season, the Fire have lost eight in a row away from home.

Paunovic hasn’t been shy about addressing that record, but that doesn’t fit as well with this identity he says the team is forming. The Serbian coach remains an optimist though.

“I think we improved overall, especially with the addition of Michael de Leeuw we improved in our performance in attack,” he said. “Then also it was very important for me to see in the last game in New England we were very, very close to winning. I’m not saying to tie the game, we were very close to winning. If we scored the opportunities that we had, if we scored one goal I think we would win that game. Again it was a learning experience for us. We finally had that feeling that we can win on the road and we’re just going to help build and improve on that.”

In a few other Fire news tidbits from the conference call and training on Wednesday, Paunovic said Razvan Cocis and Joey Calistri are nearing returns from injury, but are still not at 100 percent. Calistri, who had to pull out of Wednesday’s MLS Homegrown Game as part of the All-Star Game festivities, was in training on Wednesday and sounds like the closer of the two to returning.

Paunovic remained tight-lipped when asked about potential additions before the transfer window closes Aug. 3. The Fire have 19-year-old South Korean forward Jung-Hyun Seo, who was at Wednesday’s training session, with the team on a trial.

Tom Thibodeau on Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah leaving Bulls: 'It doesn't last forever'

Tom Thibodeau on Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah leaving Bulls: 'It doesn't last forever'

The winds of change are becoming as constant in the NBA as it is in the NFL, as players and coaches are seemingly more associated with their own brands than they are their employers.

Former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is living proof of that and wasn’t surprised the winds caught his former bookends Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, as both will start next season as members of the New York Knicks.

Rose was traded before the draft in a multi-player deal while Noah signed a $72 million deal in free agency to go back to his native city.

“It’s sort of the nature of the league. It doesn’t last forever,” said Thibodeau, as the USA Men’s National Basketball team prepares for the Olympics with an exhibition contest against Venezuela Friday night at the United Center. “That was a special group of guys. From where they started, and unfortunately the injuries derailed it some but it was a very prideful group, a proud group.”

Rose and Noah’s best years were with Thibodeau on the sidelines, with Rose winning Most Valuable Player in 2011 and Noah finishing fourth in voting in 2014 before injuries caught them both.

“They never gave up, never succumbed to the circumstances,” Thibodeau said. “They found different ways to win, different guys stepped up. That’s the way the league works. Over time, people leave with free agency, change teams. I’m happy for those guys that they’re gonna get another opportunity. They’ve earned it.”

[MORE: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder]

Thibodeau’s five-year run in Chicago certainly ended controversially and definitely left many wondering “what if”, but it he knew it wouldn’t be long before taking another position like the one he accepted to become coach and president of the Minnesota Timberwolves this spring.

As usual, he was gracious about the time he spent in Chicago, and the city itself.

“A lot of great memories. Five years coaching and I stayed last year,” Thibodeau said. “I love the city, the fans were great to me the whole time. You look back, you think of all the great memories you have. Great history, great tradition and we had great guys. It was very enjoyable to coach that team.”

Surprisingly, the workaholic coach said the time off was good for him, as it likely gave him a chance for reflection and an opportunity to rejuvenate himself physically and mentally from the unforgiving NBA grind.

“When you take a step back, and you don’t have the next team to worry about, you take a broader view of things,” Thibodeau said. “You get a lot of new ideas, it’s a chance to recharge. You learn a lot. Sometimes taking a step back is a good thing.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]

The next time Thibodeau walks across the United Center floor after Friday night, he’ll be in gametime mode as head coach of the Timberwolves, doing everything he can to get a win.

The smiles will dissipate and the general ease in which he interacts with the media and other personnel will disappear. But for right now, he’s an assistant to USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski for another Olympic run, hoping to help keep the United States on top of the global basketball world.

“This has been an incredible experience for me, to be around the great players and the hall of fame basketball people you’re around,” Thibodeau said

Bulls sign guard Spencer Dinwiddie

Bulls sign guard Spencer Dinwiddie

The Bulls announced Thursday that the team has signed guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie was acquired by the Bulls in mid-June, but he was then waived by the team at the start of July. Now, with an open roster spot, the Bulls will bring Dinwiddie back to serve as depth in the backcourt. 

He was a member of the 2016 Chicago Bulls NBA Summer League squad, and he averaged 10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 24.6 minutes through seven games during the team’s successful tournament run in Las Vegas.

Dinwiddie spent the first two seasons of his career with the Detroit Pistons, where he posted 4.4 points, 2.7 assists and 1.4 rebounds in 13.3 minutes per game. A product of the University of Colorado, the 23-year-old was selected by the Pistons in the second round (38th overall) of the 2014 NBA Draft.