Howard hasn't quit on Magic - NBC Sports

Howard hasn't quit on Magic
Grueling schedule and Nelson's point guard issues have led to their recent slump
AP
To a degree, Dwight Howard is the best thing the Magic have going for them.
February 1, 2012, 2:02 pm

Q. Has Dwight Howard quit on the Magic? Is he sending a message that he wants out now? They're terrible. I can't even watch anymore.
- Sandra, The Villages, Fla.

A. I wouldn't put Dwight anywhere near the top of the list when it comes to the Magic's woes. (And, please, a little perspective, too. They still have a winning record.)

To a degree, Dwight is the best thing they have going for them.

I would put the schedule up there, however. Perhaps it's exaggerated because of the notice that their low scoring totals have received, but it sure seems like Magic are playing just about every night. The schedule appears to be taking a toll.

Then there is the situation at point guard. I've never been a Jameer Nelson fan, and remember that their run to the 2009 Finals came with Rafer Alston at point, with Nelson returning for that series and Orlando then somewhat bogging down.

But it's not even so much Jameer and his recent absence, but rather the lack of quality ballhandling depth. Opponents are harassing the Magic out of any semblance of offense, often before the ball can even make its way into the post.

All of that said, Dwight, with his trade demand, made the situation toxic from the outset.

And that gets back to the debate of whether he should have taken the LeBron approach and simply played out his contract and moved on, or whether doing it the Carmelo way at least afforded the only team he has played for the opportunity to get something in return prior to free agency.

What I do know is Ryan Anderson is having a Most Improved Player-type season, Stan Van Gundy remains one of the league's best coaches, and Otis Smith has done everything and anything he could in a bid to placate Dwight in recent seasons.

But when it comes to Dwight, he has not quit on the Magic or on this season. The recent collapse seemingly comes from elements beyond even his control.

Q: What moron would have the Celtics keep Paul Pierce and then suggest they still could rebuild?
- Anthony, Newton, Mass.

A. First, thanks for reading.

Second, a moron who doesn't believe Danny Ainge necessarily has to blow it up, and one who sees Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett as expiring, aging commodities who are older than Pierce.

Yes, Pierce has probably outlasted his salary scale, but he's still a quality finisher and should be able to offer that for at least two more seasons, matching the time he has left on his contract.

Sorry, but Rajon Rondo and Pierce plus any potential young players or draft picks that could be acquired for Allen and Garnett should keep the Celtics competitive in the East.

Look, without a lottery breakthrough, that's going to be as good as it gets in Boston.

The point I tried to make in my piece was I don't know if there is any chip the Celtics can add through cap space who could offer what Pierce still could over the next season or two. He's still someone you consider when filling out your All-NBA ballots at season's end.

Q. Why is Mike D'Antoni still coaching the Knicks?
- Steve, Bay Shore, N.Y.

A. Because Isiah Thomas has not yet been able to get out of his coaching contract at Florida International University?

OK, I kid. And Mike still is in place. And I'm not sure anyone could do much more with what Mike has in place.

You at least have to give Mike the benefit of the doubt until Baron Davis is in the lineup. If the system doesn't work with a true point guard, then the Knicks might have to punt Mike aside, merely to have a fall guy.

But the greater truth is whether you can play team ball with a pair of ball-stoppers in the lineup, in Carmelo and Amare. One? Perhaps. But two?

That's where Baron comes in, and whether he create some sort of great compromise.

But even while Baron would make the bench somewhat better, with Shumpert going back to the second team, it still would leave New York with precious little in reserve.

The Knicks' problem is not a coaching problem, it is a personnel issue.

Q. Is the East better than the West?
- Art, St. Louis.

A. I know this is where I'm supposed to say it's cyclical, but I'm not sure the standings, at this early juncture, necessarily paint a true portrait of the league's power base.

On one hand, you glance at the standings at the start of the week and five teams have six or fewer losses in the East, compared to three in the West.

But is anyone truly sold on the 76ers or Hawks or Pacers? Do any of them win a playoff series (well, I guess one or two would have to, but you get the general point).

It seems, to a degree, that the older teams in the West are somewhat pacing themselves. That clearly is the case with the Mavericks and seems to be the case with the Spurs, as well. The Lakers are another team still finding their way, but one with enough playoff-tested components.

Put it this way, if the opening round of the playoffs were contested between conferences, I'd say it is more likely that the Thunder, Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers and Clippers would advance than the Pacers, 76ers or possibly even Hawks (depending on Al Horford's health) or Magic.

For now, the Thunder stand alone in the West among the league's elite. But the top of those power rankings likely will have more of a West flavor by the end of the regular season.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http.//twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



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