6:00 PM EST, November 23, 2012
Here's a sentence that was never, ever written in the last eight years:
The Magic's starting center is on pace to average more than 70 percent at the free-throw line.
So, if you've been desperately searching for the most microscopic upside of the Dwight Howard trade, there you go. There's your aha! moment.
Nik Vucevic headed into Friday night's game against the Cleveland Cavs shooting a robust 70.6 percent. I think they ought to retire his number.
Of course, the still-evolving Vucevic, 21, takes far fewer shots and thereby visits the stripe only a little more often than Stuff the mascot.
He had just 17 attempts, or a paltry 1.5-per-game average, but he had made 12 free throws. Seventeen trips was just another night for Howard.
Vucevic has made strides after resembling Howard last season, when he shot a frosty 52.9 percent. Oddly, the only thing the two had in common was that both began the season as 58.8-percent career free-throw shooters.
Now it's the Lakers who are trying to make sense of Howard's misses.
And you have to laugh, because fans and media in L.A. are taken aback that he's this bad with no one guarding him. It's like he suddenly beamed down as some alien life form, dropping in from a distant planet to shockingly and mysteriously clank, brick and even whiff free-throw attempts.
It's like when a Christmas fruitcake arrives, and you're surprised it's harder than petrified wood. What did the Lakers think they were getting — John Stockton?
Watching Howard deliver two air balls from the line should have been met with a shrug or typical L.A. indifference.
You'd think in the age of the Internet and pocket communications that they might have picked up signals from a place called Orlando, where Howard spent eight seasons launching Scud missiles and wounding his pride.
Then again, I get it: If you don't live in EL-A, you really don't exist.
What's funny is that you aren't really aware of a guy's wonder and warts until he becomes your player.
And after 12 games, which includes a 7-for-19 effort against Brooklyn, Dwight was averaging 49 percent.
Laker Nation is cringing, some booing.
Writers are (over-)analyzing his troubles.
Teams such as the Nets are intentionally fouling him and sending him to the line, employing the Hack-A-Howard.
There's talk from Shot Doctors.
A Lakers assistant is working on Dwight's mechanics (the coach is Chuck Person, who was called "The Rifleman" when he played. "He was basically shooting sideways," Person said.)
The Lakers say Dwight hits 80 percent of his free throws in practice.
And finally, Howard says he hasn't lost faith. He'll make 'em. Blah-blah.
In other words, it's status woe.
It's Orlando all over again.
With Howard not yet re-signed, the Lakers are treading lightly. Coach Mike D'Antoni even says he'll take one point per possession if teams play Hack-A-Howard, adding, "That's pretty good basketball, especially down the stretch. So that's fine. If they want to do that, that's great. I got no problem with it."
The Lakers already have seen this picture, having stolen the next Shaq from the Magic after stealing the original.
"The free throws will come," Howard said. "They'll get there. Just gotta keep playing."
Relax, Lakerland. Shaq couldn't make free throws, either. But the Lakers somehow won three championships despite all his misses.
Have you see Dwight wearing a headband?
He looks different and some people, such as Henry Erickson, find it downright disturbing.
Erickson started a petition on Change.org. to have Howard remove his headband.
It reads, "To Dwight Howard. Take off the headband. Sincerely [your name.]"
"It looks ridiculous," Erickson writes, in launching the petition that, as of Friday afternoon, had 500 signatures.
Change.org calls itself "the world's petition platform" and deals with far more important matters than headbands, such as, oh, health care and cancer treatments.
Gilbert to China
Former Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas has landed in China to restart his career and hasn't ruled out a stateside comeback.
Arenas, 30, signed with the Shanghai Sharks, a Chinese Basketball Association team owned by Chinese legend Yao Ming. The one-year deal is reportedly for $700,000.
The Magic are still paying Arenas — whom they amnestied in 2011 — $42 million this season and next.
Sometimes it's hard to separate fact from fiction with Gilbert, but he said the Lakers contacted him after Steve Nash fractured his leg. "When I played for the Wizards, Eddie Jordan was my coach," hupu.com, a Chinese website, quoted Arenas as saying. "He's a Lakers' assistant coach right now. We talk to each other a lot. He told me the Lakers were interested in me. I told him I'd like to try in China. Maybe after I play well in CBA, I'll consider [the NBA.]"
Should be interesting to see how Arenas responds to living in a different country and playing in a foreign league. He has not been able to play his game of freelance basketball the past few seasons, either, because of injuries or teams wanting him to, you know, play the right way.
This 'n' That
Speaking of China, angry fans hurled water bottles and objects on the court after former Magic G Tracy McGrady of the Qingdao Eagles pulled himself after 98 seconds of a preseason game. Temperatures inside the arena apparently were around 40 degrees. T-Mac said he didn't feel well. ... I caught up with Stan Van Gundy at an Eagles tribute band concert by the group "The Long Run" last Saturday night in Sanford. When the MC announced his name, Van Gundy received a standing ovation. ... Even J.J. Redick had a good laugh at his expense, explaining why he's left the spiked hair look behind. "I'm growing up," he said.