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2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft

The Basketball Insiders team takes turns drafting for various markets in a group mock draft.

Joel Brigham

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Every summer, the Basketball Insiders team calls dibs on their home markets and goes through the draft one pick at a time to get a sense of how the first round of the draft may actually play out. This mock is different in that it represents many ideas and many voices instead of just the thoughts of a lone individual trying to think for all 30 teams. The actual draft is this Thursday, but this should help hold readers over until then. Enjoy!

1. With the 1st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz, a point guard from the University of Washington.

“The Sixers address their biggest area of need with the best player available. Adding Fultz gives them a legitimate scoring guard who can play off the ball, pairing perfectly with 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons.” – Dennis Chambers

2. With the 2nd pick in the pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the L.A. Lakers select Lonzo Ball, a point guard from UCLA.

“Lonzo potentially represents what the Lakers have been desperate for: a star that fans get excited for, makes the team better and returns the Lakers to past glory. Magic 2.0? Great vision, good feel for the game and outstanding passing help Lonzo stand out. Substantive criticisms of his game include an unorthodox jump shot, average defense and, so far at least, an unwillingness or inability to get to the rim, but for now he’s the Lakers’ best bet at pick number two.” – James Blancarte

3. With the 3rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Boston Celtics select Josh Jackson, a forward from the University of Kansas.

“The Celtics made the trade to get the guy that most embodies the Celtics’ DNA. He’s tough. He is gritty. He is a good team guy and he has exactly the kinds of tools the Celtics gravitate toward. In time, he could be one of the brightest of the bunch, but from day one he fits a team that almost won the East.” – Steve Kyler

4. With the 4th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Phoenix Suns select De’Aaron Fox, a point guard from the University of Kentucky.

“The Phoenix Suns have had multiple starting-caliber point guards in recent seasons but are still in search of their point guard of the future. De’Aaron Fox has a nice combination of length, skill, athleticism and upside. He may not have all of the tools that Markelle Fultz has or the hype of Lonzo Ball, but he is a talented prospect who could develop into the Suns’ franchise point guard. However, he needs to work on his jumper and grow into his frame sooner rather than later if he is to have any real impact in his first few seasons in the league.” – Jesse Blancarte

5. With the 5th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Malik Monk, a guard from the University of Kentucky.

“Once upon a time, Eric Bledsoe lived in the shadow of John Wall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Bledsoe went 18th to OKC, and joined Avery Bradley as the only players picked in the second half of 2010’s first round that remain significant rotation players. Like Bledsoe, Malik Monk had to sacrifice to play a role complementary to a more highly-touted guard prospect. Like Bledsoe, the NBA will give Monk the platform to emerge from that shadow.” – Buddy Grizzard

6. With the 6th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Dennis Smith, a guard from North Carolina State University.

“New Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said recently that the team will be looking to draft the best available player on Thursday night, rather than draft based on need. If Smith is available, he could check both boxes for the Magic. Smith could be the best player available for the Magic when they make their first of four selections on draft night and he figures to be able to immediately come in and give the team a boost at the point guard position. The team has sorely lacked an offensive-minded point guard and Smith could be that guy for the Magic.” – Cody Taylor

7. With the 7th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select Frank Ntilikina, a point guard from Strasbourg, France.

“I’ve got the first reach! Because they really already have loads of talent, the Minnesota Timberwolves in my opinion will trade this pick if they can. But if they keep the pick, there’s no immediate need for polished talent with an up-and-coming roster like theirs. With Ricky Rubio’s difficultly fitting into Tom Thibedoau’s system and Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones still learning the ropes, the organization takes a stab at correcting the point guard position with Frank Ntkilina.” – Spencer Davies

8. With the 8th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the New York Knicks select Jayson Tatum, a forward from Duke University.

“I certainly did not expect Jayson Tatum to be on the board at No. 8. As a result, this was an extremely easy choice. The worst-kept secret in New York is that Phil Jackson and the Knicks desperately want to trade Carmelo Anthony. In Tatum, they get a player that many pundits agree is the closest facsimile to Melo in the 2017 draft. Tatum, like Melo, is 6-foot-8 and is known for his polished offensive game. Like Anthony, he excels in isolation due to his array of moves and rare combination of size, strength and skill. His defense needs work, but he has the physical attributes to be a plus-defender. New York can search for its point guard of the future in free agency or in subsequent drafts because with Tatum in tow, the Knicks now have two solid foundation pieces they can build around. Today, Phil and company celebrate Tatum landing in their lap. Tomorrow they go point guard hunting.” – Tommy Beer

9. With the 9th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select Lauri Markkanen, a forward from the University of Arizona.

“Markkanen is a great shooter. He’s long and at 7-feet tall he can get up and shoot over almost anyone. He’ll make for a nice frontcourt addition with Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel (if they re-sign him). Once Dirk retires, Markkanen could step into his role of the shooting/scoring PF/C almost immediately, with high upside on the defensive end as well. And, obviously, he’ll be or has already been compared to Dirk, so why not have him learn from Dirk?” – Shane Rhodes

10. With the 10th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Jonathan Isaac, a forward from Florida State University.

“Due to health concerns, Skal Labissiere fell all the way to 28th and became the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft. The Kings weren’t expecting to be so lucky as to have Jonathan Isaac fall to 10th this year. Isaac is built for the modern NBA, and his perimeter skills make him the perfect third big to add to Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein.” – Buddy Grizzard

11. With the 11th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Luke Kennard, a guard out of Duke University.

“As the lottery selections wind down Charlotte adds arguably the best shooter in the draft to pair in the back court with All-Star caliber point guard Kemba Walker. This duo projects as a high scoring pairing for years to come.” – Dennis Chambers

12. With the 12th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Detroit Pistons select John Collins, a forward out of Wake Forest.

“Detroit, not sold on Reggie Jackson, but with the elite point guards of the draft off the board, selects John Collins. Head coach Stan Van Gundy loves high motor physical frontcourt players, and Collins has the tools to etch out a nightly role as a rookie in a Pistons rotation needing more depth.” – Lang Greene

13. With the 13th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Denver Nuggets select Donovan Mitchell, a guard from the University of Louisville.

“The Nuggets have high-level prospects at every position, so there’s no significant area of need. Mitchell is the best player left on the board, with great upside on both sides of the ball.” – Ben Dowsett

14. With the 14th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Miami HEAT select Zach Collins, a center from Gonzaga University.

“Somehow, Collins dropped to No. 14 in our mock draft, so selecting him on behalf of the Miami HEAT is a no-brainer. The HEAT could be looking for a big man with their lone draft pick come Thursday, and Collins would be a great pick should he fall in their lap. He’s projected by most to be taken in the 10-12 range so there’s a chance he’ll be off the board by the time the HEAT select. Collins could give the HEAT insurance at the backup center position should they lose Willie Reed in free agency. Collins looks to be a good fit in the HEAT’s system with his ability to impact a game on the defensive end.” – Cody Taylor

15. With the 15th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Jarrett Allen, a center from the University of Texas.

“The Portland Trail Blazers have a nice mix of young, versatile talent. However, they also have limited cap flexibility, so bringing in prospects who fill an area of need is essential. Jarrett Allen may not be ready to be a rotation player on day one, but he gives the Trail Blazers a long, physically gifted athlete at center. Jusuf Nurkic anchors the middle for Portland, but Allen is a springy athlete who can run the floor and finish lobs. He isn’t a perfect fit, but his athletic abilities and upside make him a nice addition to Portland’s frontcourt.” – Jesse Blancarte

16. With the 16th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Chicago Bulls select OG Anunoby, a forward from the University of Indiana.

“While it stinks that Anunoby probably won’t play until 2018 because of his ACL rehab, he would have been a sure-fire lottery pick if he were healthy, and the Bulls do love a good value pick regardless of where they are drafting. Anunoby is a complete player on both ends and would have been one of the most physically and mentally prepared players in this draft. The Bulls just have to wait a bit to actually see how he fits.” – Joel Brigham

17. With the 17th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select T.J. Leaf, a forward from UCLA.

“The Bucks are kind of loaded at every position and may be creating something of a logjam at the forward positions, so I decided to add a stretch big to the group in UCLA forward T.J. Leaf. He can shoot and score, which always is a plus for a younger team like the Bucks.” – Moke Hamilton

18. With the 18th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Indiana Pacers select Ike Anigbogu, a center from UCLA.

“The Pacers need to go into full rebuild mode, and Anigbogu, with his other-worldly athleticism and sky-high defensive potential, could be a really fun fit alongside Myles Turner. Anigbogu is the youngest player in the draft, so there could be some waiting on him, but you’ve got to love the kid’s ceiling.” – Joel Brigham

19. With the 19th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Atlanta Hawks select Derrick White from the University of Colorado.

“Although it was tempting to grab Harry Giles here, the injury concerns were hard to ignore (i.e. Leon Powe). At 6-foot-5, Derrick White offers the versatility to play multiple positions and possesses the playmaking traits that new Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk looks to add, similar to the Golden State blueprint where he spent 12 seasons.” – Lang Greene

20. With the 20th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Terrence Ferguson, a guard from Adelaide in Australia.

“The young shooting guard is not ready to be a contributor at the NBA level, but with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner already on the roster, that’s not a huge issue. Ferguson has talent and potential on both sides of the ball. His biggest issue is his thin frame, but a season or two of training should help there. Should a player like Crabbe or Turner be moved in the near future, Ferguson will be there to step in and show what he can do.” – Jesse Blancarte

21. With the 21st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Semi Ojeleye, a forward from Southern Methodist University.

“In need of another playmaker alongside Russell Westbrook, as well as somebody that can shoot the basketball from deep, the Oklahoma City Thunder nab Semi Ojeyele from SMU. His size and versatility will do wonders as both an athletic small forward and in some cases, as a stretch four.” – Spencer Davies

22. With the 22nd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Harry Giles, a center from Duke University.

“For the Nets, there may be no lottery ticket better than Harry Giles. Despite his serious injury history, Giles firmly represents the type of prospect the Nets should take a swing on — particularly so without a first round pick in next year’s draft. With Brook Lopez set to enter unrestricted free agency in 2018 as well, selecting the risky Giles makes sense across the board.” – Ben Nadeau

23. With the 23rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Bam Adebayo, a center from the University of Kentucky.

“Bam Adebayo is one of those project players that can eventually yield a big payoff. An athletic defensive presence, he could end up being the type of big man Dwayne Casey covets if/when the Raptors move on from Jonas Valanciunas.” – David Yapkowitz

24. With the 24th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Justin Jackson, a forward from the University of North Carolina.

“While the Jazz don’t feel like Jackson is a legitimate possible replacement for a player as good as Gordon Hayward, he does offer another modest-upside prospect on the wing in case Hayward does go elsewhere over the summer.” – Ben Dowsett

25. With the 25th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Justin Patton.

“Selecting Patton at No. 25 definitely fits the bill as drafting the best player available. It remains to be seen if he’ll ultimately drop this low on draft night, but Patton has perhaps the highest upside of any player left in the draft. Measuring in at 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Patton has great athleticism for his size. He possesses great skills on the offensive end and proved to be an efficient scorer during his one season at Creighton. With other big men on the roster in Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo, Patton may not be needed to come in and make an immediate impact, which could allow him to develop at his own pace and learn from the two guys ahead of him” – Cody Taylor

26. With the 26th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select D.J. Wilson, a forward from the University of Michigan.

“Portland has a few versatile forwards who can stretch the floor but none has all of the physical tools and upside of Wilson. He is nowhere near ready to be a regular contributor, but if all goes right in his development, he could be a valuable stretch big with versatility on both ends of the court. That would be a pretty nice addition for the capped-out Blazers, especially this late in the first round.” – Jesse Blancarte

27. With the 27th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Isaiah Hartenstein, a center from Zalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian Basketball League.

“Isaiah Hartenstein has dropped down draft boards as of late, but the Nets are more than happy to scoop him up at No. 27. His potential as a floor-stretching center is a perfect fit for Kenny Atkinson’s trigger-happy three-point shooting side. He may not come to the NBA immediately, but the Nets are in no rush. Alongside Giles, Hartenstein would give the Nets a much-needed boost of young talent in the frontcourt.” – Ben Nadeau

28. With the 28th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select Tyler Lydon, a forward out of Syracuse University.

“Lydon is a capable prospect with a variety of talents on the offensive end. He finds various ways to score, which are rooted in his notable shooting abilities. Place Lydon on a ball movement-based offense that coach Luke Walton wants to build and he will likely find a way to be a positive contributor. This should be a fairly reliable, modest upside pick for the Lakers.” – James Blancarte

29. With the 29th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Jawun Evans, a point guard out of Oklahoma State University.

“Evans is a good fit for the Spurs given the clouds surrounding Tony Parker and the uncertainty of Patty Mills returning. He is a great playmaker who can run the pick and roll and at least fill Mills old role off the bench. He is also pesky on defense and one of the quickest players in the draft as well.” – Shane Rhodes

30. With the 30th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Frank Jackson.

“The former local high school standout shows immense promise on both ends, and while Jackson needs work as a full-time ball-handler, his shot-making could be a valuable asset down the line for a Jazz team always in need of spacing.” – Ben Dowsett

*****

What did you think of your team’s pick? Reach out to our writers on Twitter and of course be sure to check out the actual draft this Thursday. Stay plugged into Basketball Insiders for all the latest news and rumors in the last couple of days leading up to it!

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NBA

NBA PM: Los Angeles Clippers 2017-18 Season Preview

After the loss of star Chris Paul, Basketball Insiders previews the LA Clippers for 2017-18.

Basketball Insiders

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Earlier this offseason, Chris Paul decided to take his talents to Houston to play alongside James Harden. With this decision, the Los Angeles Clippers we have known for the last few years came to an end. However, rather than leaving the Clippers empty handed, Paul opted into the final year of his contract, which allowed Los Angeles to trade him to the Rockets in exchange for Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, a protected 2018 first-rounder and $661,072. It’s never good to lose an elite talent, but this was as ideal of an outcome as a team could reasonably hope for in this sort of situation.

Shortly after Paul was traded, Blake Griffin re-signed with the Clippers on a five-year, $173 million contract. The deal signaled that the Clippers were not going to strip down the roster and start a full rebuild. Instead, the Clippers invested heavily in Griffin, acquired Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal with the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks, signed Milos Teodosic and Willie Reed and added new executives to restructure the team’s front office.

The Clippers added a lot of fresh faces, but necessarily said farewell to several key contributors and role players, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, Alan Anderson and Brandon Bass. With a fresh new roster, based heavily around Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers enter the season with several questions, including how far this team can go in the postseason.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Clippers did an admirable job bouncing immediately back from Paul’s decision to take his talents to Houston. The team is deeper than it has been in recent seasons, though they lack the high-end talent they had when Paul was on the roster. It’s not clear how far this team can go in the playoffs, but the team has potential. If nothing else, this season will be more interesting that the last few have been. Rather than predictably falling short in the playoffs because of a lack of depth and health issues, this squad has the talent to withstand a few injuries and the chance to create a new identity. The Clippers can’t reasonably expect to overtake the Warriors this season, but they should be competitive on any given night, regardless of who their opponent is.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

— Jesse Blancarte

The days of dreaming about raising a Clippers championship banner at Staples Center followed Chris Paul to Houston. It’s over.

Even still, credit the franchise for making lemonade from their lemons; they recovered nicely from Paul’s departure. I wouldn’t be shocked for the Clips to flirt with 50 wins this season, but that’ll depend on Blake Griffin’s health and the ease with which Milos Teodosic is able to make the conversion to the NBA. Aside from that, there’s a lot to like — Danilo Gallinari is a stud, Patrick Beverly is underrated and Lou Williams is still a prolific scorer. I also happen to think that both Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans are certified NBA players, so the Clippers are one of the teams I will be paying closest attention to this season.

I do expect the Kings to be much-improved, as well, but in the end, I’d expect Doc Rivers to figure out how to put all these new pieces together and carry his Clippers to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.

2nd place — Pacific Divison

— Moke Hamilton

Basic math suggests that the Los Angeles Clippers minus Chris Paul equals a huge step backward as a franchise, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still in the fold, after all, and the return for Paul wasn’t bad. Pat Beverley is an elite defender at the point guard spot, and electric Euro backup Milos Teodisc brings the offense that Beverley can’t. Lou Williams can replace some of the bench scoring lost from Jamal Crawford, while there’s plenty to like still about the team’s kids — Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and even rookie Sindarius Thornwell. They lost their captain, which hurts, but I don’t see any reason why they can’t still compete at an elite level this season considering how well they restocked. I’m not out on LAC just yet.

2nd Place – Pacific Division

— Joel Brigham

Despite Chris Paul handcuffing the Los Angeles Clippers into trading him this summer, they somehow managed to turn around and receive an impressive haul for the all-star point guard.

In return for Paul, the Clippers acquired Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and a few more pieces. By moving Paul, Los Angeles had enough money in the bank to pair Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. With this group of players, the Clippers should still be plenty competitive in a deeper Western Conference, and ultimately should find themselves in the playoff picture this season. Not bad for losing arguably the best point guard in the entire league.

2nd place — Pacific Division

— Dennis Chambers

It’s never easy to lose a consensus top-10 player in the NBA, and the Clippers acquitted themselves nicely despite being forced to send Chris Paul to Houston this offseason. Their massive trade haul with the Rockets included strong pieces like Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and others, and they also made some smart signings in Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic. Will a deeper, more diverse roster be enough to make up for the loss of Paul? It’s tough to say, though we have to expect at least some drop-off. The health of DeAndre Jordan and especially Blake Griffin will loom large for this bunch, and there could be a few fit issues with a guy like Gallinari, who will play a lot of small forward despite being better-suited as a four man at this point in his career. Expect the Clippers to be right there competing for the final few playoff spots in the West.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

— Ben Dowsett

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, when healthy, is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. He still struggles with his jumper, but his combination of size, strength and skill makes him an efficient scorer and effective playmaker from the power forward position. Griffin averaged 22.8 points per game last season and shot 33.6 percent from three-point range on a career-high two attempts per game. If Griffin can improve his three-point shooting even by just a few percentage points, it will force opponents to guard him more closely on the perimeter, which could open up more opportunities to attack the basket off the dribble. Additionally, Griffin is still one of the best playmaking power forwards in the league. Last season, Griffin averaged 5.2 assists per game – a number that could easily increase this season with the exit of Paul. Griffin isn’t quite as physically explosive as he was earlier in his career, but with Paul out of the picture and a more refined offensive game, Griffin is in a position to take his game to another level. Much of the Clippers’ success this season will depend on how effectively Griffin can manage being the focal point on offense.

Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan

The Clippers have, for the most part, been an average-to-good defensive team over the last few seasons – thanks in large part to DeAndre Jordan. Jordan entered the league as a raw, physically gifted center. Over his career, he has steadily improved and refined his game. The result is Jordan is now one of the most physically gifted and effective defensive centers in the NBA. He’s still prone to making a few mental errors on most nights (biting on pump fakes, failing to rotate to help a teammate, etc.), but also consistently contests shots at the rim, blocks shots, rotates effectively on the perimeter and hauls in plenty of rebounds. Patrick Beverley comes in as a close second here, but Jordan anchoring the defense from the center position is arguably more important than Beverley’s perimeter defense.

Top Playmaker: Milos Teodosic

The Clippers signed Milos Teodosic to a partially-guaranteed, two-year $12.3 million contract (with a player option on the final season). Teodosic, 30 years old, has arguably been the best player in Europe over the last few years and is one of the best passers currently playing the game of basketball in any professional league. Teodosic spent the last few years playing for CSKA Moscow of the Russian League and VTB United League. NBA fans may not know much about Teodosic and many have likely never even seen him play before. However, if Teodosic’s game translates to the NBA, it won’t take long for NBA fans to take notice. Teodosic’s passing skills and court vision remind us of players like Steve Nash, John Stockton or perhaps even Jason Williams. Teodosic will struggle on the defensive end of the court, but expect him to quickly develop chemistry with his teammates on offense, especially the high-flying Griffin and Jordan.

Top Clutch Player: Danilo Gallinari

Danilo Gallinari isn’t generally considered to be one of the NBA’s top clutch players, but he has proven himself to be an effective scorer and playmaker in late game situations. Gallinari has suffered through knee and other injuries over his career but he is still a very capable scorer. He is a good spot up shooter, can score in isolation, in the post and gets to the free throw line frequently. Gallinari is also a good playmaker and is as much of a threat to create an easy scoring opportunity for a teammate as he is to score himself in a clutch situation. Gallinari probably looks to draw a foul too often in these situations, which can get him into trouble, but with the game on the line, he is probably the team’s best option to either get a bucket or create a scoring opportunity for a teammate.

The Unheralded Player: Patrick Beverley

Patrick Beverley has established a reputation for being one of the grittiest, tough-nosed point guards in the league. Whether he is facing off against Russell Westbrook or Ramon Sessions, Beverley is going to give maximum effort to lock down his opponent. His box score numbers won’t blow anyone away on most nights, but he will make the Clippers a better team and will often keep his opponents in check.

Best New Addition: Danilo Gallinari

Gallinari comes to Los Angeles at a hefty price, but he addresses several areas of need for the Clippers. Gallinari is probably better suited to play the power forward position at this point in his career, but he can still manage to play small forward as well. The Clippers have been in desperate need of a quality small forward and Gallinari should help in that regard. However, Gallinari’s ability to play power forward should allow the Clippers to create some interesting small ball lineups that, in theory, should be quite effective on offense. The issue with Gallinari is his health. Gallinari has only managed to play in 70 or more regular season games twice in his career and the last time was in the 2012-13 season. Gallinari is off to a bad start this season health wise as he injured his hand in an on-court altercation earlier this offseason.

— Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Jerry West

Jerry West has established himself as one of the best team architects in the NBA. West’s fingerprints are all over the Golden State Warriors, who have assembled and maintained one of the most talented rosters in NBA history. Looking for a new challenge, West agreed to join the Clippers as a consultant this offseason and his fingerprints already appear up and down the Clippers’ current roster. It can be argued that he should have opted for a complete rebuild after Paul left, rather than retooling the team’s roster on the fly. As impressive as the Clippers’ roster reconstruction has been this offseason, there’s a legitimate argument that they aren’t good enough to win a championship and too good to land into top-draft picks to rebuild with. While this may be the case, we trust West to make the necessary moves to put the Clippers in a position to be successful.

2. Patrick Beverley

The Clippers are in search of a new identity and culture, which is something Beverley can have a big impact on. Earlier this offseason, Beverley said that he hoped his effort and approach to the game would have a positive effect on his teammates and give the team a new identity.

“Me providing the leadership I provide. Trying to change the culture a little bit,” Beverley said. “You think of L.A. and you think of lights, camera, action. All of that is fun for sure. But at the end of the day, they judge you by wins and losses and how hard you play, and how you putting on for the city. If I can just be fortunate to bring my culture to the team, try to change the culture a little bit to kind of a blue collar, grit and grind kind of team and potentially make the playoffs and when you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”

The Clippers have a reputation for complaining to the officials too often and falling short of expectations. If the team adopts Beverley’s hard-nosed approach to the game and learns to stay away from the officials (or at least tone it down), their reputation across the league could transform quickly.

3. Blake Griffin

Despite the departure of CP3, Griffin returns to the Clippers on a max-contract with the hope of not only maintaining the team’s standard of play, but improving on it. It won’t be easy, however. Paul is still one of the best overall point guards in the league and has been the focal point of the team’s offense since he first put on a Clippers jersey. Griffin has the skills to thrive both as a scorer and playmaker, which will likely be on full display this season. Health has been a problem throughout Griffin’s career. With Paul gone, any time Griffin misses will be even more detrimental than it has been in past seasons (though Paul and Griffin played quite well over the years whenever the other was injured). If Griffin has better luck with health and thrives in the absence of Paul, Griffin could have a big season.

4. Sindarius Thornwell

The Clippers purchased the No. 48 pick in this year’s draft from the Milwaukee Bucks and used it on former South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell. Last season, Thornwell averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. Thornwell earned First-Team All-SEC honors and was named the SEC Player of the Year. Thornwell, who played four years of college ball, does not have the upside of other prospects, but he was arguably college’s most productive player last season and brings youth, athleticism and skill to the Clippers. It’s not clear how Doc Rivers plans to utilize Thornwell with this year’s roster, but if he proves to be a reliable contributor, he would be a big boost for the Clippers.

— Jesse Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Clippers stayed above the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap, re-signing Blake Griffin while sending Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets via sign and trade. By acquiring Danilo Gallinari and using most of their Mid-Level Exception on Milos Teodosic, Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans, the Clippers are hard-capped at $125.3 million. They’re close to that line with 14 guaranteed players, limiting their ability to use their $7.3 million trade exception for Paul, which expires in late June.

Before next season, DeAndre Jordan can opt out of his contract. If the Clippers stumble this season, they may be better off shopping Jordan instead of risking he leaves outright as a free agent. Before November, Los Angeles needs to decide on 2018-19 options for Sam Dekker and Brice Johnson. The Clippers could have a decent amount of cap room next July (roughly $35 million) but that relies on Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, Teodosic and Jordan all opting out.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Depth. During the CP3 era, the Clippers constantly struggled to manufacture adequate depth on the roster. With three massive contracts between Paul, Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers had little flexibility to bolster the roster. Now, the Clippers have invested heavily in Gallinari and the other players acquired in the trade for Paul. The result of this is a deeper roster that doesn’t have as much top-end talent, but isn’t scrapping the bottom of the barrel for help either.

— Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

While the Clippers’ roster is deeper than it has been in years, the absence of Paul means the Clippers no longer have an elite Big 3 to build around. While other teams like the Warriors feature several superstar talents, the Clippers are down to Griffin and Jordan. Will these two be enough to carry the Clippers deep into the playoffs? It’s unclear what the duo and this new roster is capable of, but this season should be more interesting that recent seasons in Los Angeles.

— Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Should the Clippers have opted for a full rebuild rather than retooling on the fly after the loss of Chris Paul?

The Clippers had the opportunity to shed all of their major salaries and rebuild from the ground up. Rather than engaging in a Sam Hinkie style rebuild, the Clippers re-signed Griffin, invested in Gallinari and rounded out the roster with several veterans and young prospects with guaranteed salaries. The Clippers could still unload these players in trade if it’s clear this roster cannot compete with the elite teams of the league, but that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, the Clippers will likely earn a bottom-four seed in the Western Conference and will hope that moving forward they can bolster the roster through opportunistic trades, solid drafting and internal development. We will never truly know whether the Clippers would have been better off by engaging in a full rebuild, but if this teams falls flat this season, people will second guess the team’s offseason strategy to retool on the fly.

— Jesse Blancarte

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Indiana Pacers and Jarrod Uthoff Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The Indiana Pacers and free agent forward Jarrod Uthoff have agreed to a one-year, partially guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Uthoff, who shot 46 percent from beyond the arc in the G-league last year before being called up by the Dallas Mavericks, gives Indiana 20 players heading into training camp.

Uthoff passed on EuroLeague offers as well as offers from three other NBA teams, Basketball Insiders has learned.

The 24-year-old forward averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game while playing in nine games for the Mavericks last season.

For more information on Indiana’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.

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NBA

Toronto Raptors 2017-18 Season Preview

The Toronto Raptors have made an enormous financial commitment to their roster, will it be enough to matter in the East? We take a look at the Raptors in this season preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The band is back together in Toronto for another go at postseason glory. After re-signing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors bring back two of their top three scorers from last season and look poised to prey on the weak Eastern Conference in an attempt to finally unseat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With some fresh faces in the mix for Toronto, and hopefully full seasons from Lowry and Ibaka to pair with what appears to be the prime version of DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are about to embark on what looks like their third consecutive 50-win season.

While the continuity and experience are there for the Raptors, will it finally be enough to get over the hump and past the Cavs? Only time will tell.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Toronto brought the gang back this summer to continue trying to take their shot at an NBA championship.

In retaining both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors kept their two biggest weapons alongside star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, effectively keeping their window of competition among the East’s best open. Despite keeping old faces around, the Raptors did manage to add some fresh blood into their equation, hoping to finally break through to the next level. C.J. Miles crosses the border into Toronto after a trade that sent Corey Joseph to the Indiana Pacers. The Raptors also added OG Anunboy in the first round of this year’s draft.

Whether the same core plus a few new sidekicks can help Toronto get passed Cleveland and Boston is still up for debate, and barring catastrophic injuries, probably unlikely. However, the Raptors will still be plenty competitive this season, as they have been for years now.

2nd place — Atlantic Division

— Dennis Chambers

It’s okay if you’ve started to get bored by the Toronto Raptors. There were no splashy moves this summer, which came after yet another uninspiring postseason showing. Kyle Lowry is awesome, and DeMar DeRozan is one of the league’s elite scorers at this point, but neither player has been all that great in the playoffs the last few years. Serge Ibaka doesn’t look as athletic as he did in Oklahoma City, and Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t appear to have much more ceiling to grow into. These guys are what they are at this point, and while the addition of C.J. Miles will help with three-point shooting a bit, there just wasn’t enough change here for me to think bigger things are coming. They’re a high playoff seed in the East, for sure, but it’s hard to expect much out of them in the postseason based on what we’ve seen from them in the recent past.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Joel Brigham

In what should be remembered as a fairly excellent summer, the Raptors were able to ride both sides of the competitive fence. They retained Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka – both on sizable contracts, but nothing ridiculous, and with only three-year terms to match the remaining guaranteed time on DeMar DeRozan’s deal. This means they’ve clearly identified this three-year period as their competitive window. They’ve also retained young talent on the roster, such as Norm Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and 2017 draftee O.G. Anunoby. They’re set for both the present and future.

Whether the present side is enough to get them over the hump and into an NBA Finals remains to be seen, and feels unlikely for now. The Raptors did add shooter C.J. Miles, but they also lost both Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll. Unless the playoffs bring some new answers for the Clevelands and Bostons of the world, they could be in roughly the same competitive spot a year from now.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Ben Dowsett

After clocking “only” 51 wins last season, the Raptors saw a fairly impressive streak come to an end—it was the first time since the conclusion of the 2011 season that the team failed to increase their prior season’s win total.

The team also saw their three-year reign atop the Atlantic Division come to a halt, as the Celtics managed to finish two games ahead of them in the standings.

At this point, most people believe that the Raptors have peaked, and I’d tend to agree. DeMar DeRozan remains one of the more underrated shooting guards in the league, and at 28 years old, he probably hasn’t played his best basketball yet. The same can’t be said of Kyle Lowry, however, as he will turn 32 years old in March. The most interesting thing to see as it relates to the Raptors is the extent to which the minutes created by DeMarre Carroll’s trade to Brooklyn impacts some of the younger players on the roster. If rookie OG Anunoby hits the ground running or if Jonas Valanciunas or Norman Powell take a significant stride forward and become stars, then maybe the Raptors will have a chance to fight for something other than a berth in the second round of the playoffs.

If not, though, we’ve likely already seen the best of this group, and we’ve likely seen their reign atop the Atlantic end.

2nd place — Atlantic Division

— Moke Hamilton

The Raptors did well to retain their most important players this offseason and structure their contracts in a way that allows Toronto to go in a different direction in three years, should it become necessary. For now, the Raptors seem destined to remain a tier below the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss of Patrick Patterson may have more of an impact on Toronto than most predict, but the addition of C.J. Miles will add some much needed floor-spacing. Toronto is going to have to hope that some of its younger players have improved enough so that they can effectively fill the roles that veterans like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph , Patterson and P.J.Tucker held last season. Even if the Raptors’ younger players step up, it won’t amount to anything unless Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan find a way to perform at their usual levels during the postseason. For a variety of reasons, both star guards have struggled to make the kind of impact that are expected of them in the games that matter most. Until they figure out how to overcome this, the Raptors can’t hope to compete with Boston or Cleveland, regardless of how well the rest of their players perform. Also, can we please get more playing time and a bigger role for Norman Powell?

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

— Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player – DeMar DeRozan

Now in the midst of his prime and coming off of a career year, DeMar DeRozan has separated himself from Kyle Lowry to become the clear-cut top option on offense.

Last season, while Lowry struggled with injuries, DeRozan found himself as the head honcho of the Toronto Raptors’ offense. Scoring a career-high 27.3 points per game was one thing, but DeRozan dominated the ball on offense and turned in a massive 34.3 percent usage rate. Much is known about DeRozan’s inability to connect from downtown, and he shot his worst percentage from beyond the arc last season since 2011-12. However, his ability to cut defenders up in the midrange is unparalleled and slowly, but surely, that skill is becoming a lost art in today’s NBA. But DeRozan makes it work.

With a healthy (and paid) Lowry, plus a few more options that can shoot from outside, DeRozan should be fully capable of replicating his career year this season using the extra lane space at his disposal. If the Raptors expect to trade punches with the big dogs of the Eastern Conference, they’ll need a big year from their star shooting guard.

Top Defensive Player – Jonas Valanciunas

While DeRozan carries the torch for the Raptors on offense, their defensive anchor comes in the form of 7-foot center Jonas Valanciunas.

In the age of small ball and shooting from deep, Valanciunas provides a little blast to the past for the Raptors in the way he uses his large frame to take up space and plug up the middle of the lane. Last season, Valanciunas led Toronto in Defensive Win Shares with three, and was second on the team in Defensive Rating, posting a 105 in that category.

Along with being the team’s anchor defensively, Valanciunas is the Raptors top defensive rebounder as well. So, after the big man does his job in terms of affecting the opponent’s ability to score, he’ll rip down the loose ball as well to turn it back over to the Toronto offense.

With multiple 20-point scorers and capable shooters on the roster up across the border, the defense hinges itself on the 7-footer from Lithuania.

Top Playmaker – Kyle Lowry

For the last five seasons, the Raptors’ top playmaker has been the same guy. And this summer, Toronto made sure that same guy would bear this title for at least three more seasons.

Kyle Lowry is the catalyst behind the Raptors offense that again holds the task of trying to dethrone the Cleveland Cavaliers and battle with the Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy.

While battling injury last season limited Lowry to just 60 regular season games allowed DeMar DeRozan to explode his scoring total, the Raptors offense as a whole felt the effects of losing their starting point guard. When Lowry wasn’t on the court for Toronto, their Offensive Rating dropped from an impressive 115.9 down to a 108.1.

Lowry doesn’t just represent the Raptors’ point guard and leader in assists when he’s on the court for Toronto; their offense as a whole surges from his ability to score efficiently at all levels and operate the unit as a well-oiled machine.

Top Clutch Player – DeMar DeRozan

As the Raptors’ alpha dog on offense, it’s generally a good bet to place the ball in DeRozan’s hands come crunch time as well.

Last year, as noted, DeRozan had a lot of time to himself on offense. As a result, he logged a decent amount of minutes in the “clutch time” of games. Of the 41 games that DeRozan and the Raptors were in a “clutch” situation (either the 4th quarter or overtime with less than five minutes left with either team’s lead being less than five), Toronto was 22-19. DeRozan himself managed 3.6 points in 3.4 minutes of those particular situations, good for 14th best in the entire NBA.

When the game is on the line for the Raptors, their best bet is to get it to their best scorer and let him go win the game.

The Unheralded Player – Norman Powell

When the star backcourt players for Toronto need to catch their breath, Norman Powell is waiting in the wings to pick up their slack.

Playing just 18 minutes a game last season, Powell managed to score 8.4 points per game and provided the Raptors with a much-needed scoring punch off of the bench. In just his second season, Powell saw a serious increase in action as he began to consistently prove his worth in the Raptors’ second unit.

Without the name recognition or the big contract that some of the other Toronto backcourt members possess, Powell tends to fly under some radars in terms of attention paid to. However, with another year and a bigger role under his belt, the Raptors’ bench scoring dynamo could see himself get even more opportunities this season. Judging from the track record, Powell will be right there to produce when called upon, too.

Best New Addition – C.J. Miles

Coming over in a trade from the Indiana Pacers, C.J. Miles represents the Raptors best new piece this season.

With Miles’ ability to score from the outside and play multiple wing positions, he adds a level of versatility and relief to Lowry and DeRozan that they didn’t have last season. Playing alongside two potent scorers like the backcourt duo in Toronto, Miles should be able to hoist open jumpers on more than a few occasions this season. After shooting 41.3 percent in Indiana last year running beside Paul George, there’s cause for belief that Miles can provide similar consistency up north.

While the Raptors posted one of the best offensive ratings in the league last season, they still were relatively average when it came to shooting three-pointers. As the rest of the NBA begins to adopt the long-ball mentality, Miles is the perfect addition to a Raptors team that is looking to make a deep playoff run.

— Dennis Chambers

WHO WE LIKE

1. Masai Ujiri 

For another year, the Raptors’ general manager has kept the team relevant among the league’s powerhouse clubs. By signing Kyle Lowry to an extension, bringing back Serge Ibaka, acquiring the likes of C.J. Miles and drafting OG Anunoby, Ujiri allowed his franchise another season to make a deep playoff run.

Instead of bolting from beyond the border to the New York Knicks front office opening, Ujiri stayed put to man the fort he’d built into a legitimate contender in the East. And instead of letting some of his core players walk, Ujiri ponied up the necessary cash to keep the wheel turning in Toronto for at least a few more years.

Ujiri may never become the architect of a team that wins a title in Toronto, but he for sure has been the builder of one of the most successful stretches in franchise history.

2. O.G. Anunoby

Before tearing his ACL during his sophomore season at Indiana, O.G. Anunoby was regarded as a potential lottery pick in last June’s NBA Draft. Instead, he wound up falling due to injury and the Raptors snatched him up with the No. 23 pick.

If Anunoby returns to form though, he could present himself as an important perimeter option defensively for the Raptors. Standing at 6-foot-8, Anunoby measures out a 7-foot-2 wingspan, making his length and athletic explosiveness a combination that’s hard to get around. As a freshman at Indiana, Anunoby was responsible for guarding Jamal Murray during a NCAA Tournament matchup. The Hoosiers won that game, and Anunoby forced Murray to shoot 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Anunoby is a project, and coming off of injury doesn’t help that, but if he can put the health concerns behind him and develop the way Toronto is hoping he can, Anunoby could potentially wind up as the steal of the 2017 draft.

3. Dwane Casey

Dwane Casey has been responsible for shaping the Raptors into the contender that they have been over the last four years. While Ujiri has consistently placed upgrades and quality pieces in Casey’s hands, he’s ultimately been the one in charge of putting them all together to make it work.

And he’s done just that.

Over the course of the last four seasons, Casey’s lowest win total with Toronto is 48 wins, back in 2013-14. Since then, and coupled with the emergence of DeRozan and his pairing with Lowry, the Raptors have been a force to be reckoned with amongst the teams in the East (not named the Cavaliers). While Casey has never gotten the Raptors over that final hump — let’s be honest, there’s not much he can do about LeBron James — he’s consistently taken his team deep into the postseason and made them a more than watchable product.

What the Raptors have in Casey is a leader who is more than capable of meshing egos, game-planning at an elite level, and placing his team and players in a position to compete night in, and night out.

4. Norman Powell

The proverbial underdog on the Raptors squad, Norman Powell put himself on the map last postseason.

After turning in a strong sophomore campaign, Powell was asked to step into the starting lineup amid injury problems for five games during Toronto’s last playoff run, and boy did he answer the call. In just 25.2 minutes a night during the playoffs, Powell managed to score 11.7 points and shot a more than impressive 44.1 percent from downtown, giving the Raptors another scoring option that they needed with an ailing Lowry.

While on the court for the Raptors in the playoffs, Powell helped the team spike their Offensive Rating from 101.7 to 107.9. At just 23 years old, and through only two NBA seasons, Powell performed beyond his years for Toronto in the playoffs.

Heading into this season, Powell seems to have already earned his stripes and could be in position for another jump in production this season. Should he continue to develop, the Raptors may have another dangerous weapon to pair with their star-studded backcourt.

— Dennis Chambers

SALARY CAP 101

The Raptors are flirting with the NBA’s $119.3 million luxury tax threshold. Currently, they’re slightly over by a small margin, invested heavily in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Of the four, Valanciunas is the most likely to be moved, if Toronto can find a suitor. The team is hard-capped at $125.3 million, which may get in the way of the team utilizing their Bi-Annual Exception of $3.3 million. Similarly, Toronto won’t be able to use most of their sizable trade exceptions ($11.8 and $7.6 million) until next July.

Looking ahead, the Raptors project to be over next summer’s salary cap (estimated at $102 million). Both Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo are eligible for extensions, with an October 17 deadline. The team also needs to decide on 2018-19 options on Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

For a team that’s coming off of their fourth straight playoff run, the Raptors are loaded with experience. Simply put, they’ve got a bunch of guys that have been there before and know what it takes to grind out the long NBA season and get themselves to May basketball.

With a core of DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka, and Valanciunas, Toronto has guys in place that have experienced deep postseason runs. In a year where there could be some turnover of new teams at the bottom of the playoff standings, the Raptors could find themselves in a matchup with some fresh blood that may be too green to handle the moment.

What the Raptors do so well, especially in that aforementioned playoff scenario, is getting teams to commit fouls, shooting fouls in particular. Last season, Toronto was the best team in the league when it came to free throws per field goal attempt, where they averaged .233 per shot. By possessing the ability to wear down opponents and get them into foul trouble while simultaneously getting the opportunity for free points, the Raptors have a unique skill that will benefit them greatly come the postseason.

— Dennis Chambers

WEAKNESSES

Unfortunately for the Raptors, what they have in experience they lack in any real depth. Today’s NBA calls for its most elite contenders to have three, maybe even four, star players. Toronto has two bonafide stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Serge Ibaka is a nice player, but he’s no star.

Last season, the Raptors had just four players average double-figures (not counting Terrence Ross who now plays in Orlando). Those scorers weren’t even spread out, either. DeRozan averaged 27 points, Lowry 22, Ibaka scored 14, and Jonas Valanciunas pitched in 12 points a night. After that, it drops off the Raptors. Trying to beat teams like Cleveland and Boston who are going to have a bevy of players who can drop 20 points in a blink of an eye is going to be a challenge should either one of Toronto’s star guards have an off-shooting night.

Along with their lack of star power, the Raptors are an average three-point shooting team at best, and in today’s league that’s just not good enough. Last season, Toronto ranked 21st in three-pointers made and 22nd in attempts. Luckily for them, their efficiency in taking those shots was decent, with a team average of 36.3 percent. With Lowry back at full health and the addition of C.J. Miles, hopefully, the Raptors can improve their outside shooting. Otherwise, they may not be able to produce those quick big-time runs the rest of the league seems to be adopting.

— Dennis Chambers

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can the Toronto Raptors finally get themselves over the hill with their current core and past the Cleveland Cavaliers?

How do I say this nicely? No.

Listen, while the Toronto Raptors are a very good basketball team, they lack some of the key ingredients to truly break through to that next level. Unfortunately for them, there’s not much they can do about it. They don’t have the cap space or the assets to acquire that crucial third-star player, and the duo of DeRozan and Lowry isn’t quite good enough to hang banners in Air Canada Centre.

More than anything though, it’s just bad timing. The Raptors impressive core and stretch of good basketball hits the brick wall otherwise known as LeBron James year after year. Sometimes, no matter what you do, it’ll never be enough to take down one of the great ones.

— Dennis Chambers

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