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Clippers’ Future Unclear in Wake of Blake Griffin’s Injury

Another postseason injury and upcoming free agency leave the Los Angeles Clippers’ future in question.

Jesse Blancarte

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On April 22, the Los Angeles Clippers announced that Blake Griffin will miss the remainder of the postseason after suffering an injury to the plantar plate in his right foot in Game 3. This is the second year in a row in which Griffin suffers an injury in the first round of the playoffs that ends his season prematurely. It’s an unfortunate situation for both Griffin and the Clippers, which comes with serious short and long term implications.

First, losing Griffin (obviously) hurts the Clippers’ chances of making a deep playoff run. During the regular season, Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and one steal while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 33.6 percent beyond the arc. He also registered a 22.5 player efficiency rating. Furthermore, two postseason games, Griffin was averaging 25 points, six rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 20-42 from the field and 3-5 from three-point range.

Griffin wasn’t exactly playing at his 2015 postseason level, where he was absolutely dominant against the San Antonio Spurs. However, he was proving to be a difficult cover for a Utah Jazz squad that has been without defensive anchor Rudy Gobert. Whether Griffin was playing at absolute peaks levels or not, simply replacing a player as productive as he had been will be a difficult task for Los Angeles (as it would be for any team that loses one of its star players, aside from the Golden State Warriors). The Clippers proved in the second half of Game 3 that it is capable of overcoming Utah even without Griffin, but it will take particularly strong performances from players like Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, even if they advance to the second round of the playoffs, it’s difficult to imagine them advancing to the Western Conference Finals and even more difficult to see them making it to the NBA Finals. The Clippers were always underdogs this postseason, but at least with Griffin, Jordan and Paul, an argument could be made that if everything broke right, Los Angeles could have a puncher’s chance. The best case scenario is now seemingly off the table now that Griffin is out indefinitely and the Golden State Warriors are humming (despite missing Kevin Durant, who is sidelined with a calf injury).

Secondly, the Clippers now have some tough realities to face — realities that will have to be dealt with in the coming weeks and months. Since the arrival of Paul, the Clippers have perennially featured one of the league’s best offenses and collections of talent. Los Angeles has won 60 percent or more of their regular season games each season since Paul’s arrival and has had reason to believe they could make some serious noise in the playoffs. Those reasons have all been upended by a combination of injuries, lack of depth, bad trades, bad luck and self-inflicted disastrous collapses, among other things. With that history in mind and the knowledge that the core pieces of this team are only getting older, it would seem obvious that the Clippers should consider hitting the reset button. However, like most things in life, it’s not that simple.

The Clippers have to strongly pursue bringing this team back despite its seeming limitations. Simply letting Griffin and Paul walk in free agency doesn’t necessarily hit the reset button for the Clippers. The Clippers contractual commitments are significant enough that losing Griffin and Paul will not give them any sort of spending flexibility that will allow them to go after younger talent or significant free agents. Gutting the remainder of the roster wouldn’t necessarily lead to the acquisition of any significant trade assets either, so the Clippers can’t afford to simply have their star players walk away.

Bringing in a player like Carmelo Anthony — to bolster the talent the team currently has — will have to be explored, because this roster simply can’t be expected to keep pace with the NBA’s other top teams considering their collective age and injury history. Carmelo was rumored to be a trade target for the Clippers before this season’s trade deadline, but nothing ever materialized. Carmelo wouldn’t address the major areas of concern for the Clippers, but his talent and production is undeniable and having him on the roster right now would have given the Clippers a clear replacement option at power forward with Griffin sidelined.

Bringing back Paul, Griffin, Redick and finding more talent will be the aim for the Clippers this upcoming offseason. Whether the Clippers manage this depends on the players and whether they are all up for another shot at fighting for a championship with the same basic structure in place (assuming a deal for a player like Carmelo cannot be managed). A lot of factors will go into each player’s ultimate decision, but it’s very possible each will re-sign and give this roster another go. If it becomes exceedingly apparent that the team simply cannot contend, then the Clippers will at least have the option of trading away their star players for assets and players to start a rebuild around moving forward.

If these players decide to move on, however, it will leave the Clippers in a difficult position. The championship window will be closed and the franchise will be left with little financial flexibility and young talent to start over with. This is why this postseason and the injury to Griffin are so important. This was seemingly the last chance to prove that this team was and still is worth keeping together. With another season-ending injury for Griffin and a likely second-round exit appearing to be inevitable, it’s not clear this is the case for the Clippers.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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