NBA AM: Back To Drawing Board For Clippers

Clippers’ Chris Paul dejected as team eliminated from postseason play

Chris Paul’s arrival to the Los Angeles Clippers prior to the 2012 campaign has been the primary driver in reversing the team’s fortunes, taking the franchise from perennial laughingstock to legitimate title contenders.

However, after leading the franchise to three consecutive playoff trips, Paul has been unable to get the Clippers over the hump and reach the Western Conference Finals despite the consistent influx of talent to the organization.

The Clippers were eliminated from this season’s playoffs on Thursday night in six competitive games by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul averaged 19.8 points, 10.4 assists and 2.8 assists per game during this season’s playoff run.

Paul says this year’s loss stings more than any other because he believed the unit could truly do something special.

“It’s tough,” Paul said, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN following the Clippers’ elimination. “You don’t get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know. Oklahoma City absolutely deserves it. We had a really, really good team, a great team. Before the game, Doc [Rivers] talked about it. I told somebody at halftime: It’s crazy — you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play. And it’s crazy that it’s over. Man, we really do have a great team, a collective group of players. It’s tough to realize that it’s over again.”

Over again.

Paul has reached the playoffs in six of his nine seasons since turning pro. Three times with the New Orleans Pelicans and three trips in Los Angeles. Three first round eliminations. Three second round eliminations.

While Paul must wait until next season to secure the ever elusive Conference Final berth, there’s no question his play down the stretch in his team’s Game 5 loss versus the Thunder will haunt him throughout the summer months. Up 13 points with over four minutes to play, the Clippers suffered a complete meltdown and Paul’s play during crunch time could be generously be described as erratic.

“It’s probably the toughest thing basketball-wise that I’ve ever been through,” Paul said. “I don’t know. It felt like the only way I could get it out of my mind was to play again. I got a great group of teammates that texted me all night last night and yesterday — and it’s going to hurt for a while because we should have been up 3-2 with a chance to close it out. It’s a long summer, I can tell you that much.”

The Clippers already have $66 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season. The contracts for guards Jamal Crawford ($5.5 million) and Willie Green ($1.4 million) are non-guaranteed. Backup point guard Darren Collison has a player option worth $1.9 million next season, so do forwards Glen Davis ($1.2 million) and Danny Granger ($1.3 million).

Lakers GM says Kobe Bryant won’t have input on next head coach

In 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs for just the third time in 20 years, Mike D’Antoni abruptly resigned as head coach at the end of the campaign and aging stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash take up a significant portion of the team’s salary cap next season.

The Lakers are at a crossroads.

With Bryant in the fold, the franchise still has remnants of its recent championship past, but his presence also signals the need to bring in fresh talent for the organization moving forward.

But the first step will be finding a new head coach, the team’s third since 2012, to man the sidelines. Bryant, despite his Hall of Fame resume, won’t be involved in this decision-making process, according to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.

“From time to time we ask [Bryant’s] advice,” Kupchak told Andy Katz of ESPN. “He really won’t weigh in on something like this. I’m not even sure that we’ll talk to him prior to interviews. But from time to time, he is in our facility, I’ll go downstairs and I’ll talk to him about a bunch of different things.”

The Lakers are entering the summer with only three players under contract for next season – the trio of Bryant, Nash and center Robert Sacre. Shooting guard Nick Young has a player option for the 2015 season but is expected to opt out to secure a multi-year deal with the franchise.

Kupchak will need to fill out the remaining roster spots this summer. The team could potentially have up to $28 million in salary cap space this summer to work free agency and trade options.

“We need some players,” Kupchak said “We don’t have many players under contract right now. Fortunately, we did sign a good player back in November: Kobe Bryant. So, we have him to rely on. He’s been working out every day at our facility. He looks good. And we have a bunch of free agents and some of the players on our roster last year, some of the younger players, played well. So we’re looking forward to maybe bringing some of those guys back and looking at the free-agent market and then once again, our lottery pick.”

Bryant and Nash, two former league MVPs, combined to play only 21 games in injury riddled campaigns for the franchise last season.

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