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NBA AM: Blow It Up? OK, Then What?

Should the Clippers try to re-tool the roster? It sounds easier than it may be.

Steve Kyler

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Blow It Up? OK Then What?

The LA Clippers again faced an early exit in the postseason, making it five straight years of 50-plus win regular season basketball, only to be home in early May. Injuries have played a huge factor in the Clippers’ woeful playoff runs over the last five years, however, the popular narrative coming out of this season is that this group has run its course. This may be true. The question facing the Clippers is what other choices do that have?

Re-Signing Chris Paul

Some have suggested that it’s time to move on from the Clippers core, which starts with point guard Chris Paul. Paul has until June 29 to decide on his final year—a $24.268 million contract option. The prevailing thought is Paul will opt out of the deal and seek a new maximum deal from the Clippers that would clock in at five years and just about $205 million.

Some have argued the cap money would be better used elsewhere, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers have $59.748 million in cap commitments for next season. They also face a $36.4 million cap hold on Paul, a $32.06 million hold on forward Blake Griffin and a $14.17 million hold on guard J.J. Redick. Between the cap commits and the cap holds, the Clippers won’t have any meaningful cap space.

So, let’s say the Clippers decide to pass on Paul and Redick, but keep Griffin. That leaves roughly $10 million in cap space to find a replacement starting point guard in free agency? None of the elite guards are coming for that kind of salary.

If the Clippers opt to retain Paul, but not Griffin or Redick, their cap picture changes to roughly $5.8 million in space.

There is no scenario in which re-signing Chris Paul doesn’t make the most sense for the Clippers, if only to get him under a contract and potentially trade him at some point the future, assuming he does not demand a no-trade clause, which is likely.

Some have suggested Paul should move on to a playoff team closer to competing, such as the San Antonio Spurs.

If Paul leaves the Clippers, he is eligible for a new four-year deal worth $152 million, A full $53 million less than a Clippers deal. The Spurs, as they sit today, have $73.476 million in cap commits, leaving them with roughly $28.5 million in cap space. That also assumes that Pau Gasol opts out of his $16.19 million deal. That’s tough math for the Spurs and even more so for Paul, would not be able to get a maximum deal.

Monetarily, leaving $53 million on the table would be foolish for Paul, who turns 32 years old on Saturday. Signing a four-year deal at 32 puts him at 36 years old at contract’s end and extremely unlikely to command another maximum deal. Fans love to talk about leaving money on the table, but $53 million is a small fortune, not smaller annual raises.

Re-Signing Blake Griffin

Much of what was just said about Paul is true of Griffin. He too has until June 29 to decide on his $21.3 million player option, an option he will not likely exercise. Griffin becomes eligible for a five-year deal worth almost $175 million if he remains with the Clippers. If he leaves, he’d only net a four-year $130 million deal elsewhere.

As much as Griffin has struggled with injuries, when healthy, he is still one of the more potent players in the NBA. Some point to durability, but some of Griffin’s injuries have been fluky in nature. It’s not as if the same problems are recurring over and over, he has had new issues that come with the game.

The problem with not re-signing Griffin is the Clippers couldn’t use the money elsewhere. It really is a case of signing him or losing him for nothing, and given that losing him wouldn’t open any meaningful cap money, is there any scenario in which you don’t keep the player?

Beyond the spite of getting a guy off the roster, there is nothing practical in not keeping him. After all, the Clippers have won 50-plus games over the last five years. Losing Griffin for nothing makes that even harder to accomplish, especially considering there is no one on the roster that can come close to what Griffin produces when he’s healthy.

Re-Signing J.J. Redick

So, if the Clippers have to re-sign Paul and Griffin, then why not re-sign Redick? Like with Paul and Griffin, if Redick walks, the Clippers don’t open cap space. They would have to replace the roster spot with a cap exception.

So, this is a pure economics question. Do you simply eat the cost to fill the roster spot with a quality player versus a replacement that may not be as effective?

The Clippers had this issue last summer when it was time to re-sign Jamal Crawford, who netted a three-year $42 million deal. They can either pay the expense, which had no meaningful cap consequence or try to replace the roster spot with a cap exception.

Beyond the need for some kind of change in the roster, it’s simply a cost to the Clippers at the point they’ll be at after re-signing Paul and Griffin. Unless Redick gets insane with his asking price, re-signing Redick is simply money, something Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has said he’d be happy to spend.

Parting Ways With Doc Rivers

So, let’s address the elephant in the room—can the Clippers go anywhere with Doc Rivers as the head coach? That’s a real and debatable question.

The problem with Rivers is that he carries the reputation of a championship coach, the problem is he’s won just one championship and he did it with three Hall-of-Famers on the roster at a time when the East wasn’t ruled exclusively by LeBron James.

Out west, Rivers isn’t Gregg Popovich, but he’s far better than most coaches. What gets overlooked about Rivers in L.A. is that he’s won 217 regular season games in four years and did it with a ton of injuries to major players.

So, let’s play the same game with Rivers as Griffin and Paul, let’s say the Clippers move on and pretend that losing him would have zero impact on whether Paul or Griffin would re-sign. Who replaces him?

Would the next guy fare any better with the durability issues? Rivers isn’t a great X’s and O’s coach, but he won 62.2 percent of his games this year. Sure, guys like Tom Thibodeau, Lionel Hollins, and Scotty Brooks were fired after similar regular seasons, but in those cases, the front office lost faith in the coach. Rivers is the front office in L.A.

The Rivers conundrum is like many of the other decisions facing the Clippers. They could replace Rivers and retool the entire front office, as well as the coaching staff. That might make some frustrated fans feel a little better, but it would not guarantee the team would be any better, and Ballmer would add $22 million in additional expense to the pile to make the change.

The Bench

So, if the above holds true and Paul, Griffin, and Redick are back because it makes the most sense to keep them, then the Clippers face their annual problem of how to fill in the bench.

This is where the Clippers have routinely struggled, outside of the constant that is Jamal Crawford, the Clips have not been very good at fielding a bench, and it’s because they never have money to spend. Paul Pierce is retiring, so he’s gone. Marreese Speights is believed to be opting out for a bigger payday. Luc Mbah a Moute is likely opting out, and one of the guys the Clippers would be smart to try and retain.

The good news is the salary cap exceptions go up as part of the new labor deal, so there will, in theory, be more money to spread around. With the Clippers likely getting up over the NBA’s luxury tax line, they will need to be creative to fill in the bench and this is where the Clippers need to hit on something.

A Big Trade

The last piece to the puzzle is a trade. While fans would love to see Griffin signed-and-traded to get something for him, there is no value in that for Griffin other than being able to land on an over-the-cap team, and there is no leverage to force that.

However, there is some leverage with Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks and Anthony are headed for a messy divorce this summer, and while the Knicks will ultimately decide to trigger a trade, Anthony can control where with the no-trade clause in his contract.

The Clippers and the Knicks discussed an Anthony trade in January and were unable to get a third team involved to make the math and the players work. This scenario likely gets revisited.

The problem for the Clippers is the players they could move – Austin Rivers, Crawford, Wes and Brice Johnson are not attractive pieces at all, especially not to the Knicks.

The question is whether the Clippers can find a third team this summer that would take future picks in exchange for playing middleman on a deal? It’s far easier to find such a trade partner in the offseason given the roster flexibility and cap room teams will have in July.

If Anthony gives the Clippers a gift and says the Clippers are the only team he’d agree to a trade with, things get better for the Clippers. They’d still have a depth issue on the bench, but would have a core of Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Redick and Anthony, and that’s as solid a roster on paper as anyone else in the West—if they fit and stay healthy.

As much as the Clippers runs have been frustrating, in context, winning 50-plus games every year with the injuries the Clippers have endured is pretty impressive. When you factor in that the Clippers are actually a national draw (they not only sell tickets, but often land on national TV), there are worse situations in the NBA. While the goal of every team should be to compete for a championship, having the base layer the Clippers have to work with is better than most in the NBA. While it’s frustrating to watch a team fail in the postseason like the Clippers have, they are not that far away from being an upper-tier team.

What would the Clippers have looked like if Blake Griffin stayed healthy? While that is an annual question these days, some teams in the NBA would love to have the Clippers’ problems, and while blowing it up sounds great, it’s easy to forget that rebuilding a team is a brutally slow process. Just ask the Magic, Suns, Sixers and Kings.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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