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NBA AM: Clippers Need DeAndre Jordan To Emerge

NBA history is littered with big threes winning titles. The Clippers need DeAndre Jordan to finally join Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Lang Greene

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DeAndre Jordan’s emergence is the Clippers’ missing ingredient  for title run

The Los Angeles Clippers entered training camp as one of the few teams many believe have a legit chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next June. The franchise has the payroll, $79 million in guaranteed salaries on the books this season, which shows a commitment to investing in elite talent and a proven winner in head coach Doc Rivers leading from the sidelines.

However, the Clippers have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs since the arrival of All-Star guard Chris Paul prior to the 2012 season.  Now to pin this lack of playoff success entirely on Paul would be lazy. To further imply the duo of Paul and All-Star forward Blake Griffin aren’t capable of getting over the hump also isn’t smart business. However, to say Griffin and Paul need another force to step up and aid the Clippers in their ascent is fair game.

NBA history is littered with dynamic trios driving championship success. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. These big threes represent the overwhelming majority of NBA titles won over the past 35 years.

Simply put, as good as Griffin and Paul are they are in desperate need of their third cog to emerge and help with the push. Luckily for them, the player is already on the roster and has shown signs of possibly being able to take the next step.

Center DeAndre Jordan had a career season in 2014 under Rivers averaging 10.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 68 percent shooting. The next step in Jordan’s emergence would be earning an All-Star selection – a feat all of the aforementioned big three units have in common.

There’s added motivation for Jordan to play above his 2014 campaign level this season as well. The veteran center is in the final year of current deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Rivers doesn’t believe Jordan will consider an early extension from the team. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t make it smart business for players  to extend early.

Jordan’s lack of desire to extend early could be a blessing in disguise for the Clippers to take a realistic look at whether the center is truly the third seat at the table or a good player who has strong relationships with team leadership but isn’t cutout to be that guy. These are real and tough questions that Clippers’ brass must get right. Assuming a new Jordan deal starts in the $15 million per year range, the Clippers would have nearly $56 million in payroll committed next season to Paul, Griffin and Jordan.

The Clippers are missing their third cog at the top. The stars are set. The role players are deep and plentiful. The stage is set for Jordan to continue emerging and become an All-Star. Can the big fellow get it done?

Bucks evaluating whether to extend Brandon Knight early

Despite last season’s woeful performance, the Milwaukee Bucks entered training camp with some reasons for optimism regarding the 2014-15 campaign. The team has a new head coach in future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and rookie lottery pick Jabari Parker could potentially give Milwaukee a face of the franchise.

The majority of Bucks players are locked up at least through the 2016 season which will aid in chemistry building. However one notable player could become a free agent next summer. Point guard Brandon Knight is in the last year of his rookie scale deal and the team has until October 31 to come to terms on an early contract extension. If not, Knight will head into next summer as a restricted free agent.

Kidd says Knight is an important piece of what Milwaukee is attempting to build and would like the guard with the team long term.

“He’s a piece we want here,” Kidd told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  “You talk about his work ethic, the way he approaches the game, he’s a professional, on and off the court.

“I’m not here to get in the way of anyone’s success. I want everyone to have the ultimate goal of winning and being financially set. Our job as coaches is to help them achieve that goal.”

The Bucks acquired Knight from Detroit in July 2013 and the guard started in 69 out of his 72 appearances with Milwaukee last season while averaging 17.9 points and 4.9 assists per game.

Knight isn’t willing to engage in deep discussions regarding his contract situation, but freely discusses his desire to earn more respect.

“My job is to come out here and perform, come out here and play hard,” Knight said. “So honestly for me, all I’m thinking about is basketball.

“I’ve got so many things I want to do with this team and so many goals I have for myself and the team, it’s something I barely think about.”

If the Bucks elect to let the market set Knight’s value next summer an opposing team could make a strong push for the guard – even though Milwaukee would the right to match any offers for his offers.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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NBA Daily: Ujiri Leading Golden Era of Raptors Basketball

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has taken big risks in going all in for the 2019 season and – with a potentially shortened window – it’s the right move, writes Lang Greene.

Lang Greene

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The Toronto Raptors (43-16) are on pace for their fourth consecutive 50-plus win season and barring a collapse of epic proportions will shortly secure their sixth straight trip to the playoffs.

Make no mistake, this is the golden era of Raptors basketball. Period.

The easiest thing in the world to do is play a situation safe. Minimize risk and accept the near certain outcome. Heading into the season, as previously constructed, the Raptors were already on a trajectory to reach 50 wins and secure a playoff berth. However, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri made the risky decision to turn off cruise control and go all in on a championship this season.

The reason was simple – five straight trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs netted only one trip past the second round and some seriously embarrassing postseason eliminations. So sure, the franchise could have stayed the course with the previous roster framework, but realistic title aspirations were a stretch at best.

To begin the roster reconstruction, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.

Green and Leonard immediately provided Toronto with championship heart and grit, something lacking from the team in year’s past. The trade was a huge risk for Ujiri with free agency looming this summer for Leonard (and Green) and having to say goodbye to DeRozan, a homegrown talent and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Toronto rolled early this season and have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but Ujiri doubled down at the trade deadline by acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

In just over six months, Ujiri was able to acquire two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners while gutting his roster of familiar faces fans came to know during the team’s recent run to prominence.

The Raptors currently sit one game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The moves are driving results and most believe the Raptors are legitimate title contenders. But the risk for the franchise is most definitely real. Gasol, Leonard and Green are all expected to hit the unrestricted free agency market this summer which could leave the franchise facing a real possibility of losing all for nothing in return.

The prospect of losing Leonard and Gasol would undoubtedly take Toronto from the top of the East to a club scrapping to even make a playoff run in 2020. Ujiri went all in for a title this season. Leonard’s future is uncertain and so is Gasol’s. But the prospect of truly competing for a title was too tantalizing to pass up after years of setbacks around playoff time.

Inevitably all teams must go through a time of rebuilding or reloading. Despite Toronto’s previous success, their window was limited in nature and closing rapidly, so you have to admire Ujiri’s daring to be great mindset.

For reference, the Atlanta Hawks reached the postseason 10 consecutive times from 2008-2017 but the franchise’s front office played it relatively safe during their run devoid of any major moves. The Hawks watched All-Star performers Al Horford and Paul Millsap ultimately leave for nothing in return. Atlanta’s rebuild is in good shape with guard Trae Young, big man John Collins and an additional lottery pick this season.

However, the team never swung for the fences during their run – something Ujiri wouldn’t let happen – despite the huge risks needed to be potentially a champ.

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