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NBA AM: Despite Paul Loss, Clips Having Solid Summer

Despite losing Chris Paul, the Clippers have put together a respectable summer.

Lang Greene

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For fans of drama, the 2017 NBA offseason hasn’t disappointed with the amount of fireworks that have been exploded across the league. Entering the summer, the potential drama revolved around All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Gordon Hayward and their respective futures with Chicago, Indiana and Utah.

All three of those players will enter next season in new destinations.

Butler and George were traded, headed to Minnesota and Oklahoma City, respectively, while Hayward elected to take his talents to asset-heavy Boston Celtics.

Chicago was looking to rebuild and shipped Butler to the emerging Timberwolves where he will reunite with former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Indiana, according to reports, were caught off guard by George’s desire to not re-sign with the team next summer in free agency, which put a trade in motion. Hayward reportedly chose Boston because of basketball fit and the earliest opportunity to jump into title contention.

But perhaps the biggest shocker this offseason doesn’t revolve around the aforementioned All-Star trio. This surprise came to us from the city of Los Angeles. This is where All-Star guard Chris Paul told the Los Angeles Clippers that he would opt-out of the final year of his deal and sign elsewhere this summer.

The Clippers promptly packaged the veteran floor general to the Houston Rockets in the following deal:

Clippers receive: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a 2018 protected first-round pick and cash considerations

Rockets receive: Chris Paul

Prior to Paul’s arrival in Los Angeles, the Clippers were woefully bad. Although there were a few years in the 1990s when the team competed for playoff berths, the franchise was viewed as a third-class organization and were the butt of many jokes around the association. You name it, from bad trades, draft busts, terrible free agency signings and a revolving door of head coaches, the Clippers were a team in desperate need of a perception makeover.

The arrival Paul prior to the start of the 2012 campaign, coupled with the emergence of All-Star-caliber players such as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, propelled Los Angeles to multiple 50-plus win seasons and six straight playoff appearances.

But in typical Los Angeles fashion, the journey wasn’t without its share of Hollywood drama.

Over the years, there have been plenty of rumblings around the chemistry of the team’s core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan. There are reports that Griffin and Jordan, close friends, didn’t get along well with Paul. Since Paul’s departure, there have been reports he didn’t like the treatment head coach Doc Rivers’ son, Austin, received on the team. Former Clipper and NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis has gone on record in numerous interviews stating Paul was a big reason for friction in the Clippers locker room.

Even after all of the tell-all books come out 15 to 20 years from now, the truth may never be known about the relationships behind closed doors in Clipper land. But what isn’t up for argument is the fact this is a golden era of Clippers basketball – right now.

Once seemingly destined to be in the NBA lottery for eternity, the Clippers are now penciled in to be perennial playoff participants and still possess a strong core for the future. With the Paul era now officially in the rearview, the organization has done a respectable job, on paper, for a team that was put on their heels by Paul’s shocking decision to pursue other opportunities for his career.

The age-old adage in NBA trade circles is “lose the All-Star, lose the trade,” and it likely holds true in this scenario as well. But the Clippers were able to secure the services of two starting-caliber guards in Beverley and Williams while also receiving a serviceable wing in Dekker on a rookie contract. Throw in scrappy role players such as Harrell and Liggins and it’s easy to see the Clippers were able to scrap value out of an unplanned situation.

Immediately after losing Paul, the team also lost starting shooting guard J.J. Redick who opted to trust the process in Philadelphia on a one-year, $23 million deal. The team then responded by securing a five-year commitment from Griffin on a $173 million max deal. The team also received an agreement with veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, formerly of the Denver Nuggets. To complete the eventual Gallinari signing, the Clippers agreed to a three-team sign and trade where they’ll ship big man prospect Diamond Stone and former three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford away in the process.

Losing a future Hall-of-Famer isn’t what any team wants to endure, especially a high caliber player with more game left in the tank. But the Clippers took the hit to the chin and have responded by putting together a pretty respectable haul, despite the unplanned duress.

There’s no reason to believe the Clippers current playoff streak won’t be extend next season.

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

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PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.

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Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia

Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.

Dennis Chambers

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After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.

On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.

Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.

When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.

“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”

While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.

“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”

The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.

Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.

Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.

So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.

“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”

On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.

“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”

After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.

“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”

Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.

“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”

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NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics

With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.

Buddy Grizzard

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Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.

After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.

“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”

Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.

“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”

Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.

“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”

While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.

“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”

With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.

“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”

While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.

“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”

With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.

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