It has been almost two months since the Los Angeles Clippers last took to the hardwood. The team fought through injuries and was in range of making the playoffs in a season that never really went according to plan. Despite the team’s best efforts, the Clippers ultimately failed to qualify for the NBA’s postseason. While the Clippers were unable to make it to the playoffs, their first failure to do so since 2011, they did show resilience and determination.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was previously critcized for manufacturing his departure from the Boston Celtics to avoid overseeing that team’s rebuild. Last season, the Clippers attempted to rebuild on the fly with the offseason trade of Chris Paul and the midseason trade of Blake Griffin. While it did not result in playoff success, Rivers found himself willing to stick with the franchise, which was very dependent on young and largerly unproven players. Confirming his ongoing commitment to this process, Rivers accepted a contract extension a few weeks ago, keeping him at the head of the Clippers ship for the next few years. Rivers put out a statement noting that the “team battled through many challenges and much adversity, proving deep talent and even greater potential.”
With their head coach firmly rooted in place, the team has its sights set on the draft as the next stage of retooling. Looking back at last season, the team made the most of a draft with no first-round picks available. The franchise acquired the rights to guard Sindarius Thornwell in exchange for cash considerations. Thornwell had originally been selected 48th in the draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. The Clippers were certainly able to yield value out of the lauded transaction as Thornwell proved capable of producing when needed due to various injuries on the wing and remains a useful prospect role player going forward. The Clippers also acquired the draft rights to Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (picked 39th overall) from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for cash considerations. Evans suffered through injuries but also proved himself to be an effective lead guard off the bench.
Currently, guard Austin Rivers, guard Milos Teodosic and center DeAndre Jordan have player options available to them and accordingly the right to depart L.A. In addition, guard Avery Bradley could depart as an unrestricted free agent. Austin Rivers has not decided whether to exercise his player option for next season, Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points reports. With the roster in flux, the Clippers need to consider their options and prepare to fill in vacancies that could be left by departing players.
The Clippers enter the 2018 NBA Draft with two first-round draft picks, which could prove extremely helpful in adding youth and talent to the roster. Should the team elect to stand pat, they will have the opportunity to select from several talented prospects. With no single position of need obvious, the team has an opportunity to simply allow talent and potential dictate who gets the call at the number 12 and 13 spots of the draft.
Various publications and mock drafts suggest that the Clippers, depending on how the draft shakes out, will likely select some combination of the following players: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Collin Sexton, Miles Bridges, Kevin Knox, Troy Brown, Michael Porter, Jr., Lonnie Walker, Robert Williams or Zhaire Smith. Of course, a number of these players may unavailable when the Clippers make their selections. Michael Porter, Jr. Kevin Knox, Collin Sexton and Miles Bridges may all be off the board when the Clippers make their selections.
Porter, Jr. has great scoring potential but any chance the team has of drafting him would be predicated on his stock falling due to long-term health concerns regarding his back. Sexton is a solid choice and could give the team a long-term option at point guard. Currently, Teodosic, already in his thirties, and Patrick Beverley, coming back from microfracture knee surgery, do not represent a long-term plan at the point. Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky represents a realistic choice as to availability and fit. Teams are always eager for a capable player and defender on the wing and the Kentucky product has shown the potential to play on and off the ball and defend multiple positions. Knox and Walker represent the potential so many teams hope for and could be steals if selected 12th or 13th overall. Williams is a Texas A&M product and an athletic rim-running center who doesn’t need the ball to be successful which sounds very similar to a young DeAndre Jordan. With the very real prospect of a Jordan’s departure this summer or next, many see the Clippers possibly taking Williams as the logical player to replace Jordan long-term.
The Clippers have been holding workouts, which includes a few of the above players, and others, as the team nears the draft. Basketball Insiders Eric Pincus confirmed a workout between Brown and Smith earlier this week for the Clippers.
Whoever is ultimately chosen, the team has a unique opportunity to bolster its overall talent level with two Lottery picks. This comes at a critical time as the team, for the first time in the coach Rivers era, made great use of younger players rather than veterans on the tailend of their respective careers.
An added benefit of having the Lottery picks is the more remote opportunity the team uses them to facilitate other transactions. Observers of the league were somewhat stunned when, instead of having Paul re-sign or simply depart via free agency last summer, the team was instead able to facilitate Paul’s desire to join the Rockets through a sign and trade that yielded the Clippers much-needed assets in return. The even more unexpected Griffin trade yielded relief from Griffin’s newly signed and very expensive contract in exchange for younger talent and future flexibility.
Now the team, headed by Lawrence Frank and Jerry West, has the opportunity to flip either pick, trade up or down in the draft or maneuver the team to acquire any of the potential big name free agents that have been rumored as available the last few months. While the prospect of landing LeBron James, Paul George, or Kawhi Leonard (via trade) is highly unlikely, the Clippers have recently made surprising and aggressive moves recently. The Clippers must deal with a roster that has a lot of moving parts and with an aggressive front office, two Lottery picks and other moveable assets, the Clippers are in position to address multiple issues in preparation for next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Could Masai Ujiri Revive the Wizards’ Missing Magic?
Masai Ujiri has proven to be an elite front office executive. Shane Rhodes explores whether he could conceivably bring some magic back to the Washington Wizards.
Masai Ujiri has accomplished quite a bit in his short time with the Toronto Raptors.
Named Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets in 2013, Ujiri was shortly thereafter named General Manager of a Raptors team that looked destined for rock bottom. But, undeterred, Ujiri cobbled together a roster that ended a then five-year, postseason-less streak in Toronto.
Big names – Andrea Bargnani, Rudy Gay, etc. – were sent packing under Ujiri’s watch, but the Raptors managed to excel all the same. It was never easy – the up-and-down nature of the Raptors’ regular versus postseason play has been strange, to say the least, over the course of these last six years – but Ujiri and Toronto managed to do the best with what they had.
And now, after the biggest gamble of his career, Ujiri has accomplished the ultimate; an NBA Championship, the first in the history of the 24-year-old Raptors franchise.
While the future of Kawhi Leonard has always seemed a question mark, any argument against Ujiri’s decision to trade then franchise face DeMar DeRozan for the disgruntled Spurs star is now moot. Ujiri built a champion and, regardless of wherever Leonard should play next season, it still will have been worth it to bring the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy to Toronto.
But Leonard may no longer be the only Raptor with an uncertain future. Ujiri himself, his work now done, a championship realized, could be off in search of the latest challenge to his managerial ability and basketball vision.
And a team with that sort of challenge is already prepared to make him a lucrative offer.
With ties to the Washington D.C. area – and a potential boon to his work outside the NBA (Ujiri is the director of “Basketball Without Borders,” – the Ujiri connection is, at the very least, an interesting one. The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, are a team desperate for change, not unlike that Raptors squad Ujiri took over for in 2013.
In fact, on the surface, the current iteration of the Wizards isn’t that different from those Raptors.
Both teams had the look of franchises on the decline; last season, the Wizards finished, 32-50, last in their division, while those Raptors finished just two games better at 34-48, also last in their division. Toronto, saddled with the contracts of Bargnani and Gay, were stuck over the salary cap, much like Washington, stuck with the massive contracts of John Wall and Bradley Beal, is projected to be.
Likewise, Toronto and Washington have both experienced their fair share of losing. The pre-Ujiri Raptors had toiled in losses and, at best, mediocrity since their inception, despite the presence of greats such as Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.
And, while they experienced success – and even won a title (then as the Bullets) – in the 1970s and 1980s, the Wizards’ recent history has looked like much of the same, rife with poor play and wasted opportunities. In 16 years with former General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards amassed a paltry record of 568-744 and made the postseason just eight times, with their own five-year drought to show for it.
Of course, the teams do have their differences. The NBA has seen a salary cap explosion in recent season – the salary cap was set at just over $58 million for the 2013 season, while next season it is expected to reach as high as $109 million. Both teams saw some unwanted contracts on their books, but the deals the Wizards are stuck with, John Wall’s, namely, are larger and more immovable.
So, could Ujiri work his magic once again? Would he even want to try, after winning a championship in Toronto? It’s hard enough to bring a franchise back from the brink, but could he pull it off a second time in Washington?
It would be difficult, to say the least.
To reiterate, the Wizards aren’t exactly Ujiri’s primordial Raptors when it comes down to their financials. While Ujiri was faced with the $16 and $10 million deals of Gay and Bargnani in 2013, respectively, those pale in comparison to what he would face with the Wizards. Wall’s massive deal – a contract that the Wizards, for all intents and purposes, will be stuck with for the next four seasons – combined with his 15% trade kicker, for starters, would prove a major inhibitor to any move that Ujiri would want or need to make.
Wall, who signed a four-year, $170,912,000 supermax contract with the Wizards in 2017, is expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season after suffering a torn left Achilles. A complete non-factor set to earn $38 million (nearly 34% of the Wizards cap space) was not a problem Ujiri faced in Toronto.
There is also the situation with Beal – a franchise star making big money for a team that doesn’t seem close to contention. Despite the fact that he is set to earn more than $27 million next season, Beal is Washington’s best asset. Only 25 years old, and already a premier player at the shooting guard position, Beal has only just entered his prime and could conceivably improve on the stellar 25.6 points, five rebounds and 5.5 assists per game line that he posted a season ago.
Should Ujiri take the job, he would have an extremely difficult decision – a la the DeRozan trade – to make right away. Beal is young enough, and under contract for long enough, that he could theoretically make it through a rebuild and still be a star that could help the next iteration of the Wizards compete for a title.
However, while it may not propel the Wizards to a title like his DeRozan-for-Kawhi swap last Summer, were Ujiri to find the proper return for Beal, the Wizards would be set up for some major success down the line. Either way, his decision would almost certainly be the most contentious and scrutinized one he would have to make.
And then, of course, there are decisions to make on the rest of the roster: which free agents would the Wizards retain or let walk? Which players would they pursue in free agency or on the trade market? How would the team view and move forward with their draft haul (assuming Ujiri were to take the job after next week’s NBA Draft)?
It took Ujiri six uneasy seasons to build Toronto up from an afterthought into an NBA Champion. While there has been some serious reported interest on the Wizards’ part, could he really be the man to right their sinking ship? And on the flip side, there has been nary a comment from the Raptors or Ujiri on that reported interest to this point; would he even want to leave all that he has accomplished in Toronto for a Washington team that is trending in the wrong direction?
It would be difficult, for sure, but Ujiri has proven himself up to the task, more than once. One of the most highly respected minds in the NBA, Ujiri, both in Denver and now with Toronto, has done more than impress as he has put his roster building prowess and future vision on full display.
Whether he would want to leave that realized vision in Toronto is anyone’s guess. But, should he choose to take his leave of the frozen north, Ujiri is almost certainly the man with a plan; the one to revive some of the long-lost magic of the Wizards in Washington.
NBA Daily: That’s Not How We Wanted It
The NBA Finals were fun to watch, but with the massive injuries and a missed opportunity on a star-studded matchup, Matt John explains why this series could have been so much more.
You may not want to read this if you’re not a fan of a buzzkill.
Wasn’t that last sequence before the NBA Finals ended enough of one already?
Anyway, before we get to the nitty-gritty, we need to give credit where credit is due. The Toronto Raptors deserved their title as the 2018-2019 NBA champions.
They paid their dues. They had their obstacles to go through. They even faced the real possibility of having to blow everything up one year ago at this time. And now here they are, the reigning champions of the basketball world. Even if Kawhi Leonard winds up leaving this summer, Toronto’s championship season proved that they did everything right and got what they wanted from him.
It’s also nice to see a new team don the name as champions. We don’t get to see newcomers win the title all too often, so seeing the Raptors get their first ever title as a franchise is pretty heartwarming in and of itself.
And yet, as inspiring as Toronto’s journey has been, we’re going to look back at this series and wonder what could have been.
The public wanted to see this match up. We wanted to see Kawhi vs. Kevin Durant. We wanted to see if Golden State could finally be dethroned once and for all. We wanted to see if the Warriors could complete the three-peat. We wanted to see if Toronto really pushed itself to the best of its abilities.
We got some of those things, but not in the way that we would have liked.
This starts with the Warriors’ defeat. The general public outside of the Bay Area was pulling for Toronto to overtake Golden State in the Finals. Technically, the haters all got what they wanted. It’s just that this wasn’t how they wanted the Warriors to fall.
Ever since Durant announced that he was headed to Golden State, the Warriors have been the most recent team – and possibly the most powerful one – that NBA crowds collectively loved to root against. Seeing such a powerhouse lose was always the dream for fans over the last three years. But in this scenario, what they wanted to see was Golden State lose at full strength. Not progressively limp as their season slowly disintegrated.
But that’s what we had to watch. KD missed all but a quarter and a half of the series. That was a bummer. Then Klay Thompson tore his ACL right in the middle of what NBA Twitter deemed as “Game 6 Klay,” so we never got a real chance to see if the Warriors actually had a shot at pushing the series to a Game 7.
It only got worse from there. They not only missed Durant for almost the entire series, but now the former two-time Finals MVP is slated to miss the entire 2019-2020 season and may never be the same player again with a ruptured Achilles. There is a fair amount of blame to go around for KD’s tragic injury, with some of it being squarely on our shoulders.
There was so much pressure on him to get back after the Raptors went up 3-1 that his commitment was in question. Even if Durant ignored all that and chose to play by his own accord, we can clearly tell now that he wasn’t ready to return. Not many have been cheering for KD to win since he’s been a Warrior, but nobody wanted to see the man suffer a career-altering injury.
To add to that, Durant’s injury made the series a wrap, but Thompson’s injury only serves as overkill. To make it worse, those injuries overshadowed that DeMarcus Cousins – who actually gave Golden State some good minutes – was clearly not back to normal.
What made this such a missed opportunity is that this may be the last time we see this Golden State team together. Love them or hate them, we may never see a juggernaut like the Warriors quite this strong again for quite some time.
It remains in question if some of these guys are going to be back next season with Durant and Thompson’s free agency coming up. Now that those two, who are among the best available players this summer, are going to miss most of, if not, the entirety of next season, that screws things up.
That doesn’t mean it was all bad. There were some truly memorable moments and plot lines on display during these Finals. With everything that the Warriors had to endure, they suddenly became the underdog in this series. When was the last time we could say that about Golden State? 2013? Plus, even when the odds were stacked against them, the Warriors still gave the Raptors everything they could handle.
It didn’t have to do with just the Warriors either. Remember when Durant called Kawhi a “system player” back in 2014? While he probably changed his mind about that years ago, we finally were proven that Kawhi is far from a system player. In fact, Kawhi may just very well be the system.
By winning his second championship with a different franchise, Kawhi joins a rare group of players who won titles with two different teams, including LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Dennis Rodman and Ray Allen.
Finally, in retrospect, it seriously is so mind-blowing that the Warriors were able to make five consecutive runs to the Finals. It’s hard to believe, but the only team to do that was the Boston Celtics in the 1960’s. We’ve seen teams make multiple runs to the Finals, but not five times in a row. While LeBron made eight consecutive Finals, he did with that with two different teams.
Many wanted Golden State’s era of dominance to end. Just not like this. Even though we would have preferred it go differently, we should all be happy that there’s a new champion now even if circumstances made it easier for it to win.
In the end, it’s not hard to say that it’s just as satisfying to see the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors as it is bittersweet.
NBA Daily: Brazdeikis Boasting Plenty Of Confidence As Draft Nears
Basketball Insiders caught up with Ignas Brazdeikis of the Michigan Wolverines at the NBA Combine. Jordan Hicks highlights various aspects of the conversations and offers a preview of Iggy pre-draft.
Ignas Brazdeikis – more commonly referred to as “Iggy” – comes into this year’s NBA draft with a lot of confidence.
“I’m always humble, but at the same time I’m very confident,” Brazdeikis told Basketball Insiders at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
And why shouldn’t he be confident?
The former Michigan freshman set a school record with four Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards and was added to the late-season John Wooden award top-20 watchlist. He averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, shooting 46.2 percent from the field and a highly-respectable 39.2 percent from three.
Iggy stands tall at 6-foot-7 and isn’t pulled back by his length, boasting a wingspan of 6-foot-9. He clearly has a knack for shooting, but his lack of lateral quickness could hurt him defensively. He has a knack for getting buckets, which definitely showed as he led the Wolverines as a freshman in scoring. His ability to create his shown is something that is certainly coveted in today’s NBA and will not go overlooked during the draft process.
Iggy is currently slated as a second-round talent, likely due to the questions surrounding him on the defensive end of the court. As a three, he is already smaller than most other small forwards in the league, and his length – although good – isn’t elite enough to keep him in front of quicker players.
When asked what factors play into whether or not he returns to Michigan or stays in the draft, he responded: “My intent was to stay in all along, we’ll see how it goes, but that’s definitely what I’m leaning towards right now. I feel like with the opportunity I’m given I can make a lot of knows…I think I’m ready for the next step.”
He made it official a few days after the Combine that he will remain in the draft.
While scouts remain skeptical on Iggy’s ability to defend, he had other things to say.
“I’m athletic enough to defend, I have the perimeter skills to play as a guard, to guard multiple positions, I feel like I’m a positionless player,” Brazdeikis said.
When asked about the conversations he’d been having with other teams, talk shifted to things they were telling him he should work on.
“Making the right and simple play is the biggest thing for me and the biggest jump in my game,” Brazdeikis said. “Making the right read is what I’m working on now.”
This was certainly something you noticed if you watched Brazdeikis play at Michigan. He has a strong frame and is definitely athletic enough to get to the rim, but often times he would try and force things – usually ending in a turnover or missed opportunity elsewhere on the court.
Iggy was not afraid of the spotlight as his freshman season progressed. He led the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on their way to a second place finish in the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines finished their March Madness run with an exit to the eventual tournament runner-up – Texas Tech – in the Sweet Sixteen. Ignas finished his final game with Michigan with 17 points and career-high 13 rebounds.
As previously mentioned, there is a lot to like about his game. On the flip side, there are a handful of things he needs to work on. But as he mentioned during the interview, he is aware of that.
One thing Ignas does not lack is confidence. Draymond Green – one of the better second-round draft choices in recent memory – can likely attest to the fact that confidence is key in being successful.
Ignas – just like Draymond – will likely end up as some team’s second choice off the board. If he can harness his confidence, and combine it with his skill set and specific abilities, that will keep him in the NBA for many years to come.