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NBA Daily: Clippers Must Address Numerous Issues This Offseason

With a roster in flux and multiple first-round draft picks, the Clippers have a lot of key decisions to make this offseason, writes James Blancarte

James Blancarte

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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.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019

The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.

Moke Hamilton

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Don’t get me wrong, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving would both look great in New York Knick uniforms. Just not now.

Hey, let’s be frank—only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.

If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right. I won’t argue with you. But one thing that not even Max Kellerman could find a way to argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.

Sure, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka haven’t been on the job very long, but if there’s one thing they’ve already shown us is that they’re no newbies. That’s exactly why LeBron James is going to take his talents to Los Angeles in July. But we’ll save that discussion for next week.

As it stands, the Knicks have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have another lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

In other words, one year from now, the Knicks will have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level.

That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Scott Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.

Know who will be free agents in July 2019?

If you answered Kawhi Leonard, you’re correct, but you only get partial credit.

The full answer is Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving, the latter of whom has been consistently rumored as having real interest in signing with the Knicks when he’s able to  test the market next July. Depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern that Irving could opt to take his talents elsewhere and if Irving is truly in search of building a legacy, one could fairly conclude that there has to be some level of intrigue.

Irving grew up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden and knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?

Maybe not, but one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.

As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.

And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.

Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’s (rather unfairly) earned a reputation of someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.

Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris will also each be free come July 2019. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, also.

It’d be one thing if the Knicks were one piece away from potentially winning the Eastern Conference, but with or without Kawhi Leonard, they’re light years away.

What makes most sense for the Knicks is to continue to stay the course, manage their cap intelligently, hit home runs with each of their next two lottery picks and try to find a way to trade Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah.

Depending on what happens with Kristaps Porzingis, it’s very possible that the Knicks could find themselves with enough cap room to sign two maximum-salaried free agents. Between now and then, they’d also have the opportunity to add a free attractive young pieces that would likely go a long way toward convincing players of Leonard’s ilk to entrust his legacy to the capable hands of the front office.

In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson’s Lakers than like the Knicks we’ve come to know.

Believe it or not, if the Knicks play their card rights and decide to stay the course and patiently rebuild as opposed to splurging for minimal gains, the unthinkable could happen…

They may actually prove themselves worthy of the attention of a marquee free agent.

Or, in this case, two of them.

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NBA Daily: Four International Prospects Worth Stashing

While much of the international buzz has fallen on Luka Dončić, there are four other overseas prospects worth keeping your eye on.

Ben Nadeau

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Image courtesty of eurohoops.net

Without fail, mock drafts come and go all spring with little mention of potential international draftees. It makes perfect sense. Not every overseas athlete can get the buzz of Real Madrid’s Luka Dončić — or, in most cases, even that of Élie Okobo and Džanan Musa, two international prospects with decent chances of going in the first round next week. Still, would it surprise you to know that seven international draftees were taken in the second round in 2017? Or that 2016 went one better and reached eight? In fact, 2015 saw 10 foreign-born prospects get selected after pick No. 30 — so this is a trend, not an aberration.

Granted, a handful of those draftees haven’t and will not ever play meaningful NBA minutes — but the point still very much stands. However, outside of those aforementioned three — Dončić, Okobo and Musa — even the most-educated of fans would be hard-pressed to rattle off four more transatlantic options. Luckily, Basketball Insiders has your back. Memorize these easily-digestible profiles to impress your friends and family during the NBA Draft — you can thank us later.

Additionally, three of these four players were recently ranked in Basketball Insiders’ latest 60-pick mock draft. For more insight, check out our consensus mock drafts here as well.

Isaac Bonga, Germany — Fraport Skyliners
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SG/SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 39 to Philadelphia

By most accounts, Bonga will be drafted next week — so, admittedly, he’s not the deepest cut on this list. But if the German isn’t on many casual radars just yet, he should be soon enough. His statistics are hardly remarkable — Bonga averaged just six points, three rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2017-18 — but his physical measurements project him as a difference-maker. Standing at 6-foot-9, the 18-year-old talent has some legitimate playmaking abilities already. Of course, overseas highlight reels have proven to be misleading time and time again — but watch this timestamped move from last summer’s FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup and try not to get too excited.

Comparing Bonga to other size-aided court generals is weak at best, but he also boasts a seven-foot wingspan, shoots 92.1 percent from the free throw line and his on-court vision is noteworthy for a teenager. Bonga’s best individual performance of the season came against Eisbären Bremerhaven, where he notched 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks on 2-for-2 from three-point range. Given his current stature, he won’t be limited to just defending one or two positions if he bulks up over the next couple years either. There’s no guarantee that Bonga will make it professionally in America, but there are some compelling reasons to take a wait-and-see approach with this capable youngster.

Rodions Kurucs, Latvia — FC Barcelona
Age: 20 Height: 6-foot-9 Position: SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 37 to Sacramento

Originally, Kurucs had considered coming over last season after scoring 9.5 points per game for FC Barcelona II. Although raw, the then-19-year-old was a projected late first-rounder for much of the workout process — but he ultimately opted to head back to Spain for another year. In 2017-18, his counting statistics improved nominally, but he finally spent time with FC Barcelona, one of Europe’s top clubs. Unfortunately, that’s also where things begin to get a bit tricky.

Between his allegedly expensive buyout and Barcelona freely swapping Kurucs between their two clubs to keep him away from visiting scouts, the Latvian is now widely seen as a second-round pick across the board. He had until June 11 to withdraw his name, but — perhaps knowing that things will forever remain difficult in Spain — is just going to make the most of a bad situation. Even with his up-and-downs, Kurucs is often a crafty scorer that can go both inside and outside with the ball.

Although Kurucs has two-way potential, make no mistake, the offense is the prospect’s bread and butter. As we’ve learned in recent years, the NBA will always find room for deadeye shooters and that’s what Kurucs may eventually bring to the table. The talent is here for Kurucs but his long-term NBA future likely depends on which franchise he lands with.

Issuf Sanon, Ukraine — Petrol Olimpija
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-3 — Position: G
Last Mock Rank: No. 57 to Oklahoma City

Qualifying as one of the more under the radar options, Sanon is a Ukrainian baller currently playing for Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. In 2017-18, Sanon averaged six points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals over 20.2 minutes per game and presently projects as a combo guard. Although his professional moments have offered glimpses of an NBA-worthy path, Sanon made his biggest mark last summer at the FIBA U18 European Championship. In what would become his breakout tournament, Sanon averaged 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists over seven games.

During a slim two-point defeat to Turkey in the Round of 16, Sanon tallied 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and made three of his five attempts from deep. He’ll need to continue developing at the three-point line — he shot just 29.3 percent this season — but Sanon looks like he could be a viable 3-and-D candidate down the road. That said, like many international second-rounders, it’s unlikely that Sanon will come over for a few years at least. But if he keeps developing at this rate, drafting and stashing Sanon would be a shrewd move for any franchise.

Arnoldas Kulboka, Lithuania — Capo d’Orlando
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: F
Last Mock Rank: Unranked

Last but not least, there’s Arnoldas Kulboka — a long-ranged assassin with the numbers to back it up. In 2017-18, Kulboka went on loan to Capo d’Orlando of Serie A, a club with which he quickly found success. He was even named Best Young Player in the Basketball Champions League, a new, FIBA-led, European-wide competition. At the 2017 U19 Basketball World Cup, Kulboka averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and two assists over seven games. As an athletic, microwavable shooter, Kulboka naturally goes through bouts of inconsistency — but when he’s on, the Lithuanian appears like a tremendous prospect. In the tournament opener against Germany, Kulboka dropped 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 5-for-8 from downtown. What else could you want?

On the flip side, during Lithuania’s quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Italy, Kulboka scored just five points on 1-for-15 shooting — so there’s certainly still room to improve. Given his NBA-ready range and his perfect fit in a modern offensive system, those facets alone make Kulboka worth considering. Regardless, success at the international level from an early age is not always an indicator of future achievements, that much should be obvious. But for a mid-to-late second rounder, franchises could do far worse than stashing Kulboka.

While there’s no promise that everybody on this list will even join the NBA someday, they’ve all proved that their names should be known heading into draft week. From former FIBA standouts to those with positionless potential, these four overseas standouts could be difference-makers in the forthcoming years.

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NBA Daily: The Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes is On

Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio, which means plenty of teams will look to make competitive bids. Shane Rhodes breaks down the situation.

Shane Rhodes

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Kawhi Leonard wants out.

Frustrated with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard is forcing their hand. And, in an offseason already flush with available talent, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year has just penciled himself near the top of every team’s shopping list.

As the Spurs move forward, they will have a bevy of suitors to consider. Which teams can offer them the best package for their two-way superstar?

Los Angeles Lakers

Kawhi Leonard is reportedly interested in heading to Los Angeles, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Whether they involve Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or some combination of the three, the Los Angeles Lakers have a stable of quality, high-upside talent to provide in any trade scenario. The Spurs could take them in an effort to accelerate a mini-rebuild while trying to maximize Head Coach Gregg Popovich and retain relevancy in the Western Conference.

Leonard, more so than the aforementioned kids, provides a huge incentive for the likes of LeBron James and Paul George to consider donning the purple and gold next season as well. If the ultimate goal is a super-trio of James, George and Kawhi, the Lakers almost have to make a play for him.

While the Spurs won’t want to help any other team improve, especially one in-conference, they may not get a better offer if Leonard has his heart set on the Lakers come 2019.

Los Angeles Clippers

Like the Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers also hold Leonard’s attention according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. They don’t have the glitz, glamor and high-upside talent of their Los Angeles contemporaries, but the Clippers present an interesting trade partner with the combination of veterans and draft capital that they possess.

The Clippers hold Nos. 12 and 13 overall in next week’s NBA Draft. While those two picks alone likely aren’t enough, pairing them alongside potential on-the-block veterans — Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari and others — could put the Clippers in the conversation. And, while it is unknown if Leonard’s camp will assure teams of him re-signing long-term, the Clippers have one of the best executives in the league, Jerry West, to hang their hat on in negotiations.

For the Spurs, acquiring the 12th and 13th overall picks allows them to quickly add talent through the draft (whether they choose to use the picks or package them to move up) while the veterans allow them to remain competitive in the brutal Western Conference.

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics don’t need to trade for Kawhi Leonard. The team that found themselves minutes from the NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward playing a single minute in the postseason will, health permitting, be a bonafide contender next season and for the foreseeable future.

Still, Danny Ainge and Co. have shown that, if they have the means to improve their team, they will do so, regardless of the risk.

Again, the Celtics don’t necessarily need Leonard to compete for a title. However, they are in a unique position; not only do the Celtics have the assets to acquire Leonard but have the ability to make the BEST offer for the superstar wing, should they be so inclined. A combination of high-upside draft capital and ascending players — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others — on cheap, rookie contracts would certainly be appealing to San Antonio. Plus, shipping Leonard to Boston gets him out of the Western Conference, another benefit for the Spurs.

While it may hurt Boston fans to see the likes of Tatum and Brown leave town, a potential foursome of Irving, Hayward, Leonard and Al Horford could be devastating as well and, perhaps, even the answer to the Golden State Warriors’ Hamptons 5.

Philadelphia 76ers

While the Philadelphia 76ers could certainly use a General Manager right about now, having Head Coach and former San Antonio assistant Brett Brown running the show in the interim isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The 76ers have been connected to James and George since their elimination from the postseason, but Leonard may be a better fit than both. Leonard is a superior defender to George and, unlike James, affords Ben Simmons the opportunity to remain the primary ball handler on offense.

Philadelphia, like Boston, also has the added benefit of residing in the Eastern Conference.

After the departure of Bryan Colangelo and a strange rookie season, the 76ers could be willing to part with Markelle Fultz in addition to other players or picks in order to add a player of Leonard’s caliber as well. If anyone could remedy what ailed the former No. 1 Overall Pick’s shot, it would be the Spurs own Chip Engelland, one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA.

Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have been stuck in a perpetual rebuild for quite some time. While they have the assets to get a deal done, would they be willing to dangle the No. 1 overall pick for Leonard?

Perhaps.

Back in May, Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough told Wojnarowski that the Suns were “open” to moving the No. 1 pick and that there were “a few players” that the team would consider trading the pick for. While the team has since come out and said that they will likely keep the pick, anything can happen in the NBA and a proven commodity like Leonard doesn’t become available all too often.

This scenario can be a win-win for both teams. The Suns add a Most Valuable Player candidate to their roster alongside budding star Devin Booker and high-upside swingman Josh Jackson. Meanwhile, San Antonio has the chance to bring in a new franchise player in addition to anyone else the Suns send their way — Marquiss Chriss, Dragan Bender, etc.

The 2018 Offseason had already planned to be an eventful one. Now, with the Leonard-Lottery in full swing, it has the potential to change the NBA landscape.

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