All good things come to an end, but just as Doc Rivers had trouble recognizing when the end had arrived for the Boston Celtics, he may also need some help seeing that the end has arrived for his Los Angeles Clippers.
With respect to professional athletes—individuals who both enjoy a limited existence and know that everything can change for them in an instant—there’s only so many times that one can wait until next year.
Ray Allen figured it out, then Kevin Durant did and so did Chris Paul.
From the moment Paul communicated to Rivers his desire to try something new in Houston, the Clippers’ days as a contender were over. While the players returned in exchange for Paul included some talented pieces, even with the acquisition of Danilo Gallinari, nobody thought that the Clippers had what it takes to challenge even Paul’s new team in the Houston Rockets, much less the mighty Golden State Warriors.
Although one shouldn’t blame Rivers for his defiance, at this point, it’s become abundantly clear that the team has run its course.
Here and now, it’s finally time to trade DeAndre Jordan.
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Since being selected with the 35th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Jordan has become one of the NBA’s more dominant centers. In the era marked by open floors, pick and rolls and three point shots, Jordan possesses a rare combination of traits. He’s a true seven footer who both has the ability to dominate games on the interior while guarding smaller, more nimble players on the perimeter. Sure, he can’t make free throws worth a lick, but on the right team, in the right situation, he can impact a game and be the final piece of some team’s championship puzzle.
That’s why the Clippers have to trade him.
A fringe contender at best, the Clippers will have an important decision to make on Jordan this summer. In a way, they face a worse predicament than the New York Knicks did with Carmelo Anthony back when the club signed him to a a five-year, $124 million contract back in July 2014. With the re-signed Anthony, the Knicks were able to convince themselves that with another piece or two, they’d be able to contend with the contenders in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Back then, at his best, Anthony still had the ability to elevate an entire team.
The same can’t be said for Jordan.
Despite his wishes to be considered more of a lynchpin, the truth of the matter is that Jordan’s limitations on the offensive end—and his historically poor free throw shooting—limits him from ever becoming the day-in, day-out primary post option that Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal ever were.
Without being flanked by a true superstar—a player like Chris Paul, LeBron James or even Giannis Antetokounmpo—Jordan will become a big fish in a small pond. He’ll become a player whose championship caliber potential will never be realized because he both lacks the traits necessary to become one himself and won’t have one beside him.
Sure, Blake Griffin has some incredible talents, but his failure to develop a sound back-to-basket game and his over reliance on his athleticism limits his maximum effectiveness. The best thing Griffin has done in his career was jump over a Kia. The second-best thing he’s ever done was figure out new ways to get hurt.
The thought of a Griffin-Jordan duo bringing the Clippers to contention is a joke that’s even funnier than the thought of Blake lasting a full 82 games.
Let’s take a step back and be honest about something, though. Generally, as a culture, we are too quick to advocate for a team to “tear it down” and start all over. Legal scholars and sociologists for years have yielded studies that provide substantial evidence that most people only have the ability to remember examples and situations that help the point they’re trying to make.
In other words, if you’re advocating that a team should sell off its assets and rebuild, you’re likely to reference teams like the Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers as teams that did so and ended up with franchise-caliber talents.
While that is generally true, pointing to the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are good reasons to pull the plug on a fringe contender simply wreaks of selective memory. For every Curry, there are at least 1,000 players who never amount to anything. For every Joel Embiid, there are at least 100 Nerlens Noels.
Noel, in all fairness, is a very useful player, but nobody—not even the woeful Dallas Mavericks—are willing to bet the farm on his becoming a franchise cornerstone.
Rebuilding is difficult. It’s a long process that requires luck, patience, endurance and keen decision making. There are some front offices that are totally content with building a roster that it knows will win 50 games every season and, at best, win one playoff series. In fact, one could make the argument that this will be the fate for 95 percent of the NBA’s teams.
Without LeBron, Durant, Curry or a player like Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving, there simply isn’t much opportunity to win everything.
Jordan isn’t in that class of player, and honestly, neither is Griffin.
At this point in time, what the Clippers would be wise to do is what most other NBA teams stuck in the middle do—hope to find a diamond in the draft and build around him.
Of course, if the Clippers get lucky, they could walk away from the 2018 draft with a franchise-caliber player, but the problem is simple: Jordan is playing in the final year of his contract and could sign with another team this summer. In all likelihood, at 29 years old, he will end up taking his talents to the highest bidder.
With Griffin on the books for an average of $35 million per year over each of the next four and Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers sitting on $55 million of guaranteed money over the next two years, signing Jordan to a maximum contract would sentence the Clippers to mediocrity for the next several years.
While mediocrity isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, Jordan leaving the club for nothing would be. Another important factor to be considered is this: as a part of the agreement between the Clippers and the Boston Celtics that saw the Celtics release Doc Rivers from his contract to sign on in Los Angeles, the Clippers agreed to give the Celtics a future first round pick.
If the Clippers fail to make the playoffs in the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season, they’ll get to keep each of the lottery picks that will result. In such a scenario, they’d send their 2022 second round pick to the Celtics to complete the transaction.
If, on the other hand, the Clippers do qualify for the playoffs in either 2019 or 2020, they’ll have to surrender their first rounder to the Celtics.
In the end, re-signing Jordan could make all the difference in the world—he could help make the Clippers just good enough to not fully reap the benefits of being a bad team. He could also cost them a first round pick in the process.
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In the end, even a blind man can see that it’s time for the Clippers to embrace rebuilding. The team owns its own pick in this year’s draft and could easily acquire another first round pick from either the Cavaliers or the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Jordan.
Without Jordan, it’s likely that the Clips miss the playoffs for each of the next two seasons, meaning that the team could very well have four first round picks in the next three drafts, and that doesn’t count what they might be able to get in return for trading Blake Griffin.
Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to Blake, also, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.
All good things come to an end. Chris Paul realized it, and it’s time for Doc Rivers to follow suit.
No, DeAndre Jordan isn’t the problem with the Clippers—it’s everyone around him.
Still, that doesn’t mean that he can’t help to be a part of the solution.
Let’s just hope that the team’s brass and Doc Rivers—who still plays a major role in the team’s day-to-day decisions—realize that, too.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.