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NBA PM: Life After Lob City

With Chris Paul now a member of the Houston Rockets, the L.A. Clippers have some tough choices to make.

Shane Rhodes

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Chris Paul has made the move from Lob City to Clutch City.

As of yesterday, Paul is officially a member of the Houston Rockets by way of a blockbuster 7-for-1 player trade agreed to by Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul will join Rockets’ guard James Harden, forming possibly the best backcourt duo in the league, in an attempt to compete with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.

While the move may be a boon for Paul and the Rockets, it’s looking like the end of an era for the Clippers and leaves the franchise in a state of basketball limbo. With Paul gone, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick possibly leaving in free agency and DeAndre Jordan eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, Steve Ballmer, Jerry West and Doc Rivers have some serious decisions to make that could affect the team for years to come.

There are two conceivable directions for a team in the Clippers position to take; retool and reload or hit the reset button and blow up the roster. While retooling allows teams to remain somewhat competitive, it often isn’t the best course of action and can eventually lead to mediocrity or worse. However, rebuilding can take years and can leave teams almost devoid of fan and or free agent interest. But what is the best option for the Clippers? Let’s explore the Clippers’ options.

Retool and Reload

If the Clippers plan to retool the roster, they must re-sign Griffin — Jordan alone can’t be the main fixture of a team due to his one-dimensional nature on the offensive end. The two together would remain one of the better front courts in the league, allowing the Clippers to remain competitive enough to potentially make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. While it may no longer be “Lob City,” Jordan and Griffin would still be a force on the glass and in the interior while Griffin could step out and space the floor with his improved shooting. As a willing and capable passer, Griffin could add another wrinkle to the Clippers offense with more time for him to play on the ball as well.

Around Griffin and Jordan, as well as guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and forward-center Montrezl Harrell, who were acquired in the Paul trade, the Clippers front office would likely fill out the rest of the roster with mid-to-lower-tier free agents. Rudy Gay, Tony Allen and Willie Reed come to mind as potential targets.

In a scenario such as this, the Clippers likely maintain a playoff spot and keep fans and possible free agents interested in the team. However, they’re not as good or any better than they were with Paul in the starting lineup and virtually have no chance to compete for a title. Things could also get messy down the road as the roster ages with no influx of high-end talent coming in via the draft.

Blow It Up

If another team manages to lure Griffin away from Los Angeles, the Clippers’ best option will be to clean house and start from scratch. A team centered around Jordan won’t be a viable option for free agents, nor will it be a team that is able to compete with the star-studded Western Conference.

Their best bet would be to attempt a sign and trade with whatever team is looking to acquire Griffin — similar to the deal they worked out with Houston for Paul — allowing them to recoup some sort of value. Jordan would be the next domino to fall; a rebound-needy team like the Boston Celtics could make use of Jordan’s rebounding skills as well as his prowess on the defensive end. Beverley and Williams would bring back some value for the Clippers, as could Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers. Jamal Crawford would likely be moved, but, due to the nature of his contract, would bring back almost nothing other than cap relief.

From there, the team would need to take stock of their remaining players. There are some intriguing names already on the roster in Harrell, Sam Dekker, Brice Johnson, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, but none of them project to be star players and should be considered movable if the right deal comes up. Over the course of the next season, the team would bottom out — a roster constructed from those five as well as lower tier free agents coming in on short-term deals won’t win many games — leading to (hopefully) a favorable spot in the lottery. Taking on some bad contracts to acquire more assets would be likely to occur as well.

Rivers, along with much of the coaching staff, could eventually opt to leave the team for greener pastures if the front office decides to blow it up. But, after a few seasons of sub-par basketball, lottery picks and asset collection, the Clippers should have a nice, young core that they can build around for the future. While it may take longer, the team will likely be better down the road than they would if they attempt to stay relevant now by simply retooling.

The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers serve as a reminder that, while it may seem more appealing to win now, reloading as opposed to rebuilding can really leave your team in a future bind. And while many Clipper fans would loathe the idea of a long rebuild after going through years of lackluster basketball prior to the arrival of Paul, Griffin and Jordan, it may be the best course of action for the team in the long run. Whether or not the Clippers think they have a chance of re-signing Griffin, they should look to blow it up and build a team for the future.

The Insiders Podcast

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA Writer Michael Scotto look back at the 2017 NBA Draft and look ahead to NBA Free Agency including Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and more.

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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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