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NBA Saturday: Clippers’ Troubles Mounting

The Los Angeles Clippers’ troubles are starting to mount, both on and off of the court due to Shelly Sterling… The latest on the hunt for Steve Kerr…

Yannis Koutroupis

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Clippers’ Troubles Mounting: It seems like Game 1 was so long ago.

Chris Paul couldn’t miss from three, the Thunder’s defense looked out of sync and the Clippers had stolen away homecourt advantage.

Now, with a critical Game 4 set for Sunday, the tide has turned completely.

The Thunder’s offense is clicking like a finely tuned machine with their two stars playing so well together that they may never have to hear questions about their compatibility ever again. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook followed up a stellar Game 2 performance with 59 combined points in Game 3 as the Thunder became the first team this season to beat the Clippers despite trailing going into the fourth. They now lead the series 2-1 and have recaptured homecourt advantage.

“They got everything,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said afterwards. “They got threes, layups, key second shots. Down the stretch, they made every big play. We had shots, too, and they didn’t go in. We put way too much pressure on our offense because our defense wasn’t working.”

“We did a good job of weathering storms throughout the game and sticking together,” Durant said. “We’re going to have to do that even more next game if we want to win. It’s probably going to be the toughest game of the series.”

Game 3 was quite chippy and with potentially four games remaining, the physicality is poised to only increase.

However, off the court – things are getting even more intense and interesting.

Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling, was present at the game. She’s becoming quite the distraction, publicly voicing her desire to keep the team in the family despite her husband’s lifetime banishment. Technically she does own half of Sterling’s majority ownership and she does not plan to give it up without a fight.

“Despite all of the furor during the past week, Mrs. Sterling still has property rights,” Shelly’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell said. “She has worked tirelessly over the years to build up a franchise that was once a cellar dweller into a sports powerhouse. She has the same right as anyone else in America to enjoy and control the fruits of those labors, and that includes deciding whether to keep or sell her 50 percent interest in the team.

“They may share the same last name. But they don’t share the same values on race.”

History says otherwise. While Shelly may not have been included in Silver’s initial round of punishment for her husband’s comments, she has been involved in some of the housing discrimination lawsuits. She’s also been accused of having racist views; although they weren’t anywhere near as highly publicized as Donald’s, the people who matter know all about them.

“Those guys are not going to play for anybody (named) Sterling,” Magic Johnson told USA TODAY Sports’ Eric Prisbell. “It’s just how it is. It’s hard to separate the two. … It’s going to be hard for them to sell that to the fans and definitely to the players.

“When they accused them of (being) slumlords, that was both, it wasn’t one person. It was both of them. … They will never recover from this. All the sponsors pulling out, they will pull out for good if she is owning it. It’s not going to be the same.

“It’s a shame all of this happened. But since it did, they should just sell the team and live a wonderful life because they are going to get a billion-plus for the team. It’s not like they are giving up something because they are going to get paid for this team.”

Rivers agreed with Johnson’s notion that while the two may not be actively together anymore, they’re still seen as one.

“I don’t even want to comment on it because I don’t know yet,” Rivers said. “I think it would be a very hard situation, I’ll say that much. I think it would be very difficult. I guarantee you every person wouldn’t be on board with it. Whether I would or not, I’m not going to say, I just know that would be a very difficult situation for everybody.”

Former Citigroup Chairman Dick Parsons was officially appointed by Adam Silver today as the CEO with the Los Angeles Clippers. In a lengthy Q&A session with ESPN Los Angeles’ Ramona Shelburne, he admitted that he will communicate and work with Shelly, for now.

“I have not spoken to her, but obviously I’d plan at some point in time to reach out to her,” Parsons said. “Obviously she’s a big fan of the team, she has an ownership interest, she has not been banned from anything. So our style is to try and work cooperatively, collaboratively and collegially with all the stakeholders. All the stakeholders who haven’t been banned.”

Parsons will be handling the business side of things, in association with Shelly and the rest of the Clippers stakeholders, while leaning on Rivers to handle the basketball operations side of things. He was adamant to Shelburne that he did not plan on interfering with the basketball side of the business, despite having the power to do so.

Shelly may not be in the picture much longer, though. In fear of her interactions with a team basically being a method for Donald to circumvent his banning, the NBA could soon extract her from the equation as well, Shelburne writes in a separate report:

The NBA believes it has the legal grounds to oust both Shelly Sterling and her husband as owners, despite the fact that commissioner Adam Silver’s punishments were specifically leveled only against Donald, according to sources with knowledge of the league’s legal strategy.

Shelly Sterling, the estranged wife of exiled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, has made it clear to the NBA that she intends to retain her 50 percent ownership interest in the team.

She has publicly and privately cooperated with the league in its actions to ban her husband for life and move to oust him from ownership. However, the league’s contention will be that Shelly Sterling — while entitled to a 50 percent interest in the franchise — has never been approved by the board of governors as the controlling owner. She and team president Andy Roeser, who went on an indefinite leave of absence this week, were only alternate governors.

In order to become the team’s new controlling owner, Shelly Sterling would have to be approved by the board of governors, which is unlikely given her association with her husband of 58 years.

Shelly Sterling’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, told ESPN on Friday that his client was “trying to resolve this” amicably with the NBA, but if that wasn’t possible, “We’re going to be in the courts.”

Read the rest of Shelburne’s report here.

Johnson’s view toward Shelly is shared by NBPA representative Roger Mason Jr., who said on the day of Silver’s ruling that a complete change in ownership was the only thing the players were willing to accept.

This cannot be an unforeseen wrinkle for Silver, who has yet to publicly comment or respond to anything said by Shelly and her attorney. Based on the impact, though, and his initial reaction, you can expect swift judgment and action from him soon.

Whether it comes while this thrilling Clippers-Thunder series is still underway remains to be seen. Rivers is doing an admirable job trying to keep his team focused because as he so masterfully put it, they have bigger concerns right now, primarily trying to contain Durant and Westbrook. If they can’t slow them down and shore up their play on the glass, all that’s going to be left to talk about soon is the Sterlings.

Steve Kerr Update: The hottest name in the coaching game right now is Steve Kerr. Despite having never coached a NBA game, Kerr is at the top of the New York Knicks’ wish list, a favorite to replace Mark Jackson in Golden State and someone the Utah Jazz are considering as well.

Kerr is contemplating each and every scenario right now and is expected to make his decision sometime early next week. It seems inevitable that Kerr will be making his debut as a head coach somewhere next season, but sticking to broadcasting has not been completely ruled out yet according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York.

Regardless of whether he accepts an offer next week, he does reportedly plan to see out the rest of his postseason analyst duties with Turner Broadcasting. That could change of course, if his new boss prefers otherwise.

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Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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