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Time’s Up: Five NBA Players Who Must Be Traded

Moke Hamilton identifies five players who must be traded ahead of the NBA’s February 20 trade deadline, otherwise their teams will miss a nice opportunity.

Moke Hamilton

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Only the strong survive, and as life continues on under the new economic era that the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought forth, it is not the general manager who has the most money that will ultimately prevail.

No, it is the GM who has spent the most time with the barbell. But we, obviously, are not talking brute force strength here, we are talking mental muscle.

So you, Mr. GM, do you know how to survive in this new era? Do you know what you can do to get your team over the hump?

We do! Follow two simple rules.

First, do not allow useful players to flee your farm for free. Odds are, Gregg Popovich is not losing sleep in San Antonio over Gary Neal’s departure this past summer. But Mitch Kupchak and the Los Angeles Lakers? You can rest assured that the departure of Dwight Howard still disturbs.

That is exactly why Pau Gasol immediately emerges as one of our noteworthy names here.

But before delving into the details, observe the second rule: Do not put off for tomorrow what can be accomplished today, especially if your potential trade partners do not like the idea of being hard-capped or otherwise facing economic sanctions, and that is exactly what a sign-and-trade agreement does in this new economic era of the Adam Silver’s NBA.

In short, a team that receives a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement must be no more than $4 million above the luxury tax threshold after the trade is completed. The receiving team is also hard-capped at the apron amount for the duration of the season in which they receive the player. Even worse, the receiving team may not spend more than a taxpayer mid-level exception on summer acquisitions, so in other words, receiving a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement certainly is not all it is cracked up to be and it easily is no longer as viable an option as it was under the previous economic era.

So yes, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, though possibly restricted free agents this summer, should be moved now.

The restrictions placed on receiving teams in sign-and-trade arrangements simply means that potential trade partners diminish significantly once February 20 passes.

So between now and then, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and even Daryl Morey would be wise to learn from the past mistakes of others. Each of those five should do their best to find a team that their respective players would like to go to, but does not want to be subjected to the restrictions born from a sign-and-trade arrangement.

Call them up and make the best effort to execute a trade involving the below players and do it before the February trade deadline. At the end of the day, everyone wins. The team trading the player gets something in return, the player leaving ends up in a situation where he is happy and the receiving team would not have to face any of the restrictions brought forth by executing the sign-and-trade.

It’s a no-brainer, is it not?

Of course it is. With that said, keep an eye on the following players as we draw nearer to the February 20 trade deadline.

Evan Turner (SG, Philadelphia 76ers)

Earlier this season, Evan Turner famously proclaimed that newly installed Sam Hinkie “is not my general manager” after Turner and the Sixers failed to come to an agreement on an extension. Turner has responded by turning in a good all-around season, despite the obvious struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

As it stands, the Sixers may make Turner a restricted free agent by extending him the required $8.7 million qualifying offer once they are eligible to, but that is no guarantee. In the summer of 2012, the Memphis Grizzlies opted to not extend O.J. Mayo a qualifying offer and saw him bolt to the Dallas Mavericks. Mayo was not as highly regarded as Turner, but their falling out of favor after being selected with lottery picks is somewhat familiar. The Grizzlies received nothing in return for a player who, despite his struggles, had perceived value around the league. Though they remain a power in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies obviously failed to maximize the value on their asset.

Turner, unlike Mayo, is just 25 years old and has shown, at least in spurts, that he can be a highly productive wing. Although the Sixers have some semblance of a nucleus upon which they can build, allowing Turner to leave on a four-year extension in the $40 million range—the amount he is likely to see on the open market—would be a tragic mistake.

There is no question that the Sixers should do their best to move him, right now, to a team that would not be in a position to meet his salary desires this summer.

Greg Monroe (C, Detroit Pistons)

Partially due to the acquisition of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe has seen his production slip as a member of the Detroit Pistons. Like Turner, Monroe is completing his fourth year and could be made a restricted free agent by the Pistons this summer. Monroe’s qualifying offer is only about $5.5 million, but whether or not the Pistons would be willing to commit the kind of dollars it would take to secure Monroe for another four or five years is doubtful, especially after the club committed almost $80 million combined to Smith and Brandon Jennings last summer.

As far as big men go, Monroe will be among the most coveted this summer. It would not be surprising for him to receive a maximum offer from a team looking for an effective big man who can pass and make plays out of the post—during the 2012-13 season, with a higher utilization, Monroe averaged a mind-boggling 3.5 assists per game.

That, in and of itself, has immense value in the NBA. The presence of Drummond and the struggles of the Pistons, though, make it such that committing the dollars necessary to make Drummond happy may not be the wisest thing to do for the Pistons. All of that is true even before considering that Drummond and Monroe may actually be stunting one another’s development.

Waiting by idly until this summer and allowing Monroe the freedom to sign a maximum extension with another team? That would be ill-advised. He is highly coveted across the league and could probably fetch decent assets in return if the Pistons opted to move him rather than risking losing him for nothing this summer, if the Pistons aren’t prepared to open their wallet.

Clearly, the time to move Monroe is now.

Pau Gasol (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)

Like Amar’e Stoudemire during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol has been the subject of trade rumors for what seems like an eternity. His head-butting with Mike D’Antoni has been well-documented and whether or not Gasol would prefer to remain in Los Angeles once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer is doubtful.

Gasol went on the record as saying he would be interested in returning to the Memphis Grizzlies, where his younger brother has emerged as one of the best all-around centers in the league. A frontline featuring the two would be difficult to contend with, despite the health issues that have plagued the aging Pau over the past few years. If Zach Randolph sticks around, the Grizzlies would have a fearsome triad up front.

Fortunately for the Lakers, as long as Randolph opts into the $17 million he has due to him next season, the Grizzlies would not be able to offer Gasol more than a mid-level exception of $5.3 million in July.

The Lakers, with an eye toward luring free agents in the future, are hesitant to add long-term money to their payroll, but if Gasol is truly amenable to returning to Memphis, a deadline deal with the Grizzlies would both allow him to return to the team that drafted him while maintaining his full Bird rights heading into July.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Suns have registered interest in Gasol, but are reluctant to meet the asking price of the Lakers—a high draft pick in this year’s draft.

Though he may be over the hill and almost 34 years old, Gasol is still a versatile interior force and for the rebuilding Lakers, accepting 50 cents on the dollar for him would be more advisable than losing him for nothing.

For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies make for a more attractive trade partner for the Lakers than the Suns. The Suns, first, will be under the cap this summer and could maintain the flexibility necessary to simply sign Gasol outright. Additionally, the Suns may be reluctant to trade a pick to the Lakers without an assurance that Gasol would re-sign in Phoenix come July. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have already been cited by Gasol as a desired destination and are unlikely to have the ability to sign Gasol to a lucrative offer this summer.

Whether it be to Phoenix or Memphis, though, the Lakers must move the Spaniard.

Kyle Lowry (PG, Toronto Raptors)

After being mentioned as a trade target for the New York Knicks earlier this season, Kyle Lowry has emerged as one of the conference’s hottest topics.

The Raptors and their improbable rise to the top of the Atlantic Division is due in large part to the impressive play of Lowry, whom many believe should have been named as an Eastern Conference All-Star.

Lowry’s 16.6 points and 7.5 assists per game this season both represent career-highs, and at just 27 years old, he still has perceived upside that may be realized if he finds himself in the right situation.

General manager Masai Ujiri was brought to Toronto to help build the team into a contender in his own image, and thus far, he has not done or said anything to quiet the speculation that there is no interest in retaining Lowry past this season. It is a situation that is eerily reminiscent of what Evan Turner is going through in Philadelphia.

At this point, the New York Knicks still make for a sensible destination for Lowry. Across the league, he has developed a reputation for being a player who wears out his welcome, and odds are, if opposing teams were tearing down Ujiri’s door for a chance to acquire the 27-year-old point guard, he probably would have been dealt already.

A three-team trade in which the Knicks send out a coveted piece in return for Lowry could make sense if the Raptors and Knicks could not agree to a one-on-one trade. Such a deal makes sense for both teams, but only if the Knicks decided that they would re-sign Lowry this summer and make him a part of the team’s future.

The team’s interest in both Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving is a poorly kept secret around New York, but with neither player a guarantee to hit the free agent market anytime soon—much less land with the Knicks—Ujiri could take advantage of the Knicks and their desperate attempt to sneak into the playoffs.

It is hard to imagine Lowry remaining a member of the Raptors past this season, and letting a productive point guard whose best days may be ahead of him go for nothing—that’s something only a team like the Knicks would do.

Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)

Although Omer Asik is under contract through the end of next season, his soap opera with the Houston Rockets has gone on long enough and moving him now is the right decision for the franchise.

Asik is a good insurance policy for Dwight Howard, but negative vibrations emanating from players who are not content with their playing situations are things that have the potential to poison an otherwise harmonious locker room. Asik is nearing a return from an extended absence due to a troublesome knee and there is no doubt that the Rockets are a better defensive team with him, but through 31 games without him, they are 20-11.

Without him, they have fared just fine, but the catalyst behind trading him now is simple: tomorrow is not promised. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs know that well.

After being beat up by the Miami HEAT in the 2012 NBA Finals, injuries to Russell Westbrook have diminished the Thunder’s status as a contender. Obviously, in Westbrook’s absence this season, Kevin Durant has become the league’s consensus Most Valuable Player through its first half, but the assumption was that the Thunder would be the conference’s top team for years to come. Westbrook’s injuries have changed that.

That can happen at anytime, to any player—including both James Harden and Dwight Howard.

As for the Spurs, thus far this season, their health has been anything but optimal. Their return to the NBA Finals this year, at this point, seems like a long shot, especially if their troublesome health is a sign of what lies ahead.

With a brilliant half court scorer in Harden and a interior presence like Howard, the Rockets are a team that has the first two pieces toward enjoying sustained playoff success. They are one more piece away from potentially rising to the top of the conference, and they have Asik—a valuable player who is not happy with his role.

Why not deal him now? The fact remains that Asik’s presence on the Rockets’ roster and the continued questions about his status and demeanor will continue to be an unwelcome distraction for a young team still toiling and attempting to find itself amongst the conference’s elite.

There is simply little reason to continue to drag this out.

Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is the responsibility of a good general manager. Bluffing and stalling has value, but with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Turner and Monroe soon to hit restricted free agency, Gasol already thinking about another life in Memphis, Lowry playing himself into the highest trade value he will ever have and the Rockets’ existence as an emerging contender, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and Daryl Morey would all be wise to keep their cellphones charged.

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Young Glad To Reunite With McGee, Embracing Chance With Warriors

Spencer Davies chats with JaVale McGee and Nick Young about the sharpshooter’s first year with the Warriors.

Spencer Davies

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You never forget where you started.

As first-round draft picks with only a year apart between them, Nick Young and JaVale McGee began their respective careers in our nation’s capital with the Washington Wizards.

That’s where a bond began. Despite a tumultuous four-year stay with an organization that never sniffed the playoffs and finished dead last in the Central Division three times in the span, the two remained close friends.

Almost a decade later, “Swaggy P” and “Pierre” are reunited. Only this time, it’s with the NBA’s defending champion Golden State Warriors.

“Just shows,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve both been in this league for a long time and people didn’t think we was gonna make it this far and that’s a blessing. We’ll continue to do it and prove people wrong. From the bottom to the top, you know what I’m sayin’?”

McGee agrees wholeheartedly. Winning his first title with the Warriors last summer, he’s learned quite a few things about the healthy climate within the organization that Young, at first, was surprised by.

“It’s definitely a different environment,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Even when he came here, he asked certain questions of stuff he could and couldn’t do just because the environment that we used to be in was real restrictive of things that really didn’t have to do with basketball.

“Here it’s a player’s team, so they do a really good job of catering to us.”

In regards to his on-court fit with Golden State, McGee feels that Young has adjusted accordingly throughout the season.

“I feel like he’s fit in well,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “Definitely got his conditioning right and he’s pretty good getting in the system, figuring out the screen system that we have here, so he’s doing a pretty good job.”

Though he hasn’t played as much as he’s used to, Young is truly enjoying his transition with the Warriors. He says it’s been the most fun he’s had in his career.

“Just being in the winning circle,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Being around good teammates, good people and just competing for a championship man. We fightin’ for something big. It’s my first time being a part of something like this.”

As for what’s stood out to him about Steve Kerr’s system, it’s been the unselfishness from everybody on the roster, coaches and players alike.

“They embrace me good,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the one thing I like is a good team, good teammates. Pretty much just everybody knowing their roles. Nobody’s bringing negative energies to the locker room and it’s just a good vibe.”

Once asked about who the best shooter on the team is, Young went with Kerr as his answer. He told Basketball Insiders that he’s “still going with Steve,” but probably anybody else would have to give Stephen Curry the nod.

Curry’s been playing out of his mind this year. Kevin Durant’s done the same. There have been multiple times where one or the other has been out due to rest or, most recently, nagging injuries. It’s allowed for others to step in and get some extra minutes, and Young’s been the beneficiary of that multiple times.

So with Curry in and Durant out or vice versa, how would he compare and contrast the periods?

“It’s a different game,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “Of course, different styles. Both of ‘em draw so much attention that leaves guys like me open, but when one of ‘em’s out we’ve still got enough depth to keep up with anybody.”

Recently after Curry scored 45 points in three quarters against the Los Angeles Clippers and didn’t even play in the fourth, Young was baffled. His only explanation for the outburst was that he was from another planet.

And yes, Young believes Curry’s “got a shot,” as does Durant, when it comes to the MVP conversation because of where the Warriors are at this point of the season.

The belief goes both ways. Just as Young is ecstatic watching his teammates succeed, so are they for him. McGee recalls his friend’s debut for Golden State at Oracle Arena on opening night.

It was a night of celebration for the Bay Area, as the crowd cheered during the pre-game championship ceremony to commemorate the team. Young ended up dropping 23 points on 8-for-9 from the field in his first game for the Dubs. The Houston Rockets spoiled the party with a win, but the moment was special for the two.

“I was excited,” McGee told Basketball Insiders. “I always get excited when he’s out there scoring and doing his thing. I’m always happy for him. That’s my friend, long-time friend, and it was dope that he could be out here.”

Though you wouldn’t know it by his performance, Young had butterflies in his stomach before it all started.

“Ah man it was unbelievable,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. First time playing for the Warriors opening night. Had my family there. It was ring night, so I didn’t think I was gonna play that much, but I got an opportunity and I just took advantage.”

Since that game, Young hasn’t eclipsed the 20-point mark. But to his defense, that first game was his season-high in minutes thus far. Kerr understands the depth of his team makes it difficult for him to get consistent playing time, but he’s taken it in stride and been a good teammate.

But we all know how he shoots the rock when he finds a groove. So how many games like the opener does he have in store for us?

“I don’t know,” Young told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “I just gotta get hot, so it could be any night.”

And whenever that night comes, expect to see him smiling as he drains those buckets.

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NBA Daily: Are The HEAT Getting Into The Fray?

Things in the NBA trade world are starting to heat up, and there are some new situations worth watching as the NBA trade market starts to take shape.

Steve Kyler

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The Latest On The Trade Front

With the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline ticking ever so closer, there are a few stories worth watching as teams start to zero in on the changes they may consider making.

Clippers Not Ready To Blow It Up

For most of the season, there has been talk in NBA circles and the media that the Clippers would likely move on from center DeAndre Jordan. While that still seems to be more likely than not at this point, the message from the Clippers’ side of things is they are not ready to blow up the team, and moving off Jordan is far from assured.

The narrative from around the Clippers is they are going to evaluate the team a little closer to the deadline and see what’s really available to them, but until then they seem more than happy to see if this team can actually compete, which they have been doing.

A league source close to the situation said recently that as much as Clipper fans might want to see the team blown up, ownership and senior leadership does not seem open to that concept at all. In fact, they believe that its better to be competitive and one player away than trying to go through the teardown route, knowing that no one is bailing out their $119 million roster commitment.

The Clippers invested heavily into forwards Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari this past summer, and the belief is that they will invest even more into guard Lou Williams.

Equally, the prevailing thought on Jordan is that while he does have a Player Option for free agency in July, there isn’t much beleif that he’ll land anything close to the $24.1 million he is owed next season, making it more likely he opts into his deal than walks away.

There are no shortage of teams hovering around the Clippers if they opt to change course. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets both have eyes for Jordan if the Clippers opt to deal, while several teams seem keen on Williams, who is on an ending deal and would have Bird Rights for a team with limited cap flexibility. There has been talk that a couple of teams have had introductory talks on Griffin. However, it seems highly unlikely the Clippers seriously consider those situations.

If the Clippers wanted to blow up the team, it seems there are options for them, but the talk from the Clippers side is they don’t seem to be as open to the idea as some would like them to be.

Want A Veteran? Kings Have Some

The Sacramento Kings have told their veterans that they are going to start focusing more and more playing time on the younger players and that as many as three of the proven vets may not see action on a night to night basis.

There has been talk for weeks that guard George Hill is unhappy and seeking an exit from the Kings. However, his injury history and whopper of a salary seems to make it unlikely that he and the Kings will find a trade.

Veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have handled the situation better, but league sources said it very possible both could be moved before the deadline, which apparently was suggested to both when they signed back in July.

The Kings have also been sniffing around for deals involving center Kosta Koufos and guard Garrett Temple; both have Player Options next season, which makes their value tough for the Kings, as most teams don’t value the uncertainty well.

Sources close to the situation said the Kings seem to be trying to help their veterans find better situations, especially as they are falling out of the rotation.

One long-time agent with a player on the roster commended the Kings for being smart about the situation, saying they seem to be going out of their way to try and help resolve the situation. Time will tell if there is a real market for any of those players and their somewhat hefty contracts.

Mirotic Has Veto Power, Sort Of

The Chicago Bulls have had the ability to trade forward Nikola Mirotic for a few days now, as he was one of the players who became trade-eligible on January 15. League sources said the Bulls had gotten pretty far down the road with both the Utah Jazz, on a deal centered on the expiring contract of Derrick Favors, and with the Detroit Pistons.

It’s unclear who the Pistons were really offering; there had been reports that the Pistons were dangling rookie Luke Kennard as the juice of a deal, with possibly Jon Leuer and his $10.4 million salary being the cap dollars included to make it work under the cap.

The Bulls seem to be holding out for a first-round draft pick in a Mirotic deal. However, league sources say the real hold up may be Mirotic himself.

The Bulls did a creative contract structure with Mirotic in that he has a team option in year two of the deal. Unless the Bulls exercise that option, Mirotic has veto rights. If the Bulls pick up that option, something league sources said Mirotic’s camp is pushing for, the veto power comes off the table, and the Bulls can completely control the process.

There has been considerable talk that Mirotic wants out of Chicago, but it seems some business may be holding up a potential deal.

It was never likely that the Bulls were going to immediately trigger a deal for Mirotic, so the timing of this may simply be the poker of deal-making in the NBA.

There is also something to be said about how teams would value Mirotic as a potential ending contract, versus a player with one more fully guaranteed year.

Equally, the Bulls haven’t closed the phones on offers either. While Utah and Detroit seem motivated, the Bulls may be smart to wait a few more weeks and see who is willing to meet their true asking price before they decide to pick up the Mirotic option to control the process.

Moving Whiteside?

Reading what the Miami HEAT will really do is always tough. The HEAT have a long track record of misdirection and clandestine processes. That said there is growing talk that the HEAT are more than open to a trade involving center Hassan Whiteside, especially if would help them clear out his cap dollars.

Whiteside is owed $23.7 million this year and has a fully guaranteed $25.4 million salary next season, plus a $27.09 million Player Option after that. That’s big money for almost everyone in the league.

The HEAT are not fire selling Whiteside, but there is a growing sense that if Whiteside could be moved for the right combination of ending contracts and upside youth, the HEAT would explore it.

This becomes interesting when you consider the Milwaukee Bucks have been after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and that Cleveland Cavaliers have been linked to Jazz big man Derrick Favors.

Making a deal for a salary of Whiteside’s size would be massively tough for both the Bucks and the Cavs, but considering both ownership groups seem to be looking for a big splashy move, Whiteside could be the consolation prize if neither of the first options works out.

A Milwaukee deal for Jordan was said to be built around John Henson and Mirza Teletovic, who may be forced to medically retire due to a second recurrence of blood clots in his lungs. A Bucks deal would also likely include some combination of rookie scale players such as Thon Maker, Rashad Vaughn or D.J. Wilson, according to sources.

While on the surface none of that seems overly enticing, would clearing that kind of space be appealing to the HEAT? It does not seem to be for the Clippers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been sniffing around deals offering up both Tristan Thompson and guard Iman Shumpert. The inclusion of the Cavaliers’ own first-round draft pick was mentioned earlier in the season when the Cavs were linked to Jordan and the Clippers. Is that enough value for the HEAT? Equally, the challenge for the Cavs is they have set up the roster with a ton of expiring players, which makes sense with the uncertainty of LeBron James’ future in Cleveland. Do the Cavs want to be holding Whiteside for two years after a potential James exit?

Of all the things being talked about in NBA circles, this one is interesting to watch, not only because the HEAT seems to be willing to deal, but because Whiteside could be the answer to serious problems for good teams vying for a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals, especially this year.

Dallas Is Open For Business

The Dallas Mavericks are open for business. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed as much to reporters, saying the Mavericks would be open to leveraging their potential cap space next summer if it returned the right assets.

The Mavericks have several ending contracts they are dangling and seem to be looking for not only a promising rookie scale player, but future draft picks.

The Mavericks have held onto some salary cap holds to technically keep them above the salary cap line, but they could renounce those holds and get under the cap now. That cap flexibility makes them interesting to watch, as they could absorb up to roughly $13 million in salary before including ending deals like Josh McRoberts, Devin Harris, and Nerlens Noel, who has veto rights on a trade.

Historically the Mavericks have done a deal every year at the deadline. With some much flexibility, they could be the centerpiece to a big transaction because they can absorb cap dollars others teams simply can’t.

Keep in mind that trades and trade talks are a fluid thing; what can be a very hard “No” today can turn into a “Yes” quickly, so until something is done, keep in mind, it’s not done no matter how much it may make sense.

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Resurgent Clippers Climbing in the Standings

Blow up the Clippers? Not so fast, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and one team that has appeared quite often in trade rumors is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers started out the season strong, and Blake Griffin was playing like an MVP candidate. Then they hit a rough patch of injuries and slipped all the way down in the standings.

Since then, DeAndre Jordan’s name has come up in trade chatter. The Clippers were in a free-fall and their franchise center reportedly could be had for the right price. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams has also been mentioned, as playoff contenders could certainly use his scoring prowess as they gear up for a playoff run. And our own Michael Scotto reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves at one point about a deal revolving around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, the Clippers have done an about-face recently. They’ve won 11 of their last 15 games. They’re currently on a five-game win streak that includes wins over the Golden State Warriors (on the road) and the Houston Rockets. Those teams weren’t at full strength, but neither were the Clippers.

The point is, as the Clippers have begun to get some of their injured players back, they’re playing much better basketball. Maybe all the talk about blowing it up should be put on hold for a moment.

As it stands, they sit in seventh place in the Western Conference and right back in the playoff mix. They’re 22-21; they haven’t been over .500 since back on Nov. 5 when they were 5-4. They’re only one and a half games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth.

A big reason for this resurgence has been the return of Griffin. Griffin sprained his MCL back on Nov. 28, and he didn’t return to the lineup until Dec. 29. The Clippers went 6-8 without him. He recently missed two games due to concussion protocol, but in the games he’s played since returning, the team has gone 6-2.

In those eight games, he’s put up 19.6 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and 6.1 assists. It’s not what he was doing early in the season, but his production has been a most welcome addition to the lineup. He had one of his better games of the season against the Rockets on Monday night, with 29 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Another huge reason for the Clippers’ new success has been Williams. At age 31, Williams is having a career year. He’s averaging 23.3 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting, 41.6 percent from the three-point line, and 5.0 assists, all career-highs. He’s had games of 42 and 40 points this season, and he recently dropped a career-high 50 points last week in a win over the Warriors.

And yet another catalyst in the Clippers’ turnaround has been the overall play of their bench and their rookies. Both Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker were almost afterthoughts at the beginning of the season. They were key pieces at times for the Rockets last season, but seemingly couldn’t get off the bench with the Clippers.

The rash of injuries forced Doc Rivers to expand the rotation, and both players have responded accordingly. Harrell has seen an increase in minutes since Griffin initially got hurt at the end of November. In the Clippers first game without Griffin on Nov. 30, Harrell had 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Since then, he’s put up 10.2 points on 55.4 percent shooting. He scored a season-high 25 points last week in a win over the Sacramento Kings, and he’s become the Clippers’ most dependable big man off the bench.

Dekker has also seen an increase in playing time since the beginning of December. His numbers may not jump off the charts, as he’s averaging six points per game during that time frame. But he’s given the Clippers another three-point threat on the floor, as well as the ability to play and guard multiple positions.

They’ve also uncovered a few gems this season. Jawun Evans, who was a second-round pick, as well as two-way players such as C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson (who has since been released), and Tyrone Wallace have all made important contributions to the team.

Evans has started in four games recently, and in those games, he’s put up 9.0 points and 4.8 assists. Since Dec. 18, C.J. has been a permanent part of the starting lineup. As a starter, he’s averaging 9.0 points on 47.5 percent shooting. He had a career-high 18 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 2. On Jan. 8 he had 15 points and the game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wallace is a relative newcomer after the Clippers cut Wilson, and he’s making a huge impression. He’s played in six games so far and scored in double-figures in all but one while shooting 52.8 percent. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Jan. 10 win over the Warriors.

On the injury front, the team welcomed back Milos Teodosic on Jan. 11, and since returning he’s averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 assists. DeAndre Jordan is expected to be out a couple more games after injuring his ankle on Jan. 11. Austin Rivers, who was having a career year prior to his ankle injury on Dec. 29, is supposed to be re-evaluated soon. There’s no new status on Danilo Gallinari who is out with a glute injury. Patrick Beverley is already done for the year.

These injuries have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as they’ve allowed some of the Clippers’ young guys to get valuable experience — experience that will surely pay off if they do make a playoff run. It’s also allowed Rivers to utilize his bench more. When the others begin to make their return to the lineup, the Clippers will be that much more potent.

The Clippers still have a long road to go, and nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. But perhaps it’s best just to pump the breaks a little bit on all the tanking and blowing it up talk.

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