Connect with us

NBA

NBA Sunday: How Far Will the Clippers Go?

DeAndre Jordan and Doc Rivers discuss the first quarter of the season and where the Clippers hope to go.

Moke Hamilton

Published

on

DeAndre Jordan looked at me and smirked and quickly, his eyes rolled upward as he thought about his response.

“What are this team’s goals for this year?” I had asked him.

And after two seconds of silence, in a tone that was matter-of-fact and cool, Jordan responded with the most non-controversial answer possible.

“To be better than we were last year,” he said.

Still a work in progress, through 24 games, the Los Angeles Clippers are a mediocre 14-10. Integrating nine new faces is a challenging endeavor, but no more challenging than having to play through an entire 82-game regular season before having the opportunity to return to the scene of a crime.

With one thing on their mind—redemption—Doc Rivers and his team are doing their best to block out the background noise and keep their energies focused within.

With legacies and their very futures hanging in the balance, one could easily argue that the Clippers are under the most pressure of any Western Conference team this season since anything short of a championship will likely spell major changes.

Just don’t expect them to admit it.

* * * * *

“We’ve added nine new guys,” DeAndre Jordan said. “Our starting lineups are different, but everyone has played in the league before, we’ve got a lot of smart guys on the team so the more and more we can get reps added and be good at it, then the better off we’ll be,” he said, referring to the platoon of new faces brought in.

“It’s tough,” he said when asked about the difficulty of integrating so many new pieces. “The starting lineup is mixing up, I think we’re settling in a little bit with Luc [Mbah a Moute], but with our second unit, there’s so many guys who are capable of having a big night every night—Austin, Jamal, Lance, Josh, Wes, Paul, whoever—we just gotta continue to learn how to play with each other with that unit and guys mixed in with the first unit,” he said.

“But I think we’ll be okay, we have a lot of experienced guys, so guys know how to play together.”

Under normal circumstances, in the Western Conference, a 14-10 record isn’t anything to be upbeat about. Despite it, though, the Clippers will enter play on December 13 as the fourth seed. That is a far cry from years past and may be indicative of newly found parity.

Still, Rivers sees room for improvement.

“Our offense hasn’t scratched, to me, where we should go. I know we’re in the top three or four, but to me, we’re a way better offensive team than we’ve played. But if we keep playing defense, it will make us a better offensive team. We’ll get multiple stops, we’ll get transition buckets, so I think our guys, finally, are starting to understand the importance of that and I think that’s good,” he said.

“We’ve been inconsistent. Our defense is really improving and if we keep on this track, we’re gonna be where we think we should be.”

And the better question would be just where the Clippers think they should be.

If you ask, nobody will tell you, because Rivers, like he did in Boston, has taught his players to not allow external forces or pressure to enter their locker room. There is no advantage to publicly admitting that the Clippers are under tremendous pressure to produce something substantial this season or that the group is collectively haunted by the squandering of a 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets.

“I think we’re on our way,” River said. “I think we’ve been on the track.”

Soon enough, we will see if the Clippers can arrive at their preferred destination.

* * * * *

Chris Paul is overrated. Blake Griffin hasn’t improved. Doc Rivers needs to leave the bench and paying DeAndre Jordan a maximum-salaried contract when he can’t be depended on to make a pair of free-throws in a tight game was an asinine decision.

At least, those are some of the storylines and narratives that have been told of these Clippers since last Spring’s debacle.

Jovial and personable, their personalities belie their competitive nature. Paul is widely considered to be one of the “nice” guys in the NBA, but his reputation as a competitor amongst his peers is anything but.

Deep down, the entire team believes that if they had an opportunity to square off against the Warriors in last season’s playoffs, they would have beaten them. And if things broke differently, the Clippers believe that it would have been them beginning the 2015-16 NBA season as the defending champions.

Instead, what you seem to have is a group of men who trust nobody but themselves and a team who has clearly been instructed by its head coach to not engage in any sort of hyperbole or back-and-forth in the media about what this team’s goals and aspirations are.

“I’m not really into giving grades,” Blake Griffin told me when I asked to assess, by grade, his team’s performance over the early goings of the season. “That’s for everybody else,” he dismissively said BlakeGriffinInsideOnly12as he walked away from me.

Playfully, he claimed that I was trying to put words into his mouth.

Having spent considerable time around Rivers over the course of his nine years as the head coach of the Boston Celtics, I know a thing or two about him, his edict and his philosophy. Doc believes that pressure is an outside force that must be let in. The media, he would tell his players, are going to say all kinds of things about who they are and who they should be and what the rightful expectations of them should be. If you buy into what others say and think about you, you’ve bought into the pressure and sometimes, attempting to live up to it can be tantamount to allowing external forces to impact a process that should be wholly internal and organic.

In other words: there is no reason to tell anyone that the goal is a championship. Let your play do the talking. Dare to be great because you want to be great, not because other people think that you should be great.

Hanging around Doc Rivers and his team for an evening, it was easy to see right through all the attitude, cliche responses and boxed answers that his players gave when asked legitimate questions.

Having been around the game for a long time and having observed a fair number of champions and championship-caliber players, one thing I know is that the Clippers have the fire, they have the talent, they have the coach, and now, after last season’s heartbreak, they have the haunting memory that is usually a precursor to finding success at the highest level. And their obvious and intentional avoiding of saying “championship” is an edict from Doc to avoid external distractions.

In the spring, after the Clippers have enjoyed a long win streak after the All-Star Break and finish with a top-four seed in the Western Conference, realize and understand, for them, the entire season was the appetizer. The main course is an opportunity to exorcise the demons that have haunted them since James Harden walked off of the floor at the Toyota Center with a date against the Warriors.

The Clippers the entire meal.

* * * * *

What happens if they come up short again? Does River consider removing himself from the bench the way Pat Riley in Miami did after the 2007-08 season? Would Chris Paul begin contemplating life in another uniform?

Would the Clippers have to admit defeat and admit that they will never be able to surpass the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs? Would Rivers continue to augment? Or would he raze?

These are legitimate questions that are as difficult to answer as they are painful to contemplate. And those questions are what will inevitably await the Clippers should they fall short again this season. Just don’t expect them to admit it.

Pressure makes diamonds and pressure busts pipes. At this point, we don’t know if the Clippers are precious stones or a flood waiting to happen, and neither do they.

What happens if they are given everything they need and ultimately fall short, anyway? That is the question that nobody in Rivers’ locker room even wants to ponder, much less find.

So as Jordan and Griffin vanished into the night, each having refused to mutter the end-goal for this team, this season, rest assured, the stakes have never been higher. Deep down within, the raging fire burns.

Trying to not look too far ahead, the Clippers take their season one day and one game at a time. Eagerly, though, they have begun their slow march toward an opportunity at redemption. And after what they’ve been through and now, with the opportunity they have been given, it is scary to consider what may be in store if they continue to fall short.

During their playoff run last season, Chris Paul admitted to losing sleep over the thought of losing to the Spurs in the first round. Somehow, they seemed to have toppled Goliath, only to see their season end in stunning fashion.

“So close? I don’t even know what that means, anyway,” a forlorn Paul told the media after that fateful Game 7 loss in Houston.

To a man, that pain still drives these Clippers. Quietly, they’ll go about their business with one goal in mind—even if they won’t admit it.

Quietly, determined and focused, they are working for and toward earning an opportunity to redeem themselves.

It’s so obvious, it doesn’t even need to be said.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

Continue Reading

Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

Published

on

Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Fixing The Cleveland Cavaliers

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spencer Davies

Published

on

Can you believe that the NBA regular season is less than a month away from concluding? It’s March 18, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch run before the playoffs get here. Thus far, there have been three teams to solidify their spots—the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers—while the rest of the league looks to jockey for postseason positioning.

On the flipside, there are four organizations that have begun to look towards the future with their immediate futures already decided, and 10 more will join them in the coming weeks as they become eliminated from playoff contention.

Basketball Insiders is bringing back its annual “Fixing” series to provide a blueprint of how to get each of those teams back on the right track moving forward. We’ll get things started with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What Is Working

In the second half of the season, the Cavaliers are 5-7. Yes, that is two games under .500 and should not be something to celebrate—but it’s how they are playing that deserves praise. Aside from a couple of clunkers against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, they’ve been a resilient young group that has clearly matured under the direction of head coach Larry Drew.

The return of Kevin Love coinciding with Cleveland playing its best basketball all year is not a matter of happenstance, either. As detailed a couple of weeks ago, his impact on Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman has made both inexperienced players significantly better. As the team’s “go-to guy” as Drew likes to put it, everybody can play through a legitimate All-Star in a number of ways—feeding him on the block, finding him on the perimeter or even allowing him to dribble drive and create for others.

The Cavaliers are quite excited about the determination of their guys, specifically Sexton and Osman. It’d be foolish to base the projection of a rookie’s career off playing alongside multiple two-way and 10-day contract players, and some did when Sexton had his fair share of struggles. The same could be said for Osman, who’s really turned up the playmaking and shooting as of late. It takes talent and consistency to be in the NBA, which is a lesson they’re learning every night. And the optimism should go beyond just those three, too. There are a number of players who could be a part of the team’s core in the future.

Experiencing perhaps his best season as a pro, Larry Nance Jr. is becoming a vocal leader on and off the floor. Ante Zizic has taken his opportunity as a starter and run with it, averaging nearly 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 of such situations. Drew has constantly praised David Nwaba’s efforts when he’s needed a guy to step up and defend opponents’ top players, even when out of position. Jordan Clarkson thrives as the sixth man and Matthew Dellavedova is the perfect mentor and floor general off the bench.

What Needs To Change

Now comes the harsh part—Cleveland has been a horrific defensive team for a number of years. They’ve ranked among the worst in basketball for the past three years, and that includes the last two seasons they had with LeBron James. It begs the question: Is it scheme or is it personnel? In the case of the Cavaliers, the answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is often confusion with the coverage calls. Blown assignments, miscommunication and difficulty with the pick-and-roll can best describe the mess that is on the floor. There isn’t as much finger pointing as there was at the beginning stages of the season, but it’s paramount that the team drastically improves in this area. Considering the number of injuries, inexperience and lack of continuity that they’ve had this year, it should get better.

While shot selection has gotten better throughout the season, the Cavaliers have to move the basketball better on a consistent basis. Again, Sexton and Osman felt that they had to carry the load in the absence of Love as the primary scoring options—and Tristan Thompson’s injuries didn’t help—so there was a lot of hero ball going on. At least in the last month, these totals have gotten higher.

Cleveland may take the cake in scoring droughts as well, which leads to other teams taking games over. A scenario we’ve seen all too much this season: Cavaliers take the ball down the floor, pass it maybe once or twice and don’t find the open man, which leads to a rebound and numbers for the opposing team that almost capitalizes in every instance. Stagnancy is a killer for the wine and gold, which is a group that needs to play in a transition-heavy, free-flowing type of game to succeed.

Focus Area: The Draft

Currently owning the third-worst record in the association, the Cavaliers would have the same 14 percent odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as the two teams behind them, the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. If the standings locked, Cleveland would be guaranteed a top-seven selection—although the percentages indicate they’d have a good chance to land in the top four and likely drop no further than sixth. They also are going to convey a draft pick in the mid-to-late 20s from the Houston Rockets via the Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss trade.

There is no singular focus area with the Cavaliers. They could use any talent they can get to add to this developing core and set the tone for the future. Obviously, the buzz surrounding Duke superstar Zion Williamson is real. If you were to pigeonhole him as just a dunker or a highlight reel, you’d be completely mistaken. Though needing to work on a reliable jump shot, the 18-year-old phenom is loaded with an incredibly versatile skill set at his age and a build that is tailor-made for the NBA. Positionless basketball is the future, and Williamson fits the bill.

If Cleveland lands another first overall pick, they’d be foolish to pass up on such a potential franchise changer. Just imagine the speedy Young Bull and bulldozing Williamson on a fastbreak opportunity with Love just waiting on the elbow. That’s quite a triple threat.

Say the Cavaliers end up second, third or fourth—this writer would jump at the opportunity to add Temetrius Morant, a man whom the basketball world knows simply as “Ja.” Set to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the 19-year-old point guard is an absolute blast to watch play the game. He scores the basketball at will. He distributes at a high rate and shares the wealth with his teammates. He excels in transition. Morant lacks some size and will likely need to put on some weight, but forming a tandem with Sexton—who’s found a real groove playing off the ball—could work out famously.

Willamson’s teammates at Duke—RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish—also have plenty of intrigue about them at those spots. If Cleveland gets put in the worst case scenario, talented wings like De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson might be the way to go.

However, regarding the Rockets’ pick, there might be some diamonds in the rough. Here’s a list of names that could be attractive depending on the draft results: Bol Bol, Jontay Porter, Kevin Porter, Tre Jones, Matisse Thybulle, Luguentz Dort, Ashton Hagans.

Focus Area: Free Agency

With nearly its entire roster returning in 2019-20, Cleveland will not be much of a player in the free agency period. Nik Stauskas and Chriss have expiring contracts and Channing Frye is retiring.

General manager Koby Altman is going to be active in finding a trade partner for J.R. Smith, whose $15.68 million contract fully guarantees on June 30. If the Cavaliers can do so before that day, the team that traded for him can waive him and will only be on the hook for $3.87 million. It seems as if draft night—June 20—would be the most logical time to try this. If Altman is successful in moving Smith, the organization will have opened a roster spot.

Considering the team has been more than pleased with Nwaba’s contributions when healthy, it’s probable that he’ll be tendered a qualifying offer. If he is, then the 26-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent, meaning Cleveland could match any offer he’d receive. If Nwaba doesn’t get any bites, then it’s plausible he’d accept the $1.89 million one-year offer to stay.

Altman did yeoman’s work this year as a front office executive. He took what was a horrific financial situation loaded with unhappy veterans and turned it into something much more manageable, all while bringing in future assets and players on flexible deals. We don’t know whether those additions—Dellavedova, Knight and John Henson—are going to be a part of the future or used in potential trades down the line. The same could be said of Thompson and Clarkson, who also are going to be on the last years of their respective deals.

Other than the potential two rookies, there probably won’t be too many new faces around the Cavaliers in the summertime. It might change as we get into the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s down the road. Don’t expect a lot of change roster-wise going into the new league year.

Of course, coaching wise is a completely different story. The prevailing thought is that Cleveland is going to want a first-year head coach to grow and develop alongside their core players. Reports indicate the front office might prefer a person who has previous connections to the franchise in some capacity.

There are two assistants on other teams who have been the head coach of the Canton Charge—Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Utah’s Alex Jensen—that could make sense. Toronto Raptors assistant and former player Adrian Griffin is a potentially appealing name as well, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If Larry Drew decides he doesn’t want to stick around, finding the right person to lead this Cavaliers team into the next era is going to be crucial.

The “second first” year without LeBron didn’t go as planned. Firing Tyronn Lue six games into the season didn’t make matters easy, nor did Love going down with a toe injury to miss two-thirds of the season. Yet through the bad times, this Cleveland bunch has refused to mail it in and has earned a deal of respect from its competition.

They’re embracing the role of playing spoiler as the year winds down. It’s all about meaningful minutes for these guys, and until the clock hits zero on April 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, the work on the floor won’t be done.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now