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Blake Griffin On Offseason Training, LA’s Moves, More

Blake Griffin discusses his offseason training, the Clippers’ additions, wanting to finish his career in L.A. and more.

Alex Kennedy

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Last season, Blake Griffin led the Los Angeles Clippers to 56 wins and averaged 21.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.

BlakeGriffinInsideOnly12Griffin became just the second player this decade to average at least 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists over a full season, with the only other player to accomplish the feat being LeBron James. And as if you need more evidence of how well-rounded Griffin was this past year, consider that he averaged more points than Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard, he averaged more rebounds than Al Horford, LeBron James and Roy Hibbert and he averaged more assists than Irving, Tony Parker and Goran Dragic.

Griffin has established himself as one of the league’s best players, and it’s in large part due to the work he does in the offseason.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Griffin recently for a wide-ranging Q&A, discussing his offseason training, the Clippers’ additions, the DeAndre Jordan situation, potentially finishing his career in Los Angeles, his acting and improv work, the possibility of being in Space Jam 2 and much more.

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”

Basketball Insiders: Do you think this will be the most talented team you’ve played on?

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, it absolutely has a chance to be. I’m always hesitant to say that because you know how it is, guys get a roster and it all seems great but sometimes it doesn’t work out. But I think the thing I’m most excited about is just everyone’s eagerness. Like Lance and I were just talking earlier in the summer he was like, ‘I’m just ready to come in and play basketball, I’m ready to help win games,’ and everybody is saying those things. When that’s the main focus, I think it just kind of puts you in a position for success. Obviously, like I said, we have to see how everything turns out and we have to put in the work, but we definitely have the chance to be one of the most talented teams. I think three years ago, when we had Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, we had Lamar Odom, we had Grant Hill and we had that whole team, we were talented and we had a lot of experience too. This team is a little bit different in that we might not have the same experience and championship experience, but we do have guys that have been in the league and been successful and are very talented as well.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the DeAndre Jordan situation because it’s been covered a lot. But in your Players Tribune article, you mentioned the moment you started realizing DeAndre was having second thoughts about his decision to go to Dallas. But what was going through your head when you initially heard DeAndre had agreed to a deal with the Mavericks? It obviously all worked out, but that must have been a scary few days.

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, it was, it was. When he first told me that [he was going to Dallas], before it had even come out, it was hard. Because, at the time, that’s what he said he wanted and I thought that’s what he wanted so I was happy for him. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Uh oh, now we got to really go find guys and put a team together.’ I’m a believer in, ‘Okay, that didn’t work so we got to find something else.’ I didn’t want to just automatically say, ‘Oh, we’re not a contender anymore,’ even though the reality is he is a huge part of our team. I try not to even let myself think like that, being one of the leaders of this team. But I remember talking to CP that day and he was just like, ‘What do you think?’ And I’m like, ‘We’ll be alright, we just got to figure it out…’ But obviously having him back is just a huge relief.”

Basketball Insiders: From the outside looking in, it seems like that DeAndre situation was great for the team. Things were put out in the open, relationships were evaluated and it seems like there was progress made. Is that accurate, and do you think that situation helped the team moving forward?

Blake Griffin: “I think so. You could say it was a team building experience and team building exercise, in an unplanned way. But that whole article I wrote was kind of just trying to show that it wasn’t quite what everyone thought it was, from the drama standpoint. You know, he was having second thoughts and of course, as his teammates and his friends, we want to be there for him. It wasn’t like we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go in here secretly and do all of this stuff and try and get him back.’ And in that sense, it kind of goes the same way for our team. Like, I think people think that our team has all of these personal relationship problems, but it’s not really like that – it’s not really like that at all. Yes, it did help, but it’s not like we were just in turmoil, you know what I mean? I do think it’s going to help though because anytime you do something like that and you sit down and really talk about things I think it helps because it’s communication and that’s necessary within the team. But again, I don’t think people really understand our dynamic as a team and they don’t understand that we all are very close and there’s nobody that hates each other on our team. [Rumors like that] couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Basketball Insiders: When I look at your team, you have two Most Valuable Player candidates (yourself and Chris Paul), a former Coach of the Year (Doc Rivers), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (DeAndre Jordan), a Finals MVP (Paul Pierce), a two-time Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford) and a combined 23 All-Star appearances. Yet, there’s this perception that you aren’t a legitimate contender. Last year, I predicted that you guys would make the Finals and I was mocked and laughed at on Twitter. Does that motivate you or piss you off?

Blake Griffin: “You know, all of those things are true. We do have a guy in DJ that is a defensive force and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. CP, year in and year out, is one of the best point guards in the league, if not the best. Doc obviously has a great reputation and has had a lot of success. But for us, we haven’t done anything and we know that. Paul Pierce is an NBA champion and obviously a future Hall of Famer, but this is his first year with us so I don’t think we as a team look at it as us being automatic contenders because we haven’t done anything, man. We’ve all been together and we’ve won two division titles, you know what I mean? That’s not getting it done and I think if you talk to our team, everybody will say that. At the same time though, yeah it does motivate you because you want that respect. But you have to earn that respect and I think we’re still in the process of earning that respect and we have to accomplish something. So it’s kind of a weird thing: we should use that as motivation, we should want that respect and that should be our chip on our shoulder, but we understand it a bit. I get it, you know? No one is going to give you the title until you’ve actually earned it and we haven’t earned that title of being a contender yet because we haven’t even been to the Western Conference Finals yet. That’s the fight though, that’s the battle that we have to overcome and I think we’re all ready for that.”

Basketball Insiders: How nice is it to be one of the best teams in the league while the Lakers are struggling. I know the Clippers have often been viewed as the little brother and the worse team in L.A. You experienced it early in your career when they were winning titles and you guys were struggling. How nice is it to be the dominant team in L.A. by a huge margin?

Blake Griffin: “The Lakers have had so much success in the past that this town is a Laker town and people love the Lakers. But that being said, we’re gaining some [ground], we’re gaining some fans. The funniest thing to me, and I think this kind of sums up the relationship between us and the Lakers, is during my rookie year – the year I was hurt – when I was sitting out I would go to our game when it was a Lakers home game and we’d run on the court and the Lakers fans didn’t really boo. There might have been, like, two or three people booing, but they’re the ones who always boo. Now, when we run out, it’s the whole stadium and you kind of feel that hate, and I think that’s because now we have a team that can compete with them every year and we have a team that has won games against them, whereas we never really had that before we were all here. Like I said, what the Lakers have done with their championships, those are never going to go anywhere and they’ve earned those and we’re trying to get to that level. I think you kind of feel the pressure a little bit and the change in the way that the Lakers fans treat us, but you get that. I think it’s great for basketball, I think it’s great for L.A. and I think it’s great for us.”

Basketball Insiders: You’ve done some improv work with hilarious comedians and actors, including one of my favorites: Ben Schwartz. When did you start getting into improv and acting, and do you aspire to have an acting career?

Blake Griffin: “I’ve been into comedy and improv for as long as I can remember. I remember watching Saturday Night Live for as long as I could remember. I use to watch improv shows and standup comedy, just any kind of comedy. I’m a huge fan of comedy. Now, I’ve gotten the opportunity to kind of do some cool things and meet some awesome people, like Ben, but I’m not an actor. I don’t think acting is the route I’m going to go. I’m a fan of all of that stuff and I like doing it, and there may be sometime where I get to do something. But down the road, after my career, I probably won’t be acting [full-time]. It’s not really my thing, because right now it’s just all basketball and all of the stuff I get to do is on the side and it’s extra. But it is a lot of fun for me and I really do enjoy it.”

Basketball Insiders: Do you know what you want to do when your playing career ends? Would you be interested in broadcasting, coaching or anything like that?

Blake Griffin: “Right now, I will tell you this: I definitely will not get into broadcasting. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say definitely, but I probably won’t get into broadcasting. That’s just not something I’m looking to do. But I do enjoy helping kids and helping guys, so maybe coaching or helping guys workout, something like that. Then, away from the court, there’s different things. I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of awesome people out here who have helped me a lot, so maybe a long time down the road I could get into the production side of things. But basketball is what I know and what I love, so maybe down the road [I’ll do] a little bit of coaching. But as of now, it’s pretty much a no on the broadcasting front.”

Basketball Insiders: Well, there is one movie everyone can imagine you in and that’s Space Jam 2. Your recent Marvin the Martian commercial got some Space Jam fans excited. Would you like to be in a Space Jam sequel if it ends up being made?

Blake Griffin: “Oh absolutely, absolutely. I’d love to be involved in any capacity, really. Space Jam was a huge part of my childhood. I actually had a Space Jam themed birthday party as a teen. Then, when I turned 21, my friends got me a Space Jam cake again just to re-live the glory days. It has been a big thing for me so being able to be involved in any capacity would be great, even just being one of the guys that’s in there would be cool. I think it would be a lot of fun. If you told me when I was 8 years old that I could possibly have a chance to be in Space Jam 2, it would have blown my mind. That would just be like another check off the bucket list.”

Basketball Insiders: Los Angeles seems perfect for you given your interests and laid-back personality. Could you see yourself finishing your career with the Clippers?

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, I mean L.A. is my home now. This is where I got drafted and I’ve been here since the beginning. I’ve been with this franchise during some bad times. You know, it hasn’t always been like it is now; anytime you have a chance to go from that to this, you feel invested. I’m not looking to go anywhere. With that being said, you never know [in this business]. But I’m happy here, I love it here, and I would love to finish my career here.”

Here are some more of Alex Kennedy’s offseason interviews:

Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green

Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell

Sacramento Kings’ Rajon Rondo

Orlando Magic’s Elfrid Payton

Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford

Los Angeles Lakers’ Lou Williams

Denver Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay

New York Knicks’ Arron Afflalo

Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner

Portland Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum

New York Knicks’ Kyle O’Quinn

Portland Trail Blazers’ Ed Davis

Los Angeles’ Larry Nance Jr.

Brooklyn Nets’ Willie Reed

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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