Clippers do the right thing, but that's not bringing LeBron

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There were parts of this move that were still vintage classless Clippers. Like Mike Dunleavy saying he learned he was fired from the Internet and people calling him, not the Clippers (they said they called but didn’t get him). Or the players learning about it after the game just seconds before the media came in. It was announced during a Clippers road game and broadcast.

It had all the earmarks of an impulsive move. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

The Clippers needed to make an organizational change, and short of Donald Sterling selling this team (not going to happen, folks) this was it. And Sterling did it for the right reasons, he is aiming big.

The irony is Dunleavy was sacked three weeks after he did his best work as general manager (although there are reports that new GM, and then assistant, Neil Olshey, had a very big role in all that). At the trade deadline, the Clippers shoehorned their way into deals and traded oversized contracts and a good player in Marcus Camby to clear out $5.5 million, enough cap space to allow the Clippers to go after a major free agent this summer.

Sterling wants to use that money to get a name free agent – to remake the image of his Clippers. He realized that to do that he needed a sea change. He can tell LeBron James or Dwyane Wade they can come here and pick their own coach (expect neither role to be filled until after the July 1 free agency deadline). Or he can hire a recognizable basketball mind to run the organization.

That, by the way, likely will not be Larry Brown — any reaching out to the Clippers he did was because if Michael Jordan had been out as Bobcats owner Brown likely would have been as well. So he started covering his bases. Then at the last minute Jordan stepped up, and with his North Carolina ties (not to mention he’s doing a good job) he is safe.

On some levels, this has to be a tempting place to land for a general manager. The Clippers have a good lineup already — All-Star Chris Kaman at center, number-one pick Blake Griffin at power forward, Baron Davis (well, he can be good when he wants to be) at point guard, plus good role players such as Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Steve Blake and DeAndre Jordan. Plus they will have another lottery pick in a pretty deep draft.

If they can land a big-time swingman, they will be position to be a very good team. This move was about getting that man.

Clippers fans dream of LeBron James — as does everyone — but that remains the most pipe of pipe dreams (he likely never leaves Cleveland). Dwyane Wade is also unlikely to leave Miami.  A more likely scenario would be the Clippers getting someone such as Rudy Gay out of Memphis, who fills that swingman role. However, the Clippers likely would have to overpay to lure him in.

Any big time free agent with half a brain wants to see an ownership committed to winning. The Clippers have never had those in Los Angeles. That — well that and signing a deal to work for a guy fighting off discrimination suits at his main job, — means guys concerned with global status and shoe sales will not come to the Clippers.

If Donald Sterling’s hire is a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” someone with his hands tied by Sterling’s frugality, then this will all have been words without meaning. But if there is a genuine change, this is a team where the foundation of something good is in place. Where the Clippers can be, dare we say, winners.

The Clippers did the right thing, severing ties with Dunleavy. Whether they continue to do the right thing is the bigger question.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.