What do the Clippers have to offer LeBron James?

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At first glance, LeBron James and the Clippers don’t seem like much of a match. James was the most-hyped prospect of all time, and now he’s the most-hyped NBA free agent of all time. He’s won the last two MVP awards running away. He won’t be considered one of the true greats, or even the consensus best player in the NBA, until he wins a championship, but what James has accomplished as a 25-year old has been historic nonetheless.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have historically been one of the most incompetent franchises in any major league. They’ve never won a championship, a conference title, or a division title. They have one of the worst owners in sports. Thelast free agent of James’ magnitude the Clippers signed was Bill Walton, and that didn’t work out very well. The Clippers play in the same building as the mighty Lakers, but if you’ve ever been to both a Laker and a Clipper game, you know that it’s a completely different experience. (The Lakers lower sheets over the jumbotron and play clips of past glories set to an epic score and the voice of Chick Hearn; The Clippers have the Corona “Starting Lime-Ups.” Also, the Clippers’ pre-game slogan this season was “You Are What You Repeatedly Do,” which seemed like a questionable choice for the team and franchise.)

Despite all of that, LeBron James granted the lowly Clippers a meeting on Friday, and it may be wise for him to listen to what they have to say. To be clear, Donald Sterling, the Clippers’ second-tier status in Los Angeles, and the fact the Clippers still don’t have a coach will almost certainly keep LeBron from signing with the team. Still, there are some reasons why The King Of Free Agency should give some consideration to the NBA’s resident court jesters:

1. James would fit very well with the pieces the Clippers have in place.

LeBron James is at his most effective if he has the following players around him: A power forward who’s deadly on the pick-and-roll, a point guard who can penetrate, draw the defense to him, and free up James to move without the ball and finish plays, and a knock-down perimeter shooter who can score in bunches. In Blake Griffin, Baron Davis, and Eric Gordon, the Clippers have all three.

Griffin has been billed as an Amar’e-like force on the pick-and-roll with less of the defensive baggage. Gordon has three-point range, can score 15-20 points a game with ease, and is an extremely efficient scorer for a two-guard. Baron Davis, when motivated and in the right system, can still be a dynamo in the open-court, and has always been an excellent passer. At center, there’s Chris Kaman, who was a bright spot for the Clippers last season and has emerged as a very good NBA center.

Of course, there are major questions surrounding LeBron’s potential supporting cast. Gordon is undersized defensively, and went through a sophomore slump last season. Davis has had major trouble staying healthy and motivated throughout his career, and isn’t a very efficient scorer even when he is healthy and motivated. And Blake Griffin hasn’t played in an NBA game yet. Even so, if Chicago can’t get their hands on a big-name power forward in free agency, you can make the case that the Clippers could build a better “core” around James than any other team could. (For more on this, I invite you to read Kevin Arnovitz’s take on the issue.)

2. Los Angeles is still Los Angeles.

The Clippers’ drawing power isn’t dead; it’s just been dormant for a very long time. If James can make the Clippers into contenders, he’ll galvanize the Clipper fanbase and open up a world of marketing opportunities. The Clippers won’t be the biggest ticket in town as long as the Lakers are in title contention, but there’s more than enough room in Los Angeles for two major basketball teams.

Remember that LA is a gigantic market, doesn’t have an NFL team, and USC football is on the decline in a big way. There’s an opening in Los Angeles for another big-time team, and the Clippers could easily become that team. Did anyone care what color Dwight Gooden’s jersey was during The Summer of Doc?

3. Saving the Clippers could be good for LeBron’s image in a way that Chicago wouldn’t be.

Let’s be honest: James’ behavior has turned a lot of fans off, especially during this off-season. After losing to the Celtics in the playoffs, James has made a lot of people feel that he’s trying to make his free agency overshadow the rest of the important goings-on throughout the NBA. After all the hoopla and the lack of championships to show for it, James could use an image renovation. 

Staying in Cleveland would be the most “noble” decision LeBron could make, but Cleveland doesn’t have a true running mate for LeBron and likely never will. Chicago could give LeBron a championship-ready supporting cast, but signing with them could make it look like James wants glory delivered to him. New York can give James the bright lights and the big city, but they have nobody to put around LeBron, and signing there would look like selling out in the worst way.

If James went to the Clippers, he’d have a capable supporting cast with a potential running mate in Blake Griffin. He’d be in the biggest basketball market in the world, but would still keep some of the underdog appeal that he’s all but lost completely. He’d instantly become the most important Clipper of all time, and he would always have the undying and unwavering support of one of the NBA’s most hard-luck and loyal fanbases. Remember the Clipper crowds during that 2006 playoff run?

The Clippers could represent a kind of happy medium for LeBron — a Chicago-like supporting cast, a New York-like opportunity for marketing and brand expansion, and a Cleveland-like appeal to nobility and cult-meets-mainstream appeal. I very much doubt that LeBron will actually consider the Clippers a legitimate free-agency destination during this process. But maybe, just maybe, he should give some real thought to signing with Los Angeles’ other basketball team. 

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.