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. 

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way.

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in the first half, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.

Isaiah Thomas’ big fourth quarter carries Celtics past Hornets 108-98

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas’ 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He’s been putting up big final quarters of late – scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams had 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight – all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 1/2 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Entered averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league at 12.1 per game. They had 11.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley returned after missing four straight games because of a strained right Achilles. He scored five points on 2-of -9 shooting. … Thomas scored a team-record 29 points in the final quarter of a victory against Miami on Dec. 30 to finish with 52.

INSPIRING WORDS

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown addressed the crowd before the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Without notes, he quoted King in saying: “The day our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

NICE CATCH

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount sat courtside behind a basket and made a two-handed grab of a ball flying out of bounds.

SPORTS TRANSITION

It was the nightcap of a hockey/basketball doubleheader, and 6-foot-4 Celtics guard Marcus Smart entered TD Garden wearing a winter jacket and hat. He paused and stood seemingly unnoticed as a group of youngsters and parents – most wearing Boston Bruins colors – walked down a hall to meet some of the hockey players.

Smart smiled when a media member said, “I don’t think anyone noticed you.”

Later, 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara headed past folks walking in for the basketball game.

 

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers held on without Paul for the comfortable win over the Thunder, 120-98.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.