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. 

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.