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NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

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Last season: 29-53, a season that seemed lost when Blake Griffin fractured his kneecap landing after a monster dunk in the preseason. But only the Clippers can find ways to bring that down even farther: there was the Mike Dunleavy firing (which is on its way to court), Baron Davis checked out mentally, then there was the Phil Hughes era. Hughes may be one of the most honest, fun coaches I’ve ever covered. But he wanted to run and the team did not have the players for it. The results were just ugly.

Head Coach: Vinny Del Negro, he of the simplistic offensive sets but who got a young team to play hard and defend for him. If he can do that again with this roster, they’ll do pretty well. Based on history (from Bill Fitch through Dunleavy), Del Negro should hire a good attorney because he will have to sue to get all of his money owed on his contract.

Key Departures: The Clippers did not really lose much on the court (which should bring more hope than it does here). Steve Blake traded uniforms and will be in the locker room 25 feet down the hall. Ricky Davis is in China. Travis Outlaw is gone. But really, nothing that can’t be replaced by better. Not that it was, but these were not huge losses.

Key Additions: We can count Blake Griffin in here because he never played a regular season game for the Clippers. This guy is a beast, a guy who can instantly become one of the better pick-and-roll guys in the league. There aren’t many athletes like him at the four and everyone will be reminded why he was the first overall pick.

The Clippers had a high draft pick — again — used it on Al-Farouq Aminu, a guy they think could be their future at the three. Then at Summer League he looked a few years away, although by the preseason he seems to have made big strides. Still it may be next year or the year after before we know what the Clippers have here.

In the short term, the Clippers got a very solid Ryan Gomes to come in and play the three for them, and at a fair price. The Clippers also made good signings with Randy Foye and re-signing Craig Smith, giving them solid if not spectacular depth. Basically, if these guys are playing 18 minutes a night off the bench the Clippers will be fine, if these guys have to play 30 minutes in a starters role the Clippers will struggle. And in the preseason Gomes has been starting, so….

Eric Bledsoe, who Los Angeles traded what will be a future pick in the teens for so they could draft him at 19, will step in now and be the backup point guard from day one. And the heir apparent to the big job.

The Clippers also signed Brian Cook to a two-year deal Why? Just, why?

Best case scenario: It all comes together perfectly, Baron Davis and Blake Griffin becomes one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league, the role players all play above their heads a little and the Clippers fight for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

For that to happen: Baron Davis is the good Baron Davis, not the bad jack-up-a-deep-three-with-18-seconds-on-the-clock Davis. Also, the team’s role players need to play a little better than they have in the past.

The Clippers have a good frontcourt — Chris Kaman made the All-Star team while that is a borderline call the fact is he is one of the better true centers in the league. He plays well with his back to the basket, can pass and plays solid defense. Now with the hustle and athleticism of Griffin along side him there is a lot of potential there. The Clippers need to be near the top of the league in shots attempted in the paint for them to be successful, because not many teams can match them up front.

But it all comes back to Davis. This guy has the skills to be one of the most dynamic, best distributors from the point in the league. When he is interested — like in the middle of last season when he and Kaman got a real flow going on the pick-and-pop for a while. But Davis chaffed against Dunleavy and by the time Hughes took over Davis had mentally checked out for the season.

Del Negro, based on what he did with Derrick Rose in Chicago, gives his point guards a lot of freedom. A lot. That and the energy of Griffin, the quality wingman in Eric Gordon could make the Clippers a dangerous staring five. But if Davis mentally checks out early again, he will drag the Clippers down with him.

The Clippers should get a bigger, better year out of Eric Gordon, who continues to improve, as evidenced by his time with Team USA. The rest of the guys — Foye, Gomes, Smith, Rasual Butler and so on — are all pretty average, solid NBA players, Which is nice, but if the Clippers are going to step forward in a deep west then need a bench that can be more dynamic. Somebody here needs to be a guy who can lead that unit.

More likely the Clippers will: be a slightly more entertaining version of last year’s team. And miss the playoffs. And have a lovely lottery party.

Griffin will be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but how far can he lift a team that is essentially the same as the one that won 29 games last season? Are we really counting on an energized and focused Davis for 82 games? Heck, 65 games of good Davis makes this a borderline playoff team. But it’s just hard to see it. It’s just hard to see Del Negro somehow inspiring this team to great heights.

Prediction: 31-51, and a middling lottery pick. Oh, but Donald Sterling has these grand plans to get a top free agent….

Reports: Bulls near trade sending Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder for Cameron Payne, Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow

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Back in 2014, the Bulls front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up in the draft so they could pick Doug McDermott.

Thursday, the Bulls all but admitted that was a mistake.

Chicago traded McDermott and Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

This is a good trade for Oklahoma City, especially while Enis Kanter remains sidelined. Gibson, in particular, gives them a rock-solid power forward out of the old school. Gibson can score inside and help Steven Adams, he can crash the boards, and while he’s not what he once was on that end he’s a solid defender.

Gibson is also a free agent this summer, and the Bulls were not going to pay the market value. Oklahoma City may, but Gibson will have options.

McDermott can shoot the three, hitting 37.6 percent this season, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Maybe that’s all the Thunder need. McDermott doesn’t create his own shot and he’s a big defensive liability. Maybe he can spread the floor a little for the Thunder, hang out at the arc waiting for a Russell Westbrook drive and dish, but he’s not doing much else.

Chicago gets a player with a lot of potential in Cameron Payne, he could be the point guard of the future there next to Jimmy Butler. That’s the best player on their end in this deal. But Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow are nice players who don’t actually move the needle.

This trade by the Bulls echoes their moves over the summer bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — what exactly is the plan? Payne could be part of the future, but are the Bulls a team rebuilding around Butler? It remains difficult to see what the vision is in Chicago. Which has to frustrate Butler.

Report: Rockets trade K.J. McDaniels to Nets in move to clear cap space

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 13:  K.J. McDaniels #32 of the Houston Rockets looses the ball as he attempts a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 13, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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K.J. McDaniels was already buried deep on the Rockets bench behind not just James Harden but guys such as Trevor Ariza and Sam Decker. Now Lou Williams comes to town and will get some of those minutes, and the Rockets decided to see if anyone wanted to take a flier on McDaniels.

Brooklyn did, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

For Brooklyn, why not take a flier on him — McDaniels put up some numbers and played fairly well a few seasons back in Philly, when they had nobody else to take shots. He went from there to Houston, where they had a lot of guys who were better shooters. Now he heads to Brooklyn, a team that could use the scoring, so he gets another shot.

As for Houston, this was a salary dump looking ahead.

The buzz is the Rockets would like to get Langston Galloway if the Kings decide to waive him, but there will be a number of quality players waived in the coming week, and the Rockets now have the roster spot and cap room to go after one of them.

Report: Pelicans to workout Jarrett Jack as they look for more guard, wing help

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 28, 2015 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Pelicans have potentially the best front court in the NBA now with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

What they need is more help on the perimeter. A lot more help.

It’s not all going to come this season, but the Pelicans are going to take a look at their options. One of those options could be veteran and free agent Jarrett Jack, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

It’s a smart move by New Orleans. Jack averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists in 32 games for the Nets last season, but then he blew out his ACL. At 33, how well will he bounce back from that?

It may work, Jack relies far more on his outside shot than his ability to drive the paint (the hallmark of his game five years ago). He’s not going to be a great defender, but if healthy maybe he fits a bench role.

Watch Nerlens Noel say goodbye to Joel Embiid after learning of trade

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Nerlens Noel had a plane to catch — he is headed to Minneapolis because that is where his new team the Dallas Mavericks are right now (Dallas faces Minnesota on Friday night).

But first, Noel wanted to say goodbye to his buddy Joel Embiid.

Embiid later tweeted this.

Noel was traded to the Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut (who will be traded again by the deadline or waived by Philly after), and a protected first-round pick in the 2017 draft that will almost certainly convert to two second-round picks (2017 and 2018). It’s a great landing spot for Noel, Dallas will re-sign him this summer and see him as the future of the franchise at the five.

What we as fans tend to focus on is things like that last paragraph — who “won” or who “lost” the trade, how it fits on the court — and we can forget these are human beings. They are leaving their home, their friends, and in many cases asking family to pack up and move with them. There is a human side, a human cost to these trades, which we can’t overlook.