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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….

57 players withdraw from 2016 NBA draft

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The withdrawal deadline for the 2016 NBA draft is June 13.

But the NCAA, in an effort to treat players better, allowed players to declare for the draft and withdraw by May 25 while maintaining college eligibility. (Yes, this qualifies as better treatment. Giving the players the full extra couple weeks to assess their futures? Not in this cartel.)

So, any college player who wanted to play collegiately next year faced an effective deadline of yesterday.

Of the 117 players who declared early through the American system, 57 are headed back to their college teams.

This list has no big surprises. By this point, most highly touted prospects have already declared their intention.

Here are all 57:

  • Abdul-Malik Abu, North Carolina State
  • BeeJay Anya, North Carolina State
  • Ian Baker, New Mexico State
  • V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
  • Antonio Blakeney, LSU
  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Amida Brimah, Connecticut
  • Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico
  • Deonte Burton, Iowa State
  • Antonio Campbell, Ohio
  • Conor Clifford, Washington State
  • Charles Cooke III, Dayton
  • Bakari Copeland, Maryland-Eastern Shore
  • Moustapha Diagne, Northwest Florida State
  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
  • D’Andre Downey, Stillman College (AL)
  • Vince Edwards, Purdue
  • Jimmy Hall, Kent State
  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
  • Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
  • Ike Iroegbu, Washington State
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina
  • Kris Jenkins, Villanova
  • Que Johnson, Washington State
  • Peter Jok, Iowa
  • Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  • Travion Kirkendoll, Centenary College (LA)
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis
  • Marcus Lee, Kentucky
  • Makai Mason, Yale
  • Jahmal McMurray, South Florida
  • Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
  • Dallas Moore, North Florida
  • Jalen Moore, Utah State
  • Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb
  • Malik Newman, Mississippi State
  • Marc-Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast
  • Cameron Oliver, Nevada
  • Alec Peters, Valparaiso
  • QJ Peterson, VMI
  • Malik Pope, San Diego State
  • Rodney Purvis, Connecticut
  • Corey Sanders Jr., Rutgers
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
  • Rakish Taylor, Anderson University (SC)
  • Ethan Telfair, Idaho State
  • Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland
  • Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton
  • Andrew White III, Nebraska
  • Alec Wintering, Portland
  • Zeek Woodley, Northwestern State

NBA policy change kept Draymond Green off All-NBA first team, Paul Millsap off third team

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 01:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks tries to steal the ball from Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 1, 2016 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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Draymond Green received 431 points in All-NBA voting.

DeAndre Jordan received 317.

Yet, Jordan made the first team while Green made the second team.

Why?

The NBA explained in its official release:

Players who received votes at multiple positions were slotted at the position where they received the most votes.

Green got 85 votes at forward and 39 at center, so he was eligible only at forward. Jordan got all 89 of his votes at center.

That’s perfectly reasonable, but it wasn’t always this way.

The NBA changed its rules last offseason after 2015 voting concluded, according to league spokesman Tim Frank. Instead of sliding players to a position they rarely played if they got any votes there, players are now eligible at only the position where they received the most votes (though voters can still mostly slot players where they deem appropriate on individual ballots). An increase in multi-position players sparked the new policy.

And, fundamentally, it’s good switch. The league should have a clear policy and stick with it rather than trying to interpret the line on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, there’s room for quibbling. Is 50% the right threshold rather than, say, 30% Would basing it on points rather than votes work better? Will all forward/centers get tilted toward forward because there are twice as many All-NBA slots at forward than at center? There’s no perfect solution.

But, more than anything, a clear and fair policy – and this is both – is better than no set policy.

This is also a noteworthy policy, because it had a clear effect this year.

If Green were the first-team center, Paul George would’ve made the second team at forward and Paul Millsap would’ve been a third-team forward. (Thankfully, Millsap finished ahead of Anthony Davis – who played both power forward and center, got more votes at forward and could’ve made about $25 million more over the next five years due to the Derrick Rose rule – or else this would’ve been a much bigger can of worms). Jordan would’ve been the second-team center, DeMarcus Cousins third-team and Andre Drummond bumped.

On the flip side, adopting the current rule sooner would’ve changed some results from the last couple years.

Cousins was an All-NBA second-team forward last year despite getting more votes at center, and Pau Gasol was the All-NBA second-team center despite getting more votes at forward – which obviously means the net effect is nil.

A more significant position bend came with the 2014 All-Defensive team. Andre Iguodala was a first-team guard despite getting more votes at forward. Holding him at forward would’ve sent him to the second team and bumped Kawhi Leonard. Patrick Beverley would’ve gone to the first team and Tony Allen to the second team at guard.

Report: Rockets hiring Mike D’Antoni

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a score against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 29, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. The spurs would win the game 92-87 and the series 4-1.   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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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James Harden reportedly had a role in picking the Rockets’ head coach.

So, of course they hired someone who’s not particularly interested in defense.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

D’Antoni can be an excellent coach if he has a roster that fits his up-tempo spread style, and a defensive coordinator would also help (Sorry, James). If Houston is committed to surrounding D’Antoni with the requisite resources, this could be a strong hire. On the bright side, this roster is ripe for turnover – notably Dwight Howard, who clashed with D’Antoni on the Lakers.

Most of all, the Rockets just needed a fresh start after last season’s stinker. They were bound to get that no matter whom they hired.

It’ll be on D’Antoni to prove he can provide more of a bump than any viable coach would’ve.

At minimum, though, Houston should be more exciting.

All-NBA teams announced, and Anthony Davis loses $24 million

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 14:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks the ball over Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 14, 2016 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 has released the list of players selected to the three All-NBA teams, and most of them are the people you’d expect to make it. But two players are affected by the voting in very different ways: Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.

Here are the selections:

FIRST TEAM ALL-NBA

SECOND TEAM ALL-NBA

THIRD TEAM ALL-NBA

These selections are fine. There are areas where it’s possible to quibble (is DeMarcus Cousins worthy despite not being on a playoff team? Should Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard switch spots?) But the voters largely got it right and honored the right group of players.

The much more interesting dynamic is how the voting affects the contracts of Lillard and Davis, who were both Rose rule candidates. The so-called “Derrick Rose” rule, put in place in the 2011 CBA, allows players signed to a five-year “designated player” extension to earn a larger percentage of the cap and higher annual raises if they either a) win MVP, b) get voted as a starter to two All-Star teams, or c) make two All-NBA teams during their rookie contract.

Davis and Lillard both signed five-year max extensions last summer. Davis made first team All-NBA last season, so he would have been eligible for the Rose rule if he had made a team this year. But he fell short in an injury-plagued season in which the Pelicans missed the playoffs. His extension will now be worth around $120 million over the five years, instead of $145 million.

Lillard, meanwhile, made third team All-NBA last season, so his second-team selection this year secures an extra $24 million over the course of his extension. This won’t matter much for the Blazers, who are so far under the salary cap that they can sign pretty much anybody they want, but Lillard has to be happy with the recognition after he was infamously left off the Western Conference All-Star team this season.