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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….

D.C. on hook for additional $10 million for Wizards practice facility

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 01:  Senior Sports Writer at Time Inc. Sean Gregory and Founder, Majority Owner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Monumental Sports & Entertainment Ted Leonsis speak onstage at the 2nd Annual 'NYVC Sports' Venture Series: The Future of Sports Digital Media panel during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII at the Liberty Theater on October 1, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for AWXII)
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The Wizards are getting a new practice facility.

For some reason, the Wizards have to pay just $4.46 million for it. Washington D.C. will cover the rest.

How much is the rest?

More.

Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post:

The District”s sports and convention arm, Events DC, is proposing a series of upgrades to a planned Washington Wizards practice facility and entertainment center in Southeast that would  likely reduce the total number of seats but add $10 million to the original $55 million price tag.

The new spending would be paid for by Events DC, which is funded by a percentage of hotel occupancy taxes. It does not require approval by the D.C. Council but will have to be voted on by the Events DC board Aug. 11.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis pledged to move the team’s practices there as well as home games for the Washington Mystics and a future Wizards’ NBA D-League affiliate team. His company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, agreed to pay $4.46 million — or 8 percent of the original $55 million cost.

But in a July 26 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Gregory A. O’Dell, president and chief executive of Events DC, wrote that the original $55 million budget was “based on a preliminary estimate, as development and analysis of the program and concept design had not yet been performed.”

So, the District agreed to pay for a project without knowing how much it would cost and got the primary beneficiary — Leonsis — to kick in a share based on a low early estimate? It’s almost as if politicians are inept or have ulterior motives.

At least Wizards practices and WNBA games will bring plenty of new money into the community.

As Leonsis said, “There’s never been a better time to be an owner of an NBA franchise.”

Jimmy Butler says he no longer has chip on shoulder, still works hard but uses different approach

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 20:  Jimmy Butler attends Bonobos Michigan Avenue Launch Party at Bonobos Guideshop on April 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Bonobos)
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The Bulls reportedly believe Jimmy Butler has changed as he has emerged into stardom.

Where would they get that idea?

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

This is mostly semantic. If Butler — who began his college career at a junior college and was drafted No. 30 — feels he no longer has a chip on his shoulder, that’s how he feels. What is he supposed to do about that? As long as he continues to work hard and finds new sources of motivation, he’ll be fine.

It’s just an unconventional approach. Most players, even once they find success, talk about continuing to be motivated by earlier slights.

Having a chip on his shoulder got Butler far, so it’s a little unnerving to see him switch from a mindset that worked. But people change — sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Chicago has little option but to ride it out as Butler finds himself.

Doc Rivers: If Paul Pierce retires, Clippers would let him join Celtics first

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3:  Head coach Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics share a laugh at the end of the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons during the game on April 3, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce is mulling retirement, which would mean another franchise icon could leave the NBA this summer — Lakers great Kobe Bryant, Spurs great Tim Duncan and Celtics great Pierce.

However, unlike Kobe and Duncan, Pierce left his original team.

Personally, I don’t think stints with the Nets, Wizards and Clippers do much to diminish Pierce’s Boston bona fides. Everyone will remember him as a Celtic. Fifteen years and a championship in Boston will do that.

But just in case you need more reason to tie Pierce to the Celtics, Clippers president/coach and Pierce’s former Boston coach Doc Rivers has a plan.

Rivers, as transcribed by Jay King of MassLive:

“If Paul decides to retire then we’re going to make sure that Boston picks him up for one day and he retires a Celtic because that’s what he should retire as,” Rivers said during an episode of The Vertical podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski, which was released early Thursday. “So we have all that in place. We just don’t know what he’s going to do.”

Apparently, Amar’e Stoudemire is a trendsetter. Stoudemire signed with the Knicks to retire, the first NBA player in memory to sign with a team for that ceremonial reason. Previously, it’d mostly been done in football and baseball.

If Pierce wants to follow that path, kudos to Rivers for allowing it to happen.

Rivers just has to make sure he executes the transaction wisely.

The Clippers would waive Pierce, and presumably, nobody would claim him to interfere. Pierce could then signed an unguaranteed contract with Boston. Pierce would retire, and the Celtics would waive him to clear his salary from their books.

But Pierce is due $3,527,920 on his current contract this season, and $1,096,080 of his 2017-18 salary is guaranteed. If the Clippers just waive him, they’ll be on the hook for that money. They can pay Pierce as a retirement gift, as the Spurs did with Duncan. But that seems foolish for a team facing the hard cap and without such deep ties to the player.

Before waiving Pierce, the Clippers should renegotiate the guaranteed portion of his salary (a buyout) — all the way down to $0. If Pierce is retiring, his team no longer has to pay him. Reducing his guaranteed salary would just hasten the process of getting him back to Boston.

This isn’t that complicated. It just requires Rivers to get the details of cap management correct. Actually…

Carmelo Anthony predicts Knicks-Bulls on Christmas or opening night

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks shoots over Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony said the Knicks should have gotten a Christmas game last year. In hindsight, the NBA reportedly agreed.

So, Anthony expects New York to get a marquee matchup — against the Bulls — on either Christmas or opening night.

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

The storylines are overflowing.

The Knicks added Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — two former Bulls — to join Anthony, who strongly considered Chicago in his last free agency. The Bulls answered with a couple big names: Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. They’ll join Jimmy Butler, whose stature is only growing — just like Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Those are plenty of attention-drawing players, and the league will want to capitalize, even if we’re talking about a couple middling Eastern Conference teams.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that New York and Chicago are huge markets.