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What the Clippers should do when the lockout ends

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This is the latest installment of our “when the lockout ends” series. To see the other teams we have done, follow this link. Don’t worry, we’ll get to your team soon enough.

Last season in Los Angeles: The Clippers became what Brazil is to international soccer — everyone’s second favorite team. Blake Griffin changed the energy around the franchise and this young, athletic team became one of the most fun to watch in the league. People on the East Coast stayed up to see who Griffin would dunk on next. For once, everyone wanted to see the Clippers. However, they still were not all that good (32-50, missing the playoffs), in large part due to a dreadful start of the season. They were just three games better than the season before.

Since we last saw the Clippers: The Clippers traded away their first round draft pick this year to Cleveland to take Baron Davis off their hands… that pick turned out to be the No. 1 overall. Ouch, but frankly that was still a good trade (Mo Williams is a much better fit). The Clippers did draft Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie out of Georgia, but they are not immediate impact guys. Aside that, the Clippers didn’t make any major moves, but they may once the lockout ends — there were a lot of Clippers trade rumors around the draft and you can expect them to be active once the lockout is lifted.

When the lockout ends, the Clippers need to… get a small forward and learn to play better defense (I’m looking at you, Griffin). And the second part of that matters a lot more than the first.

With Griffin, the Clippers finally have a true franchise player. A guy they can build around. Put him on the front line with DeAndre Jordan and you have the most athletic big man combo in the NBA. It’s a dunk-a-palooza.

But if the Clippers are going to make the playoffs those guys have to anchor the defense in the paint much better. Last season the Clippers were 18th in the NBA 108.7 points per 100 possessions. Sit close to the floor and you noticed the Clippers were quiet — poor communication on defense — and they tended to over-help, exposing new openings that teams exploited.

Griffin was the prime example — he was a solid individual defender (opponents shot just 30 percent when isolated against him) but his help defense was at times terrible. A lot of times. He would overcommit, while at other times he seemed listless and just waiting to get back on offense.

Griffin looked to me like a guy trying to stay out of foul trouble, he was a guy who let the opposing offense set the tone (and get positions they wanted) then reacted to it. He struggled to pick the right angles on defense. That has to change. Griffin clearly has the physical tools to be disruptive on defense, and as the season wore on we started to see more of that — but he has to make a leap this season and bring his teammates with him.

It’s really a team defensive issue for the Clippers — they need someone who can be a better perimeter defender and lock guys down, then be more mature in their help decisions. Particularly Jordan, who needs to be the rim protector on this team (he also over-helped). It’s part of being a young team, but this more than anything is what will help the Clippers make the leap next season.

With that they need one more perimeter player, too — a small forward. Mo Williams is a much better fit at the point for the Clippers than Baron Davis, he’s a calming and steady influence. Eric Gordon is positioned for a breakout year as a two guard (one who has the ball in his hands a lot), especially if he can learn to finish better in the lane. We have no doubt that Griffin, Jordan and Chris Kaman form a formidable front line.

But the Clippers need a three. Al-Farouq Aminu showed some promise as a rookie, but he is not what the Clippers need now and he is not the defensive presence and shooter they crave to make this all work.

The Clippers have assets to trade — Chris Kaman, Minnesota’s unprotected first round pick next year — and cap room. Andre Iguodala’s name came up and while no deal was worked out, you know that is still on the back burner. When other teams see the new salary cap there may be threes out there teams need to shed. There also are good free agent options the Clippers can consider such as Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier and Caron Butler — none of those are long-term answers with a young team but would provide veteran leadership and a few years of quality play. And defense. To me, Butler seems a great get if his knee is back after last season, and he would be affordable.

Bottom line, the Clippers should be a playoff team in the West next season. That has to be the goal. No doubt a full season of Mo Williams helps, and we expect big things from Griffin and Gordon. Under the current front office you can bet one way or another they will fill that hole at the three.

But it all comes back to defense. This team will score more next season, but if it can’t stop anyone… well, it will still be the Clippers we all know and love.

Rajon Rondo: You couldn’t name three players on 2015-16 Kings, but I led NBA in assists

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena on March 9, 2016 in Sacramento, 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)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Months into his first and only season with the Kings, Rajon Rondo declared himself to be the first veteran teammate ever respected by DeMarcus Cousins.

As he deals with new problems with the Bulls, Rondo is again trashing his former Sacramento teammates.

Rondo, via David Aldridge of NBA.com:

“It’s just, maybe, the personnel in this situation,” Rondo says in response. “I mean, last year — I hate to keep talking about last year — but you couldn’t name three people on my team, the Sacramento Kings, and I led the league in assists. You know? I don’t know. I believe so (that his skill set still has value), given the right personnel and the flow of the game.”

Rondo is right: Playing with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade is not ideal, and his passing was an asset to the Kings.

He’s also proving his critics right: He’s too often a jerk.

Rondo has declined significantly overall, particularly on defense. His plus passing is barely enough to make him rotation-worthy. It’s not enough for teams cast aside his hardheadedness.

But is Rondo right that you can’t name three members of the 2015-16 Kings? Take this quiz to find out:

Report: Nike doesn’t plan to make sleeved NBA jerseys

LeBron James
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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Sleeved NBA jerseys sell poorly. Players dislike them.

So, the NBA switching from adidas to Nike is apparently an excuse to ditch the sleeves.

Sara Germano of The Wall Street Journal, via Paul Lukas of Uni Watch:

Nike, meanwhile, is expected to present its initial NBA jersey designs to retailers beginning this week. The company said it doesn’t plan to produce sleeved jerseys, a style debuted by Adidas in 2013 that received mixed reviews from players and fans.

Whether or not sleeves were introduced for ad space, uniform advertisements are still coming. The ads can fit on standard jerseys, no problem.

At this point, there’s just little to no upside for sleeved jerseys.

Nostalgia will treat sleeves better than present-day evaluations, but until we look back wistfully on this mostly failed experiment, good riddance.

Report: Carmelo Anthony twice asked to meet with Phil Jackson, who will get around to it soon

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson watches from the stands during the second half of the Knicks' NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  The Pelicans won 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Despite sounding like he wanted a conversation with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony said he hadn’t spoken with the Knicks president since Phil Jackson mouthpiece Charley Rosen wrote Anthony no longer fit in New York.

It hasn’t been for a lack of effort.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

If you’re trying to keep up with the Jackson-Anthony feuds, their previous meeting came after Jackson publicly critiqued Anthony’s ball-hogging.

That affair should’ve provided a sense of Jackson’s communication skills. This latest episode only reinforces it.

The Knicks were in New York on Thursday, when Rosen’s article was published. They played in Toronto on Sunday and returned home for a game yesterday. That’s plenty of time for Jackson and Anthony to talk.

Why hasn’t it happened yet?

Isaiah Thomas on pace to break modern-era fourth-quarter scoring record

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With seven and a half minutes left, Isaiah Thomas drained a 3-pointer, held up his left wrist and stared at it.

It was time.

His time.

Thomas scored 17 fourth-quarter points in the Celtics’ win over the Hornets yesterday.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Thomas said. “It just surprises everybody else.”

It shouldn’t any longer.

Boston has won seven of eight, and in that span, Thomas has scored most of the Celtics’ fourth-quarter points. He has pushed his fourth-quarter scoring average to 10.1 for the season – putting him on track to break the modern-era record.

Kobe Bryant scored 9.5 fourth-quarter points per game in 2006, the most in the previous 20 years (as far back as NBA.com has data). The leaderboard:

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Russell Westbrook is also on track to surpass Kobe and join this rarified air. LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade are the only other players to average even eight fourth-quarter points per game in a season over the previous 20 years. Not even Michael Jordan (7.1 in 1997, 7.3 in 1998) did it.

Boston’s offense has blasted into the stratosphere with Thomas on the court in the fourth quarter, scoring 122.1 points per 100 possessions. However, the Celtics allow even more with him on the floor in the final period (122.8 points per 100 possessions). The 5-foot-9 point guard has limits.

But where those limits exist when it comes to his clutch scoring – we haven’t found them yet.