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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.

Report: Rockets talking to Jeff Hornacek, Sam Cassell, Stephen Silas, Chris Finch

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek directs his players in the second half of an NBA exhibition basketball game against the Houston Rockets Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 95-92. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
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There are the big names: Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt, Mike D’Antoni and Frank Vogel.

There’s the catchy name: Kenny Smith.

And there’s the eliminated name: J.B. Bickerstaff.

Expect many more names in the Rockets’ coaching search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Houston owner Les Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey met with Bickerstaff on Monday, as well as Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Houston assistant Chris Finch, league sources said.

Conversations with potential candidates are expected to include several prominent college coaches, sources said.

Among the NBA candidates with whom the Rockets are working to set up interviews are former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, league sources said. There could be 10-15 – perhaps even more – candidates interviewed in the process, league sources said.

Hornacek coached the Suns and looked pretty good doing so until this season, when he feuded with Markieff Morris, used too many strange lineups and saw the team quit on him. If he can explain this year’s troubles, he’d be a solid hire. But the Rockets have the best job available, so they can probably aim a little higher.

Cassell, like Smith, played for the Rockets. An intelligent player, Cassell has successfully transitioned to coaching, though I’m not sure he’s ready for a top job. He mentored John Wall with the Wizards before joining the Clippers. From afar, it’s just tough to judge his contributions to a loaded coaching staff in Los Angeles.

Stephen Silas broke into NBA coaching on his dad’s staffs with the Hornets (turned Pelicans) and Cavaliers. Paul Silas even let Stephen serve as head coach for games during the 2011-12 season. Between and after stints with his dad, Stephen has impressed at other stops around the league. Maybe someone who learned offense from Don Nelson and defense from Steve Clifford and gets along well with players would make a good head coach. The biggest question is how his rapport with players would translate to the head chair, but that’s a concern for any assistant.

Finch coached in Europe for more than a decade until the Rockets tabbed him to coach their D-League team. After a successful stint there, he moved to the bench in Houston. He’d be more of a daring hire at this point, but he could perhaps unite the Rockets’ front office and coaching staff better than anyone.

Reports: Kevin McHale withdraws from Kings coaching search, could join Pacers

Kevin McHale
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports wrote a few weeks ago about the Kings coaching search:

Kevin McHale is steadily gaining internal support, league sources told The Vertical. If Cousins truly is the future, the Kings have to hire a coach he will buy into, and McHale, a respected voice and one of the game’s all-time great post players, certainly seems like a good fit.

They won’t get him, of course

McHale indeed emerged as a candidate, and though it took him a little longer than other prominent former head coaches, McHale also came to the conclusion Mannix foresaw,

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This is part of the reason Sacramento talking to everybody. The Kings don’t know whom they can get.

An owner who has changed course too often in Vivek Ranadive, a general manager with too little experience in Vlade Divac, a top player who repeatedly feuds with coaches in DeMarcus Cousins – who’d want this job? Probably not someone who could get one of the NBA’s other 29 head-coaching gigs, and that might apply to McHale.

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

Frank Vogel is still twisting in the wind, but it seems unlikely the Pacers keep him.

There’d definitely be something intriguing about former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale teaming up in Indiana. McHale’s experience with the Rockets could help him install an up-tempo offense, too.

Cavaliers throw pass off Mike Muscala’s head, set up 3-pointer (video)

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The Cavaliers were making so many 3-pointers, they didn’t need a lucky bounce.

But they got one, anyway.

Mo Williams‘ pass to Richard Jefferson bounced of Mike Muscala‘s head – right to Iman Shumpert for a 3-pointer.

Report: Rockets owner would consider Kenny “the Jet” Smith as head coach

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Kenny “The Jet” Smith is the next Steve Kerr?

I’m with you, I don’t see that either. But apparently in the Houston Rockets’ broad search for a new coach — we know it will not be J.B. Bickerstaff — owner Leslie Alexander would consider Smith, a member of the Rockets’ championship teams in the 1990s. From Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources tell ESPN.com that TNT’s Kenny Smith, who like (Sam) Cassell is a former Rockets player, could also land an interview. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander remains close to many players from the team’s highly successful Clutch City era, which delivered two championships, and holds them in high esteem.

As seen in the video above, Charles Barkley asked Smith about it on Inside the NBA Wednesday and Smith tap danced around the question, saying “anything basketball is me.”

The Rockets need a defensive-minded coach and someone who can help guide and build a good locker room culture, two things that held the Rockets back this season. Someone who can get the respect of James Harden and get him to do things such as show up to training camp in shape.

That’s what makes Jeff Van Gundy an interesting fit, same with Frank Vogel if he is let go by the Indiana Pacers as it more and more seems like he will be. Both of them have experience doing what the Rockets need. Can The Jet coach? Who knows. But with Harden in his prime and some other quality role players on the roster (Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Clint Capella, and the list goes on) why gamble on the unknown?