Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul

NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

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Last season: 32-50, or to frame it in context, 13th place in the West out of 15 teams.

Head Coach: Vinny Del Negro, who, after the team successfully traded for Chris Paul, is now officially on the hot seat. VDN has yet to prove he can be successful coaching at the NBA level, and if this season doesn’t end with (at minimum) a trip to the playoffs, he could very well be gone this summer.

Key Departures: Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first round draft pick.

Key Additions: The league’s best point guard in Chris Paul, Caron Butler, and Chauncey Billups, who was claimed off of amnesty waiver and may or may not stick around in L.A. now that the deal for Paul has been completed.

Best case scenario: One could easily make the case that the best case scenario for the Clippers has already taken place, even before a single game has been played yet this season. L.A. is now more relevant than ever with the acquisition of Chris Paul, and we’re talking about a team that had a considerable buzz around it last season with the above-the-rim play of then-rookie Blake Griffin. Moreover, we’re talking about a franchise that has overall been the league’s worst for decades, and this is their one shot to lay claim to a large section of Los Angeles basketball fans.

For that to happen: The buzz and excitement surrounding the Clippers will fade quickly in Los Angeles if the team isn’t winning and can’t produce runs deep into the postseason sometime in the next few years. L.A.’s fans have been spoiled by the gaudy success from the Lakers over the years, and will only put up with a “fun” team that doesn’t win for so long.

That being said, it doesn’t have to happen this season. But what does have to happen is the Clippers making the playoffs — they simply can’t screw this up. The team should be a virtual lock to take the place of Paul’s former New Orleans team that played in the postseason last year, and a quick look at the offseason moves that other teams in the West made (or didn’t make) would lead you to believe that L.A. with Paul should finish higher than the rest of the teams in the conference that finished out of the playoffs.

More likely the Clippers will: Find a way to screw this up, because historically they always have? Not this time, at least not this season. There are depth issues in all areas but guard for the Clippers, so if health becomes a factor for any of the team’s big names, they may struggle to make the playoffs. But injuries aren’t something you can predict, and analysts always begin any bold statements with “if they stay healthy …” for a reason.

There will be a lot of pressure on the Clippers front office to put pieces around Paul to enable the team to compete with the big names in the West, but that’s a season or two away. For now, the Clips are relevant, and all they need to do is make it into the first round of the playoffs to keep that momentum going into next season.

Prediction: 37-29, seventh seed in the Western Conference.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 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.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.