Blake Griffin Clippers Thunder

When you mention contenders, consider the Clippers

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Sunday night, the Clippers went into the thin air of Denver and knocked off the Nuggets, the deepest and most steady team in the West (with the second best record in the conference).

Monday night they faced a rested Oklahoma City Thunder team and ran the team to best in the West out of the building. The final score was 112-100, but it wasn’t that close. While we were all buzzing over Blake Griffin’s latest and greatest ridiculous dunk, the Clippers were making a statement.

Chris Paul is back healthy and when you start talking about teams with a shot at the title you need to start mentioning the Clippers.

“They’re the best team we’ve played all year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the thumping. “They have everything, they have a talented bench… they beat us.”

Maybe the Clippers are dark horse contenders. There are still questions about them — can you expose their lack of depth along the front line in the playoffs? Can they defend well enough in a playoff setting? Can Vinny Del Negro really coach a contender deep?

But a healthy Chris Paul — he had 26 points and 14 assists against OKC — directed the Clippers like a maestro the past two nights served notice on the league that the Clippers can play with anyone. They’re not playoff tested, but they should be feared.

Los Angeles raced out to an early lead Monday  behind Caron Butler getting good looks by finding his spots on the weak side then getting the kick out when the defense had to collapse on Paul or Griffin. Butler finished with 22 and was 4-8 from three. Both Butler and D’Andre Jordan have made the Clippers so much more dangerous by moving well off the ball and finding their spots to find good looks.

“We’re trying to see what the defense is going to give you,” Chauncey Billups said. “I had a couple looks tonight that I turned down. Caron was hot, so that was my shot but I moved (the ball) on. That’s the sign of a good team, you always want to have different guys that step up and be big. Last night (in Denver) I was rolling, tonight Caron, Chris was unbelievable, there was Blake. Look, it’s tough to prepare for four or five guys.”

The key to the game was the final 1:30 of the first half. While the Clippers had been up by as many as 15 the Thunder had cut it to 6 and seemed to have the momentum.

Then Mo Williams hit a three for Los Angeles. Williams next stole the ball from Russell Westbrook and Butler knocked down a three. James Harden missed a three on the other end, the Clippers came down and it was another Williams three. Then Durant with another turnover and that led to another Billups three. And the lead was 18 again. The Thunder never recovered.

To a man, the Thunder said it was by far the worst game they had played this season, the first clunker they have had. Westbrook and Durant combined for 67 — two thirds — of the Thunder’s points, the rest of the team shot just 38 percent. Brooks was philosophical about it and says it’s going to happen. Anyone who has watched the Thunder this season knows they can play better.

But part of their off night was the Clippers, a team thrown together before the season who are starting to figure it out.

“I definitely think we’re learning,” Paul said. “We just have to keep building our identity. We can’t say we’ve arrived after winning this game.”

Jeanie Buss says decision to fire brother Jim was so hard “I probably waited too long”

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Jim Buss and his sister Jeanie Buss of the Los Angeles lakers attend a news conference where Dwight Howard was introduced as the newest member of the team at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The question has been for weeks not if but when. Ever since Magic Johnson was brought on as a “consultant to ownership” for Jeanie Buss and the Lakers the writing was on the wall, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were going to be out. Magic’s heavy-handed public campaign to take over Jim’s spot added to the obviousness of the situation.

Nobody expected to be this fast — and certainly not two days before the trade deadline.

Why now? Lakers owner and team governor Jeanie Buss and Magic — the new head of Lakers’ basketball operations — were on the Lakers’ cable network Spectrum Sportsnet in Los Angeles and answered those questions.

“It’s something I thought about for a long time, and once the decision became clear in my mind there was really no reason to wait, Buss said…

“In today’s NBA there is no offseason, you’re constantly preparing for the draft, for the season, for Summer League, so there was no time like the present.”

This was very different from most teams firing a GM and basketball president — Jim Buss is Jeanie’s brother (and will remain part owner), Mitch Kupchak has been a loyal Laker front office soldier for decades. For Jeanie Buss, this was emotional and was not just business.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Buss said. “It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. And for that, I apologize to Lakers fans. But now with clarity and direction, and talking to with Ervin, really knowing a change was needed, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Why did she wait so long, through what she called an “erosion” of what the Lakers should be?

“I wanted for the current (she meant former) front office to show us what Laker basketball was going to be. It just wasn’t going in a direction that was satisfactory for what this organization stands for,” Buss said.

Magic added perspective.

“It really wasn’t about the last couple weeks, it’s been about years,” Magic said.

However, Johnson did say in a later Los Angeles radio interview that he was kept out of the loop on the Lakers’ pursuit of DeMarcus Cousins All-Star weekend. He would not say if that impacted the timing, and he dodged the question about whether he would have included Brandon Ingram in the trade.

Johnson said he has talked to numerous other general managers already, both getting well wishes and talking trades — Los Angeles remains expected to move Lou Williams before the trade deadline, according to sources around the league.

“After we leave (the studio where this interview was taking place) we’re going to go back to the war room with coach Walton, Ryan West (an assistant GM), Jessie and Joey (Buss children working in the front office), we’re all going to sit in a room and evaluate trade possibilities,” Magic said.

Johnson continually praised both Luke Walton and the young core of the team — all of which were put in place by the former front office. He said he wanted to build with this core.

“We have the right coach with Luke Walton and a lot of great young players, that we can build and make sure we develop, and help them turn into the stars we think they can become,” Magic said.

“This isn’t about going back to Showtime, we’re not turning back the clock,” Buss said. “The Lakers have figured out how to win in every era, and certainly the game has evolved, and the rules have changed. We, in our discussions, were looking at evolving with the game and what the modern NBA is about.”

Magic said he wants a GM who can work with him and who also knows the CBA and has relationships with teams, “someone smarter than me.” He also talked about everyone in the organization working together in the front office, in a collaborative way.

“That’s how I built my (business) organization, that’s how I want to build this one,” Johnson said.

As expected, both Johnson and Buss said this was about winning and getting the organization going back in the right direction.

“When we sat down for dinner, and she asked me to come back, I think the timing was right,” Johnson said. “It was right for me to put my businesses aside and focus on Laker business, try to build an organization fans can be proud of, both on the court and in the offices.”

Report: Lakers pursued Warriors president Bob Myers

Bob Myers
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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Give Knicks owner James Dolan this: He was so committed to winning, he spent an unheard of $60 million over five years to hire a lead basketball executive. This is how big-market teams should leverage their advantages, spending big on positions that don’t count toward the salary cap.

Dolan’s problem is that he hired Phil Jackson, who had no front-office experience.

If you’re going to offer the highest salary in the league, why not try to poach someone who’s already succeeding in the same role?

It seems the Lakers, who are looking for a general manager to work under new president Magic Johnson, understand that better,

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Before the Lakers fired Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss on Tuesday, the franchise had already moved away from trying to pursue the Golden State Warriors’ Bob Myers, the franchise’s original top target for general manager, league sources told The Vertical.

After Myers signed a recent contract extension, it became clear to Lakers brass that it would be unable to lure Myers, league sources said.

Myers inherited Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but he drafted Draymond Green and lured Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala to Golden State. The 2015 Executive of the Year, Myers has cemented himself among the league’s best.

The Lakers had little shot of getting him, though. Myers already holds the president title so it would have been tough to see him leaving for a lesser role — especially in the midst of so much success. The Warriors also possess the financial wherewithal to hang with the Lakers in a bidding war.

But good for the Lakers for trying.

If not Myers himself, it seems Los Angeles likes the idea of an agent-turned-general. Kobe Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, has emerged high on the list of candidates.

Report: Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson kept in dark on Lakers’ DeMarcus Cousins trade discussions

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Lakers owner Jeanie Buss wielded her power, installing Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations and ousting Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak from the front office.

Why did she drop the hammer today?

It wasn’t just that Jim Buss and Kupchak failed to trade for DeMarcus Cousins. It’s how they internally managed negotiations with the Kings, who ultimately sent Cousins to the Pelicans.

Bill Reiter of CBSSports.com:

One source close to the situation said Kupchak and Jeanie Buss had not spoken since Nov. 1, despite her role as president of basketball operations and the power that gave her to fire Kupchak, and that her brother had resorted to communicating with his sister only through lawyers. The same source said Jeanie never was informed of a potential DeMarcus Cousins trade over the weekend and described a chaotic scene in which Jim Buss insisted low-level basketball officials “vote” on the proposed deal while Jeanie and Magic were left in the dark.

Jeanie allowed this culture by indulging Jim’s silly timeline pledge. That led to too many desperate tactics, even when he wasn’t so desperate to save his job.

She also exacerbated these issues by hiring Johnson as an advisor and then watching him repeatedly spout off about being in charge. Think Jim Buss and Kupchak were eager to answer to and be evaluated by someone gunning for their jobs?

This doesn’t mean Jim Buss and Kupchak handled the situation well, but chaos breeds chaos. There’s plenty of blame to spread around for the Lakers’ predicament.

Jeanie Buss and Johnson should have a better working relationship. At least it won’t face the same pressures as the siblings’ partnership.

 

Report: Kobe Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, leads list of Lakers’ GM candidates

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 26:  Agent Rob Pelinka talks with Kobe Bryant during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional Final at Honda Center on March 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
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Magic Johnson is now the Lakers’ President of Basketball Operations, and he has said his first call will be to Kobe Bryant.

Maybe that’s just to get the number of Kobe’s agent, Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Pelinka is still an agent, and Arn Tellem is a former agent who now works for the Pistons. Agents are becoming trendier picks for front-office jobs since Warriors general manager Bob Myers blazed the trail.

If the Lakers are willing to spend big, Neil Olshey — who previously worked in Los Angeles with the Clippers — would be a good choice. A large salary could pull him from Portland.

Kevin Pritchard or Peter Dinwiddie could be fine if the Lakers aren’t willing to make a mega-offer good enough to lure a sitting general manager. Chris Grant might bring baggage.

As Johnson has acknowledged, he needs a general manager more savvy in the nuances of the salary cap. Any of these names would qualify. It’s about finding the very best person for the job, because Johnson needs all the help he can get.