Nuggets guard Smith celebrates a three-point shot in their NBA basketball game against the Timberwolves in Denver

Clippers will attempt to continue to stockpile talent by pursuing J.R. Smith

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The L.A. Clippers have had maybe the most impressive offseason of any team in the league. Already sitting in second place in the Western Conference standings, and with their latest acquisition, Kenyon Martin, joining the team in Orlando on Sunday, they will look to get even deeper by going after J.R. Smith, reports Brad Turner of the L.A. Times:

The Clippers, still not done dealing after signing Kenyon Martin on Friday, will pursue guard J.R. Smith after the team he plays on in the Chinese Basketball Assn. finishes its season and he becomes eligible to play in the NBA, said a person not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The Clippers aren’t getting enough production off the bench behind small forward Caron Butler and feel as if Smith can provide the team with a big scoring punch at the position, the person said.

There’s no reason to think that the Clippers wouldn’t be Smith’s first choice of where to sign once he’s freed from his obligation in China. Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin played with Smith in Denver, and know exactly how to deal with the sometimes-volatile guard who has been known to shoot the lights out when given the chance.

As the Clips continue their apparent quest to re-form the Denver Nuggets of the first half of last season (that’s a joke, people), it’s worth noting that this sudden frenzy within the organization to trade for and sign talented players at every turn is a pretty big departure from the way the team has operated in the past.

The Clippers are actually being smart about decision-making, and in the short term, it’s paying off.

The Chris Paul trade was a gift from God David Stern, but Blake Griffin is an asset that was earned through one of many seasons of dismal losses and assembling an embarrassingly-poor collection of talent. Billups was a victim of the new amnesty clause, and L.A. was the only team to put in a claim for him, risking the possibility that Billups may be disgruntled and not want to play there after being tossed aside by the Knicks.

Mo Williams was a throw-in in the deal that got rid of Baron Davis’ albatross of a contract at the trade deadline a season ago, and at the time, many questioned whether the Clippers, who gave up their unprotected 2011 first round draft pick that turned into Kyrie Irving, gave up too much.

Well, Williams is averaging 18.4 points per game off the bench in his last 10, and as good as Irving has been in his rookie season, he’s not needed on a team that’s fortunate enough to have Chris Paul in its starting lineup.

The Clippers haven’t exactly become the New York Yankees of the NBA, but bringing in new talent left and right to surround Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan with has to be satisfying for the small group of fans who have chosen to suffer with this squad over the years. Martin will add some much-needed front court depth (seriously, no contending team should ever be forced to play Brian Cook), and Smith will add yet another strong scoring punch off the bench.

There’s no question that the league began the power shift in Los Angeles by not allowing Paul to go to the Lakers. But the Clippers, by going out and getting as much additional talent as possible, should be credited for doing everything they can to finish the job.

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.