The “Violence Against Blake Griffin” situation

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He’s asking for it.

OK, stop, that right there. That’s me trying to snag your attention with some sort of bombastic statement. I can assure you my position is more nuanced than this phrase, which by the way, in the context of violence of any sort — on-court, off-court, sexual, non-sexual — should never, ever be used, and that my use of it is only as a way to let you know this is actually a thing that’s going on and not just “oh, Jason Smith gave Blake Griffin a hard foul.”

The NBA is developing a problem for itself, and how it handles it will be a very delicate matter. Because Blake Griffin is asking for it, and that’s what the league wants.

Remember those halcyon days last year when Griffin was just creating highlights, detonating at 10,000 feet like the NBA version of a warhead, and everyone just thought it was awesome? Yeah, hi, welcome to 2012, where due to exposure, the life expectancy of your ubiquitous mass appeal is about 45 seconds. Griffin hasn’t been the same monster this year that he was last year. He’s still got a handful of absolutely absurd throwdowns, but his points, rebounds, and assists are all down per 36 minutes from last year. His efficiency is slightly up, both in field goal percentage and PER, but his free throw shooting is down. And while his free throw rate is down from his rookie year, you can tell that part of the drop in his productivity has to do with the fouls he’s taking.

Last year, it was cute. There were some who gave the hard foul, it got to be more of an issue, the Clippers certainly complained about it, but in reality, it was mostly just adorable that he tried so hard on every play. But this year, the cuteness has worn off. The book is out on Griffin. Hammer him, punish him, make it clear you will not stand for him putting you on NBC SportsTalk as a highlight. And since Griffin is so physical, so athletic, so aggressive, you have to do it fast. So you have fast, plus violence. Or, in the absence of fast, you can have reckless. Observe.

Now, Smith has already apologized for the hit, and knows it was reckless. In reality, this play isn’t indicative of what Griffin is facing on a night-to-night basis. This is an outlier, a sloppy combination of a player giving up on trying to make the play while not giving up on giving contact. This isn’t the type of player Jason Smith is, it was just a bad foul. But this, again, is the book on Blake Griffin. This is how you stop him. And he knows that, which is why he’s also driving fans nuts (and making them want those hard fouls given) by freaking out over every call.

This isn’t anything new for Griffin. He’s typically always had the same attitude. And if it seems familiar, here’s why, and I want to be clear on this so we’re going all bold: Every great player in the history of the NBA has freaked out over getting calls because it gives them an edge. Yes, Jordan. Yes, Kobe. Yes, Duncan. Yes, Malone. Yes, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, LeBron James and Travis Diener. (OK, Travis didn’t do that, nor was he great.)

It’s part of it. It’s how you react. And it’s a two way street. Those players I mentioned above, the Trav not withstanding, they all take an excessive amount of punishment which the league cannot completely corral. Kobe Bryant gets a ridiculously high number of foul calls in his favor. He also has a ridiculous number of fouls calls missed. If you go through and watch a ton of highlights, you’re going to see guys being more hands-on with Kobe than they were with their dad’s stash of adult magazines when they were 13. And by they I mean you. Bryant takes bumps, scrapes, hits, whacks, thumps, shoves, elbows, and I think one time bites because he has the ball a ton, scores the ball a ton, and his defenders will do anything to stop him.

So Griffin’s reaction is annoying and overdramatic, but it’s not only trying to win to get that advantage, it’s self-preservation. The Clippers and Griffin honestly feel that he’s targeted, and that the abuse he takes is greater than that of the average player. And he’s probably right. And the reason for why that is what gives the league such a headache.

The NBA wants those highlights. It wants Griffin putting a ridiculous poster down on some huge defender to steal the spotlight from baseball on highlight shows across the country on the third night of baseball season. It wants to showcase this dynamic, explosive young powerhouse whose play seems like Thor himself raining thunder down on his enemies. But they do have, despite public sentiment to the opposite, a practice of letting the players police themselves. You’re allowed to target a guy as long as you do it within the bounds of play and you do not violate any of the specific rules set forth. You’ll be punished for such plays, whether it’s a personal, flagrant, or flagrant II foul. But they don’t specifically act to control such measures, because they can’t treat any one player as special. Just because Blake Griffin tries really hard doesn’t mean that they can involve themselves in protecting him from harm any more so than for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or Sam Young or Drew Gooden. They can only respond to excessive incidents.

The nature of the game means they can only be reactive.

And that’s a trick for them. It’s why you see so many superstar young guys fade into less contact. Dwyane Wade was a contact-loving machine his first three seasons. A barrel full of injuries later and his game is much more predicated on slipping contact than creating it. Griffin’s already trying to diversify his game to be more deadly from range (and failing miserably). We want to see him drive instead of take that mid-range jumper, but the only way he can draw defenders out to create space and therefore not get beaten to a pulp when he drives is to knock down that shot.

Meanwhile the league is going to face this as a continuing issue. Because Griffin’s adjusting, but he’s not relenting. For all the complaints and the way defenses have adjusted to him, you have to give him that. He’s still waiting like a cobra to strike every time down the floor. But eventually the NBA may be put into a position where they have to intercede on the players’ own policing. And that’s going to get bad very quickly.

Addendum: You’re going to hear the phrase “back in the day” or “in the 80’s” a lot in relation to this issue. Please bear in mind two things. One, there’s a reason the game has evolved away from that and it has less to do with cultural values or an NBA image problem and more to do with the players not wanting to operate in an environment where their career can be threatened or their lives can be put in danger. It may make you feel like a man to talk about how tough things you used to not do were, but the reality has changed.

Two, the speed and violence capable at this level greatly exceeds what we knew in the 80’s due to strength and conditioning regimens and that means the dangers are that much higher. No one’s advocating getting rid of the hard foul here, or getting rid of the hard foul on Griffin. The point is simply that Griffin’s particular style means that the odds of injury continue to increase and that means the odds of a fight increase, and that violence at a high velocity, particularly in mid-air (which is why the Smith foul isn’t nearly as bad as others we’ve seen) is going to be problematic without intervention eventually.

Lonzo Ball recruits LeBron James to Lakers (video)

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Lonzo Ball doesn’t play for the Lakers. LeBron James isn’t a free agent.

But they’re headed that way – and Ball is already embracing it.

The Lakers are expected to draft Ball No. 2 tonight, and rumors are heating up about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers in 2018.

Why should LeBron join Ball in Los Angeles?

Ball on ESPN:

LeBron, I like to win. I know you like to win. I think our games can help each other out a lot. Any time you want the ball, just let me know. It’s going to be there.

Ball was asked to to pitch LeBron, so it’s not as if Ball is out here talking so brashly on his own. But answering the question was a rookie mistake.

Besides, I’m not sure Lonzo Ball can undo the bad blood between LeBron and LaVar Ball.

Celtics seemingly between Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum at No. 3 in NBA draft

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NEW YORK (AP) — Markelle Fultz is still expected to be the No. 1 pick, though the destination has changed.

Lonzo Ball wants to stay home with the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2, and it seems surer than ever he will.

The intrigue, then, starts with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft Thursday.

That’s where the Boston Celtics are scheduled to pick after moving down two spots in a trade with Philadelphia, giving the 76ers the right to select Fultz with their second No. 1 pick in two years.

Forwards Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jayson Tatum of Duke are two players frequently mentioned as possibilities at the No. 3 spot, and Celtics president Danny Ainge said Boston could get the player there they might have taken at No. 1.

Jackson never thought that would be him, so he said he didn’t work out for the Celtics.

“Me and my agent talked and we just didn’t feel like they had much interest in drafting me at No. 1, so we felt like it would be sort of a waste of time for me to go out and work out if they were really not considering drafting me,” Jackson said. “After they got the third pick, we tried to schedule something for me to get out there. But it was just scheduling issues and it was a little delayed for me to get out there.”

He said he had been open to working out for the Celtics and said it was possible they might draft him, anyway.

Tatum and the Celtics seem to have more familiarity, with the 6-foot-8 swingman believing he’d be a good fit on the roster of the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

“I talked about that with coach Brad Stevens,” Tatum said. “He just said guys that are my size and are versatile offensively and defensively, it’s hard not to play those guys. That’s what we talked about.”

Other things to watch from Barclays Center:

IT’S GOT TO BE THE SHOES: When Fultz walks on stage to shake hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, he recommends you check out his feet.

“Pay attention to my footwear,” the Washington guard said. “I’m going to have some custom-made shoes that I think nobody ever had before.”

LOVING LONZO – AND LAVAR: Ball acknowledged that there might be a “target” on him entering the draft because of all his father’s comments. But if the Lakers want Lonzo – and it seems they do after trading point guard D'Angelo Russell to Brooklyn – they won’t be turned off by LaVar.

“They were just open arms,” Lonzo said of his Lakers workout. “They said they love my dad and left it at that.”

THEIR TIME TO SHINE: With so much trade speculation about All-Stars such as Paul George and Jimmy Butler, there hasn’t been as much focus as usual leading into Thursday on the players who are in the draft.

“We don’t need that attention,” Kentucky guard Malik Monk said. “We’re going to get ours tomorrow.”

FRESHMAN FUN: The record of 14 freshmen selected in the first round might last just one year. Of the 20 players expected to be in the green room, 13 were college one-and-dones.

DULL DRAFT: Neither Golden State nor Cleveland, who met in the NBA Finals, has a pick in the two-round draft. The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies also are without a pick, while Houston, New Orleans and Washington don’t have one in the first round.

INTERNATIONAL INTRIGUE: A year after nearly half the draft – a record 27 of the 60 picks – were international players, French guard Frank Ntilikina and Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen, who played a year at Arizona, are two of the top international players. Both have met with the New York Knicks, who scored well two years ago when they went overseas with their pick of Latvian Kristaps Porzingis – to whom Markkanen has been compared as a 7-footer with perimeter shooting skills.

Markkanen was asked about potentially playing with or replacing Porzingis, who team president Phil Jackson told MSG Network on Wednesday the Knicks are taking calls about after he left New York without attending his exit interview.

“I try not to think about it too much,” Markkanen said. “I’ve been doing my work here and I’m just waiting for tomorrow night and whatever happens, happens.”

 

Report: Spurs talking to teams about trading LaMarcus Aldridge for top-10 pick

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San Antonio’s pursuit of Chris Paul hit a snag when the NBA reduced its salary-cap projection to $99 million.

Even if they trimmed their roster to just Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker – they were reportedly open to trading Danny Green – the Spurs would no longer have max cap space for Paul.

So, San Antonio might look into trading its highest-paid player: Aldridge.

Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs, in pursuit of a top-10 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, have spoken to at least three teams about a possible trade involving power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, sources confirmed to ESPN.

There were already rumors about the Spurs trading Aldridge, who was reportedly unhappy about Leonard getting the spotlight. Gregg Popovich called out Aldridge publicly during the playoffs.

San Antonio would already be sacrificing immediate production by dealing Aldridge for a rookie whose value is tied to team control, salary and upside. But if trading Aldridge leads to signing Paul, the Spurs don’t even need equal value in return for the big man. Paul would offset the difference.

Free agency doesn’t begin until July 1, making this tricky for San Antonio, which might regret dumping Aldridge if Paul doesn’t sign. So, the Spurs must read the tea leaves on Paul and proceed accordingly.

De’Aaron Fox’s speed raced him up draft boards, made him confident wherever he lands

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De’Aaron Fox even talks fast.

Speed is what separates the point guard out of Kentucky from a deep crop at the position in this draft. Fox has got impressive playmaking skills, his defense can overwhelm, he has a maturity and confidence about him not seen in most 19-year-olds — there are multiple reasons he has climbed draft boards and is expected to be taken in the top five Thursday night during the NBA Draft.

However, it’s the speed that separates him.

“You can’t really teach speed, you either have it or you don’t,” Fox told NBC Sports. “For me, Coach Cal had me using that as a weapon and that’s just something I learned while I was at Kentucky.”

It’s that speed that intrigues teams. Fox generally has been projected to go to Phoenix or Sacramento (picks four or five), but the ground under this draft is shifting quickly and Fox said he has no idea where he will be taken. He could land a lot of places. He said he’d prefer it to be in an uptempo system, but he believes he can help any team that takes him.

“I think I just bring a level of playmaking that some of the teams in the lottery don’t have,” Fox said. “That’s offensively and defensively. Defensively that’s playing the passing lanes, just getting your hands on balls. And offensively just being able to beat your man and being able to create for yourself and others….

“The NBA game is a lot faster than the college game, but you still have to be able to play in the high gears.”

Where most people remember him using those higher gears was to overwhelm likely No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball of UCLA in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (frankly, he outplayed Ball both times Kentucky took on UCLA last season). Fox had 39 points on 20 shots that March night, plus got to the line 15 times. However, more impressive was his defense on Ball, holding the bigger guard to 10 points on 10 shots (with eight assists). Again, it was about speed.

“I’m quicker and faster than just about everybody I played against so just being able to get under guards, just try to limit what they can do with their size,” Fox said. “I try to speed them up, play to my tempo.”

Fox has been fast up the draft board — and fast to get endorsements and deals. He inked a shoe deal with Nike. He was in New York Wednesday to shoot a new commercial for Kids Foot Locker — they wanted him even before the draft. Like a lot of scouts, they see a potential star about to bloom.

“I always thought I’d want to see myself in a commercial and things like that, see myself on TV doing things other than just basketball,” Fox said. “This is a blessing to be able to do things like this. I’m just blessed God gave me the talent and I’m just taking it and being able to affect the world.”

If scouts had one question about Fox, it was his jump shot. He shot just 24.6 percent from three last season, and his jump shot was as inconsistent as his release point. His form wasn’t terrible, just a little all over the map.

However, it has looked better in recent workouts, largely because Fox and trainer Chris Gaston put in the time in the gym.

“I put a lot of work on it,” Fox said of his jumper. “I know I’m going to need it at the next level, but also that was something I really just struggled with at the beginning of the year at Kentucky, so I that was one thing didn’t really worry about, I just had to tighten (it up)…

“Really it was just getting up reps, staying focused on every shot, locked in.”

Fox’s maturity showed through when asked what else he’s been working on — he’s been getting in better shape. Something some players don’t figure out until they’ve been in the league a few years.

“Getting my body right,” Fox said. “At the next level, you got to be a lot stronger, quicker, faster… (conditioning) really goes up a tremendous level from college to the NBA, and it’s something that you really need work. You really have to focus on that.”

Fox credits part of him being NBA ready with a year under John Calipari at Kentucky, a school that feels like a one-and-done factory at points.

“Just the way he coaches. He tries to run it like an NBA organization,” Fox said. “You know the track record he’s had, so you don’t go in there like you’re the only high major player he’s ever had, you’re one of many. You just listen to him and he’s able to get you to the next level, he helps us that way. He has us playing like an NBA team, it’s difficult in college to simulate that but he does it the best.”

Thursday night, years of work in the gym for Fox will all culminate with him being drafted — then another whirlwind will start. He will be flown off to the city where he is picked, meet the media, sit down with the coach, and quickly start workouts with the team in advance of Summer League. Fox hasn’t focused too much on where he will land, but he has focused on what he will wear draft night.

“I’ve actually had my suit picked out for a while now,” Fox said. “I haven’t actually picked the shoes yet, though.”

Would John Calipari approve of the look?

“I think he would.”