Clippers next steps start with making Chris Paul happy

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The Clippers were eliminated, swept right out of the playoffs by the Spurs Sunday night.

But it didn’t feel like a painful elimination as much as the start of a journey. Clippers fans stayed and cheered for minutes after what may have been the best season in franchise history. The players talked about the loss as part of the process of becoming a contender.

“Just learning, just watching (the Spurs) maneuver,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said after the game. “And understanding how they execute game plans, and what they do is definitely something you can take from it… Just watching guys like (Manu Ginobili), just watching guys like (Tony Parker), just watching how they maneuver, how they continue to attack — they’re down 1, they’re down 10, they’re up 10 they just continue to keep the pressure on and keep the defense on their heels. Tim Duncan does that, too. That is something I will definitely take from this.”

Now come the questions of how the Clippers get to the next level. And there are a lot to answer this summer

But it all starts with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

• First, the Clippers will re-sign Blake Griffin to a max contract. Griffin is up for the extension of his rookie deal this summer and he is a no-brainer max player. Griffin said after the game he had given no thought to his next contract, but players in his situation almost always sign for the big payday.

Yes, Griffin does need to work on parts of his game — he talked about his defense and his outside shot as areas of focus after the loss. But this is a 23-year-old guy who has played two years in the league and has a tremendous work ethic. He’ll get there. Plus, he’s key to team marketing.

• Chris Paul is the bigger fish — this is his team now and if the Clippers want to be contenders they have to keep him past next season when his contract is up.

But the new CBA gives a lot of leverage to players —they get more and better money by becoming a free agent and re-signing with the same team then they get by just extending their existing deal. So Paul will become a free agent next summer with options, the Clippers have to prove they are the best one (L.A. will be able to offer more money and years than any other team).

Los Angeles needs to sit down with Paul and make sure he knows how much the franchise wants to keep him. Then they have to go out and get better talent to go around him that can help the team take the next step.

• Does that mean getting a pick-and-pop big to pair with Paul? In Del Negro’s pick-and-roll heavy offense the Clippers needed an option where a big could pop out and space the floor with a dangerous midrange of longer jumper. Like what Paul had with David West in New Orleans.

The challenge is finding the right guy — if you get a four then you need to either sit Griffin or have Griffin play and defend the center spot (something Kevin Pelton pointed out on twitter). Neither of those are good options for long stretches. Also, you can bet Griffin will work on his midrange game this summer. But a pick-and-pop big seems a target.

• What about Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers coach did not do a terrible job as Clippers coach — he got them to the five seed, the second round of the playoffs and guys play hard for him. But is that enough? Is he the guy who can lead this team to contender status? There are plenty of people with doubts.

If I am Clippers GM Neil Olshey, I sit down in the next week or so with Paul and discuss Del Negro. In the end, this is all about keeping Paul and his input matters a lot — not that Paul should be allowed to hire and fire coaches, but the best point guard in the game is much harder to come by than a new coach.

• Mo Williams said after the game he would be picking up his $8.5 million option to return to the team. No surprise there. That is a bit pricy for him but Williams does bring real scoring punch off the bench that the Clippers can use.

• What to do with free agents Randy Foye, Nick Young, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans?

My guess is that they bring Nick Young back, he can be part of the young core of this team, but he has to dedicate himself in a way this offseason that was not seen in Washington and that culture the last few years. Evans can be brought back at an affordable price. Remember that the Clippers are already at the salary cap before they start picking up players, so guys like Martin it may be about the price the market offers.

The Clippers would like to have Billups back, but can he really come back and be productive from a torn Achilles? I’m not offering much for him, you just can’t.

There are a lot of questions to answer this summer.

This is the Clippers, the worst franchise in the NBA over the past two decades and you always feel with owner Donald Sterling around something could just go horribly wrong. But they have a chance, a window, to become a contender and franchise reputation around.

But that is all about CP3 now.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.

 

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.