San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Four

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.

Charles Oakley plans to attend Knicks game in Cleveland

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2011 photo, then-Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach and former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley directs players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Charlotte, N.C.  Oakley was forcefully removed from his seats at Madison Square Garden and arrested after an altercation near team owner James Dolan. Oakley shoved security guards before they pulled him away from his seat behind the baseline during the first quarter of the Knicks' 119-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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Charles Oakley might not be welcome at Knicks games in New York.

Knicks games in Cleveland? I suspect he’ll get a different reception.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Charles Oakley plans to attend New York’s road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, the former Knicks player told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Oakley, a Cleveland native, has grown close with the Cavaliers. LeBron James particularly backed Oakley in his dispute with Knicks owner Jim Dolan.

To be clear, Oakley’s feud is more with Dolan than the Knicks, Oakley’s former team. So, assuming Dolan doesn’t attend tonight’s game, this won’t into the fireworks we saw at the last Knicks game Oakley attended.

It’ll just be a chance for more people outside Dolan’s payroll to embrace Oakley.

Paul George says he was in dark as trade rumors swirled, “thought I would have been in the loop”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers greets fans prior to practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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If your goal over the next few months is to make your star player happy, build a contender around him, and convince him he wants to be here as a free agent in 2018, the Pacers got off to a rocky start Thursday.

George had been linked to the Celtics, while teams such as Denver and Atlanta made runs at him. It was a swirling vortex of rumors with a lot of “will the Pacers pull the trigger or not” intrigue.

What was it like to be in the middle of that? George wouldn’t exactly know, he was learning of things when we were, and he sounded a little ticked when talking about it to the media Thursday.

Damn.

Those rumors you hear about George going to the Lakers as a free agent in 2018 have some real weight behind them, much of the league thinks that could well happen (2018 is a long way off, but other teams that would like to get in the conversation think that’s PG’s intention).

The Pacers need to change his mind, and it sounds like the first step was in the wrong direction.

Hawks trade Mike Scott to Suns

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Mike Scott #32 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks wanted a stretch four to back up Paul Millsap and likely spend time with Dwight Howard.

Realizing its roster lacked an adequate one, Atlanta traded for Ersan Ilyasova.

The stretch four the Hawks already had — Mike Scott — has barely played this seasonand looked lousy when he has, shooting just 4-for-27 on 3-pointers ((15%).

Hawks release:

The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has acquired a protected second-round draft pick from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Mike Scott, the draft rights to Cenk Akyol and cash considerations, it was announced today by President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Mike Budenholzer.

Money was the driving force behind this trade.

The Suns can count Scott’s entire salary ($3,333,334) toward the floor while paying only the prorated portion remaining ($941,177). So, Phoenix saves the difference ($2,392,157) and gets whatever cash Atlanta sent.

Presumably, the Hawks included an amount less than they would’ve had to pay just to waive Scott themselves ($3,333,334).

The Suns can undertake a reclamation project on Scott. Or they could just waive him. The 28-year-old looks pretty wayward.

Phoenix also gets Akyol as another nearly valueless piece. The window for Akyol, the No. 59 pick in 2005, to join the NBA is rapidly closing, if it hasn’t already. He’ll turn 30 in April.

Even in the likely event Scott and Akyol amount to nothing for the Suns, they still get the financial benefits. And so do the Hawks.

Magic Johnson’s Lakers trade for point guard: Tyler Ennis from Rockets

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores on his layup as he is fouled by Tyler Ennis #6 of the Houston Rockets during a 120-114 season opening win at Staples Center on October 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Has legendary Lakers point guard Magic Johnson found someone to follow in his footsteps?

Almost certainly not.

But, in his second trade with the Rockets since taking over the Lakers’ front office this week, Johnson found a point guard to take a flier on: Tyler Ennis, who was exchanged for Marcelo Huertas.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired guard Tyler Ennis from the Houston Rockets, league sources told The Vertical.

The Lakers sent guard Marcelo Huertas to Houston in exchange for Ennis, sources said. The Rockets will waive Huertas.

Ennis was the No. 18 pick in the 2014 draft. But he has just looked over his head in three NBA seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets. There’s a reason the Lakers got him so cheap. It’s unlikely he’ll stick in the NBA, and D'Angelo Russell is clearly still the franchise point guard.

Still, point guards tend to develop late, and Ennis is just 22. There’s always a chance he’ll rediscover the court vision he displayed at Syracuse.

The Lakers will hope he plays better — just not too much better. Because his fourth-year team-option was declined, they can re-sign him for a starting salary up to just $3,066,713 (what he would’ve earned, with the rookie-scale adjustment under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, if his option had been exercised).

Also in the final guaranteed year of his contract, Huertas is making $233,880 more than Ennis. That’s not much, but if the Rockets were going to waive Ennis anyway — this trade suggests they were — why not save that money?

The 33-year-old Huertas likely drops out of the NBA. He already fell out of the Lakers’ rotation.

And with that spot open and a little extra money to spend — including more from the K.J. McDaniels trade — Houston can be a player in the post-buyout market as it revs up for a playoff run.