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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.