Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

NBA season preview: L.A. Clippers


Last Season: Perhaps it was the start of a cultural change in Clipperland, or maybe it was simply the beginning of a very short-term spike of relative success. Either way, your 2011-12 Clippers were competitive, fun to watch, and a team that made its way into the playoffs — three qualities that have been completely absent from the team for most of its tortured existence.

Key Departures: Randy Foye was serviceable as a starter for most of the season, and the rest of the dearly departed — Mo Williams, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, and Reggie Evans — made up the majority of the contributions off the bench.

Key Additions: The combination of Lamar Odom (one year removed from receiving the league’s Sixth Man honor), Grant Hill (an excellent on-ball defender and still a top fast break finisher), and Jamal Crawford (instant offense, or at least instant shot attempts) should be immediately better than the combination of players who filled those minutes a season ago. But the biggest addition might be that of a healthy Chauncey Billups, who was lost to injury early in last season’s campaign. Offense was the Clippers’ strength last year, but they should be even better with this group heading into this season.

Three keys to the Clippers season:

1) The evolution of Blake Griffin. There’s no question that Griffin is one of the most powerful and athletic players in game today. His dunks are already the stuff of legend, and his physical style of play is both effective for his team and aggravating for opposing players (see: Cousins, DeMarcus). If Griffin can extend the range on his jumper and be a better positional team defender, those things will do wonders for the Clippers’ chances to compete with the league’s elite.

2) Chauncey Billups playing alongside Chris Paul. The return of Billups should be a huge boost to the Clippers offensively. However, there is a little issue here, and that’s the fact that Billups likes to play with the ball in his hands. Paul is one of the game’s elite point guards, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the team’s explosive offense a season ago. Billups will need to slide into the two-guard role without kicking and screaming, and when he does have the ball, he’ll need to show patience instead of constantly looking to launch as many three-pointers as humanly possible.

3) Which Lamar Odom shows up? The reality show aspect of Odom’s persona worked out just fine for the Lakers, but that, along with some other much more serious family issues, eventually took their emotional toll on the mercurial one whose unique skill set makes his potential team contributions almost limitless. After a season where he essentially sat out in Dallas, we’ll see if Odom’s head is in the right place, and if he is able to get back into peak physical condition to be able to contribute as we all know he can. It was a calculated risk for the Clippers to bring him back, but one that’s really all upside.

What Clipers fans should fear: This season couldn’t be more crucial for the immediate, long-term future of the franchise. A dramatic statement, sure — but one based in fact. Consider that Vinny Del Negro is in the final year of his head coaching contract, and that not many observers believe he’s strong enough to lead a talented team to the next level. How he does managing this veteran squad will go a long way in whether or not he’s asked back. But more importantly, his relative success will undoubtedly affect the decision of Chris Paul, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

If Del Negro underachieves with this group, Paul — as much as he says he likes L.A. and wants to stay — will surely consider other options. The super-team model in the NBA isn’t going away anytime soon, and while the Clippers have plenty of talent on paper, the grass can always seem greener unless winning goes along with playing in that comfortable large market, and all of the ancillary benefits it can provide.

Prediction: A top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs should be an attainable goal for this team, especially with the talent upgrade it was able to pull off this summer. But it won’t be easy or guaranteed, with teams like San Antonio, Denver, and Memphis right there in the mix behind the Lakers and Thunder juggernauts. A three-seed out West at best, a six-seed at worst.

76ers players may respond in wake of national anthem flap

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers held a team meeting Thursday and may take action in the wake of the organization’s decision to cancel the national anthem performance by a singer wearing a “We Matter” jersey.

Sevyn Streeter said she was told by the team she could not perform the anthem before Wednesday night’s season opener because of the slogan.

The Sixers players met at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and are considering whether to respond to Streeter’s cancellation.

“Everybody expressed their emotions about it,” forward Robert Covington said. “We want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things.”

The Sixers play at home Saturday afternoon against Atlanta.

Streeter said in an interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday she was told she would not sing just minutes before her performance.

“I’d say two minutes before we were about to walk out … the organization told me that I could not wear my shirt while singing the national anthem at their game,” the R&B singer said by phone. “I was never given any kind of dress code. I was never asked beforehand to show my wardrobe.”

The Sixers declined to say why Streeter’s performance was canceled.

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community,” the Sixers said in a statement.

The Sixers had a member of their dance team sing the anthem.

Sixers management declined comment on Thursday.

Coach Brett Brown said there are several options on the table.

“We understand the situation and we respect the social issue involved,” Brown said Thursday. “We completely get it. As a group, we will try to find a way to deal with this.”

Streeter has written songs for Chris Brown, Ariana Grande and other stars. In 2013, she had a Top 40 hit with “It Won’t Stop,” a duet with Brown that reached RIAA gold status.

The singer, born Amber Denise Streeter, said she was hurt by the NBA team’s actions.

“I was angry, extremely, extremely angry and disappointed and honestly brought to tears by all of it. It broke my heart,” she said. “Honestly, I was very excited about being able to perform the national anthem. I was really looking forward to that.”

This isn’t the first time the Sixers were brought into a national anthem controversy. A woman performing the national anthem before the team played a preseason game in Miami did so while kneeling at midcourt.

Denasia Lawrence opened her jacket just before she started to sing, revealing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, then dropped to her left knee and performed the song. She said it was her way of protesting racial oppression.

The anthem issue has been a major topic in sports in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports – and many levels, from youth all the way to professional – have followed his lead in various ways.

“I also felt it was important to express the ongoing challenges and ongoing injustice we face as a black community within the United States of America – that’s very important to me,” Streeter said. “Yes, we live in the greatest country in the world but there are issues that we cannot ignore. This can’t be ignored.”

Dwyane Wade misses reverse dunk (and scores his first points as Bull)

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It looks like Dwyane Wade‘s going to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool.

At the end of the first quarter in the Bulls season opener, he had leaked out and gotten open at the basket, took the halfcourt pass — and missed the dunk. He was rushing because of the clock and misjudged where he was on the court. It happens. But it wasn’t pretty.

Wade also scored his first bucket with his hometown Bulls in the game.

AP Source: Pistons in talks about downtown move; no deal yet

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 15: Owner Tom Gores of the Detroit Pistons tosses the ball to a referee during the game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on December 15, 2014 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Pistons could be starting their final season at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

The team is in advanced discussions about moving downtown to play at the Detroit Red Wings’ new arena, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. The person, speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the Pistons have not commented, said there is no deal yet but the intent would be for the NBA franchise to start playing downtown next season if possible.

Representatives from the Pistons and Olympia Entertainment have been involved in the talks. Olympia handles business operations for the Red Wings, who are owned by Mike and Marian Ilitch.

The Pistons play this season’s home opener in Auburn Hills on Friday night against Orlando. The Palace has been home to the Pistons since 1988. Prior to that, the team played at the Pontiac Silverdome for a decade. The last time the Pistons played downtown for an extended stretch was when they called Cobo Arena home from 1961-78.

The Red Wings are playing their final season at Joe Louis Arena before moving to Little Caesars Arena. The new venue is being built right across the highway from where the Tigers and Lions play at Comerica Park and Ford Field, and a group is hoping to put a stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise in that area as well.

The Pistons won championships in their first two seasons in Auburn Hills and again in 2004, but the atmosphere slipped in recent years as the team went through several dreadful seasons. Detroit returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.

Current owner Tom Gores bought the Pistons from Karen Davidson in 2011.

Crain’s Detroit Business, citing unidentified sources, reported earlier this week that talks on moving the team were continuing between Pistons ownership and Olympia Entertainment. Mark Barnhill, a partner at Gores-founded Platinum Equity, said he had no comment on reports of the team’s potential move downtown.

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Sixers fan who flipped off Russell Westbrook apologizes

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26:: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content)  A Philadelphia 76ers fan gives Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder the middle finger in the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

NBA players have some pretty nasty things yelled at them by angry, frustrated fans during games. Most of the time they ignore it.

But when Russell Westbrook got the double “bird” from a Sixers fan during the first quarter of Philadelphia’s home opener Wednesday — broadcast on national television — the best part was Westbrook’s reaction.

He was rightly ejected for the incident. That man is Richard Harkaway, a urologist in the city. By Thursday night, he had issued a statement apologizing to everyone involved, via

“As a part-time comedian I realize that my words and actions are sometimes inappropriate,” Harkaway said in a statement to issued by a personal representative. “In this instance, after standing up to boo and being provoked by Russell Westbrook calling attention to my being overweight, my action in response was clearly inexcusable and I am embarrassed. I sincerely apologize to my fellow Sixers fans, the Sixers organization, my colleagues and patients, and to Mr. Westbrook for my behavior.”

Harkaway had previously written this on Facebook about the incident, via the New York Post.

“Not as simple as it seems. I love to scream at the players and anyone who has been to a game with me knows this. Part of my charm. What you may not have seen on any of the video clips is what started the whole thing, which was Russell Westbrook saying ‘sit down f—ing fat boy’ when I stood up to boo.”

On some level, this feels like part of a larger national conversation taking place, one about treating each other with basic civility even if we disagree. If you pay for your ticket and you want to boo or heckle a player you have that right — Donald Sterling would heckle his own Clipper players. But there is a line of common decency you should not cross. Harkaway crossed that line, and with that he forfeited his right to be at the game (despite some early local reports, he was ejected).

In this case, it’s time to accept the apology and move on.