Los Angeles Clippers' Paul puts his arm around teammate Griffin during NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles

The Extra Pass: How the Clippers Grew Up


The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the maturation of the Los Angeles Clippers.

For years and years, the Los Angeles Clippers were a failure on a systemic level. The on-court talent was faced with the permanent uphill battle of overcoming the ineptness of the franchise’s negligent caretaker and owner, Donald Sterling.

Very rarely did the whole overcoming thing actually happen. It happened so infrequently, actually, that calling the Clippers the worst franchise in professional sports wasn’t mud slinging, but rather an accurate moniker.

When the Clippers acquired Chris Paul last year, he understood the gravity of his decision to adopt the abused franchise as his own. Being great on the court simply wouldn’t be enough — he would have to be the new caretaker, the franchise’s new parent. After all, Sterling sure as hell wasn’t doing it, and for as great as Blake Griffin was, he was still just a kid trying to figure out his own game. The responsibility was squarely on Paul’s shoulders.

Like most new parents, Paul accepted that responsibility with a type of fervor that could be considered, at times, a little overbearing. The Clippers were now an extension of Paul, so everything was watched and controlled with an overly careful eye that only a great point guard can possess.

During their inaugural season together, the Clippers would often stumble through three quarters to teams with less talent, only to hope, or know, that Paul would bail them out in the last few minutes. And more often than not, Paul would play the role of both hero and enabler and come through.

The Clippers had managed to become a very good team throughout that process, but all their hopes stayed completely dependent on Paul’s performance. The rest of the team was generally incapable of any real success without Paul holding their hand, and in some ways, Paul was at least partially responsible for allowing the team to establish such a heavy dependence on his late game offensive heroics.

The playoff sweep at the hands of the Spurs was a reflection of this. With Paul banged up and limited by a defense hellbent on stopping him, the Clippers had little else to fall back on in terms of both experience and scheme. While they had ultimately changed for the better with Paul as a parent during that first season, the Clippers as a whole still had yet to mature.

With the guidance of Paul, the Clippers went into the offseason looking to speed up that maturation process. Their youngest substantial free agent signing was 32-year-old Jamal Crawford. They brought in traveled players like Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, and secured Chauncey Billups as the first act of business.

Those signings obviously matured the team on paper, but it was Paul who did the actual advancing. Instead of conserving energy for when his heroics would be needed in the fourth quarter like the prior season, Paul changed his approach this year by using his energy right away so the team wouldn’t need him at all — a real “teach a man to fish” move.

Behind Paul’s inspired first quarter play, the Clippers have had a much improved defense (18th in defensive efficiency last year to 4th this season), thanks to the example he’s established. If you flip to a telecast of a Clippers game in the fourth quarter this year, there’s a decent chance Paul will be seated on the bench, watching a suffocating second unit put the bow on another blowout win because Paul did his damage so early.

Playing that hard defensively early on accomplished a few different things for the Clippers. It made them the league’s most dominant defense against opposing point guards, something they can really hang their hat on. It sent the message that he trusted the depth behind him. It emphasized the importance of no player taking possessions off. The Clippers aren’t accomplishing what they are defensively with a scheme like Chicago’s or Boston’s — it’s almost all driven by effort.

A test for the Clippers’ progress defensively came about rather recently when they traveled to Memphis for another game in a long line of slugfests. This time, however, they’d be without their biggest puncher in Paul, who was sidelined with a knee injury.

How did they respond? Well, the Clippers held the Grizzlies to 30 percent shooting and destroyed them in their own house, 99-73. True to form, the game was essentially over in the third quarter.

On the very next night, the Clippers headed to Houston. All the excuses were readily available — they were on a back-to-back, on the road, without Chris Paul, against the league’s fastest team. But they won big again, going up by as much as 20 early in the fourth quarter before cruising the rest of the way.

An interesting narrative popped up after the impressive victories. How could Chris Paul be considered a real MVP candidate if his team was great — maybe even better — without him in the lineup for a few games? It’s a direct hit to the “valuable” part of the equation, isn’t it?

When considering that, I can’t help but be reminded of the conclusion of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher In The Rye.” The “little brother” of Los Angeles is reaching for that ring, and while Paul is still responsible for the Clippers, he’s mature enough to know that his teammates won’t learn anything if he does everything himself. He’s mature enough to know that repeatedly gearing up and saving them in the moment last year didn’t actually save the Clippers from anything at all.

It’s true, the Clippers don’t need Chris Paul in every waking moment anymore. It’s clear that they’ve grown out of that.

And if that’s not a reflection on Paul’s value, I don’t know what it is.

DeMarcus Cousins on new Kings coach: “I like him and he likes me”

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts to a foul called against him during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Dave Joerger was hired in Sacramento to do nearly the impossible: Turn around the Kings into a playoff team with potential, and develop a relationship with DeMarcus Cousins that makes the game’s best center want to stay in Sacramento (his contract is up in the summer of 2018).

The Kings won their opening game and return home Thursday to open their new building against the Spurs (a stiffer test than the Suns, to put it kindly).

As for the relationship part, Joerger is at least doing better than George Karl, as Cousins told our old friend Brett Pollakoff working for SLAM.

Jason Jones at The Sacramento Bee had a longer quote.

“Joerger’s been great,” Cousins said. “I think what he brought to the team is what this team needed. It fits our identity more than how we played in the past. Not to knock any of the previous situations but I think this situation fits this team the best.”

Cousins said last week he likes that’s there’s no gray area with Joerger. He makes everything plain and clear and that’s a plus.

It’s a good start for Joerger, but will it be enough? The feeling from most people around the league outside Sacramento is that it’s too late, the well has been poisoned and Cousins will leave the Kings as a free agent in two summers if they don’t trade him before then.

The Kings are not giving up that easily, especially in the first season in a new building — it is a franchise that wants to show Cousins it has turned the corner. Don’t expect any move with Cousins this season — landing elite players is hard and the Kings don’t want to give up on the one they have. The Kings may eventually have to face a decision on making a trade, but they are not there yet.

Meanwhile, other teams are just circling and waiting.

Derrick Rose with a frank assessment of Knicks opener vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The Knicks are primed for a slow start. New coach teaching a new, modified system. New starting point guard who missed most of training camp. New defensive anchor at center, who missed most of training camp. New players throughout the roster, plus the need to develop and highlight Kristaps Porzingis. It’s going to take time to find how it all fits together.

Then their opening game is against the defending champion Cavaliers? Welcome to the NBA.

The Cavaliers won going away, with LeBron James looking every bit the best player on the planet. Derrick Rose, how would you assess the Knicks’ play? Via Barbara Barker of Newsday.

You have to love that Rose is honest. And he’s right.

Rose was part of the problem with the ball movement — 41.2 percent of his shots in that game came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. Carmelo Anthony was better, but not great. The Knicks stagnation on offense in the second half was a sharp contrast from the way the Cavaliers shared the rock all night.

The Knicks ball movement should get better as Jeff Hornacek pushes this team and they get more comfortable with the balance of pace (which we saw in the first half) and running the triangle (which they did much more after the game was a blowout, almost like a practice). It is going to take time to find that balance. At the same time, the team’s defense needs a lot of work, and the bench needs to improve.

All of that can happen, but in a tight Eastern Conference a slow start could be a tough hole for the Knicks to climb out of.

Bulls’ ‘Late Night Snack with Henry’ is a ton of fun (video)

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The Bulls might be hard on the eyes this season due to their lack of spacing, but darn it if they’re not trying their best to be likable.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.