Associated Press

Wither Lob City? Clippers facing possible big changes

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Together for six years now, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. Heck, the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t even gotten out of the first round two years running.

And that’s not the worst of it.

The Clippers are the first team in NBA history to blow a series lead in five consecutive playoff appearances.

“Once again, we’re done,” a dejected Paul said. “Too many times.”

Their latest failure came Sunday, a 104-91 loss in Game 7 at home against the Utah Jazz. After six closely contested games decided by an average of 5.1 points, the Clippers turned in a flat effort with their season – and perhaps future – at stake.

They fought all season to earn home-court advantage only to lose three of four to the Jazz at Staples Center. Their 2-1 series lead vanished along with Griffin, who went down with a season-ending toe injury in Game 3.

He wasn’t around to watch the team’s demise, having traveled to consult with a doctor about possible surgery.

Whether Griffin’s around next season is one of the big questions facing the franchise.

Griffin and Chris Paul can opt out of their contracts this summer. J.J. Redick – who made one basket in Game 7 – becomes a free agent.

Ultimately, they hold the future of the franchise in their hands.

For his part, third-year owner Steve Ballmer would have to shell out upward of $200 million, including the luxury tax, to keep the trio together.

“We’ve been reading about our obituary for about three months now,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure everyone will have their own suggestions.”

The Clippers began the season as the league’s best team at 14-2. They ended the regular season as the hottest team with a seven-game winning streak. Then they blew a 2-1 lead against the Jazz, leaving their fans wondering if the Lob City era is over.

Here are some things to know about the Clippers heading into the offseason:

GRIFFIN & PAUL

They can choose to exercise the early termination options on their contracts and become free agents. By doing so, they could still sign richer long-term deals to stay in L.A. Griffin has missed portions of the last two postseasons with injuries, and although he’s only 28, Ballmer will surely ponder whether he wants to continue focusing his franchise around such an injury-prone player. Paul carried the Clippers through the first six games against the Jazz before they shut him down with 13 points in Game 7. He turns 32 on Saturday and while he is still an All-Star, Ballmer must consider whether to commit bigger bucks over several years to Paul. Or Griffin and Paul could decide it’s time to go elsewhere to pursue an elusive title.

INJURIES

During the regular season, Griffin missed 19 games with a sore right knee that required a procedure, while Paul sat out 21 games with a hamstring issue and a ligament tear in his left thumb. A year ago, Paul broke his hand and Griffin re-aggravated a quad injury in a first-round playoff loss against Portland. Griffin had missed 41 games because of the quad during the regular season, in addition to losing time after breaking his hand punching the team’s assistant equipment manager. Because of the injuries, Ballmer may decide it’s worth keeping them around to take another crack at winning the franchise’s first NBA championship.

DOC RIVERS

He just completed his fourth season in L.A. working the dual roles of president of basketball operations and coach. Under him, the team has a .662 winning percentage in the regular season. But the Clippers have consistently failed to contend for a title, going 18-21 with a .462 winning percentage in the playoffs. None of the team’s draft picks under Rivers has developed into solid support for the Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan. The team had a short bench against the Jazz, including 39-year-old Paul Pierce, who played 21 minutes in Game 7 and scored six points in his career finale. Four players – Alan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Brice Johnson and Wesley Johnson – saw little or no minutes in the series. Given his role as part of the brain trust, Rivers shares responsibility for the continued playoff failures.

REDICK

He didn’t boost his stock with a three-point effort on 1 of 5 shooting in Game 7 after slumping the entire series. Redick averaged 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the regular season, when he made a career and franchise-high 201 3-pointers. He’s one of five players to make 200 or more 3-pointers in three or more consecutive seasons. At 32, he may be ready for a change of scenery.

 

What team does Kyrie Irving start next season with? Betting odds favor Cleveland

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Kyrie Irving may want out of Cleveland, but the Cavaliers are not obligated to trade him. They are starting to explore their options, but they would be wise to be patient and wait for good deal, one that gets them quality players in return who can help now and help build for the future.

With that in mind, check out the betting odds from online gaming site Bovada on where Irving will start next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers 1/1
New York Knicks 3/1
Phoenix Suns 5/1
Boston Celtics 7/1
Denver Nuggets 9/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 12/1
San Antonio Spurs 14/1
Miami Heat 20/1
Milwaukee Bucks 25/1
Atlanta Hawks 33/1

No way I would put money on the Celtics, like Danny Ainge wants to help the Cavaliers stay strong. The Knicks number includes people thinking there would be a Carmelo Anthony for Irving swap, but that is highly unlikely. The Suns will not put Josh Jackson in a deal, which ends that talk without a three-way deal. I could go on, but you get the point.

Bottom line is that so long as the Cavaliers keep their asking price sky high, it will be difficult for any deal to happen. Which is why the Cavs are still the smart bet.

Reports: Minnesota explores Kyrie Irving trade, but is Andrew Wiggins part of it?

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are “starting to engage in trade talks” for Kyrie Irving, whether LeBron James wants him back or not.

The problem is finding a deal. Cleveland wants a massive haul in return — a young stud talent, a player who can start and help them now, and picks. They’re not likely to get all of that, but as talks start the Cavaliers are wisely going in asking for everything but the Iron Throne and see if anyone relents.

Irving listed the Minnesota Timberwolves as a preferred destination, and the Wolves are serious about exploring that, something well-connected AP reporter Jon Krawczynski said on 1500AM ESPN Twin Cities Wednesday.

Minnesota could make this work with a trade of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and maybe a pick, but the Cavaliers likely don’t want that deal as is, so it requires a third team to take on Dieng or another salary. It would be complex. If it came to be, it would send Wiggins back to the team that drafted him, then traded him for Kevin Love in the wake of LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland.

The big question is, do the Timberwolves want to put Wiggins in the deal? Should they? That is more than a Tom Thibodeau question, that is a talk with the owner Glen Taylor decision.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.6 percent from three, and has become an offensive force who can get buckets and puts defenders in posters. He likely will get a max contract extension and deserves it. However, he hasn’t been as efficient a scorer as hoped yet, his passing skills and rebounding need work, and he is not the defender he was projected to be out of college (ESPN’s defensive plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it still had Wiggins only ahead of Doug McDermott and Shabazz Muhammad as small forwards, and that’s bad company to keep).

Wiggins also is just 22 years old and entering his fourth NBA season. He should improve, as he has each year in the NBA (though mostly focused on the offensive end).

It’s a tough question Thibodeau and the Timberwolves need to ask: Is Wiggin’s ceiling better than Irving’s? Do they want to max out Wiggins with an extension, or leave that to another team? Wiggins hasn’t been a great defender, but he has potential still, and we know Irving is weak on that end. We also don’t know if Irving would fit better with Karl-Anthony Towns than Wiggins. What we do know is Irving is an elite scorer and also a very popular player who will pack the building home and road. We also know Wiggins has missed just one game in three seasons, while Irving has an injury history.

Minnesota would be exchanging risks. With Irving, Towns and Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves move into “challenge the Warriors now” mode for the next two years, while all those guys are under contract. Is that where Minnesota wants to be, going at the Warriors hard while they are fully loaded? The risk would be one or both of Butler and Irving could walk in two seasons, leaving the team to rebuild (sort of) around KAT. If the Timberwolves keep Wiggins, and he takes steps forward — particularly defensively — they are built for the longer haul, but that has risks as well (for example, will those players develop, and will Butler stay?).

I’m not sure Minnesota puts Wiggins on the block. If they did, it’s another thing entirely to think a deal gets done. Which is to say, all of this is a longshot.

Just know the Timberwolves are serious about exploring it.

Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas will not need hip surgery, according to Danny Ainge

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With Boston watching the foundation crumble in Cleveland, the Celtics need to keep their own house in order — and healthy — to have a shot to dethrone LeBron James and reach the NBA Finals.

One step along that road, having a healthy Isaiah Thomas. Back in May, Thomas visited a specialist about his right hip injury, which he first suffered in March then aggravated in the playoffs, ending his playoffs early. Surgery was on the table as an option.

It’s off now, Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.

Hip surgery has been ruled out for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said….

“Isaiah is making good progress,” Ainge said. “He’s out on the court; he’s shooting. He’s full-speed ahead on the stationary bike and working in the swimming pool. He’s progressing nicely.”

This is good news for Boston, Thomas should be ready to start the season. This is also good news for Thomas, who is heading into a contract year.

Thomas had a career year last season, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game, while shooting 37.9 percent from three. Thomas made his first All-NBA team last season (second team), as well as being an All-Star for the second time.

Thomas’ name has popped up in trade rumors for Kyrie Irving, but that deal incredibly unlikely. First off, the Celtics would have to send Thomas, Jae Crowder, and a young player such as Jaylen Brown (or Jason Tatum) to the Cavaliers in a trade, and that price is too steep. More importantly, why would Ainge and the Celtics want to help the Cavaliers stay elite? Fans will speculate online, but no way Ainge would send out a lot of quality to help the Cavs.

Derrick Rose wanted to play where the games mattered, found Cleveland

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Derrick Rose was the point guard standing when the music stopped this summer. It seemed to catch him off guard.

There had been rumblings for a while that he didn’t understand how teams valued him — or didn’t — in a modern NBA, but this summer made it clear. Rose and his agent B.J. Armstrong tried, but the market dried up. The San Antonio Spurs decided to re-sign Patty Mills. The LA Clippers decided to stick with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. The Milwaukee Bucks flirted and then passed. The Sacramento Kings signed George Hill. The Minnesota Timberwolves (and Rose’s old coach Tom Thibodeau) went and got Jeff Teague. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. The Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans re-signed Jrue Holiday then picked up Rajon Rondo.

Rose looked left out in the cold. He ultimately agreed to play for Cleveland and with LeBron James… and then the Kyrie Irving trade request story broke.

Rose is about to get what he wanted — games that matter on a team that matters, so he can re-establish his value, Armstrong told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“A one-year deal on a bad team to try and put up numbers — we did not want to entertain that way of thinking,” agent B.J. Armstrong, a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, told ESPN on Tuesday. “Getting up every day to go to the gym to just try and put up numbers — that’s not who he is. He didn’t want to chase anything this summer other than, ‘Hey, let’s get around a group of guys who are like-minded, who are pursuing winning and be a part of that.'”

Rose is going to get a chance to prove he can still play meaningful quality minutes on a team hunting a title next season. Rose could well be the starting point guard (depending on who the Cavaliers get back in an Irving trade).

Rose put up solid numbers last season with the Knicks — 18 points and 4.4 assists per game — and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard. He can still get to the rim. However, he also still can’t space the floor as a shooter (21.7 percent from three last season), he’s not an efficient scorer, and most importantly he’s still a defensive liability (the Knicks were 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively last season when Rose was on the court).

How Rose looks in Cleveland will be interesting, but he is going to get his chance to prove himself on a big stage in the bright lights. Play well and you never know what the next summer will hold, although expect that to be a tighter market for everyone except the elite players (LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and the other clear max guys). Rose could find next summer rough, too, but play well and it gets a little easier.