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Three questions the Los Angeles Clippers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, but fell to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs (continuing a disappointing string of playoff performances)

I know what you did last summer: Maybe only the Celtics have seen the kind of roster turnover the Clippers have this past summer. Chris Paul forced his way out of town — and the Clipper front office recovered from that better than anyone expected. (That front office was one of the significant changes — Doc Rivers is no longer the GM, it is Lawrence Frank who now has the hammer, and Jerry West is consulting with him). Paul forced a trade to Houston, but the Clippers got back a good haul with Patrick Beverley, Sam Decker, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. Los Angeles also quickly re-signed Blake Griffin to be the face of the franchise. The Clippers also lost J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Luc Mbah a Moute from the rotation. They did well to add Danilo Gallinari, Willie Reed, and Milos Teodosic.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CLIPPERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the Clippers pull off a motion offense with Blake Griffin at the center of it? For years, the Clippers’ offense has been fully in the hands of Chris Paul — as it should have been. When you have one of the best point guards, one of the best floor generals the game has seen, you give him the rock. For the past six years, the Clippers’ pick-and-roll heavy offense was never worse than eighth in the league (usually top five).

With CP3 gone, Doc Rivers says the Clippers want to run, move the ball move utilizing Griffin’s passing — which is very good — and get guys moving off the ball. That sounds good on paper. Patrick Beverley is a good spot-up shooter, DeAndre Jordan can roll to the rim or make cuts down the baseline to get open for lobs, and Gallinari can both catch-and-shoot or create shots depending on the matchup. But things that look good on paper don’t always translate the same way on the court. There are questions. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams defend Griffin — will they use a long wing, a power forward, or maybe a center on him? Will they play passing lanes and dare him to drive and shoot? Griffin needs to both hit some threes (or at least mid-range jumpers) and drive to dunk/get to the line to keep teams honest.

Los Angeles will seek more balanced scoring — while Griffin and others can do it for a night, we’re not going to see a lot of 25-30 point games out of the Clippers. It’s going to be more like six guys in double digits with the leading scorer at 18. Balance can work against most teams, so long as the players buy in.

So far in the preseason, the Clippers’ offense has been up-and-down and landed in the middle of the pack (the rebounding and defense have been atrocious). It’s preseason, so we shouldn’t read too much into that. When Teodosic started for Austin Rivers against the Raptors the offense looked better, and we could see that for stretches, but Rivers is the better defender and will get most starts.

2) Can Griffin, Gallinari, and the rest of the Clippers just stay healthy? Blake Griffin missed 21 games last season, 47 the season before that, 15 the season before that. Gallinari’s 19 games missed last season was the fewest he has missed in four years. Patrick Beverley missed 15 games last season and has had his own injury issues throughout his career.

How many games is Doc Rivers going to have his preferred starting five out there? The Clippers have the best bench they have had in years this season, but that only works if those guys don’t have to slide up into the starting lineup to replace injured guys.

In the West, there are seven teams — the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Jazz — fighting for four playoff spots. The Timberwolves should be in, which would leave six relatively evenly matched teams for three spots — staying healthy will be a deciding factor. Can Rivers have his preferred starting five for 65 games? If so, the Clippers will make the postseason. If not, it gets risky.

3) The Clippers will entertain with Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic, but can they get enough stops (especially with the bench)? You need to tune into Clippers games just to see Teodosic play — he is already one of the best passers in the NBA. He has that gift. He sees things before they happen then puts the ball in the perfect spot. He is going to rack up a lot of Sports Center highlights this season. Thrown in the fearless gunner off the bench in Lou Williams and you have a Clippers second unit that should be able to score.

The question is the defense. When DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley are on the floor, the Clipper defense should be passable. However, the Clippers don’t have great wing defenders in a conference loaded with elite wings. Then there is the issue that neither Teodosic or Williams are good defenders. We will see how Rivers spaces out his rotations, but the Clippers have some weak defenders who need to get heavy minutes, and that creates challenges.

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.

Report: Suns talk to Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro about coaching job

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Mike Budenholzer is out (and may be thinking New York). Suns’ interim coach Jay Triano and former Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale are still in the mix.

The Suns also have reached out to Jason Kidd — who was let go by the Bucks mid-season — and former Bulls and Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

This is still early in a lengthy search process, there is a long way to go before anyone gets offered this job.

Kidd now lives in Phoenix. He’s considered a smart coach but one who falls in and out of love with players fast, pushes hard for the players he wants (and against those he doesn’t), and didn’t utilize the talent on the Bucks to its best advantage. The Suns have to ask if he is the right guy for a rebuild. He can coach, he’s going to get another chance, but do the Suns want to give it to him?

Mentioning Del Negro will lead to howls from the Suns’ fanbase, but to be fair he gets a bit of a bad rap as a coach. Del Negro won 53.3 percent of his games as a coach, and no team he coached ever finished below .500. He’s had some success developing players, starting with Derrick Rose. All that said, there are reasons Suns’ fans are right to howl: simplistic offenses, a heavy reliance on pick-and-roll sets, and remember he broke the confidence of DeAndre Jordan (Doc Rivers had to build it back up).

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season and are looking to replace him. The new coach will have a very good young scorer in Devin Booker on the roster and after that a lot of young question marks. This is a development job where the Suns need to hire a guy who can put in a system, then bring in more talent and stay out of the new coach’s way. We’ll see if the Suns can do that.

Hours after game-winning tip, restaurant told Giannis Antetokounmpo he had to wait

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was the toast of Milwaukee Sunday night: With the game on the line after a Boston comeback, he tipped in a missed Malcolm Brogdon lay-up that proved to be the game winner. (Jayson Tatum was in good position for Boston, he tried to move Antetokounmpo out of his rebounding spot, it just didn’t matter.)

Well, you would have thought Antetokounmpo was the toast of the town, but when he went to BelAir Cantina (a chainlet of Mexican restaurants in the area) he was told he had to wait. And wait. To the point he eventually left.

As you might imagine, the 6’11” Antetokounmpo walking into a restaurant a couple hours after tying up the series with the Celtics drew fast attention on social media. So did the fact he couldn’t get service.

First, good on Antetokounmpo for not pulling the “do you know who I am?” line. He was reportedly unassuming and just left after a while. No hard feelings, his girlfriend later tweeted this out.

As for BelAir Cantina, I kinda get it — I worked my way through college as a waiter and bartender. The restaurant got slammed, everyone working there was in the weeds, and things fall through the cracks. It happens.

But when the 6’11” toast of the town walks in, he cannot slip through the cracks. Cannot. Rather than social media posts about him not getting served and walking out, there would have been pictures all over of him eating the lamb barbacoa or whatever. It’s good for business. If you give the man a little special treatment after the game, nobody is going to complain (except the people who were going to complain about everything anyway… in that sense working in a restaurant was good preparation for me to use Twitter someday).

 

 

Kevin Durant apparently likes Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook (photo)

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Last summer Kevin Durant tweeted and deleted that the Thunder’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking when he played for Oklahoma City. Those tweets – another criticized Thunder coach Billy Donovan – appeared to be intended to come from a burner account, but Durant said he actually meant to send them from his own account.

Now, he apparently liked an Instagram comment with the opposite message about Westbrook. (I say apparently, because I can’t verify the authenticity of these screenshots, but they at least pass the initial smell test.)

“Like” is Instagram’s word. Maybe Durant uses the function for a different purpose – to note a comment, rather than endorse it.

Perhaps, Durant misread the conversation. The comment he liked rejected the notion that the Thunder were “subpar,” but it criticized Westbrook for them not living up to their ability. Perhaps, Durant focused on the comment sticking up for Oklahoma City overall and missed the part about Westbrook being the shortcoming. Skimming that conversation, it’s a plausible mistake.

Maybe Durant just actually hit the like button. It’s easy enough to do.

Or maybe Durant and Westbrook haven’t really gotten less hostile toward each other. Maybe Durant meant to like this from a burner account.

Those nefarious possibilities are the scintillating ones.

After getting crushed for those tweets last summer and repeatedly downplaying his feud with Westbrook, the Warriors star clearly wanted to move on from these storylines. But all those questions have suddenly reemerged. Perhaps for legitimate reasons, perhaps for benign ones. But we won’t know more about Durant’s intent until he answers to this.