Associated Press

Stunned Clippers waiting for next shoe to drop after Griffin trade

2 Comments

LOS ANGELES — All season long, hanging on the corner of the massive television showing game clips in the Clippers’ locker room, there has been a black baseball-style cap, with three words in white on it:

“Next Man Up.”

All season long the Clippers have lived up to that motto. A roster decimated by injuries — from Patrick Beverley being out for the season to ironman DeAndre Jordan missing a few games — has seen the next guy step up night after night, and the team has scrapped its way to stay in the mix for a playoff slot in the West.

Tuesday night felt different.

It was different.

Blake Griffin wasn’t in the building, but this time it wasn’t a knee injury or a concussion — he had been traded to Detroit. His jersey was not hanging in a locker, Tobias Harris’ was.

The overwhelming sense around the team Tuesday night was shock — with a heavy dose of “when will the other shoe drop?” The trade deadline is just more than a week away, and the Clippers have embarked down a road that may well see the team’s other top players — DeAndre Jordan or Lou Williams — moved before next Thursday. Players were reeling from the sharp change of direction.

“Nobody saw that coming, we’re all surprised by it,” Austin Rivers said. “We all love Blake.”

The move was so out of left field to Rivers refused to believe it at first.

“I had missed calls from my teammates, and then I talked to Wes (Wesley Johnson), he called me and was like ‘you heard?’ I said ‘That’s fake news, that’s not true,’” the younger Rivers said. “Then I saw it. You know, you hear so many rumors you don’t know what’s true or not, and then I saw it. I was just surprised by it.”

Everyone was trying to wrap their head around the move — and what likely will follow.

“The organization felt like it was best for our team now and along the future,” said Jordan, in a monotone voice, reflecting the combination of shock and “what’s next?” that hung over the team.

What could well be next is Jordan and Williams following Griffin out the door before the Feb. 8 trade deadline as the Clippers look to acquire pieces that jump-start their rebuild and free up cap space. Even if the two are not gone then, it’s hard to envision them with the Clippers past this season. Coach Doc Rivers, as well as owner Steve Ballmer in a statement, both said that making the playoffs remains the franchise goal, but the team’s actions signal a different priority.

The Griffin trade — which coach Rivers said was rooted in the team’s playoff failures — signaled the Clippers have changed course. Dramatically.

Which is why this trade caught people off guard, Los Angeles could have started a rebuild last summer when Chris Paul and J.J. Redick pushed their way out the door and never looked back, but instead the Clippers re-signed Griffin to a five-year, $173 million contract (then went out and signed Danilo Gallinari to a three-year deal). They told Griffin he would be a “Clipper for life” and he believed it. Quietly, when the microphones were off, teammates said Griffin was crushed by the trade but was trying to see it as a new chapter.

It’s not easy because Griffin was more than just the face of the Clippers, he’s a guy who changed the franchise. Griffin was the draft pick Los Angeles got right. After the blown picks such as Michael Olowokandi, Yaroslav Korolev, and Benoit Benjamin (among others), Griffin came in as a No. 1 pick who was talented and driven, looking for success. Realizing the rare opportunity, Mike Dunleavy Sr. convinced then-owner Donald Sterling the organization needed to grow up and be more professional, and things happened such as Baron Davis and other guys without Griffin’s work ethic being moved. Griffin changed the culture of the franchise.

“I really believe it’s pre-Blake and post-Blake,” coach Doc Rivers said of Griffin’s impact on the franchise. “Before Blake came here, this wasn’t a great franchise… But when Blake got here, and then CP (Chris Paul) and DJ (DeAndre Jordan) followed, that’s when this really became a franchise you talked about.”

Now Griffin is gone, in a sudden act that may well have been the right basketball move but is still very painful for the franchise and its players.

“We had a lot of great times together and he’ll be a good friend of mine after basketball,” DeAndre Jordan said. “It’s tough to see him go.”

“Blake was a great teammate, a great teacher,” C.J. Wilson said. “He taught me how to be a professional. He taught me how to take each day on as a new day — no matter what happened yesterday you have to move on to the next thing. I just watched how hard he worked and everything, and I just learned from that. I try to implement that in my life.”

The vibe in the arena was different as well. Where the Clippers usually put massive posters of their players — heavily featuring Griffin — over the Lakers championship banners in Staples Center, Tuesday night it was just black curtains. Like those used at a funeral. On the court, the Clippers showed some heart and didn’t fold down 22 in the third to Portland. They made it enough of a game late that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum didn’t get to ice their knees in the fourth, but in the end Los Angeles lost.

Many players turned to the “you can only control what you can control” line about the situation, because they had no control over the situation. Guys understand this is a business intellectually, but that doesn’t lessen the sting.

“Everyone understands, and he’s a player that understands, the NBA business, sometime’s it’s tough,” Danilo Gallinari said, confirming that he had spoken with Griffin since the trade…. “It was unexpected, every one of us didn’t expect this.”

Everyone understands. Everyone knows it’s “next man up.” But everyone is also waiting for the next big shoe to drop. Unsettled will be the modus operandi for the Clippers for at least the next week.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

Pete Marovich/Getty Images
1 Comment

In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.

Clippers executive Jerry West raves about Warriors’ Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
2 Comments

A former great player who’s now an executive for a Los Angeles NBA team praised an opposing player.

The last time this happened, Lakers president Magic Johnson got fined for tampering with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

How will Jerry West fare with these comments about Warriors stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?

West, via the TK Show:

Kevin Durant, I don’t know. Obviously, he’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever watched play. His size, the efficiency that he plays the game is scary. And then you have Steph over there, your little, your next-door-neighbor kid. Let’s go play with him. And then you get out there, and then you find out, oh my god, this guy’s a killer. But pretty unique with that. And the complementary players, in their own right, they’re great. There’s Klay Thompson. He just goes and plays and never seeks any credit. He just plays and really competitive. Draymond, the guy that drives the horse. They’ve got some really unique players up there, and it’s still fun for me to watch. I watch them play. I root for them, because I know some of the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Johnson said about Antetokounmpo. Nick Friedell of ESPN:

As Johnson watches from afar, he can’t help but see and enjoy the parallels between his game and that of the Bucks big man.

“Oh yeah,” Johnson told ESPN recently. “With his ball-handling skills and his passing ability. He plays above the rim I never could do that. But in his understanding of the game, his basketball IQ, his creativity of shots for his teammates. That’s where we [have the] same thing. Can bring it down, make a pass, make a play. I’m just happy he’s starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that. And he’s going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day.”

Two key differences between West and Johnson:

West didn’t help get his team fined for tampering last summer. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said there’s no clear line for tampering, but that the Lakers face a higher bar due their previous violations.

Johnson didn’t previously work for Milwaukee. West worked in Golden State’s front office while those players were there and knows them personally.

But Silver also provided a rough outline of when tampering will be enforced when addressing Johnson’s latest fine:

“It’s one thing when you’re asking a coach a question about an opposing team right after a game. It’s another issue when a general manager or president of basketball sort of gratuitously issues a statement that is complimentary of a star player on another team.

“In essence, what we’ve said to him, and it’s a clear message to other team executives, is that stop talking about star players on other teams. There are plenty of other issues they can address. And there is sensitivity around it throughout the league.”

Given that line, I don’t know how West avoid a fine – which is a shame.

What he said is harmless. No player is going to join another team due to benign compliments from an opposing executive.

It’s also a disservice to fans and West himself if he’s discouraged from speaking publicly about current players. The all-time great has valuable perspective, and he shouldn’t be silenced just because he works for an NBA team. His entire interview with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic is interesting. Everybody would lose if West turns down interviews in fear of a fine.

Meanwhile, more meaningful tampering – making plans on future contracts – is rampant. But that’s difficult to curb. So, the NBA enforces silly stuff like this.

The NBA never should have fined Johnson for the Antetokounmpo comments. It just opens too many cans of worms in a fight not worth fighting. Seriously, what’s the point?

If I were the Lakers, I’d be bothered if West skates free on this. But if I were West, I’d also resent a fine.

The league has backed itself into a dumb corner.