Kurt Helin

PBT Extra: Clippers to blow it up? Probably not, but changes likely


It’s easy from the outside to say “blow it up.” The Clippers seem to have plateaued as a good team just shy of contending — 48-55 wins a season and an exit in the first couple playoff rounds (the first round the last two seasons, due to injuries). With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin expected to opt out of the final year of their respective deals, and with J.R. Redick a free agent, should the Clippers just blow the entire thing up?

Don’t bet on it.

It’s hard enough to get to the point they are at, and this is a franchise that a decade ago was the laughing stock of the league (and now has been to six straight postseasons). While Steve Ballmer may not want to pay a massive amount of luxury tax to run this exact same team back, tweaks — and maybe one star leaving — is far more likely than a reboot.

I discuss it all in this latest PBT Extra.

Raptors hoping to get back into series with Cavaliers

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TORONTO (AP) — Hope is about all that remains for the Toronto Raptors when they play Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night at the Air Canada Centre.

First, the Raptors hope that All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry will be able to play after suffering a sprained left ankle in Game 2 Wednesday.

He did not practice Thursday as he had his ankle evaluated further and was listed by coach Dwane Casey as questionable. Then Lowry missed Friday’s shootaround and declared himsef a game-time decision.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” All-Star Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan said Thursday. “So, for us not to have him anything close to 100 percent, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else has to do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

As much as Lowry is on the Raptors’ hope list, so is DeRozan. The Raptors hope that he regains the scoring touch that was absent in Game 2.

They also hope that they can make history repeat itself.

Last season, in the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers won Game 1 by 31 points and Game 2 by 19, both games at Cleveland.

The Raptors came back to win the next two games at home before losing the series in six games. Last year, they were 99-84 winners in Game 3 with DeRozan scoring 32 points and won 105-99 in Game 4 with Lowry scoring 35.

Casey feels that the Raptors can play themselves back into the series at home as they did last season, despite dropping the first game 116-105 followed by a 125-103 loss in Game 2.

“When we lost by (31) here last year, everyone knocked us and said it was over with,” Casey said. “It was done. I don’t believe in that. I believe in our players. I believe in our guys, and I know there is another level we can get to.”

They will need both Lowry and DeRozan at their best.

Lowry allowed that his ankle was sore after the game Wednesday. He talked about playing on Friday although that did not seem so certain Thursday.

The ankle was injured when teammate Norman Powell was thrown into him as both were on defense 30 seconds into the second half. He left briefly, then returned for eight minutes before being removed for the rest of the game, having scored 20 points.

“They are the defending champs and that is what they are looking like,” Lowry said. “But I am still confident with us going home.”

DeRozan was held to five points on 2-for-11 shooting in Game 2.

“We know DeMar is a great player and our strategy in the last three years since I’ve been here is just take away what a team does best,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “So we’re going to pay great attention to him. I give J.R. (Smith) a lot of credit, Shump (Iman Shumpert) a lot of credit and LeBron (James) a ton of credit. We know (DeRozan) is a great player and we don’t want him to get comfortable.”

“They’re into him, they’re bodying him,” Casey said. “He’s got to vault up and make his shots. I’ve got to do a better job of getting him open looks. At the end of the day we’re going to go the way he and Kyle go.”

No matter what the Raptors do, the Cavaliers still have James, who scored 39 points in 36:36 Wednesday.

He moved past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar into second place on the all-time playoff scoring list.

“I’m very blessed and I’m taking advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given,” James said. “Even at 32, I’ve been in this league for 14 years and I just don’t take the opportunity for granted.”

He has 5,677 career playoff points, trailing only Michael Jordan, who has 5,987

“He’s playing well,” Casey said. “We put him on the line 21 times. Way too many.”

Markelle Fultz among 67 players to attend NBA Draft combine, other top names to skip

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On May 11-12, 67 NBA hopefuls will pour into a gym in Chicago to be measured, tested, interviewed, and do what they can to impress the NBA scouts and GMs in attendance.

Markelle Fultz, the likely No. 1 pick, will be there. The point guard almost certainly will not get on the court, but he will get measured and interviewed.

Other expected guys to go in the Top 5 are not showing up — Lonzo Ball of UCLA, Josh Jackson of Kansas, and Jayson Tatum of Duke all declined their invitations. That’s the norm now (both in the NBA and NFL), agents for these picks see only downsides to being poked and prodded at these events, so everyone stays away. Credit to Fultz for agreeing to show up at all.

Here is the list of invitees:

Adebayo, Edrice (Kentucky)
Alkins, Rawle (Arizona)
Allen, Jarrett (Texas)
Allen, Kadeem (Arizona)
Anigbogu, Ike (UCLA)
Anunoby, OG (Indiana)
Artis, Jamel (Pittsburgh)
Bacon, Dwayne (Florida State)
Beachem, V.J. (Notre Dame)
Bell, Jordan (Oregon)
Blossomgame, Jaron (Clemson)
Boucher, Chris (Oregon)
Bradley, Tony (North Carolina)
Briscoe, Isaiah (Kentucky)
Brooks, Dillon (Oregon)
Bryant, Thomas (Indiana)
Collins, John (Wake Forest)
Collins, Zach (Gonzaga)
Diallo, Hamidou (Kentucky)
Dorsey, Tyler (Oregon)
Dotson, Damyean (Houston)
Dozier, PJ (South Carolina)
Evans, Jawun (Oklahoma State)
Ferguson, Terrance (Australia)
Fox, De’Aaron (Kentucky)
Fultz, Markelle (Washington)
Giles, Harry (Duke)
Hart, Josh (Villanova)
Hayes, Nigel (Wisconsin)
Hicks, Isaiah (North Carolina)
Iwundu, Wesley (Kansas State)
Jackson, Frank (Duke)
Jackson, Justin (North Carolina)
Jackson, Justin (Maryland)
Jeanne, Jonathan (France)
Jok, Peter (Iowa)
Jones, Andrew (Texas)
Kennard, Luke (Duke)
Kuzma, Kyle (Utah)
Leaf, TJ (UCLA)
Lydon, Tyler (Syracuse)
Mason III, Frank (Kansas)
Meeks, Kennedy (North Carolina)
Mika, Eric (BYU)
Mitchell, Donovan (Louisville)
Morris, Monte (Iowa State)
Motley, Johnathan (Baylor)
Mykhailiuk, Svi (Kansas)
Ojeleye, Semi (SMU)
Oliver, Cameron (Nevada)
Patton, Justin (Creighton)
Peters, Alec (Valparaiso)
Rabb, Ivan (California)
Reed, Davon (Miami, FL.)
Robinson, Devin (Florida)
Simmons, Kobi (Arizona)
Sumner, Edmond (Xavier)
Swanigan, Caleb (Purdue)
Thornwell, Sindarius (South Carolina)
Trimble, Melo (Maryland)
Wagner, Moritz (Michigan)
Walton Jr., Derrick (Michigan)
Welsh, Thomas (UCLA)
White, Derrick (Colorado)
Williams-Goss, Nigel (Gonzaga)
Wilson, D.J. (Michigan)
Yurtseven, Omer (North Carolina St.)

There are a lot of underclassmen and not a lot of seniors on that list. Part of that is this is considered a weak senior class (the good players already went pro) but also it’s a change in the system. The NCAA used to require that players declare whether they were in or out of the draft well before the combine, but the organization finally changed it so that these young players can now get honest feedback from teams about where they might actually land in a draft, then they can back out (so long as they don’t hire an agent). That’s a good thing. Too many players got bad advice from family, friends, hangers-on, AAU coaches, or others trying to profit off them, now those players can go to teams and get a dose of reality. A lot of underclassmen are taking advantage of it.

Report: Joe Dumars, David Griffin early names coming up in Hawks GM search


If it’s not going to be Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox running the show in Atlanta, who will it be?

Those two just stepped back from their jobs at the head of the Hawks’ basketball brain trust (stepped back being the kind way of putting it, they were pushed out), although both will remain with the organization (Budenholzer as coach). That leaves a power vacuum at the top that Atlanta will hire a search firm to help fill.

Of course, the NBA rumor mill abhors a vacuum, so already names are popping up. Via Marc Stein:

Those names are also interesting because they are rumored in other places as well. Dumars, the former Pistons GM, is rumored to be the guy the New Orleans Pelicans are looking at if Dell Demps is let go as GM. Griffin is currently under contract as the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers but does not have a deal lined up for beyond this season, and Orlando is reportedly interested in talking to him.

If I were the agent for either of those men, I would love having my client mentioned in association with the Hawks because it puts pressure on those other teams to act.

There are a lot of questions to answer before a GM is hired, starting with how they get along with Budenholzer, but no matter now far along the process actually is the rumor mill is in full swing.

Atlanta makes it official: Mike Budenholzer, Wes Wilcox to take step back in front office

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Whatever direction the Atlanta Hawks go, there will be a new person at the helm of the ship.

Friday the Hawks made official what had been reported the day before: Mike Budenholzer stepped down as team president (but will stay on as coach), Wes Wilcox will no longer be the general manager, but both will remain in the organization and front office. Now a new head of basketball operations will be found.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are committed to building the Atlanta Hawks into a championship-caliber team, and after the end of our season, it was clear to all of us that our basketball operations leadership needed this reorganization,” Principal Owner Tony Ressler said. “With Bud moving his focus exclusively to his position as head coach, we are freeing him up to do what he does best as one of the most respected coaches in the NBA. As owners, we value Wes’ dedication, intellect and capabilities, however we believe that our leadership would be best served by recruiting a new general manager to bring our team to the level of play that we expect.”

Wilcox will become a “special advisor to ownership.” Atlanta will hire an executive search firm to help select a new general manager.

This makes sense. I generally think it’s tough to have a coach with player/personnel power just because the perspectives can be difficult to juggle. Coaches want to win now, GMs/presidents need to think long-term and more strategically.

The big question: What does this mean for Atlanta’s plans to re-sign Paul Millsap to a max contract this summer?


Budenholzer seemed ready to trade Millsap at the deadline and start a rebuild, but pulled back from that (reportedly at the request of ownership). If the Hawks re-sign Millsap to a five-year max contract, they likely remain a good but not contending team for the next four or so years (projecting beyond that is nearly impossible). Atlanta ownership may abe good with that — the team has connected with the community, particularly a younger crowd living in the city, and are selling tickets at a pace the organization hasn’t seen in a long time. The team is profitable.

We will see what the plans are going forward based on who gets hired and what he says coming in the door about the future.