Author: Kurt Helin

Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin understands that Los Angeles is still a Lakers’ town


Last season, with no Kobe Bryant, not many wins and not much hope or reason to watch, the Lakers television ratings in Los Angeles fell 54 percent from the season before, down to a local 2.15 household rating, which is the equivalent of 122,000 households a game.

The Clippers — with the showtime of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, with 57 wins and a lot of reason for hope — averaged a 1.27 rating, or 72,000 households, last season.

That in a nutshell tells you what you need to know about the Los Angeles hoops market — it’s a Lakers town. It’s not close. Decades of winning, decades of being well run, decades of superstar players while the Clippers had Donald Sterling in charge has the Lakers ingrained in the city. It’s one of the few things native Angelinos tend to agree on. That and how good the Kogi food trucks are. That’s about it. That gap is narrowing, but Los Angeles remains all about the Lakers.

Blake Griffin moved to LA from where the wind comes rushing down the plain, but he gets it and said as much in his Q&A with GQ (where he also talks about Donald Sterling and more).

Are the Clippers finally the alpha team in L.A.?

“No, because for a lot of people, it’s about history. And nothing we can ever do will ever take away from their history. They’ve had unbelievable success as a franchise. And I think in this current day, we’re the better team. I do. But I mean, if you ask anybody that, they’re gonna say that, you know—so that’s not a real controversial statement.”

It’s not controversial. Not even die-hard Lakers fans think they are better than the Clippers this year, and that will stay the same way for a few more years. The Clippers are constructed to contend, the Lakers are trying to rebuild while dancing around Kobe’s massive contract.

None of that will change the Lakers/Clippers dynamic in Los Angeles. It’s a Lakers town.

What new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer hopefully understands is that this is not a zero-sum game — he doesn’t have to recruit Lakers fans to grow his brand. Los Angeles has a lot of casual fans without strong allegiances, it has a transient population with lots of people moving in all the time. There are people the Clippers can bring on the bandwagon without poaching the Lakers’ fans.

Dwight Howard returns to Atlanta, is very Dwight Howard in Ludacris’ charity game (VIDEO)

Detroit Pistons v Houston Rockets

Well, good on Dwight Howard for going back to his hometown of Atlanta (remember he starred at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy there in high school) to play in the Ludacris Charity Basketball Game.

But he did it in the most Dwight Howard way possible.

He didn’t bother to wear the team uniform, instead opting for a red superman T-Shirt. Then he just goofed around, dunking all over a bunch of amatauers a foot shorter and far less athletic than him. He had fun, put on a show, didn’t take the game or anything too seriously.

Vintage Howard.

Bruce Bowen says blame for James Harden’s defense falls on McHale, Rockets

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets

Bruce Bowen is not totally wrong here. But he’s also not totally right.

No doubt Bowen knows his defense, starting with him being one of the best on-ball defenders on the wing the NBA has seen in the past couple decades. As the NBA shifted the rule enforcement and defenders couldn’t hand check on the perimeter, Bowen was still as good as anyone.

Bowen has James Harden’s back.

That back often seems to be facing the defender — Harden has earned a reputation as a legendarily bad defender.

But speaking to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News Bowen laid the blame for Harden’s play at the feet of Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale (hat tip to Eye on Basketball). McCarney asked if Bowen cringes when he watches Harden play.

See, I don’t cringe, because I remember him in OKC. In fairness to James, yes, (his defense) has been terrible, but what are the principles in Houston? I’m very disappointed in their team concept. That’s what I don’t see. So, if there are no rules and regulations, how do you hold anyone accountable? Speaking to James about this, he’ll say it — “I know I have to do a better job.” But without any direction, without a coach saying, hey, we’re going to send this player baseline because that will be our best bet, it’s really tough. Defense is something you have to practice very day, especially rotations. We went over our rotations every day in all my eight years in San Antonio. You would think me, Tim, Tony and Manu all knew what we were supposed to do. But others don’t. They have to become as familiar as we were. That’s why I go back to principles. Go back to OKC and they’re playing the Lakers, he guarded Kobe pretty well. That’s why I say, what’s going on (in Houston) is about something else.

Here’s why I think Bowen is part right, part wrong here.

He’s right that Harden did look better in the Thunder’s defensive system (and at moments for Team USA this summer). He’s right that the Rockets are far from a defensive juggernaut and their system can seem scattered at moments. It’s also not as bad as you’d think — in all three years McHale has been coach the Rockets have finished about the middle of the NBA pack defensively using points allowed per possession. Actually they have improved relative to the league each season under McHale.

But mostly, Bowen is wrong because defense is about effort. Being aware on the court and effort. And the examples there of Harden falling short seem endless — including with Team USA this summer, when he was in a good system.

Bottom line, Harden needs to take the blame for his defensive failings — his disinterest is not on McHale, it’s on Harden. Same with the effort.

And if the Rockets are going to seriously contend, it’s going to be on Harden and Dwight Howard to have the mentality to lead them there. On both ends of the court.

NBA to review domestic violence policies in wake of NFL’s ugliness. It shouldn’t have taken that.

Adam Silver

Greg Oden allegedly had a domestic assault situation last August. James Johnson was arrested on a domestic abuse charge in June and in July signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Raptors (charges against him were dropped). Former Thunder player DeAndre Liggins had an ugly domestic abuse case filed against him (he is now out of the league as well). Three other NBA players and one assistant coach had domestic abuse charges against them dropped.

That is all within the past 12 months.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shouldn’t have needed a public scandal in another sport to make him understand that domestic violence was a serious issue and one that impacts the NBA directly. This is something the league should have taken more seriously long ago.

But the public relations disaster around the NFL and the Ray Rice case certainly caught the Commissioner’s attention. Silver spoke on Monday to announce a genuinely good New York City based NBA Cares project tied into the All-Star Game there next February (repairing a Staten Island court damage by hurricane Sandy), but when the media got to talk to him they had more serious questions and domestic violence is on that list. Ian Begley of was there.

Again, Silver doesn’t need the NFL, he can look at his own crime blotter and see the problem. There can be a culture of entitlement and being “above it all” that comes with the confidence needed to become a professional athlete, something as true for guys coming into the NBA as it is in the NFL. A discussion of domestic violence during the rookie training program is not enough.

Changes need to be made. Silver and the league needs to be more proactive than the NFL and its commissioner have been (although that’s a low bar to clear).

The NBA’s long-standing policy on all arrests and legal matters has been to let the judicial system play out then base any punishment off that outcome. Will that work anymore? (It certainly would not have been good for the NFL in the Adrian Peterson situation.) The CBA does give the NBA wide latitude if it wants on these cases. The NBA needs to be more proactive here — it can’t eliminate the situations but it needs to deal better with the ones it has. The league took no action on the cases already mentioned in this post (some charges were against players out of the league, others the charges were dropped). The problem is with the cases that were dropped (we don’t know what really happened in those situations), or in future similar situations, a player suspended without pay after an incident who then sees the charges dropped will have grounds to challenge the league. However, we also know that a lot of clear cases of abuse see the charges dropped for a variety of reasons.

Unfortunately, Silver will be put to the test on this sometime sooner rather than later. It will be interesting to see how he and the league (and teams) respond, especially if this is a name player and not just an end-of-bench guy, because there will be a much brighter spotlight on them now. Sitting back and ignoring the situation is no longer an option.

Blake Griffin said he knew Donald Sterling was racist, wasn’t really surprised by tape

Blake Griffin GQ

Everyone around the Clippers knew that Donald Sterling was still Donald Sterling. He had been steered away from serious involvement in the basketball operations side for several years, he had been kept out of the limelight as much as possible. But everyone around the Clippers knew the man, knew the history, and knew that someday Mount Sterling could erupt in controversy and there would be a lot of damage and cleanup.

Blake Griffin knew it.

Speaking with GQ’s Zach Baron on a variety of topics (including comedy, dating in Los Angeles, the Lakers, LeBron in Cleveland, you should read the entire thing), Griffin said he knew about Sterling’s racism from right before he got drafted but that he and the owner had little interaction.

“When the draft lottery came out and the Clippers said they were gonna draft me, I went to Google to find out more about the Clippers, because I didn’t know a lot. And I was like, “Okay, team owned by Donald Sterling.” So then I typed in “Donald Sterling” in Google, and the first thing that pops up is “Donald Sterling racist.” And I was like, “Whoa!” So obviously I explored that, read a whole bunch of articles, read the deposition at one of his court cases. Which was awesome, if you ever have time to read some of the depositions. [laughs]….

“The second time I met him… He throws a white party in Malibu every single year, so everyone has to wear white or you can’t come. I get there, and this dude is wearing all black. The only person at this party. He throws a white party, he wears all black. And as soon as I get there, he comes to the front, we talk for a second, and he’s like, “Come on, I want to introduce you to everyone.” Grabs my hand and starts walking me through the party while we’re holding hands, and just introduces me to everybody.

“I mean, for me, like I said, the first thing I ever Googled about the man, the first thing that popped up was “racist.” So I was aware. I hate to say this, and it might sound ignorant, but I wasn’t surprised that all this came up. Not necessarily the manner in which it was said, or the exact things, but like I said: This was my first impression of him.”

Griffin is honest in the article. He said he felt like he had no real recourse to do anything when he was drafted and that, outside a few awkward moments, he really had almost no interaction with the man. Yes, Sterling brought his female friends into the locker room (once allegedly saying “look at those beautiful black bodies” to a lady) and there was a long, sordid history with Sterlings’ past (as Griffin notes, google “Donald Sterling deposition” sometime), but the owner was largely out of sight, out of mind for the players.

Until the TMZ tape came out right in the middle of the playoffs. Mount Sterling had erupted and even Griffin admitted he was surprised by how big the story got.

The Clippers came out for the first game after this in Golden State with their warmups inside-out, hiding the logo, but that was the only step taken. Griffin talks about a divide in the locker room during this and that he was on the side not wanting to make a big gesture.

“I was one of the guys—and I don’t know, I might catch flak for this—I was one of the guys who didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to give this one incident the power that it doesn’t deserve. You know what I mean? And coincidentally, I had just, for the first time, watched the Jackie Robinson movie and watched how he dealt with it, even though obviously it’s a movie. And I’ve actually read Hank Aaron books and a lot of things. I just felt like the best way to respond to something like that is just to go out and do what we do and not let it affect us. Because we’re the ones that get affected, not anybody else. So that’s why I took that position. But I completely understood why guys did want to do something. I was just kind of one of the ones that was like, ‘Let’s just play basketball.’”

I don’t think Griffin should catch flak for this, because there is no right or good answer here. The Clippers players could have boycotted a game to make their displeasure felt, but it wouldn’t have changed how things went down. The league (with the help of a crafty legal move by Donald’s wife Shelly Sterling) pretty quickly got him out as owner and Steve Ballmer in.

I do believe this: The core of the Clippers is closer because of this. Not having this weight on their shoulders in the playoffs, a second year in Doc Rivers’ system and some good off-season moves (Spencer Hawes is an underrated pickup) make the Clippers legitimate title contenders.

And Griffin’s growth as a player is at the heart of all that.