Chris Paul traded to Clippers: The salvation of Blake Griffin

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Blake Griffin is going to have it different.

That’s what the Wednesday night trade of Chris Paul to Griffin’s Clippers represents. There’s been a precedent set in this league, where great players have their youths squandered on poor teams, suffering without help. The most notable has been Kevin Garnett, and after him, LeBron James, whose departure from Cleveland can be clearly linked to Garnett’s departure from Minnesota. Griffin has avoided that fate. There’s risk with Chris Paul with his knee, risk with Chris Paul because of his opt-out for 2012-2013 (which he’s agreed to opt-in for right now, reportedly), and risk with his free agency in two years in 2013. But the fact remains that Blake Griffin will play with one of the top five best players in the NBA, the best player at his position. (Derrick Rose isn’t a point guard. He’s a Derrick Rose.)

The impact of this cannot be overstated. How often are the primes of players wasted? Should Griffin (missed his rookie season with knee injury) and Paul (missed most of season two years ago and has an issue with his meniscus in one knee) stay healthy, this is a team-up that can stay together for ten years. That’s ten years where Griffin can grow into the best version of himself beside a player that can make him the best he possibly can be. That’s exceptionally rare. For comparison, here are the point guards various stars played with in their second seasons:

Carmelo Anthony: Andre Miller -Good pro, but not a star.

LeBron James: Jeff McInnis – Yeah.

Kevin Garnett: Shane Heal – Uh-huh.

Amar’e Stoudemire: Howard Eisley (OK, so he wound up with Steve Nash. And look what happened.)

And yes, it’s actually his third year in the league after his injury but the point remains the same. Most players toil in vain. And maybe it’s a market scenario. But this is the Clippers. Someone who plays for the Clippers has had something go right (super-double-jinx with a cherry on top). And the big winner is fans. They get to see Griffin with a real chance to make he most of his career from the start.

As a point of reference, the Clippers last year were 23rd in the league in points-per-possession in the pick-and-roll. The Hornets were 16th. And this is with David West out for several months and not being a roll-man, Emeka Okafor who isn’t a great roll-man, and Jason Smith, who isn’t anything.

Defense is where the impact will get lost. But Griffin’s not going to have to cover as much on the perimeter pick and roll defense, he can stick his man. Paul gets hung up on screens because of his size, but he also fights through them and can contain. Paul’s a ballhawk, which will increase Griffin’s break-out transition opportunities.

That’s the key here, and what will get lost with the trade of Eric Gordon. Gordon was never going to make Griffin everything he can be. Paul can. Gordon was never going to actually help Griffin score outside of being a diversion. Paul will create opportunities for him. Griffin gets to play with a top player, in his prime, and if they win at all, Paul will re-sign and he’ll have a title shot every year. That’s so rare in a league that’s defined by the fruitless pursuit of greatness by young players having to pay their dues on mediocre squads wasted by short-sighted or short-changed GMs. Paul saw it, with a team that was constructed well but couldn’t be held together falling apart after a run in 2008. But Griffin won’t know of it. He’ll just know what it’s like to play with the best pure point guard in the league.

Griffin has been special since the moment he stepped on the floor. He changed the landscape last year. But this? This unearths his true potential. Griffin may become great before any of us are really ready.

Report: Signs of Jimmy Butler’s serious discontent showed up after playoff loss

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Tom Thibodeau does not want to trade Jimmy Butler. He seems to hold out hope — no matter how long the odds — that professionalism will win out, that Butler and Karl-Antony Towns will put aside their differences and give it a chance, and the Timberwolves will make a playoff push again. It’s not going to happen. Butler will get traded (when is the unknown question).

For some fans, the Butler/Towns feud seemed to come up out of nowhere recently, but that’s not the case. The rumors around the league of the issues between them have grown stronger all summer, and the warning signs can be traced back to the end of last season, reports Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

While Thibodeau said on Monday that last week was the first time Butler made a trade request, the warning signs of discontent were there much earlier. After the Rockets eliminated the Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs in May, Butler did not fly with the team back to Minnesota, sources said. He took a flight to Los Angeles shortly after the game was over and refused to do the standard medical exam all players go through as part of their exit interviews.

A few days later, he started conveying his concern for the franchise and casting doubts on his willingness to stay long-term. Butler can become a free agent after this season, and his representatives talked with Thibodeau in July about his unwillingness to re-sign in Minnesota, sources said. Butler conveyed the same message directly to Thibodeau in August when the coach came to California to visit him after he had hand surgery, sources said.

For his part, Towns was not going to sign his max contract extension until the Butler situation was resolved, and said he could not co-exist with the All-Star wing. It was only after the Butler trade process started that Towns agreed to sign his extension.

Big picture: In a brutally tight Western Conference, it’s getting tougher to picture Minnesota in the top eight and making the playoffs. Maybe they will, and maybe Andrew Wiggins will step up and look like a guy who loves to play basketball. But last season them making the playoffs came down to the final night of the regular season, and cloud of drama over the Timberwolves and the talent drop they will suffer — Minnesota will not get equal value back for Butler — will be tough to overcome in a conference where there is almost no margin for error already.

Warriors vow to live in the moment, chase another title

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) With unsettled contract situations making many of the players’ futures beyond this season uncertain, Warriors coach Steve Kerr is encouraging his team now more than ever to go with the flow, have fun and enjoy the moment.

No pressure, even if the end goal is a three-peat.

Two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant signed a one-plus-one contract that allows him to become a free agent again next summer, while fellow All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be up for extensions.

“Nothing lasts forever in this league, but we’ve always said we want to keep this going as long as we can, and we’re right in the thick of it,” two-time MVP Stephen Curry said.

After two straight titles and three in four seasons, all eyes are on the East Bay once more as training camps begin league-wide.

That’s why Kerr is stressing going for it in what might be the final hurrah for the superstar core of this team. Not that Durant, Green nor Thompson is talking about leaving town.

“We are playing with some house money. We won three of the last four championships. Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure,” Kerr said. “I don’t think our guys should feel a ton of pressure. I think they should feel the importance of trying to do it again, because this may be the last time we have this current iteration of the Warriors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and everything else. So we don’t know what’s going to happen. So why not just go all out and enjoy every step of the way?”

Oh, you can bet these Warriors won’t be satisfied with anything short of another championship – especially as they play their final season in Oakland before moving into the snazzy new Chase Center next year in San Francisco.

“I mean, I definitely don’t approach it like we’re playing with house money. We do have three championships. They’re all in the past,” Green said. “It’s about approaching each year with that same goal and that same mentality. And the point you get to the point where, `Oh, man, we’re just playing house money, we already got it,’ you’re done.

“None of us are ready for this run to come to an end. So we’ve got to continue to approach it like we’ve got zero. And that’s cliche and impossible to do, but you want to try to get as close to that as you possibly can. And that’s my mindset always entering the season.”

A chuckling Curry stood between Green and Thompson during Monday’s media day clearly enjoying himself and all this team has accomplished. The Warriors posed with their three title trophies from the past four seasons.

And why not?

They all know how hard it is to maintain such dominance year after year.

“We have a lot to celebrate. Three titles in the last four years. A chance to add another one in our final season at Oracle. A bunch of free agents next summer,” Kerr said. “A lot could change. We don’t know. Obviously we want to keep this thing going, but at some point you just have to enjoy the moment, enjoy the now because there’s going to be so much speculation as to what’s ahead. Nobody knows what’s ahead.”

While Green understands the business side of basketball and the challenges that come with it, he would like to be in the Bay Area for years to come. The next step is hardly weighing heavily on his mind as practice gets underway.

“I’m confident that I’ll be here for a very long time, so it’s not something I’m going into the season thinking about. Like all that stuff will be taken care of when it’s best for me, when it’s best for the team,” Green said. “I’m not looking at this one-sided like, `Oh man, I’ve, got to do what’s right for Draymond.’ It’s a partnership. And it’s a family. And doing the right thing for everyone involved is important.”

Kerr knows his players realize how special a time this is for them and the franchise.

“They really enjoy being around each other. They really enjoy the process,” Kerr said. “And having won several championships, I think they feel like, `All right … we’ve done some damage and let’s keep it rolling,”‘

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Lakers loving LeBron’s leadership in first practice together

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Although the Lakers’ first official practice of the LeBron James era was focused on defense and learning new terminology, they ended it with a good old-fashioned 3-point shooting contest.

The Lakers’ new superstar was just another teammate during the spirited back-and-forth competition Tuesday. When James wasn’t draining his own 3s, he marveled along with everybody else at the surprising perimeter prowess shown by JaVale McGee, the 7-foot veteran with exactly one 3-pointer during a game in his 10-year NBA career.

The Lakers have many weeks of work ahead to become a cohesive team assembled around James, but he can already sense they’re heading down the right path. They’re planning to have plenty of fun along the way, too.

“I’m not a very patient guy, but I understand that I have to be patient right now,” James said. “I’ve got to be patient with myself, too, because this is a new start for me. It’s my first year in a new system. I know how to play the game of basketball, but this is all new to me, too. So I have to be patient with myself, not only with my teammates.”

James was both upbeat and businesslike after his first workout under coach Luke Walton, who entered the NBA in the same draft class as James in 2003. The Lakers will hold double practices and a scrimmage on the first two days of camp leading toward their preseason debut in San Diego on Sunday night.

James intends to enjoy the process in his new city.

“We’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to someday hoist the trophy,” James said. “Obviously that’s the end of the road, but you have to have those types of championship habits every day, not only on the floor, but off the floor as well. … Everyone is excited to get back to work. That’s a good thing. No one is coming in today and wishing it was still summer. It’s the best time of the year. Basketball season is back up, baseball season is on its way to the playoffs, and the NFL is in Week 4. So what could you ask for as a sports fan?”

James naturally becomes the center of attention on any team, and he quickly assumed a leadership role for the Lakers. He’s also eager to see his veteran teammates assert themselves to help the Lakers’ young returning core, whether it’s Rajon Rondo instructing his fellow guards on assignments, or Lance Stephenson vocally calling out defensive instructions in half-court work.

“He’s LeBron. He’s one name,” Rondo said. “It speaks for itself. He’s been a leader and a mentor in this league for a long time, on and off the court. He has a blueprint off the court as well. So he embraces his role. He embraces all the pressure that he’s ever dealt with in his career, and he’s always risen above the occasion.”

Although Walton and James are just getting to know each other, the coach is grateful that his new star is leading by example from the opening practice.

The Lakers have lacked this level of respected on-court leadership in the two seasons since Kobe Bryant’s retirement, but LeBron and his fellow new veterans have strong ideas about how an NBA team must approach its work to be a winner.

“I could see it yesterday,” Walton said. “The way he’s approaching (practice) has changed from the pickup we were playing in the summer. It definitely set the tone. We’re on a journey that started today, and we’re very serious about the business that we got done today.”

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBA and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Dion Waiters looks a little out of shape as training camp starts (PHOTO)

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Each summer in the NBA we have to sit around and watch as players seemingly add pounds of muscle to their body. Over the course of the season, this added muscle typically melts away as players spend less time in the weight room and start running more than ever.

#MuscleWatch is a hilarious and staid part of the summer. But its cousin, Weight Watch, is a bit different.

On the flip side, some players show up in worse shape than they ended the season prior. Boris Diaw used to be the king of the early fall extra poundage. Now it appears that Miami Heat wing Dion Waiters is carrying a little bit of baggage with him as he starts training camp.

When Waiters’ headshot was published this week, Twitter had a bit of a field day with it.

Via Twitter:

This is not to body shame Waiters in anyway of course. As an athlete, his body is up for intense scrutiny with regard to his readiness for the season. And, how Waiters looks heading into training camp is markedly different than how he looked last summer.

No doubt when training camp starts, Waiters will get himself into shape and he will be ready to play by the time games start in October. Still, it’s always shocking to see a professional athlete add some lbs.