Clippers will attempt to continue to stockpile talent by pursuing J.R. Smith

13 Comments

The L.A. Clippers have had maybe the most impressive offseason of any team in the league. Already sitting in second place in the Western Conference standings, and with their latest acquisition, Kenyon Martin, joining the team in Orlando on Sunday, they will look to get even deeper by going after J.R. Smith, reports Brad Turner of the L.A. Times:

The Clippers, still not done dealing after signing Kenyon Martin on Friday, will pursue guard J.R. Smith after the team he plays on in the Chinese Basketball Assn. finishes its season and he becomes eligible to play in the NBA, said a person not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The Clippers aren’t getting enough production off the bench behind small forward Caron Butler and feel as if Smith can provide the team with a big scoring punch at the position, the person said.

There’s no reason to think that the Clippers wouldn’t be Smith’s first choice of where to sign once he’s freed from his obligation in China. Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin played with Smith in Denver, and know exactly how to deal with the sometimes-volatile guard who has been known to shoot the lights out when given the chance.

As the Clips continue their apparent quest to re-form the Denver Nuggets of the first half of last season (that’s a joke, people), it’s worth noting that this sudden frenzy within the organization to trade for and sign talented players at every turn is a pretty big departure from the way the team has operated in the past.

The Clippers are actually being smart about decision-making, and in the short term, it’s paying off.

The Chris Paul trade was a gift from God David Stern, but Blake Griffin is an asset that was earned through one of many seasons of dismal losses and assembling an embarrassingly-poor collection of talent. Billups was a victim of the new amnesty clause, and L.A. was the only team to put in a claim for him, risking the possibility that Billups may be disgruntled and not want to play there after being tossed aside by the Knicks.

Mo Williams was a throw-in in the deal that got rid of Baron Davis’ albatross of a contract at the trade deadline a season ago, and at the time, many questioned whether the Clippers, who gave up their unprotected 2011 first round draft pick that turned into Kyrie Irving, gave up too much.

Well, Williams is averaging 18.4 points per game off the bench in his last 10, and as good as Irving has been in his rookie season, he’s not needed on a team that’s fortunate enough to have Chris Paul in its starting lineup.

The Clippers haven’t exactly become the New York Yankees of the NBA, but bringing in new talent left and right to surround Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan with has to be satisfying for the small group of fans who have chosen to suffer with this squad over the years. Martin will add some much-needed front court depth (seriously, no contending team should ever be forced to play Brian Cook), and Smith will add yet another strong scoring punch off the bench.

There’s no question that the league began the power shift in Los Angeles by not allowing Paul to go to the Lakers. But the Clippers, by going out and getting as much additional talent as possible, should be credited for doing everything they can to finish the job.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer: ‘I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in’

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Clippers will probably miss the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re also even further from landing a high draft pick. They’re in that middling position some teams find perilous.

But not Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Ballmer also vowed that the Clippers won’t tank to get a better draft pick. “That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” he said. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

The 76ers missed the playoffs five straight seasons, but they emerged from that self-inflicted drought with two franchise cornerstones – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – and multiple other helpful pieces. The Process worked as intended.

But this is also why the NBA needn’t freak out about other teams replicating Sam Hinkie’s plan. Few have the stomach for it.

Ballmer doesn’t. The Clippers are trying to attract free agents. The better they are in the interim, the more credibility they’ll build.

Jordan Clarkson, Yao Ming keen observers at Asian Games basketball

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson watched from the bench, not quite able to make it to the Asian Games in time to play in the opening game for the Philippines.

Yao Ming was there, too, also keeping a close eye on the Philippines’ opening 96-59 win over Kazakhstan.

After getting a special exemption from the NBA to play for the Philippines in Jakarta, the US-born Clarkson should be ready to suit up for the next game against China. And that has the attention of ex-Houston Rockets and Chinese all-star center Yao.

Clarkson, one of three NBA players given an exemption by the league to play in Jakarta, said he had a frustrating time while his status for the tournament was being considered. The NBA also granted exemptions to Houston Rockets 7-foot-1 (2.17-meter) center Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks forward Ding Yanyuhang to play for China.

“We went back and forth so many times, saying I was going to play, then I wasn’t going to play,” the 6-5 (1.96-meter) Clarkson told Philippines’ reporters after Thursday’s game. “Now, being able to participate is awesome.

“I’m very excited to know that I’m finally getting to do this, being able to play … for the country. It’s definitely something that I’ve been looking forward to.”

Clarkson, who qualifies to play for the Philippines through his maternal grandmother, has four days to get familiar with “fun style of play.”

“I feel the support, the love all the time,” he said. “My grandma is real proud I’m able to do this now.”

The Philippines is playing a tournament for the first time since 10 players and two coaches were suspended following a wild brawl in a World Cup qualifier against Australia on July 2. Three Australian players were also suspended.

Video of the brawl was widely played around the world, with punches thrown, chairs tossed at players, and security needed to restore order.

Luka Doncic picks DeAndre Ayton for Rookie of the Year

AP Photo/Matt York
2 Comments

Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic stirred plenty of pre-draft debate. I found them so similar, I rated them in the same tier atop the draft.

Those frequent pre-draft comparisons often lead to lasting personal rivalries, each player still trying to one-up the other throughout their careers.

But that might not be the case with Ayton (whom the Suns drafted No. 1) and Doncic (who went No. 3, to the Mavericks via the Hawks) – at least from Doncic’s perspective.

Doncic, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

I would say [Phoenix center Deandre] Ayton. He was the No. 1 pick. He’s tall, he’s strong, he can do so many things.

Maybe Doncic thought he couldn’t choose himself. After all, Forsberg also wrote:

Ask any member of the 2018 NBA draft class who’s going to win Rookie of the Year, and the response is almost universal: “Can I pick myself?”

But Marvin Bagley III (whom the Kings picked No. 2) was quoted talking through the possibility of picking himself before settling on teammate Harry Giles. Doncic isn’t quoted saying anything similar about himself.

Either way, it’s a little surprising to see Doncic pick Ayton. So much for Doncic trying to convince people he’s better than Ayton.

Ayton is my pick, too. He’s physically ready for the NBA and should post scoring and rebounding numbers that impress voters. His biggest deficiency – defensive awareness – tends to get overlooked with this award.

I also wouldn’t rule out Doncic, who’s so skilled and polished already. But I’m concerned about NBA athleticism shocking his system.

Will ex-Syracuse commit Darius Bazley still play in NBA’s minor league as planned?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

When Darius Bazley announced he’d skip his freshman year at Syracuse to play in the NBA’s minor league, it seemed he could start a trend.

But what if Bazley doesn’t even follow that path?

He just participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles and apparently struggled.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

After Bazley decided last spring to skip college basketball and play in the G League this season, there were heightened stakes for him at this event and not many positives to take away from his performance. There is speculation among NBA scouts that this might have been the last competitive action they will see from Bazley until the NBA pre-draft process next spring — or even the 2019 summer league. If he doesn’t feel ready for the G League, he could reconsider his decision and forgo competitive basketball for the year

I was never convinced Bazley was shaking up the system rather than just responding to his unique circumstances. This obviously doesn’t change that thought. Mitchell Robinson did the same thing just last year before the Knicks drafted him in the second round.

Maybe Bazley will still choose playing in the NBA’s minor league. He could develop there. But he’d also risk exposing his flaws and hurting his stock. On the other hand, maybe it’s too late and the cat is out of the bag.