NBA season preview: L.A. Clippers

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Last Season: Perhaps it was the start of a cultural change in Clipperland, or maybe it was simply the beginning of a very short-term spike of relative success. Either way, your 2011-12 Clippers were competitive, fun to watch, and a team that made its way into the playoffs — three qualities that have been completely absent from the team for most of its tortured existence.

Key Departures: Randy Foye was serviceable as a starter for most of the season, and the rest of the dearly departed — Mo Williams, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, and Reggie Evans — made up the majority of the contributions off the bench.

Key Additions: The combination of Lamar Odom (one year removed from receiving the league’s Sixth Man honor), Grant Hill (an excellent on-ball defender and still a top fast break finisher), and Jamal Crawford (instant offense, or at least instant shot attempts) should be immediately better than the combination of players who filled those minutes a season ago. But the biggest addition might be that of a healthy Chauncey Billups, who was lost to injury early in last season’s campaign. Offense was the Clippers’ strength last year, but they should be even better with this group heading into this season.

Three keys to the Clippers season:

1) The evolution of Blake Griffin. There’s no question that Griffin is one of the most powerful and athletic players in game today. His dunks are already the stuff of legend, and his physical style of play is both effective for his team and aggravating for opposing players (see: Cousins, DeMarcus). If Griffin can extend the range on his jumper and be a better positional team defender, those things will do wonders for the Clippers’ chances to compete with the league’s elite.

2) Chauncey Billups playing alongside Chris Paul. The return of Billups should be a huge boost to the Clippers offensively. However, there is a little issue here, and that’s the fact that Billups likes to play with the ball in his hands. Paul is one of the game’s elite point guards, and he was the one most responsible for guiding the team’s explosive offense a season ago. Billups will need to slide into the two-guard role without kicking and screaming, and when he does have the ball, he’ll need to show patience instead of constantly looking to launch as many three-pointers as humanly possible.

3) Which Lamar Odom shows up? The reality show aspect of Odom’s persona worked out just fine for the Lakers, but that, along with some other much more serious family issues, eventually took their emotional toll on the mercurial one whose unique skill set makes his potential team contributions almost limitless. After a season where he essentially sat out in Dallas, we’ll see if Odom’s head is in the right place, and if he is able to get back into peak physical condition to be able to contribute as we all know he can. It was a calculated risk for the Clippers to bring him back, but one that’s really all upside.

What Clipers fans should fear: This season couldn’t be more crucial for the immediate, long-term future of the franchise. A dramatic statement, sure — but one based in fact. Consider that Vinny Del Negro is in the final year of his head coaching contract, and that not many observers believe he’s strong enough to lead a talented team to the next level. How he does managing this veteran squad will go a long way in whether or not he’s asked back. But more importantly, his relative success will undoubtedly affect the decision of Chris Paul, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

If Del Negro underachieves with this group, Paul — as much as he says he likes L.A. and wants to stay — will surely consider other options. The super-team model in the NBA isn’t going away anytime soon, and while the Clippers have plenty of talent on paper, the grass can always seem greener unless winning goes along with playing in that comfortable large market, and all of the ancillary benefits it can provide.

Prediction: A top-four seed in the Western Conference playoffs should be an attainable goal for this team, especially with the talent upgrade it was able to pull off this summer. But it won’t be easy or guaranteed, with teams like San Antonio, Denver, and Memphis right there in the mix behind the Lakers and Thunder juggernauts. A three-seed out West at best, a six-seed at worst.

Chandler Parsons hires law firm, which calls car-crash injuries potentially career-ending

Chandler Parsons
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Hawks forward Chandler Parsons was involved in a car crash last week.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

It’s easy to see where this is headed. Parsons is positioning himself for a lawsuit, laying the seeds for both lost earnings and emotional distress. We might see Parsons’ future NBA salaries be litigated.

Parsons signed a four-year max contract in 2016. He hasn’t had a reasonably productive seasons since, struggling with knee issues. Parsons recently touted how healthy he felt, but that had to be viewed in context of a 31-year-old with an extensive injury history.

Parsons had played sparingly the last four seasons, including just five games this season. Did he land outside the Hawks rotation because they’re focused on youth or because he’s just no longer good enough?

That could become a question for a court room.

Parsons will be a free agent this summer. I projected him for a minimum-salary contract somewhere. He was clearly hungry for an opportunity without the max-contract burden weighing on him.

It’d be a shame if Parsons lost that because of a drunk driver.

Kyrie Irving on getting criticized: ‘They crucified Martin Luther King’

Kyrie Irving on Martin Luther King Jr. Day
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Kyrie Irving missed nearly two months with a confounding injury.

During that time… Kendrick Perkins accused Irving of faking to avoid returning to Boston. Celtics fans chanted “Kyrie sucks!” without him even there. More examples of Irving’s moodiness in Boston emerged. Kevin Garnett suggested Irving didn’t have the cojones to play for the Celtics.

YES Network (2:40 mark):

Irving:

When I was out for those seven weeks and not saying anything and still people are still saying things about me. It’s inevitable. They crucified Martin Luther King for speaking about peace and social integration. You can go back to historical leaders and great people in society that do great things, and they’re still going to talk s—about them. It is what it is.

I don’t think Irving is putting himself on King’s level but rather pointing out that even great people get attacked. This could be a way for Irving to contextualize that he shouldn’t fret about the lesser criticism he faces.

I’d give Irving that benefit of the doubt, especially considering his comments on Brooklyn hosting the 76ers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, today.

Michael Scotto of Bleacher Report:

Irving:

It’s more than an honor. I have done so much historic research on just my community as well as they voice that I have and where I am in the position I’m in as well on the platform. I just wish there were not just holidays to commemorate some of the historical black leaders that have really put their lives on the line and lost it in the line of Civil Rights or making a social impact. Those things hit you real deep when you know the history of where the society has gone. I’m really grateful to play on Martin Luther King Day, but his legacy exists more than just a game being played on that day or Nike shoes being put out or something else. It’s so much more for our society to realize what he was really involved in and what he did in terms of communities across the world on

Again, I don’t think Irving was equating himself with King.

But can I absolutely put it past Irving, who talks as if he’s on a higher plane of existence, emphasizes his own importance and makes weird self-comparisons? No.

It also wouldn’t be the NBA’s first case of being tone deaf about King.

Report: Knicks not interested in trading for Pistons center Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond
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The Hawks are reportedly are no longer interested in trading for Pistons center Andre Drummond.

What about the Knicks, whose trade talks with Detroit were reportedly more serious than exploratory?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, the Knicks have no interest in a trade despite a report the Pistons approached them about a deal

Like Atlanta, New York both isn’t winning anything of note this season anyway and can easily open cap space to pursue Drummond in unrestricted free agency this summer.

The Knicks also have another center in Mitchell Robinson. They should develop him rather than surrendering assets for a replacement who might not be as good as Robinson once they’re ready to win.

New York is desperate. So, a Drummond trade seemed at least plausible.

But not trading for Drummond makes the most sense. Though the Knicks could do anything, I’m inclined to believe this report.

Kristaps Porzingis expected to return Tuesday vs. Clippers after 10-game absence

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Knee soreness, followed by an illness, has had Kristaps Porzingis in street clothes for 10 games, dating back to before the first of the year.

Sunday he went through practice and expects to play Tuesday when the Mavericks host the Clippers, Porzingis told the media Sunday.

That’s pretty much what the Mavs and KP were saying last week, then knee soreness flared up again and he sat out a few more games. This time he seems ready to go, although expect him to have some reduced minutes the first couple of games back.

Porzingis is averaging 17.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, shooting 34.3 percent from three and providing a dangerous pick-and-pop partner for Doncic. Porzingis, who missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, has improved as the season has gone on and he’s gotten his legs under him.

Dallas went 6-4 without Porzingis and their league-best offense didn’t miss a beat thanks to Luka Doncic. Defensively, however, the Mavericks missed his size in the paint, giving up 6.9 points more per 100 possessions in those 10 games than they averaged when he is on the court this season.

Dallas is 27-15 on the season and currently sit fifth in the West.