The Extra Pass: The Eric Bledsoe Predicament

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Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe is one great big problem.

He’s a problem for opponents who have to bring the ball up against him. He’s a problem for big men that think they’ll safely collect rebounds. He’s a problem for the backpedaling guard in transition that has to stay in front of him.

He’s a problem for his coach. He’s better suited to play shooting guard, but he’s 6-foot-1 and shoots a set-shot. So he’s a point guard, but not really. But he’s fast. Too fast. 

Bledsoe is such a problem that now he’s a problem for the entire organization. The secret is out, and other teams want Bledsoe to be their problem.

And here’s where it gets tricky for the Clippers. Head coach Vinny Del Negro views Eric Bledsoe as a point guard, and playing behind the league’s best point guard, he is a backup and little more. To wit, Bledsoe and Paul have played a measly 138 minutes together on the season. For comparison sake, Paul has played 588 minutes next to uninspiring wingman Willie Green.

That’s a problem. The Clippers aren’t maximizing Bledsoe’s value — they’re just using him as one heck of an insurance policy. With Chris Paul in a suit on the sidelines, that looks smart. With Chris Paul being an unrestricted free agent this offseason and not committed long-term, it looks even smarter. Sure, Paul has every reason to stay — more money, winning team, big market — but until it’s on paper, the Clippers can’t build off assumptions.

That’s really the heart of the issue surrounding the trade rumors for Bledsoe. He’s worth more as a player to other teams, but he’s worth more as an asset to the Clippers. Bledsoe is simultaneously the backup plan and the future in that he’s the most desirable, cheapest and realistic trade asset on the team by a large margin.

Pushing all-in for a Kevin Garnett is enticing, but KG isn’t a more valuable asset to the Clippers than Bledsoe is. Don’t get that confused. Garnett is the better player even at 36-years-old, and I’m incredibly comfortable saying a deal involving Butler and Bledsoe for Garnett would make the Clippers better, maybe even so much so that it would vault them to a championship. But moving Bledsoe for a guy on the other side of the hill could also shorten the window to win that championship dramatically and perhaps unnecessarily.

There’s a flip side to that, though. Paul is desperate for a championship and wants to win now more than anything else, and Del Negro is on a one-year deal and hunting for a long-term contract. Chris Paul barely plays with Bledsoe — you don’t think he’d rather have a big man setting the world’s dirtiest screens to free him up instead? You don’t think Del Negro would feel more confident with his coaching career in the hands of one of the greatest defensive players and floor spacers the game has ever seen rather than Lamar Odom and DeAndre Jordan? Moving  Bledsoe doesn’t seem so bad if your length of vision matches the length of your contract.

Still, trading Bledsoe for another veteran assumes an awful lot of risk moving forward outside of Paul’s impending decision. Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes — spring chickens they are not. At some point, you have to look at the roster Paul would be coming back to and make sure it’s one that can succeed long-term. Bledsoe is essentially acting as money in the Clippers’ saving account. He’s there for an emergency, but he’s also there to buy a bigger future asset the Clippers would have limited means to acquire otherwise.

This year’s trade deadline doesn’t have to be a boom or bust situation for the Clippers. Bledsoe will still be under contract next year, and it’s hard to imagine he won’t continue to improve. The market for his services is only going to grow.

And really, aren’t the Clippers a legitimate title contender already? This is a team that went an entire month without a loss when they were near full-strength. Adding an aging veteran with title experience that’s already on the roster (Billups) to that group instead of forfeiting current and future contributors for an outside guy is certainly safer, and it’s probably a little smarter, too.

Joel Embiid listed as doubtful for 76ers’ Game 4 vs Nets Saturday

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers are listing Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 4 of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.

Embiid has been bothered by a sore left knee, but was able to play in the first two games of the series. He warmed up before Game 3 on Thursday night before it was decided that he couldn’t play.

Embiid worked out Friday at the 76ers’ practice in New York but coach Brett Brown said he didn’t know and didn’t have a gut feeling about whether his All-Star center would be able to go Saturday afternoon.

The 76ers rolled to a 131-115 victory without Embiid and lead the series 2-1. Greg Monroe started at center and had nine points and 13 rebounds, although is role was limited as the game wore on.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka reportedly meets with Tyronn Lue as coaching search continues

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Rob Pelinka seems to have all the front office power in Los Angeles — whether that is wise is another conversation entirely — and he is continuing full speed ahead with the search for the next Lakers’ coach.

Pelinka reportedly has already been in Philadelphia and met with Sixers assistant Monty Williams, who is still busy coaching a playoff team. Miami assistant coach Juwan Howard also reportedly in the mix and is supposed to meet with Pelinka next week.

Friday came the report Pelinka was about to meet with former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. This has been expected.

Lue and Williams are considered the frontrunners, and both have a relationship with LeBron James that would net a thumbs up from the Lakers’ star. Lue coached LeBron to a championship in Cleveland, and while a lot of casual fans like to rip his coaching by the end of his time with the Cavaliers he was running some pretty creative stuff and getting players into good matchups and positions.

Williams is a former Pelicans’ head coach who also has a strong relationship with Anthony Davis (not that the hiring of a coach would have any impact on where Davis is traded, however, if he leaves where he is traded as a free agent in 2020 the coach could be a factor). Williams has spent time in the Spurs front office and on the coaching bench for the Sixers and Thunder. Williams’ strength is the perception he is not LeBron’s guy, unlike Lue.

Wojnarowski also said that Lue is pushing back on the idea he is LeBron’s coach, saying he would be coaching the Lakers not just one player. In Cleveland, Lue had the trust of LeBron and that allowed the coach to challenge his star at points.

Minnesota to meet with Chauncey Billups, Trajan Langdon for lead front office job

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Minnesota may have settled on its coach for next season — Ryan Saunders seems to have a lock on the position — and are now working backward to hire his boss, the new president of basketball operations.

That could be former Pistons legend and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, or Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon, both of whom have interviews coming up with Minnesota’s leadership, according to reports.

Billups has the most recognizable name of the group and a high basketball IQ, but he also has zero front office experience. While Billups has shown interest in other GM/basketball ops jobs before, there are some around the league questioning if Minnesota owner Glen Taylor is going to pay what it would take to get Billups out of ESPN. That said, there will at least be a conversation.

Minnesota also has met with Clippers GM Michael Winger, Rockets’ No. 2 Gersson Rosas, and Nuggets assistant GM Calvin Booth. This is a strong lineup of people from the “guys who have paid their dues and deserve a shot” file.”

Whoever takes over the job will fill the shoes of Tom Thibodeau, who was let go mid-season and who hamstrung the roster with his win-now decisions. In the positives column, Minnesota has All-NBA level player in Karl-Anthony Towns at the heart of the roster. After KAT there is work to do. Andrew Wiggins will make $27.5 million next season and has four more seasons after that at max money (right now that contract is as close to untradable as any in the NBA). Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million, and Jeff Teague opted into his $19 million. Lowering the cost of this roster while turning the Timberwolves back into a playoff team will require a lot of creativity.

Kevin Durant, JaMychal Green have technical fouls rescinded

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Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley got two double technical fouls in the Warriors’ Game 1 win over the Clippers.

Though Golden State had the game in hand (really, unlike Game 2) by the time the players were ejected, the techs were a much bigger deal for the Warriors. Durant will stick around the playoffs long enough there’s a real risk of him getting seven technical fouls and automatic ejection.

That concern was heightened in the Warriors’ Game 3 win last night when Durant and JaMychal Green received double techs.

Durant, via Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“We were conversing about the play before, and then someone came out of nowhere and tech’d us both,” Durant explained to the media after the game. “Hopefully it gets rescinded.”

The NBA obliged:

Durant is back down to two technical fouls for the playoffs.