Why are the Clippers vulnerable? Defense (or coaching)

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Before the season started what was the mantra about the Clippers on this site (and most others)?

It’s all about the defense.

With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (who has a more diverse game than many fans give him credit for), plus Jamal Crawford off the bench, the Clippers were going to score points. A lot of them. And they are fifth in the NBA at 107.1 points per 100 possessions. Between the Nuggets and the Spurs. Which is to say championship level.

The Clippers were always going to go only as far as their defense will carry them. Right now that doesn’t look very far — they are 7-8 in their last 15 stumbling toward the playoffs.

In one of the must read pieces of the day, Mike Prada broke the Clippers defense down like a point guard off the dribble at SBNation.

When they were winning, L.A. was hovering in the top five in defensive efficiency, but things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent weeks. The Clippers have surrendered an average of 105.7 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break. Only sub-.500 Milwaukee, at 105.8/100 possessions, is worse among the 16 playoff teams. When you narrow the sample to March 1 and later, the Clippers fall behind Milwaukee on that list.

What has caused the Clippers’ tremendous defensive fall? A look at the tape reveals a club that has no coherent plan on how to defend any sort of play.

That last sentence is not followed up with picture of Vinny Del Negro, but it might as well be.

Prada goes on in detail, with images, to show how the Clippers try to vary their pick-and-roll coverages but don’t really execute any of them well. Rather than being really good at one way of handling the play and throwing in other things to mix it up occasionally, the Clips are mediocre at a lot of things.

Which comes back to the question: What is the Clippers defensive identity? Is it to blitz the ball handler, force turnovers and attack in transition? A more patient solid style like the Celtics or Bulls? We don’t really know, the Clippers are kind of a mishmash.

And in just over two weeks that lack of identity could cost them a lot.

Assessing Jimmy Butler’s trade value

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Thanks to his trade request, Jimmy Butler instantly became the hottest name on the NBA’s trade block. How much is he worth to teams that want to deal for him? The answer is particularly complex, with numerous – significant – factors pulling each direction.

Pro: Production

This sounds simple, but it’s an important place to start: Butler is really good at basketball. He aces every test. Traditional stats, advanced stats and old-school scouting all reveal an elite player.

Over the last two years, Butler has averaged 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. A large majority of times a player hit those marks for a full season, he got MVP votes.

Butler’s real plus-minus has steadily climbed over the years – from 69th to 23rd to 18th to 7th all the way to 4th last season. His individual numbers aren’t empty. He immensely positively impacts winning.

Just watch him play. He’s a force on both ends. He digs into his man defensively and takes charge offensively. He’s not fancy, but he steadily creates and converts good shots while adding an excellent all-around game. He just does so many little things – making the right pass, the right rotation, etc. – to help his team.

Con: Age

Butler will turn 30 before playing on his next deal. He’s reaching the age most players decline, and a long-term deal would surely take him past that point.

Con: Mileage

Tom Thibodeau coached four All-Stars who were in their 20s with the Bulls – Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. The other three have aged terribly, and it doesn’t seem like total coincidence. It’s not just heavy playing time, though Butler has consistently ranked near the top of the league in minutes per game. Thibodeau also pushes his players hard in practice.

Con: Cost

Butler’s max next summer projects to be $190 million over five years if he re-signs or $141 million over four years if he leaves his team. Given the previous two concerns, that’s a scary amount of money.

Few think as highly of Butler as I do. Even I would be leery of maxing him out over the most possible years.

Pro: Work ethic

Butler is one of the NBA’s hardest workers. Even while taking a social-media shot at Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler was working out.

He didn’t just get lucky in his rise from overlooked college recruit to No. 30 pick to NBA star. He earned his rise by putting in the work.

Pro: Example set

Not only does Butler’s strong work ethic help him, it can inspire teammates. Some young players just don’t understand how much effort it takes to thrive in the NBA, but they can look to Butler as a model. Ideally, everyone follow his lead.

Con: Patience

However, not every player wants to work that hard. Some just want to get by, and Butler – understandably, considering his background – doesn’t have much patience for that. His testiness toward teammates who didn’t match his competitiveness and effort caused problems in Minnesota and Chicago. If he wants to be a leader for all situations, Butler must get better at lifting teammates who aren’t on his level. Coarseness doesn’t work on everyone.

Pro: Kyrie Irving friendship

Butler is close with Kyrie Irving, and there has been plenty of chatter about the two playing together. That type of talk occurs way more often than stars actually team up. But getting Butler could mean an inside track on signing Irving, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Pro: Availability

Butler’s trade request tanked the Timberwolves leverage. They proceed as if they’ll keep him, but everyone knows he wants out.

Some interested teams will wait to try signing him outright next summer rather than surrender significant assets now.

Minnesota is also pressed by Karl-Anthony Towns‘ reported discord with Butler. Towns’ Oct. 15 extension deadline looms.

Con: Flight risk

Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. An extension before then seems unrealistic. Any pledge Butler makes now would be nonbinding. There’s always a chance things go south over the next season and Butler leaves a team that trades for him.

Even the Clippers, Knicks and Nets – Butler’s reported preferred destinations – can’t be assured he’ll re-sign.

Bottom line

Butler is an awesome player. The cost of trading for him should be high. The cost of re-signing him should be high.

Given the circumstances, teams might be able to trade for him without surrendering as much as a player of his caliber would usually command. But that likely comes with giving him a massive contract next summer, and that deal could age poorly.

Teams ready to win now or soon that have key players with strong competitive streaks should target Butler. There are more than enough such teams to drive up the price.

That’s why Minnesota has a valuable asset – for now – and Butler is positioned to cash in next summer.

Report: Timberwolves rebuffing Jimmy Butler trade calls

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Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau reportedly had no interest in trading Jimmy Butler despite the star’s trade request. In fact, some believe Thibodeau would rather leave Minnesota than take a step back by dealing Butler.

Just how serious is Thibodeau about keeping Butler?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m curious whether Thibodeau and Taylor are on the same page as far as not entertaining offers for Butler.

There’s a selfish logic to Thibodeau’s stance: If the Timberwolves fail to reach the playoffs this season, he could get fired. Keeping Butler maximizes Minnesota’s talent right now, and even if Butler leaves in unrestricted free agency next summer, that buys Thibodeau time to figure out something.

Taylor can take the longer view, trying to do what’s best for the franchise. Maybe he feels immediately ending all talks right now maximizes the Timberwolves’ leverage.

Or maybe this is all Thibodeau’s doing so far.

At some point, Minnesota should hear out offers. That doesn’t mean trading Butler. Perhaps keeping him and trying to change his mind – and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ – is the right course. It depends what other teams offer. But the Timberwolves should at least explore the market.

This puts the ball back in Butler’s court. Will he report to training camp? Not showing up would certainly add pressure for Minnesota to take these calls more seriously. But it’d also escalate the situation into something even more dramatic.

Pistons PG Reggie Jackson says ankle injury still keeping him off court

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If Reggie Jackson didn’t injure his ankle, maybe Stan Van Gundy is still running the Pistons.

Detroit went 27-18 when Jackson played and 12-25 otherwise last season. The Pistons missed the playoffs by four games then fired Van Gundy.

Ed Stefanski takes over running the front office, and Dwane Casey is now coach. But they won’t necessarily get a healthy Jackson, either – even though Jackson played the final 12 games of the season.

Jackson, via Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“Probably didn’t heal the way everybody thought it might once we had time off,” Jackson said. “Just haven’t been able to get on the court, but been doing everything I can to get healthy.”

“It actually feels good. I feel like I can cut again,” he said. “Once I get going fully, just see how it feels. But it feels night and day compared to last year. … I think anybody who watched, I never looked right. I never ran right. But that’s what you do. Everybody has nicks and bruises in this game. I wouldn’t change it any other way. I would still come back and play. It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t healed.”

“I’m going day to day,” he said. “I don’t necessarily know. I’m going to come in and do what they tell me, what they allow me to do. I think the organization, our coaching staff and the training staff have a great game plan on when I’ll be back and how to implement myself back into the workouts.”

Jackson not playing would be problematic for the Pistons, who look like a fringe playoff team. Ish Smith would be OK as a fill-in starting point guard, but moving Jose Calderon into the regular rotation could be dicey.

Calderon, who turns 37 next week, is fine in spurts. But I wouldn’t want to overly rely on him at this point. And, though Smith can hold his own as a starter, he looks much better as a reserve.

Even if Jackson gets healthy enough to play by the regular season, that wouldn’t solve everything. His endurance has been a problem at times, and limited offseason training could make that even more of an issue.

Report: Karl-Anthony Towns told Timberwolves he couldn’t coexist with Jimmy Butler

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Karl Anthony-Towns denied Jimmy Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend caused a rift between the Timberwolves teammates.

But that doesn’t mean the rift is nonexistent.

Towns reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until Minnesota handles the Butler situation, and the standoff apparently isn’t at all over haggling about contract terms, particularly what would happen if Towns qualifies next season for the super-max.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

They’re offering him as much money as they can.

I’m led to believe that a big reason why he hasn’t signed it is that he – through his agent, Leon Rose – went to the Wolves and said, “Hey, I can’t coexist with Jimmy. Do something about it.” So, Figure out the Jimmy situation. On top of that – whether it’s right or wrong, this is the way he feels – that it’s been Jimmy and Thibs ganging up on him.

Towns can sometimes play passively, especially defensively. Two people who tend not to tolerate passive play, especially defensively, are Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau. I’m not sure they’re ganging up on Towns as much as they’re each conveying similar messages individually.

That said, I can also see why Towns would feel like they’re ganging up on him.

Ideally, Thibodeau would have taken Towns’ message and worked with Butler to find a way to better communicate with the center. Towns is an elite young talent, and it’s worth making him happy.

But Butler’s trade request opens the door for another solution. Minnesota can just excise the problem, though it’d probably mean a talent downgrade.

The biggest issue is the Timberwolves didn’t heed Towns’ warning and find common ground for everyone. That seems to reflect poorly on Thibodeau as a connecter, a necessary skill for successful head coaches and team presidents.