Clippers let go of Vinny Del Negro as coach

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Clippers owner Donald Sterling created a little stir when he was near the court watching Game 1 between the Spurs and Grizzlies Sunday — he didn’t bother to attend all of his own team’s playoff games, why was he suddenly at this one? Was he scouting potential coaches such as the Grizzlies Lionel Hollins or the Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer? Did this mean Vinny Del Negro was in trouble?

Yes.

The Clippers have let go of coach Vinny Del Negro. It was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have since confirmed that. Del Negro’s contract was set to expire, the Clippers will not offer him a new one.

And as we all expected, what free agent to be Chris Paul wanted  played a hand in this, Wojnarowski said.

Despite considerable success and progress in his two seasons as coach, Del Negro was unable to withstand a first-round Western Conference loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and a free agent-to-be superstar, Chris Paul, who wanted a different coach, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Del Negro did not have a contract beyond this season.

The Clippers need to do whatever they have to do to keep CP3. Coaches can be replaced, elite talent is much harder to find. You don’t have to like it but it is the way of the world.

This opens up the most attractive coaching position in the NBA — a coach can over a team on the verge of competing for a title. A team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and talented role players such as Jamal Crawford. While Stan Van Gundy said he was sitting this year  out this is the kind of job that might change his mind. A lot of top coaches would like it — but will Sterling pay the top dollar to get one of them? You know Chris Paul will have a say in this decision (he likes Warriors top assistant Mike Malone, too).

This isn’t a huge surprise — while the Clippers won 56 games and their first ever division title, they disappointed in the playoffs and there was a sense around the league (and in some parts of the Clippers hierarchy) that they really accomplished all that in spite of Del Negro, not because of him. The one thing Del Negro had in his corner is that Sterling liked him, but in the end that wasn’t enough.

Del Negro ran pretty basic offensive sets with the Clippers — which if you have Paul running the show is not a bad call. Defensively the Clippers threw a variety of different looks at teams, but they kind of were the jack-of-all-trades and the masters of none. Del Negro and staff had some nice plays and designs set up for the start of their playoff series against the Grizzlies, but when Hollins made adjustments by Game 3 there were no good counters from the Clippers. Then when Griffin got hurt and was slowed the series was all but over.

Reportedly there was one team with an open coaching position interested in interviewing Del Negro. Which means there is one team out there willing to see how angry they can make their fan base.

LeBron James talks missing playoffs: “It’s not what we signed up for”

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For the first time in 13 years, LeBron James will not be in the playoffs.

While a few hearty souls predicted the Lakers would fall short of the postseason — shout out to Tim Bontemps of ESPN — the conventional wisdom was the presence of LeBron was enough to lift the Lakers at least into the playoffs. That was certainly the expectation within the organization (where many thought things were more like home court in the first round good). A combination of a poorly constructed roster, injuries, and a perfect storm of little things all added up to the Lakers missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

Here is what LeBron James said after the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn Saturday that officially knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s not what we signed up for. Throughout the year, things happened. Suspensions, injuries, things of that nature. And just not being able to play sustainable basketball for 48 minutes. But you don’t even try to wrap your head around it, you just keep pushing. Just try to get better tonight, move on to tomorrow, and go from there. Playoffs are never promised. You’ve got to come out and work. For me personally, you just continue to put the work in and see what you can do to help.”

There were a lot of things that kept the Lakers out, but on Christmas Day the Lakers had just beaten (a very disinterested) Warriors team, were 20-14, the four seed in the West, and with a top-10 defense. However, in that game LeBron injured his groin and missed the next 17 Lakers games, and even when he returned was not completely right and his old self (how much of that is the injury and how much of that is father time is a matter of speculation). LeBron couldn’t lift this team up like he had previous teams, and there was not enough talent on this roster to lift him up (and the good young talent there was kept getting injured).

Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed he guys they did — Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley — to maintain cap space for this summer. Now the pressure is on them to do something with that money to get both another star and a better supporting cast around LeBron.

Now what for No. 23? LeBron is not shutting it down.

“I’m probably going to have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer and go from there,” he said. “But I love to hoop. S—, I’m going to have five months and not play the game. So, you know, hopefully I can be in as many games as possible.”

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.