DeAndre Jordan’s goal: Be on the court in fourth quarter

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When it came down to crunch time last season, Vinny Del Negro didn’t trust DeAndre Jordan. That’s why Jordan never touched the court in the fourth quarter in four of the six Clippers playoff games last year, when they lost to Memphis.

To be fair, Del Negro had no reason to trust Jordan — his defensive rotations were late plus he shot 38.6 percent from the free throw line (hack-a-Jordan became a thing). Jordan was a late game liability.

Jordan says he plans to change that this season. He better if the Clippers have plans of being the contender they look like on paper.

New Clippers coach Doc Rivers brings a more positive attitude and a clean slate — Jordan will get the chance to prove he should be on the court in crunch time. Jordan told the Los Angeles Times he thinks that he will earn the court time.

“My focus and (Rivers’) focus are defense,” Jordan said. “Everything else is going to be a bonus for me.”

Okay. But what about those free throws?

“I’m going to shoot the ball the same way, man,” said Jordan, who turned 25 in July. “I’m not really thinking too much into it. I watched a lot of film of last year, the shots that I made and the shots that I missed. I feel like if I just keep the ball up and don’t have a hitch in my shot and don’t think about it as much and — no offense — don’t pay attention to what you guys [in the media] say, I’m going to be fine.”

Whatever work Jordan did this summer he is going to get ample opportunity to showcase it because the Clippers are thin along the front line. If Jordan isn’t getting it done, Doc is going to have to turn to Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins. That’s not good.

Jordan’s defense is the single biggest key to the Clippers being the contenders they think they are. The Clippers were a top four offense in the NBA last season then they went out and added shooters like J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. With Griffin and Jordan still improving their games, the Clippers are a top three offense this season, and maybe the best in the league.

But can they stop anyone when it matters? Not consistently last season, and not in the playoffs. Doc Rivers was a great defensive coach when Kevin Garnett was the guy quarterbacking the D and patrolling the paint. Can he coach Jordan up into that role? Is Jordan really ready for it?

It won’t matter if Jordan can’t stay on the court — his free throw issues had him sitting the fourth quarter a lot last season, including in the playoffs against a massive Memphis front line, when Los Angeles needed him most. Rivers will be forced to yank Jordan, too, if the free throws don’t fall.

Jordan has said he worked hard on his game and weaknesses. We’ll start to see that next week when camps open. No pressure, but the Clips are relying on you to get them to the next level.

Counter-report: Kyrie Irving has been ‘communicative and forthright’ with Celtics

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Kyrie Irving, according to a report, has ghosted the Celtics as free agency approaches.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Whoever leaked the initial information wanted to make Irving look bad. Whoever leaked this wanted to make Irving look good. Who’s telling the truth?

Who knows?

Maybe Irving’s and Boston staffers have differing definitions “communicative and forthright.” They could each be telling their own truths. But neither side is above spreading inaccurate rumors to sully someone else’s reputation.

Breakups get messy, and it appears this one is already there.

Beyond all the noise about how Irving is leaving, the most important detail: This is yet another report he’s leaving for the Nets.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.