Blake Griffin’s injury throws Clippers’ playoff plans into question

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In the Western Conference, everybody is one injury away. The bottom of the playoff seeding was already a bloodbath, with the Phoenix Suns fending off the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth spot. Now, Sunday’s news that Blake Griffin could miss four to six weeks with a staph infection in his right elbow adds another team to the list of those who will be fighting for their lives: the Clippers.

Currently, the Clips sit at sixth in the West with a 33-18 record. They have six games of wiggle room over the ninth-place Pelicans, and seven and a half over the 10th-place Thunder.

Assuming a best-case scenario where Griffin misses four weeks, here’s what the Clippers have on deck without him:

  • Today (Sunday, Feb. 8) at Oklahoma City
  • Monday at Dallas
  • Wednesday vs. Houston
  • February 19 vs. San Antonio
  • February 21 vs. Sacramento
  • February 23 vs. Memphis
  • February 27 at Houston
  • March 1 at Chicago
  • March 2 at Minnesota
  • March 4 vs. Portland
  • March 8 at Golden State

That’s the starting point for games Griffin is expected to miss. If his timeline extends towards the six-week end of the spectrum, you add:

  • March 9 vs. Minnesota
  • March 11 at Oklahoma City
  • March 13 at Dallas
  • March 15 vs. Houston
  • March 17 vs. Charlotte
  • March 18 at Sacramento
  • March 20 vs. Washington
  • March 22 vs. New Orleans

That’s 19 games total. Of those, nine are against teams currently slated to make the playoffs in the West. That’s not counting three additional games against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, two teams who will be fighting for the final spot in the playoffs. Add two more games against Washington and Chicago, Eastern Conference playoff contenders, and things start to look ugly for the Clippers.

The truth of the matter is, the Clippers don’t have the depth to withstand a long-term injury to Griffin. J.J. Redick is out, too, which decimates their roster. Outside of Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and DeAndre Jordan, the roster is not pretty. Spencer Hawes will start in Griffin’s place, and he’s been a disaster so far. Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu will see their minutes increase. Redick’s absence means more minutes for Austin Rivers.

The Clippers’ best hope is to hit the buyout market. Reports have surfaced in recent days that Amar’e Stoudemire could ask the Knicks for a buyout, and he’d be a good short-term replacement for Griffin. But he can’t play the extended minutes Griffin does at his age and with his knees being what they are.

Hopefully, Griffin’s recovery is quick and his time missed is on the shorter end of the spectrum. If that happens, the Clippers should be able to salvage the end of the season and secure a playoff spot. But with how competitive the conference is, and how tough their upcoming schedule is, there’s really no margin for error now.

Report: Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson to star in ‘Space Jam 2’

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LeBron James‘ first three picks in the All-Star draft reserve round: Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard.

Like many things LeBron does, that sparked theories about him recruiting stars to the Lakers. Casting for ‘Space Jam 2’ is another generator of recruiting speculation.

So, the overlap here will surely only intensify conspiracy theories.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Davis – who tipped his involvement in the film while still with the Pelicans – is already headed to the Lakers.

But Lillard is reportedly set to sign a super-max extension with the Trail Blazers, and Klay Thompson will reportedly re-sign with the Warriors.

Still, if Lillard and Thompson get a taste of Hollywood and enjoy it…

Report: Lakers didn’t negotiate Anthony Davis trade date with Pelicans for initial agreement

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With the Lakers’ trade for Anthony Davis, timing is everything.

The Lakers and Pelicans are reportedly set to complete the deal July 6. By making the trade then rather than July 30, the earliest the No. 4 pick could be traded as a signed player, the Lakers lose significant cap space.

With the later trade, the Lakers could use about $33 million of cap room then execute the deal with Davis getting his full $4,063,953 trade bonus.

With the earlier trade and Davis reportedly intent on receiving his full trade bonus, the Lakers project to have just $24 million of cap room.

That $9 million difference keeps the Lakers from getting a max free agent or reduces their spending power for role players.

Maybe the Lakers completely understood the ramifications of finalizing the trade July 6. It takes two teams to agree, and perhaps New Orleans – which would have faced complications flipping the No. 4 pick, not gotten him into summer league and had cap space tied up through July – refused to do the trade later.

But it sure doesn’t sound as if the Lakers knew what they were doing.

Ramona Shelburne on ESPN2:

If this was really their plan, they want to have a third star, this should have been central to the conversations with the Pelicans. And my understanding is that it was not, that it went all the way down the road and it was more, it has been described to me as, the Lakers called back – after everything had been discussed – about this.

It’s not necessarily too late for the Lakers to use max cap space and get Davis. They’re reportedly scrambling to include Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones in the trade.

But Wagner, Bonga and Jones have either positive or negative value. If they have positive value, the Lakers are surrendering even more in this trade. If they have negative value, the Lakers must surrender even more value – in the form of sweeteners – in the trade.

This could all be worth it. A team with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a third star will be a championship contender next season. That matters most.

But if the Lakers handled this better, they could be in a stronger position to build around their stars. Though stars matter most, supporting casts also factor.

Or maybe New Orleans would have refused if the Lakers requested a July 30 trade date during initial negotiations. We’ll never know. But considering their massive haul, I suspect the Pelicans would have acquiesced if Los Angeles pushed. Perhaps, it would have taken a small additional asset going from the Lakers to New Orleans. But I can’t imagine it requiring more than that.

Now, by waiting until after to agreeing to terms with New Orleans, the Lakers have lost so much leverage. Their desperation shows, and preying teams – Pelicans or otherwise – will look to take advantage.

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.