Clippers, after year of talent upgrades, still facing major bench problems

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Jamal Crawford, too long the Clippers’ only reliable reserve, couldn’t believe how much talent president/coach Doc Rivers has added given the team’s salary-cap constraints.

In the last year, Doc has traded for or signed:

  • Austin Rivers, the No. 10 overall pick just three years ago
  • Lance Stephenson, who finished second in 2014 Most Improved Player voting and played at a near-All-Star level that season – at just age 23
  • Paul Pierce, whose lengthy résumé – an All-NBA second team, three All-NBA third teams, 10 All-Star appearances and an NBA Finals MVP – will send him to the Hall of Fame
  • Josh Smith, a Defensive Player of the Year runner-up and multi-time near-All-Star

Crawford, an unapologetic gunner, was so impressed with the haul, he’s even deferring more.

“I’m trying to get them as comfortable as possible, so I’m not being the normal assassin,” Crawford said. “…For years, I’ve been the guy, period. I still am that guy, but we still have more guys to help me out. So, I’m trying to help them out.”

They need it.

The Clippers have four standout players: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. When those four share the floor, the Clippers outscore opponents by 14.5 points per 48 minutes. Otherwise, the Clippers get outscored by 5.4 points per 48 minutes.

Relative to every other teams’ most-used quartet, the Clippers’ +14.5 per 48 is second only to the Warriors (+24.4) and a decent step above the third-ranking Thunder (+11.9) and fifth-ranking Spurs (+10.8).

But the Clippers’ -5.4 with other lineups ranks just 24th in league – well behind those other Western Conference contenders. Top-ranked San Antonio (+14.5), second-ranked Golden State (+10.1) and fifth-ranked Oklahoma City (+4.6) continue doing damage once substitutions begin.

Simply, the Clippers look like a Western Conference contender when Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick share the court. Otherwise – even relative to other teams’  backup-infused units – the Clippers look like a lottery team.

The Clippers’ 19.9-per-48-minutes point difference from their their most-used quartet (+14.5) to their other lineups (-5.4) is the largest drop in the NBA. Here’s how each team’s performance with its most-used quartet on the floor (solid) changes when it goes to other lineups (faded):

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Team Most-used quartet Quartet +/- per 48 minutes Other lineups +/- per 48 minutes Difference
LAC Griffin-Jordan-Paul-Redick +14.5 -5.4 +19.9
NOP Anderson-Davis-Gordon-Smith +10.7 -8.5 +19.2
DET Caldwell-Pope-Drummond-Jackson-Morris +11.3 -7.8 +19.1
SAC Cousins-Gay-McLemore-Rondo +9.6 -5.2 +14.9
GSW Barnes-Curry-Green-Thompson +24.4 +10.1 +14.3
DAL Matthews-Nowitzki-Pachulia-Williams +7.5 -2.9 +10.4
POR Aminu-Lillard-McCollum-Plumlee +5.5 -4.4 +9.9
HOU Ariza-Beverley-Harden-Howard +6.1 -3.5 +9.6
MIL Antetokounmpo-Carter-Williams-Middleton-Monroe +0.2 -8.0 +8.2
OKC Adams-Durant-Ibaka-Westbrook +11.9 +4.6 +7.3
PHO Bledsoe-Knight-Morris-Tucker +2.9 -2.1 +5.0
MIN Garnett-Rubio-Towns-Wiggins +1.7 -2.5 +4.2
ATL Horford-Korver-Millsap-Teague +3.4 -0.4 +3.7
UTA Favors-Hayward-Hood-Neto +2.2 -1.5 +3.7
BRK Jack-Johnson-Lopez-Young -5.4 -7.5 +2.1
CHA Batum-Jefferson-Walker-Williams +5.4 +3.7 +1.7
NYK Anthony-Calderon-Lopez-Porzingis -1.6 -1.7 +0.1
CHI Butler-Gasol-Rose-Snell +1.8 +1.9 -0.2
BOS Crowder-Johnson-Sullinger-Thomas +3.8 +4.0 -0.2
WAS Beal-Gortat-Porter-Wall -6.0 -4.3 -1.7
DEN Faried-Gallinari-Harris-Mudiay -5.9 -4.1 -1.8
LAL Clarkson-Hibbert-Randle-Russell -11.6 -8.7 -3.0
SAS Duncan-Green-Leonard-Parker +10.8 +14.5 -3.7
TOR Carroll-DeRozan-Lowry-Scola +0.1 +4.2 -4.1
MEM Allen-Conley-Gasol-Randolph -8.6 -3.6 -5.0
MIA Bosh-Dragic-Wade-Whiteside -2.7 +4.2 -7.0
ORL Fournier-Harris-Payton-Vucevic -2.9 +4.3 -7.3
CLE James-Love-Mozgov-Williams -2.9 +7.6 -10.5
IND Ellis-George-Hill-Mahinmi -4.5 +8.9 -13.4
PHI Grant-McConnell-Okafor-Stauskas -28.6 -10.6 -18.0

Remarkably, it doesn’t matter whom the Clippers play with Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick. It always works.

Three players – Luc Mbah a Moute, Stephenson and Wesley Johnson – have started multiple games with the quartet. Each five-man lineup has produced offensive/defensive/net ratings near the Warriors’ overall marks (113.1/97.8/+15.3).

Here’s how the Clippers have performed with their big four and:

  • Mbah a Moute: 109.7/96.8/+12.9
  • Stephenson: 115.0/97.3/+17.7
  • Johnson: 113.6/96.7/+-16.9

Here’s how that compares to the overall ratings of the other Western Conference contenders – Warriors (113.1/97.8/+15.3), Spurs (106.1/92/+14.1) and Thunder(107.7/99.9/+7.9). The bounds are set to the NBA’s best and worst offensive and defensive ratings, and the axes represent the median marks

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The Clippers’ defense is excellent with their big four, and their offense is literally off the charts.

Doc appreciates having a unit he can count on.

“That helps, but we want two,” Doc said. “And we’re working on that.”

It’ll take more work than the Clippers hoped, though that wasn’t entirely unpredictable.

You can scroll up to see the optimistic view of the newcomers, but there was certainly another outlook.

Austin needed significant improvement just to become a viable NBA player, though he thinks much more highly of himself and too often plays like it. The Hornets seemed fed up with Stephenson from nearly the moment they signed him. Pierce is 38 years old. Smith was so unproductive in Detroit, the Pistons ate more than $30 million to waive him.

Doc has tried multiple solutions – playing all the reserves together, staggering when Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick sit and even recently giving Stephenson a DNP-CD. The results have all been similar: The Clippers look uncomfortable playing together whenever reserves infiltrate the lineup.

Maybe that will get better with time. Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick didn’t immediately click to this degree. Now, those four mesh seamlessly, their styles complementing each other. Stephenson, Smith and Pierce have the varied skill sets to find ways to help  – if they put their minds to it. It doesn’t help that Smith is in a contract year, and Stephenson faces the likelihood of having his 2016-17 team option declined.

The 16-10 Clippers can get by in the regular season like this, but this isn’t a recipe for playoff success. In the postseason, their most important question could become: How much playing time can Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick handle before fatigue causes their performance to decline? The answer, after a round or maaaaybe even two, will almost certainly be “not enough.”

Still, the Warriors have been so dominant when they use their best players – even more so than the Clippers. Unless Golden State comes back down to earth, it might not even matter if the Clippers’ reserves make tremendous strides.

But for the Clippers to have any chance of winning big in May and June, they need to find a rotation – not just a four-man unit – that works. Despite all their efforts, they’re still not close.

Marc Gasol goes for history when Spain meets Argentina in World Cup final

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BEIJING (AP) — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving.

Those are the only five players to win an NBA title and a gold medal in the same year, whether it was in FIBA or Olympic competition, with Pippen doing it twice.

It is an exclusive club – one that Marc Gasol is on the cusp of joining.

A mere three months after helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Finals, Gasol has led Spain to the gold medal game at the World Cup. It’ll be Spain against Argentina on Sunday, with both nations looking for their second title. Spain won the world championship in 2006 when Gasol was a 21-year-old backup, and Argentina won the inaugural tournament in 1950.

“I’m so deep in the rabbit hole right now that I don’t get to see much light,” Gasol said. “You’re so focused on your opponent, your next rival, recovering, doing whatever’s necessary to win games that you don’t look at the big picture. It’s been great. I’m very fortunate.

“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically. But it’s so worth it, and not just because we’re in the final game.”

He simply willed Spain into the final game.

Gasol scored 33 points – his career-high for any of the 18 FIBA-sanctioned or Olympic tournaments he’s played over the last 18 years – in Spain’s double-overtime win against Australia in the semifinals. He gave up his NBA offseason to be part of this team, a group that failed to medal at the last World Cup in Spain five years ago, and knows he might not have too many more years left on the international stage.

“It’s the responsibility of passing along that commitment, that loyalty to the team,” said Gasol, who still remembers the thrill of getting invitation letters from the Spanish federation to be part of youth teams when he was 11 or 12. “Those values that we were taught so many years with the older players, now it’s our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation. And that’s not talent, that’s just commitment.”

Argentina has one of those passing-legacy-on players, too.

Luis Scola, 39 years old, was part of the team that won gold for Argentina at the 2004 Athens Olympics – and he’s been the best player for his team at the World Cup. He scored 28 points in the semifinal win over France, and on a team that has flashy guards who aren’t afraid to throw behind-the-back passes in any situation Scola has been the steadying force in the biggest moments.

“I’m only 27,” France center Rudy Gobert said as he lauded Scola after the semifinal matchup. “Maybe when I’m 39, I’ll know the secrets that Scola knows.”

Here’s some of what to know going into Sunday’s final:

DOUBLING UP

Pippen’s double-gold years came in 1992 and 1996 with Chicago. Jordan’s was in 1992 with the Bulls, James’ was in 2012 with Miami and Irving’s was in 2016 with Cleveland – all of those being Olympic years. Odom played on the U.S. world championships team in 2010, after his Los Angeles Lakers won that year’s NBA Finals.

OTHER DOUBLES

There have been 14 U.S. women who won a WNBA title along with a World Cup or Olympic gold medal in the same year, led by Sue Bird – who did it three times (2004 Olympics, 2010 world championship, 2018 World Cup).

UNBEATENS

Spain and Argentina are the only unbeaten teams left in the World Cup, each 7-0 so far. This is the fourth time that the gold medal will be decided in a game between unbeaten teams. The others: U.S. over Turkey (both 8-0 entering) in 2010, Spain over Greece (both 8-0) in 2006, and Argentina over the U.S. (both 5-0) at the first world championship in 1950.

NBA players’ union, agents, send letter to NCAA saying no to its power grab

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NBA agents are already certified, either by the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) and in some cases by states.

Now the NCAA thinks it should be the certification body for agents who want to talk to college players. The players’ union is pushing back against the NCAA’s decree in a letter, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports:

“While we refuse to subject ourselves to these regulations, our biggest concern is that the process itself undermines the ability of student-athletes to truly receive the most competent representation when they are testing the waters. By continuing to legislate in a manner that ignores the realities of the world that student-athletes with professional prospects live in, the NCAA is only entrenching an ecosystem that cultivates and fosters an atmosphere of distrust among the student-athletes whom the NCAA is supposed to protect, thus pushing these kids out of school far before they are ready.

“Every year, men’s basketball student-athletes continue to make poor decisions on whether to remain in the NBA Draft or return to school. We share in the NCAA’s goal of wanting to correct this problem, yet NCAA legislation continues to demonize and marginalize agents and furthers a negative stigma instead of making strides toward working cooperatively to ensure that student-athletes get the most accurate and competent counsel to make great career and life decisions.

“Competent, established, and experienced agents have no incentive to subject themselves to this legislation, and its overly burdensome procedures and oversight. As such, men’s basketball student-athletes who are testing the NBA Draft waters will be forced to listen to people who do not have the experience, knowledge, and network to truly help them make the best decisions. While we do not want to see this happen, it is inevitable under the proposed process.”

This is about power and control — right now the players’ union and teams have it, the NCAA wants to be the body who has power over agents reaching college players. The agents aren’t going to play along. They might agree to a bi-annual seminar according to the report, but the agents aren’t looking to play along.

The NCAA and players’ union are talking to find a compromise, and they may well get there, but it will not be on the just the NCAA’s terms. The NCAA’s rule, as they laid it out, would essentially give the body subpoena and investigative powers (which one can argue it has already shown it does not handle well).

Expect this to drag out for a while, because the NCAA is not good at knowing the limits of its power.

Warriors’ teammates praise Shaun Livingston upon his retirement

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Shaun Livingston has decided to retire after a 15-year NBA career that saw the highest of highs — including three championship rings — and the lowest of lows. He was a model professional who played his game his way while the NBA around him evolved and changed.

His announcement brought out praise from teammates and his coach in Golden State.

In the comments on Livingston’s Instagram post announcing his retirement, Klay Thompson wrote: “‘Cheat code!’ … the definition of a warrior, thank you for being the best leader and teammate. Enjoy retirement my guy.”

Warriors POBO and GM Bob Myers released this statement.

“Shaun Livingston’s story is one of the most inspirational in the history of professional sports. What he accomplished after suffering so many trials and tribulations early in his career is a true testament to who he is as a person, which has always been characterized by tremendous class, grace and professionalism. He represents everything that you’d want in a professional athlete and, most importantly, in a human being. We appreciate what he did for our team and organization over the last five years, becoming a three-time NBA champion and a key figure on one of the best teams in NBA history. We wish him well as he begins the next phase in his life.”

The Warriors also released a tribute video.

 

Klay Thompson Foundation to donate to Bahamas relief effort; he slams Trump over refugees

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Klay Thompson‘s father Mychal — a former No. 1 NBA draft pick who played a dozen NBA seasons and picked up two rings as a member of the Showtime Lakers — was born in the Bahamas. The Thompson family has long had a special relationship with the island, with Klay having spent a lot of time there in his youth.

In the wake of the devastation hurricane Dorrian left on the island — with a death toll of more than 50 plus another 1,300 people still missing — Thompson announced that all the proceeds from an upcoming charity golf event will go to help the island recover, plus the foundation will match all the money raised, essentially doubling the donation.

Then Thompson, in the comments of his Instagram post, took a shot at President Donald Trump and his administration for blocking hurricane refugees from coming to the United States.

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These past few weeks have been so unimaginably hard for Bahamians, especially on the islands of Abaco and Freeport. People have lost everything- loved ones, family, possessions, homes. Whatever you cherish it’s gone for these communities. This is far from a quick fix, it will take years and years of rebuilding. The @thompsonfamilyfoundation will do everything in its power to help with relief efforts right now and for many years to come. All contributions no matter how big or small will go long way and are greatly appreciated. Secondly, shame on our current administration for not welcoming our Bahamian neighbors in their greatest time of need. I’ve been so lucky to visit my family in Nassau since childhood, and in those times I’ve seen countless Americans use the Bahamian islands as their playground for letting loose and vacationing. And now we turn our back on the people who welcomed us with open arms, when they’ve lost everything !? There’s no excuse for this… and if you have one your a real piece of 💩 Bahamians will persevere, but help along the way is greatly appreciated. Thank you ❤️ 🇧🇸

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Traditionally, in the wake of a natural disaster, residents of nations are given “Temporary Protected Status” by the United States government allowing them come and work in the U.S. until it is deemed safe to return to their native land. Under the Trump administration, that has not been granted to the people of the Bahamas fleeing the destruction from Dorian.