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Clippers make changes, but progress?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Chris Paul is fantastic, the best point guard between Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry.

Paul’s departure might also help the Clippers – in the short- and long-term.

The same unrelenting unacceptance of anything less than perfection that drives Paul to personal greatness can also grate those around him. J.J. Redick spoke openly of a loss of joy. After six seasons together, Paul’s message might have worn especially thin on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This could be a breath of fresh air in the locker room.

L.A’s return in the trade with the Rockets – Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick – certainly softens the blow. That’s 1.5 starting-caliber players, 3.5 rotation-caliber players and a first-rounder – a very nice return if Paul were leaving anyway.

Long-term, it’s easy to see how committing $201 million over five years to a 32-year-old could backfire. The Clippers reportedly balked at that five-year max offer, but even the four-year max would’ve meant paying Paul $43 million at age 35.

There was a fine case for the Clippers to get younger and leaner (and happier) without Paul. Maybe they could’ve even ridden their Paul-built prestige, unprecedented in franchise history, and the L.A. market to chase the biggest free agents in the next couple years.

Except they didn’t do that.

The Clippers fell right back into win-now mode with risky bets.

They re-signed Griffin to a five-year max contract worth more than $171 million. They signed-and-traded for Danilo Gallinari, guaranteeing the forward nearly $65 million over three years and flipping the Houston first-rounder (while also shedding the overpaid Jamal Crawford).

Griffin, Gallinari and Beverley – the centerpiece of the Paul trade – are all nice players. But they all also carry significant injury risk. The 28-year-old Griffin has missed 83 games the last three years. The 29-year-old Gallinari has missed 203 games the last seven years, and he already hurt his thumb punching an opponent while playing for Italy. The 29-year-old Beverley has missed 78 games the last four years.

Injuries could derail any season with that trio leading the team, and whether the Clippers can shift courses anytime soon is out of their control. They have more than $49 million tied to player options for DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025), Austin Rivers ($12.65 million), Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million) and Wesley Johnson ($6,134,520) next summer .

Even just the likeliest of those four, Austin Rivers, opting in would leave L.A. without max cap space. I’d also bet on Johnson, who has fallen into Doc Rivers’ doghouse, opting in.

Will the Clippers want Jordan and Teodosic to opt in or out? Those are mysteries – a particularly high-stakes one with Jordan, a premier center who will turn 30 next year.

Jordan’s situation will be especially tricky given Griffin and Gallinari. Griffin might be best at center, and Gallinari is certainly optimized at power forward. Does Jordan add more talent or create more of a logjam on this team?

At this point, I would’ve rather just maxed out Paul and Griffin for five years and hoped the franchises problems stemmed from bad luck. Foolproof? Hardly, especially because even if luck were the culprit, the people involved believing otherwise could’ve had lasting destructive effects on their mindsets.

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers didn’t necessarily have that choice. Paul might have left for James Harden and the Rockets even with a five-year max offer from L.A.. Re-signing Paul could’ve also pushed out Griffin.

There’s no choice but to grade the Clippers moves with some guesses at the counterfactual.

At least they clearly did well on some smaller moves.

Teodosic, who starred in Europe, is an intriguing 30-year-old rookie. Willie Reed appeared to be nice value at the minimum, but a domestic-violence charge is concerning. Kudos to owner Steve Ballmer for spending to acquire second-rounders Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell.

Still, all these smaller additions must be weighed against the smaller departures: Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton and Crawford. Those are several contributors heading out the door.

One key person staying? Coach Doc Rivers, who was stripped of his presidency after a lousy front-office tenure.

But how much did the Clippers really learn from the Rivers era? They put Lawrence Frank, another coach with no front-office experience before arriving in L.A., in charge of roster construction.

At least Frank can focus on only one job, not the two Rivers was handling. And Jerry West, Michael Winger and Trent Redden will provide a depth of front-office expertise this franchise was sorely lacking.

With lots of new faces and titles, the Clippers are in a more captivating place – but one that doesn’t look substantively different enough to be preferable to their old place.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: FBI investigating Big Baller Brand co-founder Gregory Alan Foster

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It’s sad that people take advantage of athletes. A lot of people do it when these guys are very young and clearly talented, and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is no stranger to that.

Ball cut ties with his Big Baller Brand earlier this year, even covering up his “BBB” tattoo with a bad-looking pair of dice. This was because Gregory Alan Foster, one of his confidants and business partners, allegedly stole money from the company to the tune of several million dollars.

Now the FBI is reportedly investigating Foster for his involvement in bilking money from Ball.

Via LA Times:

The FBI is now investigating whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to two law enforcement sources. While it’s unclear when exactly the official investigation began, one of those sources said it is at least two months old.

Lonzo Ball and the family’s shoe and clothing business recently accused Foster in a lawsuit of taking more than $1.5 million out of the company’s bank accounts and accepting “substantial undisclosed referral fees” from at least eight loans he arranged on behalf of the company.

“[Foster is] like my second dad,” Lonzo replied. “So when he came to me, I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

According to the Times, Foster’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Ball will be able to recover some kind of financial damages from all of this.

Spurs’ smart defense, veterans force Game 7 with 120-103 win over Nuggets

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Nikola Jokic had a career night — 43 points, a personal and franchise playoff best, plus 12 rebounds and nine assists. Once again the two-man game, the pick-and-roll with him and Jamal Murray got into the lane and carved up San Antonio.

The Spurs lived with that. What they did, however, was not collapse off Denver’s shooters to help in the paint — to try to contest twos but give up good-look threes. Denver got its buckets inside — they won the points in the paint battle 72-36 — but shot just 8-of-31 outside the paint on the night.

The Nuggets stars took the shots they were given — Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — but the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets were missing. The Spurs took that away.

Combine that with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 10-of-18 shooting), DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 12-of-16 shooting), and Rudy Gay (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) stepping up and you end up with the Spurs pulling away for a 120-103 Game 6 win on their home court.

It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver. The winner advances to take on Portland in the second round.

“We didn’t defend tonight, from the jump ball,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “They came out and scored 34 points in the first quarter, shot 70 percent or close to it [66.7 percent in first], and to give up 120 points in a potential elimination game, 57 [percent shooting]. It just wasn’t good enough.”

The game was decided by a 22-4 San Antonio run that spanned the end of the third and into the start of the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets pulled away.

“It was turnovers for us, it was offensive rebounds for them, and just no defense,” Malone said of the run.

The other difference in the game was the three-point shooting, an area where the Nuggets have dominated through the first five games. Thursday both teams took 24 shots from three, but the Spurs made 10 and the Nuggets six. That’s a dozen points to San Antonio in an area Denver needs to win.

It was like that all night.

San Antonio came out playing like the desperate team on the brink of elimination, playing with energy and staring out 7-of-10 from the floor. The Spurs built up a 10-point point first-quarter lead behind Aldridge, who had 13 points in the first quarter, 6-of-9 from the floor, plus the team shot 65.4 percent for the quarter.

Denver was not phased (this was the fifth time in six games they lost the first quarter), and after shooting 0-of-7 in the first quarter hit 4-of-5 to start the second. The Nuggets got back to playing the kind of ball-movement hoops — with a lot of Murray and Jokic playing off each other and scoring — and the Nuggets grabbed the lead back in the quarter. However, after a DeRozan putback bucket off his own missed free throw at the buzzer gave the Spurs a 64-60 lead at the half. That hustle play seemed to signify the Spurs night.

The game was close through much of the third, but the trends favored San Antonio.

Then the late-quarter run started, and Denver faded. Now they need to find their mojo on the plane home, because Saturday is win-or-go-home for everybody.

Chris Paul doesn’t like anyone touching the top of his head (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul is listed at six feet tall, and he’s definitely not any shorter than that. Nope, no sir. To even suggest as much would be ridiculous!

In any case, Paul is shorter than most of his teammates because he plays in the NBA. As such, Paul has probably had a lifetime of everyone towering over him despite his obvious incredible talent surpassing those of his compatriots.

So maybe being touched on the top of the head is a weird “thing” for him? At least, that’s what it appeared to be from this video.

Via Twitter:

You know somebody has a trigger when they are ready to turn around and fight you after a playoff series win, especially when they’re your own teammate.

Note to everybody: don’t touch the top of Chris Paul’s head.

Hall of Famer and Celtics hero John Havlicek dies at 79

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Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek has died.

According to the team, the 13-time All-Star passed away peacefully in his home in Jupiter, Fla. The Celtics released an announcement on their website marking Havlicek contribution to the team.

Via Boston Celtics:

John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters. His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA.  He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.  A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.  We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

No matter what kind of basketball fan you are, if you know anything about the history of the game you at least have the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” burned into the folds of your brain.

That famous steal came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to seal a Game 7 win against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Finals that season.

Thoughts are with Havlicek family and Celtics fans, who of course will remember him in their own special way today.