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Three questions the Los Angeles Clippers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, but fell to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs (continuing a disappointing string of playoff performances)

I know what you did last summer: Maybe only the Celtics have seen the kind of roster turnover the Clippers have this past summer. Chris Paul forced his way out of town — and the Clipper front office recovered from that better than anyone expected. (That front office was one of the significant changes — Doc Rivers is no longer the GM, it is Lawrence Frank who now has the hammer, and Jerry West is consulting with him). Paul forced a trade to Houston, but the Clippers got back a good haul with Patrick Beverley, Sam Decker, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. Los Angeles also quickly re-signed Blake Griffin to be the face of the franchise. The Clippers also lost J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Luc Mbah a Moute from the rotation. They did well to add Danilo Gallinari, Willie Reed, and Milos Teodosic.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CLIPPERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can the Clippers pull off a motion offense with Blake Griffin at the center of it? For years, the Clippers’ offense has been fully in the hands of Chris Paul — as it should have been. When you have one of the best point guards, one of the best floor generals the game has seen, you give him the rock. For the past six years, the Clippers’ pick-and-roll heavy offense was never worse than eighth in the league (usually top five).

With CP3 gone, Doc Rivers says the Clippers want to run, move the ball move utilizing Griffin’s passing — which is very good — and get guys moving off the ball. That sounds good on paper. Patrick Beverley is a good spot-up shooter, DeAndre Jordan can roll to the rim or make cuts down the baseline to get open for lobs, and Gallinari can both catch-and-shoot or create shots depending on the matchup. But things that look good on paper don’t always translate the same way on the court. There are questions. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams defend Griffin — will they use a long wing, a power forward, or maybe a center on him? Will they play passing lanes and dare him to drive and shoot? Griffin needs to both hit some threes (or at least mid-range jumpers) and drive to dunk/get to the line to keep teams honest.

Los Angeles will seek more balanced scoring — while Griffin and others can do it for a night, we’re not going to see a lot of 25-30 point games out of the Clippers. It’s going to be more like six guys in double digits with the leading scorer at 18. Balance can work against most teams, so long as the players buy in.

So far in the preseason, the Clippers’ offense has been up-and-down and landed in the middle of the pack (the rebounding and defense have been atrocious). It’s preseason, so we shouldn’t read too much into that. When Teodosic started for Austin Rivers against the Raptors the offense looked better, and we could see that for stretches, but Rivers is the better defender and will get most starts.

2) Can Griffin, Gallinari, and the rest of the Clippers just stay healthy? Blake Griffin missed 21 games last season, 47 the season before that, 15 the season before that. Gallinari’s 19 games missed last season was the fewest he has missed in four years. Patrick Beverley missed 15 games last season and has had his own injury issues throughout his career.

How many games is Doc Rivers going to have his preferred starting five out there? The Clippers have the best bench they have had in years this season, but that only works if those guys don’t have to slide up into the starting lineup to replace injured guys.

In the West, there are seven teams — the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Jazz — fighting for four playoff spots. The Timberwolves should be in, which would leave six relatively evenly matched teams for three spots — staying healthy will be a deciding factor. Can Rivers have his preferred starting five for 65 games? If so, the Clippers will make the postseason. If not, it gets risky.

3) The Clippers will entertain with Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic, but can they get enough stops (especially with the bench)? You need to tune into Clippers games just to see Teodosic play — he is already one of the best passers in the NBA. He has that gift. He sees things before they happen then puts the ball in the perfect spot. He is going to rack up a lot of Sports Center highlights this season. Thrown in the fearless gunner off the bench in Lou Williams and you have a Clippers second unit that should be able to score.

The question is the defense. When DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley are on the floor, the Clipper defense should be passable. However, the Clippers don’t have great wing defenders in a conference loaded with elite wings. Then there is the issue that neither Teodosic or Williams are good defenders. We will see how Rivers spaces out his rotations, but the Clippers have some weak defenders who need to get heavy minutes, and that creates challenges.

Report: Lakers eager to use LeBron James at center flanked by top four young players

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Why did the Lakers, after securing LeBron James, sign Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson? Their explanation leaves plenty to be desired.

What will the Lakers do with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma now that none of those four are being traded for Kawhi Leonard? Their plan there is far more intriguing.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.

LeBron at center is a dangerous weapon. The Cavaliers showed it more during the 2017 playoffs – to positive effect.

But LeBron isn’t Draymond Green, who makes Golden State’s Death/Hamptons Five Lineup function. Green possesses a unique combination of rim protection and – through his ball-handling and especially passing – ability to get into offense quickly. LeBron isn’t as good at protecting the paint, and though he’s lethal in transition when he wants to be, he’ll be fighting years of slow-down habits.

I also wonder how much LeBron embraces the physical toll of playing center. The Lakers have only JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner at the position. Are they banking on LeBron playing there a significant amount during the regular season?

LeBron would likely accept the role more enthusiastically in the playoffs. But Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma will be tested – at least initially – by the heightened level of play. I’d be wary of overly relying on that lineup.

But this is the best way for the Lakers to get talent on the floor and overcome spacing concerns. I’m absolutely excited to see it in action. Whatever concerns I have about it are only multiplied with other potential Lakers lineups.

Report: Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. undergoes another back surgery

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Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery in November, missed nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri then slipped to No. 14 in the draft amid injury concerns.

The Nuggets have been noncommittal about their plans for Porter, but they’ve given an eyebrow-raising update.

Nuggets release:

Michael Porter Jr. has undergone surgery of the lumbar spine at The Carrell Clinic in Dallas, Tex. The Procedure was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett. There is no timetable for his return to basketball participation.

Porter is a talented forward with the length and skill to make a major impact as a scorer.

But, as this latest surgery underscores, drafting him carried terrifying risk. Denver will have to bear that for a while.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki to re-sign with Mavericks for $5 million

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Dirk Nowitzki is set to play his 20th season – breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for most seasons with a single franchise and tying Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis for most seasons in the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s $5 million team option, but he was never signing elsewhere. He was either going to retire or play for Dallas.

Once he decided to return, the only question was money.

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s option to maximize their flexibility for upgrades, namely signing DeAndre Jordan. Once Yogi Ferrell agreed to an absurdly team-friendly contract, Dallas had enough cap space left to give Nowitzki his team-option amount. If necessary, he would have taken the $4,449,000 room exception.

Nowitzki has had a great career, and this could be his farewell tour. But he also remains a helpful rotation-level player. Though he’s a defensive liability, his outside shooting as a big goes a long way toward floor spacing.

Report: Mavericks re-signing Yogi Ferrell for less than qualifying-offer salary with second year unguaranteed

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The Mavericks expected Yogi Ferrell to accept his qualifying offer.

Turns out, they’ll keep him on an even more team-friendly deal than the one he could have unilaterally signed.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is an awful deal for Ferrell.

As reported, he’ll earn between $2,548,077 and $2,760,417 next season. That range is less than his qualifying offer – which would have paid him a fully guaranteed $2,919,204 next season.

That reduction is acceptable if Ferrell got something in exchange – but he gave Dallas the concession by adding an unguaranteed second year. If he plays well, the Mavericks will keep him at a cheap salary. If he doesn’t, they’ll waive him for no cost. They have all the control.

The promise of the backup shooting guard job is probably just lip service. Teams don’t stick by that if the player struggles. If he produces, he would have gotten the job anyway.

Dallas has plenty of point guard types – Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, J.J Barea, Jalen Brunson and Ferrell. Rick Carlisle uses two of them simultaneously often enough that Ferrell should land in the rotation. But it’s far from a lock.

With this deal, Ferrell is taking all the risk and the Mavericks are getting all the upside.