Associated Press

Stunned Clippers waiting for next shoe to drop after Griffin trade

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LOS ANGELES — All season long, hanging on the corner of the massive television showing game clips in the Clippers’ locker room, there has been a black baseball-style cap, with three words in white on it:

“Next Man Up.”

All season long the Clippers have lived up to that motto. A roster decimated by injuries — from Patrick Beverley being out for the season to ironman DeAndre Jordan missing a few games — has seen the next guy step up night after night, and the team has scrapped its way to stay in the mix for a playoff slot in the West.

Tuesday night felt different.

It was different.

Blake Griffin wasn’t in the building, but this time it wasn’t a knee injury or a concussion — he had been traded to Detroit. His jersey was not hanging in a locker, Tobias Harris’ was.

The overwhelming sense around the team Tuesday night was shock — with a heavy dose of “when will the other shoe drop?” The trade deadline is just more than a week away, and the Clippers have embarked down a road that may well see the team’s other top players — DeAndre Jordan or Lou Williams — moved before next Thursday. Players were reeling from the sharp change of direction.

“Nobody saw that coming, we’re all surprised by it,” Austin Rivers said. “We all love Blake.”

The move was so out of left field to Rivers refused to believe it at first.

“I had missed calls from my teammates, and then I talked to Wes (Wesley Johnson), he called me and was like ‘you heard?’ I said ‘That’s fake news, that’s not true,’” the younger Rivers said. “Then I saw it. You know, you hear so many rumors you don’t know what’s true or not, and then I saw it. I was just surprised by it.”

Everyone was trying to wrap their head around the move — and what likely will follow.

“The organization felt like it was best for our team now and along the future,” said Jordan, in a monotone voice, reflecting the combination of shock and “what’s next?” that hung over the team.

What could well be next is Jordan and Williams following Griffin out the door before the Feb. 8 trade deadline as the Clippers look to acquire pieces that jump-start their rebuild and free up cap space. Even if the two are not gone then, it’s hard to envision them with the Clippers past this season. Coach Doc Rivers, as well as owner Steve Ballmer in a statement, both said that making the playoffs remains the franchise goal, but the team’s actions signal a different priority.

The Griffin trade — which coach Rivers said was rooted in the team’s playoff failures — signaled the Clippers have changed course. Dramatically.

Which is why this trade caught people off guard, Los Angeles could have started a rebuild last summer when Chris Paul and J.J. Redick pushed their way out the door and never looked back, but instead the Clippers re-signed Griffin to a five-year, $173 million contract (then went out and signed Danilo Gallinari to a three-year deal). They told Griffin he would be a “Clipper for life” and he believed it. Quietly, when the microphones were off, teammates said Griffin was crushed by the trade but was trying to see it as a new chapter.

It’s not easy because Griffin was more than just the face of the Clippers, he’s a guy who changed the franchise. Griffin was the draft pick Los Angeles got right. After the blown picks such as Michael Olowokandi, Yaroslav Korolev, and Benoit Benjamin (among others), Griffin came in as a No. 1 pick who was talented and driven, looking for success. Realizing the rare opportunity, Mike Dunleavy Sr. convinced then-owner Donald Sterling the organization needed to grow up and be more professional, and things happened such as Baron Davis and other guys without Griffin’s work ethic being moved. Griffin changed the culture of the franchise.

“I really believe it’s pre-Blake and post-Blake,” coach Doc Rivers said of Griffin’s impact on the franchise. “Before Blake came here, this wasn’t a great franchise… But when Blake got here, and then CP (Chris Paul) and DJ (DeAndre Jordan) followed, that’s when this really became a franchise you talked about.”

Now Griffin is gone, in a sudden act that may well have been the right basketball move but is still very painful for the franchise and its players.

“We had a lot of great times together and he’ll be a good friend of mine after basketball,” DeAndre Jordan said. “It’s tough to see him go.”

“Blake was a great teammate, a great teacher,” C.J. Wilson said. “He taught me how to be a professional. He taught me how to take each day on as a new day — no matter what happened yesterday you have to move on to the next thing. I just watched how hard he worked and everything, and I just learned from that. I try to implement that in my life.”

The vibe in the arena was different as well. Where the Clippers usually put massive posters of their players — heavily featuring Griffin — over the Lakers championship banners in Staples Center, Tuesday night it was just black curtains. Like those used at a funeral. On the court, the Clippers showed some heart and didn’t fold down 22 in the third to Portland. They made it enough of a game late that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum didn’t get to ice their knees in the fourth, but in the end Los Angeles lost.

Many players turned to the “you can only control what you can control” line about the situation, because they had no control over the situation. Guys understand this is a business intellectually, but that doesn’t lessen the sting.

“Everyone understands, and he’s a player that understands, the NBA business, sometime’s it’s tough,” Danilo Gallinari said, confirming that he had spoken with Griffin since the trade…. “It was unexpected, every one of us didn’t expect this.”

Everyone understands. Everyone knows it’s “next man up.” But everyone is also waiting for the next big shoe to drop. Unsettled will be the modus operandi for the Clippers for at least the next week.

Watch LeBron James pass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list

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LeBron James just passed a Laker legend.

Kobe Bryant may be No. 1 in the hearts of Lakers fans, but he is now No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after LeBron James passed him with a layup with 7:23 left in the third quarter. The basket gave LeBron 33,644 points.

LeBron got a massive ovation from the Philly fans for his accomplishment.

Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

LeBron now has Karl Malone (second) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the scoring list. Kareem was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week with Frank Isola and Brendan Haywood and said LeBron could pass him if he’s focused.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Another report Wizards shooting down all trade talk around Davis Bertans

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Washington GM Tommy Shepard has been clear and not changed his position: he had no intention of trading Davis Bertans.

Instead, the plan is to re-sign the sharpshooting 6’10” power forward this summer. Bertans — who averages 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game — would fit well as a floor spacer on a John Wall/Bradley Beal team looking to make noise in the playoffs next season.

That has not stopped teams from looking at the Wizards situation, then calling to see if they can land Bertans in a deadline trade — a floor-spacing big could help teams such as Denver and Boston. However, those teams are still getting hung up on according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal. Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline.

Shepard and Washington are making a bet Bertans wants to stay in Washington, he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Washington gets the sense Bertans wants out this summer, they need to trade him now and get something in return. If they believe he wants to return, then they need to get owner Ted Leonsis to open up the checkbook. After this breakout season, and at a position of need for a lot of teams around the league, Bertans likely will get offers at or above $17 million a season, and Washington might need to overpay a little to keep him.

Washington’s plan — as evidenced by words and actions — is not to rebuild but to get healthy and make a run up the East standings next season. They have Beal (playing at an All-NBA level this season), they get Wall back (he has looked good in practice of late), and from there they re-sign Bertans, count on growth from rookie Rui Hachimura, and put together a roster of role players who can win games in the East. 

Debate amongst yourselves if that is the smart direction to go, it’s clearly the one the Wizards have chosen.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.