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.

Former Cavaliers coach David Blatt reveals he has multiple sclerosis

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David Blatt is one of the NBA’s all-time memorable characters. Renowned for his overseas success, Blatt got hired as Cavaliers coach just before LeBron James returned. Blatt won a lot in both the regular season and playoffs, but he was cocky and had plenty of blind spots. He alienated his players, which ultimately got him fired during Cleveland’s 2015-16 championship season.

Blatt now coaches Olympiacos in Greece. Unfortunately, his story has taken a sobering turn, as he was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Blatt:

Well, the problem is the PPMS which in my case and in my age manifests itself primarily in the weakness of the legs. fatigue/balance and strength are real issues for me. I have taken on a specific regimen of strengthening and balance exercises as well as swimming and aquatic workouts to improve overall body conditioning and help with muscle pliability and motion.

I am a coach and my job is to lead and teach and inspire a lot of people. Not being as agile or active doesn’t affect my ability to do those things. I am fortunate. I have great doctors trainers physical therapists and management that accept my disabilities and help me overcome. How could I possibly complain? I absolutely cannot and will not.

This is sad news about the 60-year-old Blatt. But I appreciate his determination to overcome the setback. He was always headstrong, and that might be the exact attitude he needs right now.

Marc Gasol says Team USA still incredibly talented, “great team”

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In past Olympics and FIBA World Cup years, international observers have said the guys USA Basketball cuts from the roster — or maybe even the Select Team of young players they practice against — could win gold in their own right. The USA’s talent pool is that deep.

This year that idea is being put to the test.

After a string of high-profile players withdrawing from the team — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and on down the line — Team USA will have just one All-NBA/All-Star player on the roster in Kemba Walker.

That roster went out and comfortably beat Spain — the No. 2 ranked team in the world by FIBA — in an exhibition last Friday. While we should be careful reading too much into a friendly, Spanish center Marc Gasol told Marc Stein of the New York Times the Americans still had plenty of talent.

“I’m sure that it’s going to fuel them,” Gasol said of the loud skepticism increasingly endured by the American team.

“The amount of talent that the U.S. generates every year is unbelievable,’’ he added. “Even with all the guys that dropped out — or if you want to say these guys don’t have experience internationally — they’re still super talented physically and technically. And they’re pretty well-coached as well. So you put it all together and it’s a great team.”

(The “pretty well-coached” line is a joke, by the way, players and Gregg Popovich have that kind of relationship.)

The USA is still the team to beat in China when the World Cup tips off Aug. 31. Spain has a puncher’s chance to knock off the USA, France has some good talent on the roster, and Greece has Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Team USA should be able to comfortably beat any of those sides.

Serbia, led by Nikola Jokic, is the one team with a legitimate shot to knock off the Americans.

But Serbia is the underdog for a reason. Even with all the players choosing to stay home, the USA is the most talented roster in the tournament. The gap is narrowing, but the rest of the world has not caught up to the American talent level. What Serbia, Spain, and other countries do have is a familiarity of players and system — these guys grow up playing together and have a natural chemistry, something the USA tries to cram together in a couple of weeks. Popovich has focused on building those bonds with this team, knowing that is the area of both weakness and potential growth.

This USA team may not have the intimidating talent of previous years, but it still has enough to win. And the rest of the world knows that, even if the American public does not.

Lakers reportedly doing “due diligence” in talking to Dwight Howard

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The Lakers were going to lean heavily on DeMarcus Cousins this season. Los Angeles has arguably the best center in the game today in Anthony Davis, but he is not built for nor does he want to play 30+ minutes a night banging away down in the post. Davis wants to face up, run the floor, and play most of his minutes at the four next to a more traditional center, then slide over in key matchups and situations. Cousins was going to be that center (he and Davis have some chemistry from their time together in New Orleans).

Now Cousins is almost certainly lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the Lakers are left looking through the guys other teams have yet to sign to try to find a Cousins replacement. There are not a lot of good options, which is why the Lakers wisely plan to take their time and look at everyone.

Dwight Howard is part of that process. While the Howard camp may be excited about the prospect of returning and gaining redemption in Los Angeles, for the Lakers this is more about part of the process, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Again, as with all of free agency, when you read about a sourced story (about Howard and the Lakers for example), think about who benefits from it being public and telling a reporter about it. Think about the reporter’s connections. Shelburne is very well connected to the Laker organization, for example.

The Lakers absolutely need to take a long look at Howard. After he left Los Angeles, Howard eventually found a groove as a quality NBA center. From the 2015-16 to 2017-18 seasons, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in all of those seasons at about 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use right now. However, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season following another back surgery and some hamstring issues. He was not healthy.

The Lakers have to decide how healthy Howard is and would he be able to bounce back to the level he was in those previous three seasons? Even if he can, is he a better option than Joakim Noah, who impressed a lot of people around the league with his solid 41 games for Memphis the second half of last season? What about Kenneth Faried?

Los Angeles has a lot to consider. Howard should be part of that mix, but don’t expect a quick decision here. The Lakers have almost a month until training camp opens and are not in a rush, they want to get this right.

Report: Lakers have interest in Joakim Noah

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The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly interested in Dwight Howard. He has not yet been bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies, but a return to L.A. for Howard would be one of the most Lakers things of all time.

Howard infamously left Los Angeles under an auspicious circumstances in 2013 after things went south during the 2012-13 season between him, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. He signed with the Houston Rockets that summer.

But Howard is not the only aging center under consideration by the Lakers. According to Shams Charania, Los Angeles is also considering adding Joakim Noah to their roster.

Via Twitter:

DeMarcus Cousins’ ACL injury has created a dearth of center depth for the Lakers, one that cannot be easily filled quickly. There aren’t a lot of available players left, and Los Angeles doesn’t have much to help facilitate a trade.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis need some help moving forward if they want to go deep into the Western Conference playoffs, and having only JaVale McGee playing at the center position won’t help them do that. They need to add somebody, but Howard or Noah being the answer to that is a scary proposition for a team with championship hopes.