Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

DeAndre Jordan at center of multiple battles

3 Comments

DETROIT – DeAndre Jordan says he didn’t stress Thursday’s trade deadline, which passed with him – despite frequent rumors and maybe a close call with the Cavaliers – remaining on the Clippers.

“They were talking about trading me for three years, so I don’t really care about it anymore,” Jordan said. “If it happens, it happens.

“I just want to be somewhere I’m wanted. If it’s here, it’s here. If it’s not, then, hey, it’s a business.”

Do you feel wanted by the Clippers?

Jordan looked around for nine seconds before answering.

“What do you think?” he said.

I contemplated for a moment then answered honestly: “I don’t know.”

“Me neither,” Jordan replied immediately.

Jordan is caught in a series of clashes, the results of which will determine how he spends the rest of his prime. One is a genuine mystery. In a couple others, he’s fighting an uphill battle. The combination creates for immense uncertainty.

Clippers winning now vs. Clippers rebuilding

When the Clippers traded Blake Griffin, they said they wanted to keep winning, add young talent and increase flexibility. Cool. So does every team.

More often, teams face forks in the road where they must decide to prioritize one goal over another. That’ll almost certainly be the case with Jordan this offseason.

He holds a $24,119,025 player option. If he exercise it, all the trade considerations reemerge. If he declines it, the Clippers must determine how much to invest in someone who turns 30 this summer.

The Clippers just extended the contract of Lou Williams, who’s a couple years older than Jordan. That could indicate their thinking with Jordan.

Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic, who’ve started every game they’ve played for the Clippers, are also older than Jordan. Another starter, Danilo Gallinari, is just a couple weeks younger.

It wouldn’t be simple to pivot into a new direction without Jordan.

That’s even more true after signing Williams. Even if the Clippers let Jordan walk in free agency, they’d project to have about the mid-level exception to sign a replacement. With a re-signed Jordan, they’d have… the mid-level exception to spend on free agents. They have so much money committed to next season already, losing Jordan wouldn’t make much difference without other moves.

But commit to Jordan long-term, and his salary would be an impediment in 2019, when Tobias Harris‘, Austin Rivers‘, Boban Marjanovic‘s, Teodosic’s, Wesley Johnson‘s and Beverley’s contracts expire. (Rivers, Teodosic and Johnson have player options for next season that only complicate planning, but the bet here is all three opt in.)

This team probably tops out as a low playoff seed with Jordan. Without him, the lottery looks more probable – not an ideal outcome for a team already locked into so many veterans.

That’s why Williams’ extension appears telling. That seems to be the Clippers accepting a short-term plan, prioritizing a window that matches Jordan’s.

Then again, Williams extension could just be a value play. He’ll earn $8 million each of the next two years and has just $1.5 million of $8  million guaranteed the third year. Clippers executive Jerry West predicted Williams would have earned $11 million on the open market.

“Yeah, it’s the truth,” Williams said.

Williams said he signed for the security and comfort with his teammates. But this is the same franchise that just fawned over Griffin then traded him. The Clippers could eventually deal Williams – or significantly change the roster he wanted to stay with.

Williams said he didn’t think about the possibility of getting Griffinned, nor did he get any assurances of the team keeping Jordan. West said the Clippers also offered Jordan a contract extension, but the center denied that.

“I can’t wait around,” Williams said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make decisions for yourself, do what’s best for your family, and hopefully everything else falls into place.”

Jordan could still sign a contract extension until he opts out, but that seems like a remote possibility. He and the Clippers can’t even agree on whether an extension was offered. They’re going to agree to specific terms?

From the outside, it’s also difficult to tell who’s running the Clippers. Lawrence Frank holds the highest front-office title, but West is influential. And then there’s Doc Rivers, who remains coach after getting stripped of his presidency last summer.

Jordan’s value probably plummeted as soon as that happened.

“D.J. means a lot to me,” Rivers said.

The Clippers now look like most organizations, where there’s an implicit tug-of-war between the coach trying to win now and the front office looking toward the future. Rivers’ years of team-building and exit from the Celtics show his aversion to rebuilding. That’s why Rivers was pleased Jordan stayed with L.A. past the trade deadline.

“He’s the anchor,” Rivers said, “and it’s nice to keep your anchor around.”

But for how long?

Centers vs. small ball

The Clippers trading Griffin was treated as them losing their only star. But Jordan has made three All-NBA teams, including a first team, since Griffin’s last All-Star selection.

The catch: Jordan’s All-NBA accolades came at center, essentially a protected class in All-NBA voting.

The league decreasingly values centers like the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jordan. Teams are too good at exploiting traditional centers’ flaws – their lack of floor-spacing offensively, their slowness defensively. These bigs generally haven’t figured out how to exert their will in small-ball matchups, especially deep in the playoffs.

Jordan is a dinosaur, on the verge of extinction.

Of players averaging 32 minutes per game, just 8% are attempting fewer than one 3-point attempt per game. That mark has never been lower since the NBA added the 3-point arc:

image

Only Jordan, Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and Taj Gibson are doing it this season.

This hardly renders Jordan worthless, but he must excel in other areas to compensate for his hindrance on floor-spacing. The resulted are mixed.

Jordan remains an elite rebounder. He has excellent size, strength, hops, coordination and timing.

But many of those same attributes also make Jordan such a strong finisher, and there’s slippage there. He’s shooting just 68% in the restricted area – good, but well down from the 74% and 75% he shot the last two years:

image

Maybe that’s just a consequence of no longer playing with Chris Paul, who excelled at setting up Jordan for lobs. Or maybe Jordan has lost explosion due to aging.

Neither potential explanation bodes well for Jordan’s value.

More troublingly, Jordan look doesn’t look nearly as agile defending the perimeter. Jordan was fairly nimble for his size. But even moderate decline there could be disastrous in the modern NBA.

It’s not because Jordan is just hanging low to protect the rim, either. Jordan is also averaging less than one block per game – a disturbing and once-unthinkable stat for him.

Maybe he just need to be reinvigorated. It can be tough going from aiming for a championship to just trying to sneak into the playoffs. Jordan and Austin Rivers are the only players left from the Clippers team that peaked with a seven-game, second-round loss to the Rockets in 2015.

But this also at least resembles age-related decline.

Jordan has plummeted to 22nd among centers in real plus-minus this season – down from third, third, fourth and sixth the previous four years. There’s already a stigma around centers like him. Only the best of that player type thrive anymore.

The pendulum could swing back. Size is still helpful. It’s just that other skills matter more now. Teams always adjust.

Maybe another team believes it could maximize Jordan’s contributions. But can that team afford him?

2018 and 2019 free agents vs. salary-cap reality

Jordan was heavily (and infamously) recruited during 2015 free agency. He has since produced the best seasons of his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jordan expects even stronger courting next summer, especially considering the salary cap skyrocketed in 2016.

But teams are still burdened by long-term contracts signed that year, and the cap is only trickling up now. Free agents face harsh conditions the next two summers. Only a handful of teams project to have max cap space.

That’s especially tough on Jordan, who’d otherwise be in line to sign his last huge contract.

He ought to seriously consider opting in. He might not draw $24,119,025 next season if he opts out, though he might. It takes only team to value him that much. Or maybe he gets enough long-term security to outweigh a salary reduction next season.

His new agent, Jeff Schwartz, will have his work cut out assessing the market. Remember, Jordan must decide his player option before free agency even begins.

Teams can always trade to clear cap space, but will anyone be motivated to do that for Jordan, a traditional center in this league? His best bet to getting paid was ending the season with a team that values his Bird Rights. That way cap space wouldn’t be a concern.

Jordan will end the season with the Clippers. Are they that team?

Back to the original question: I don’t know.

Three Things to Know: Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch. Kyrie Irving has hit big shots before — he’s hit bigger ones on much bigger stages than he did Wednesday. This was just a reminder that Irving has that thing all the great clutch players have: He’s got the same stroke with the same confidence, the same mentality, in the final minute of a close game he does in the second quarter of a blowout. Irving doesn’t flinch. Nothing gets bigger or smaller, he just makes his play.

Against the Wizards Wednesday Irving made his play in overtime, scoring a dozen points in the frame and draining two clutch threes to get Boston its seventh straight win, 130-125 over a pesky Wizards team.

There’s nothing John Wall could have done better on either of those (and Wall had his best night of the season with 34 points and 13 assists). On the first three he was right up on Irving, into his jersey and taking away space right at the arc, and it didn’t matter. Good offense beats good defense. On the second three, Irving has range but only Stephen Curry gets guarded that far from the hoop.

The final minute of overtime — with neither team calling time out — was rare and a thing of beauty.

It should be noted, Irving doesn’t get to play the hero without big nights from Marcus Morris (27 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart (18 points, nine rebounds, some quality defense).

Boston has won seven in a row, and while they’ve done it against a softer section of the schedule: 1) you’ve got to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat; 2) it’s building confidence for when the schedule gets tougher again.

The Celtics look like a team that is back. It’s just a lot more crowded at the top of the East than we expected.

2) Anthony Davis makes his MVP case willing Pelicans to victory over Thunder. It’s not fair to say that Anthony Davis single-handedly beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night. Jrue Holiday did have 20 points and 10 assists — but he also had two crucial turnovers late that almost sank the Pelicans.

New Orleans is not deep, has holes in its roster, but when Anthony Davis plays like this — 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting,18 rebounds, and he got to the free throw line 11 times and hit every shot — they can hang with anyone. Because Davis is that good. He is in the early MVP conversation for a reason.

This was Davis’ second straight game of 40+, he did that to Boston a couple of nights earlier. He is just a joy to watch this season because he is playing at such a high level on both ends.

3) Toronto makes its case, sweeps season series by crushing Golden State at Oracle. Warriors fans went full on peak Shaq/Kobe spoiled Lakers fans Wednesday night — they just left the game early. Better to beat the traffic and go get some drinks/go home and go to bed rather than watch Toronto just pick apart the Warriors any longer.

And make no mistake, the Raptors picked apart the Warriors. Their game plan was well crafted, executed even better, and the Raptors defended beautifully all night.

Toronto came into Golden State in what was touted as a potential Finals preview, but right now only one of these teams is playing like a team hungry and building toward a championship. And it’s not the reigning champions. The Warriors had one of their disinterested nights, a game where they turned the ball over 17 times and shot 23.1 percent from 3-point range.

Do that against the Raptors right now and they will thrash you — which is exactly what happened. Even without Kawhi Leonard (out for a second straight game with a hip injury). The Raptors are defending and executing at a high level right now, so much so they are 7-1 without Leonard in the lineup. Serge Ibaka’s redemption tour continued with 20 points and 12 rebounds as he destroyed anyone the Warriors threw at him. Kyle Lowry had 23 and is all the way out of his slump (that showed against the Clippers the night before).

Danny Green may have been the most underrated pickup of the summer (coming from San Antonio in the Kawhi trade) and added 15.

But mostly, it was the Raptors defense, which held the Warriors to a 93 points per 100 possessions pace, that got them the win.

If these two teams meet in the Finals — and that is a real possibility, with Leonard this should be a different Toronto team in the postseason — the game will not look like this. It will be a fully engaged Golden State squad, one that can also roll out DeMarcus Cousins. But right now, the Raptors are building good habits and building confidence toward that moment.

The Warriors are just waiting to flip the switch.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jeremy Lamb drained a game winner… that his teammates almost screw up with celebration. Usually we’d just be celebrating Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner — and marveling that someone other than Kemba Walker could hit a clutch shot for Charlotte.

But in this case, it’s the celebrations of Bismack Biyombo and Malik Monk — running out onto the court with 0.3 seconds left and getting a technical that put the result in doubt again — that became the story.

First, that’s an amazing shot by Lamb because he has to adjust, Walker’s pass is not on target.

But if you watch the video, you can see Biyombo almost out at midcourt to grab Lamb before the ball is inbounded. He was so far out on the court that the refs probably didn’t see him and called the technical on Monk. Michael Jordan was none too pleased.

But because the Pistons were out of time outs, the Hornets survive and get the win.

Phoenix council postpones vote on Suns arena renovation

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2 Comments

PHOENIX (AP) — The City Council has postponed a vote on a proposed $230 million renovation of the Talking Stick Resort Arena that would keep the Suns in downtown Phoenix.

The council agreed unanimously Wednesday to postpone a decision until Jan. 23 so residents can attend five public meetings to be held around Phoenix to discuss the project.

Suns owner Robert Sarver reportedly threatened to move the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if not given enough public funding.

Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley says the organization looks forward to the public discussions and to answering any questions about the proposed renovation.

The deal would revamp the nearly 30-year-old arena, the oldest in the NBA that is not currently being renovated.

The Suns agreed to a 40-year lease in 1992, but the deal included a provision for the team to opt out at 30 years.

Final minute of Celtics-Wizards featured five-possession, 10-point, no-stoppage stretch (video)

Leave a comment

Crunch time of a close NBA game is awesome.

It’s exponentially better when nobody calls timeout.

The Celtics and Wizards finished with a flourish tonight, Boston coming out ahead in a frenetic final minute. The last minute included two Kyrie Irving 3-pointers (one tightly contested, one extremely deep) and a sharp drive by John Wall (who had just returned to the game from an injury).

After a flow-killing foul in the final few seconds, the Celtics won, 130-25.

More games should be like this.

Jeremy Lamb hits game-winner despite Bismack Biyombo, others Hornets prematurely running on court to celebrate

Leave a comment

The Hornets sure were excited for Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner against the Pistons tonight.

Too excited.

After Lamb hit a jumper to put Charlotte up two with 0.3 seconds left, several Hornets ran onto the court. Bismack Biyombo was nearly at halfcourt as Detroit tried to inbound! He was so far onto the court, I’m not even sure officials noticed him when dinging Malik Monk – closer to the bench –for the violation.

Ashley Holder:

The Pistons made a technical free throw to cut their deficit to one, but they still had to inbound from under their own basket. Their desperation pass was intercepted, and Charlotte held on for a 108-107 win.

Several Hornets were certainly relieved.

Crazily enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this.