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DeAndre Jordan at center of multiple battles

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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:

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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:

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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.

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.

Kawhi Leonard tries to downplay leg issue, “I’m good”

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Toronto won a gritty Game 3 at home — and are back in the Eastern Conference Finals — because of Kawhi Leonard.

From the opening tip, he was the man guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo (although in a game with a lot of switching plenty of others also got their shot). It was the biggest adjustment Toronto coach Nick Nurse made — and it worked. Antetokounmpo had 12 points on 16 shots in the game and, according to ESPN’s tracking, was 1-of-9 when guarded by Leonard. On the other end, Leonard had 36 points, nine rebounds, and played 52 critical minutes. He was the MVP of Game 3.

And he did it all through a noticeable limp.

He landed awkwardly on a first-quarter layup and all game this clearly limited his mobility.

When asked about it after the game, Leonard shrugged it off.

For much of the season, whenever Leonard was mentioned so was with the phrase “load management.” He had missed all but nine games the season before with quadriceps tendinopathy — the treatment for that, and whether it was a muscular injury or not, was at the heart of Leonard’s discord with San Antonio — and in Toronto he missed 22 games in the regular season to help keep that issue at bay.

That may not be related to what is bothering him now, but the Raptors and Leonard had gone to great lengths to get him rest during the regular season so he would be ready for the playoffs. He has responded, being the best player in the East through the postseason so far. That includes hitting the game-winner to send Philadelphia home, then on Sunday keeping Toronto alive against the Bucks by force of will. But he has played a heavy load of minutes — physical, playoff minutes — to get there.

Will that slow Leonard Tuesday night in Game 4?

It can’t if they want to even this series. Milwaukee will play better in Game 4, keeping Antetokounmpo bottled up may be near impossible, and other Bucks had off-games as well (they shot 37.3 percent as a team in Game 3). Toronto will have to play better to keep pace. Marc Gasol will need to continue taking and hitting the threes (shots the Bucks dared him to take in the first two games), Pascal Siakam will have to have another big game, as will the Raptors’ bench.

But mostly, Leonard needs to be the best player on the floor again, the guy doing this:

If not, Toronto’s season will be on the brink.

After coaching search, Minnesota reportedly settles on owner-favorite Ryan Saunders for job

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“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]… I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

That was Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on his interim coach, Ryan Saunders, a statement made with about 20 games to go in the season. The Timberwolves reportedly negotiated the outline of a contract with Saunders, but when Gersson Rosas was brought in as team president, he was given the freedom to run a full coaching search.

He has settled on the guy the owner wanted, a story broken by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Rosas interviewed other candidates and ran a legitimate job search for the position, but it seems the smart political move for the guy new on the job to hire the guy the owner wanted, and the guy the star player bonded with.

That’s not to say Saunders is a poor choice, he earned this chance. Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler‘s sabotaging of the team’s season led to coach/GM Tom Thibodeau being shown the door. Saunders quickly developed a strong relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, who played much better under Saunders the second half of the season. There were other signs Saunders was up to the task and would be a good hire, not just a prudent one.

Now it appears Saunders has the job.

The real task for Rosas is to give Saunders a team that can live up to Towns’ potential. It will not be easy with a capped out roster and some anchor contracts (Andrew Wiggins).

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.