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Clippers biding their time until star hunt

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Lob City is the proudest era in Clippers history. Really, it’s the franchise’s only proud era since moving to California. After reaching the playoffs just four times in the first 33 years post-Buffalo, the Clippers qualified all six years Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan played together. In that span, only the Spurs and Thunder won more games.

And now it’s over.

The Clippers moved the final remaining link from their 2012-2017 teams by trading Wesley Johnson yesterday. That’s historic turnover, as the roster is completely remade just two years later. Since the early 1950s, only the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely changed their rosters within two seasons.

L.A.’s flux comes with big eyes. The Clippers are trying to lure star free agents, which means closely monitoring situations elsewhere. Entering the season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard reportedly favors the Clippers. Jimmy Butler is unhappy with the Timberwolves – ideal for the Clippers, who want to avoid another pleasing team landing his Bird Rights. Though Kevin Durant rumors are focused on the Knicks, talk of him leaving the Warriors could mean L.A. is at least in the mix.

The Clippers project to be able to unilaterally open about $63 million in cap space without stretching players next summer.

Creating so much flexibility required stinginess this summer. The only free agents signed to multi-year guarantees were Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million) and Avery Bradley ($12 million this season, just $2 million of $12.96 million guaranteed next season).

The Clippers also gave multi-year deals to their first-round picks, No. 11 pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 13 pick Jerome Robinson. I’m much more bullish on Gilgeous-Alexander. Those two rookies could be important in building back up, because for the second straight summer, the Clippers lost their best player.

After Paul engineered his way to the Rockets last summer – with Griffin traded to the Pistons between – Jordan left for the Mavericks this summer. His fit in L.A. had become awkward, and though he was willing to take a one-year deal (at least with Dallas), everyone seemed ready to move on. This seemingly wasn’t about maintaining flexibility. It was about turning the page.

The Clippers will miss Jordan on the court next season. They replaced him with Marcin Gortat, acquired in a trade for Austin Rivers, but that’s a downgrade.

Gortat (like Rivers) is on an expiring contract. So are Luc Mbah a Moute – a Lob City contributor returning after a stint in Houston – and Mike Scott, who each signed one year, $4,320,500 deals for half the mid-level exception.

The Clippers look deep and feisty after all this tinkering around Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari. They probably won’t make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but they should remain competitive enough to stay on the radar of free agents.

Remember, though, the Clippers entered the summer coming off a winning season and with plenty of 2019 cap space. They were always setting up to make a big splash next summer. They just took a small step back this summer, which will be no problem if they make their desired leap in a year.

Offseason grade: C-

Kevin Love says he expects to return “sometime after the new year”

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Not that it really matters because this season is a lost cause anyway, but Kevin Love is going to be out longer than expected.

Love had surgery on an injured big toe on his left foot on Nov. 2 and the team said he could be back in six weeks, which would be mid-December. Love went on ESPN’s The Jump Tuesday and said expect it to be longer than that, more like January sometime.

“There’s just no telling at this time with the weight-bearing injury what it is going to be like moving forward, but I expect to be back sometime after the new year,” he said.

Love, who was expected to be the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense, has played in just four games this season.

There has been a lot of speculation about Love as a trade chip but don’t expect anything serious along those lines until next summer. And maybe a year or two after that. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension that kicks in next season, and considering Love’s injury history and the apparent slight decline in his play, good luck finding a team that wants to pay him $30 million a season for four seasons. Maybe, if Love comes back and looks like a force again, some team that strikes out next summer in free agency could get desperate and be open to a trade. But don’t bet on it.

Love is going to be in Cleveland for a while. Just not on the court until 2019.

Wizards players, coach try to play down last week’s practice blow up, say they’ve moved on

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It’s no secret the 5-11 Washington Wizards are a dumpster fire. A train wreck. The “Sherlock Gnomes” of 2018 movies. It’s so bad that GM Ernie Grunfeld is finally, belatedly, looking into breaking up the core.

It came to a head at a practice last week, one where everyone yelled at everyone, Bradley Beal told Grunfeld he’d been dealing with “this s*** for seven years” and John Wall dropped an F-bomb on coach Scott Brooks. Tuesday, before taking on a hot Clippers’ team, the Wizards tried to downplay everything and say they have moved on, as noted in the video above from NBC Sports Washington.

“I said some things that I regret,” Brooks said. “Our players said some things that they regret. And right after the practice, I had a conversation to hash things out, and everything was good. And then some of our players had some conversations, and they hashed things out, and everything was good.”

Everything was good… until the Wizards stepped on the court and lost a couple more games in a row. Things are clearly not good, but the team is trying to move on as best as it can.

“You see that we’re not winning. Everyone is frustrated. At the end of the day, we have to be able to communicate with each other so we can learn from it and try to build on things together,” Porter said. “That’s the only way we can start winning games, to rally with each other instead of against each other.”

That sounds good, we’ll see if they can execute it.

Dwyane Wade returns to Miami Heat after birth of child

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat after missing nearly two weeks for the birth of his daughter.

Wade went through Miami’s gameday shootaround and will play Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. He said his wife and their daughter are doing well, which allowed him to feel comfortable to resume his season.

“I’m going to obviously miss them,” Wade said. “It was tough leaving my little girl and my wife, but I’ve got to get back to work and I’ll see them again soon.”

Wade was away from the team for about two weeks because of the birth of his daughter. Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade welcomed Kaavia James Union Wade into the world on Nov. 7. Wade had been in Los Angeles with them since then, and flew back to Miami on Monday.

His return is most certainly welcome in Miami. The Heat went 2-5 in his time away, falling to 6-10 this season. They’ll play Tuesday without guards Goran Dragic (knee), Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Dion Waiters (ankle recovery from last season).

“There’s a human element to this business and to the game and it is the most important thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The connection, your spirit, your emotions, everybody getting on the same page, and just seeing Dwyane back here with the guys there was a tangible boost in the energy today in the shootaround.”

Wade is Miami’s third-leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. He was in his best stretch of the season when he got the call that his daughter was coming a few weeks earlier than planned.

He said he felt the frustration level his team was going through during their current slide, and he tried to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Wade kept up conditioning while in Los Angeles, but knows it’ll take a little time to get back to the level of a few weeks ago.

“I was so excited for my daughter to come, but I was like, ‘Baby, you know, your dad was playing in a rhythm. You could have waited a little while,'” Wade said. “I was just getting my legs under me, but great things happened to make me miss time, and now I’m back.”

The baby was born via a surrogate, which is one of the reasons why Wade felt taking a brief paternity leave was necessary.

Parents of surrogate-carried babies are told the first few days after the birth are critical to forging deep bonds with their child. Lots of skin-to-skin contact and talking to the baby helps with the bonding.

So Wade needed time, and the Heat supported the plan.

“So much of this league is mood of the team and confidence,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “With him back, we’re definitely a lot more confident moving forward.”

Union-Wade – who revealed she had nine miscarriages in her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” – has taken time off work to bond with the new arrival. She’s been filming an upcoming project in Los Angeles, and when she’s back on the set, Kaavia James will be close by.

“She was working right up until we got the call,” Wade said. “When she goes back, my daughter will be going back to the set with her. Her trailer is fit for everything, the baby’s safety, everything. So our baby will be there with her when she’s at work.”

Wade strongly considered retirement during the offseason because of the baby’s arrival, not making the decision to return until just before training camp in September. He questioned whether it was fair to his wife and their family to still be playing and traveling while raising a baby.

He also wondered if he could handle being away from his daughter for long stretches.

“We went through a lot to get here,” Wade said. “My family had to come first right now.”

 

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.