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Why Clippers are serious free agency destination for players

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These are not your father’s Los Angeles Clippers — they are not a punchline. This is no longer the penny-pinching era of Elgin Baylor as general manager trying to field a team under the racist whims of owner Donald Sterling, a franchise where free agents didn’t want to go, a franchise where players like Lamar Odom begged the franchise not to re-sign them.

The Clippers now have a good, player-friendly reputation among players.

“I truly would say so,” Tobias Harris told NBC Sports of the change. “It’s a great organization top to bottom, great coach, an owner that is really invested in the team. I’ve been in different situations, different organizations, and this organization is top of the line. So it’s definitely a situation that players, in my opinion, would want to be at.”

“We just feel great right here,” Harris’s best friend Boban Marjanovic added. “Just everything, just organizational, our coach, people, teammates, people who work there, everybody you meet, when you walk in the building you feel a great energy, to feel good.”

Next summer the Clippers are a legitimate threat to land Kawhi Leonard — moreso than the Lakers, according to sources — and they have the space to land a couple of elite stars, if Kevin Durant is interested. Players talk, and the things they say now about the Clippers are very positive.

It all starts at the top, as Howard Beck of Bleacher Report got into in a sit down with high-energy owner Steve Ballmer. Beck asked Ballmer to make his free agency pitch.

“You wanna have a legacy?” Ballmer asks pointedly. “You wanna really say you were involved in doing something super special? You come here,” he says, his volume and intensity quickly rising. “You be in L.A., the greatest market in the world, and you show people: ‘I’m the guy! went to a franchise who’d never been there! I’m the guy! made it happen! get a legacy!'”

But it’s more than just Ballmer.

Last year, the Clippers hired Jerry West, the most respected team executive in modern history, as a consultant. They snared two rising young team execs—Trent Redden (a top assistant to David Griffin in Cleveland) and Michael Winger (who worked with Sam Presti in Oklahoma City)—to bolster the front office, along with the highly regarded Mark Hughes (New York).

This is, without hyperbole, an unprecedented moment in franchise history—with an engaged, fiercely competitive owner at the helm, a whip-smart front office, a championship-winning coach (Doc Rivers), an image buoyed by their recent success and, oh yes, all of that cap room.

Doc Rivers plays into this, too — players love him and love playing for him. Especially veterans. Rivers treats them like adults and is not going to run Quin Snyder-style three-hour practices.

There are also some good young players on this roster, such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell.

The Clippers have a reputation now as a place where the players are allowed to be themselves, not have to fit into a mold. If Chris Paul wants to bring his kids in the locker room to play postgame, nobody is going to stop him and other players will follow along (the Clipper locker room could look like an elementary school recess at times after games, and it worked in a charming way).

It all adds up for players and agents. There are NBA fans around the league — Lakers fans in particular — who scoff at the idea of the Clippers as a free agency destination. They are thinking in terms of long-term legacy, but players are looking at where the franchise is right now — and the market. Being in the warm weather and off-the-court opportunities of Los Angeles matters.

The Clippers will be players in free agency. Whether that is enough to land them a star, let alone two, remains to be seen. The marketplace is packed with options for the handful of elite guys.

But don’t think of the Clippers as a punchline anymore. That’s your father’s Clippers.

Adam Silver on trade demands: ‘That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for’

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CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis have taken turns dominating the news cycle with trade requests.

“That’s not the kind of media interest we’re looking for,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

The NBA even fined Davis $50,000 for his trade request.

“I don’t like trade demands, and I wish they didn’t come,” Silver said. “And I wish all those matters were handled behind closed doors.”

I’m sure Silver dislikes all trade demands. But in context, I think he meant specifically public trade requests. Because trade requests are quite common. Deep-bench players often ask to get moved, hoping a new situation will increase playing time. Those requests rarely become public.

But Irving’s, Leonard’s, Butler’s and Davis’ trade requests all did. Yet, only Davis’ drew a fine.

It seems the difference was Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, putting his name behind it. Irving, Leonard and Butler leaked their trade requests through anonymous sources.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate, that conversations take place behind closed doors, where players or their agents are saying to management, ‘It’s my intention to move on for whatever reasons,'” Silver said.

The distinction is practically nonexistent. Irving, Leonard and Butler could claim only the least-plausible of plausible deniability, and none of those three really tried to deny it, anyway.

Insisting on this level of secrecy is a disservice to fans. If a player requests a trade, he shouldn’t be punished for revealing it. The NBA usually engages fans through openness – but not here.

Silver said he was worried about the worst-case scenario – a player not just requesting a trade, but refusing to honor his contract. However, the Collective Bargaining Agreement already has rules in place for that. Someone who withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins faces suspension and fines, won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent the next offseason.

For what it’s worth, Davis never threatened to hold out. In fact, he repeatedly said he wanted to keep playing if not traded. Unhappy players continue reporting to work all the time. This is not a unique situation.

Silver’s stance also also raises questions about transparency that are particularly relevant as the NBA embraces gambling. Either a player has or hasn’t requested a trade. If he has and the information is kept private, only select people will know it – and those people will have an edge in betting.

Public trade requests aren’t pretty. Neither Davis nor the Pelicans nor teams trying to trade for him appear happy with the fallout.

But I’d prefer that honest uncomfortableness to hidden tension.

Perhaps, Silver disagrees because public trade requests can create tricky situations for him. Right now, he’s still overseeing what Davis and the Pelicans do the rest of this season.

“It creates, understandably, a very awkward position between the team and their player and what their role is with the league in terms of injecting itself in the middle of what a team’s decision on playing that player,” Silver said. “These become very context-specific issues for the league office and not subject to computer programs that spit out answers.”

I agree there’s rarely an easy answer. But I’d rather lean toward transparency.

Davis decided he’d prefer to leave New Orleans. It’s his right to feel that way.

It should also be his right to disclose that to whomever he wants.

Report: Lakers ‘a little concerned’ about LeBron James’ health

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LeBron James could have returned far sooner from his groin injury, according to his agent.

As LeBron sat, the Lakers fell further in the standings. Did he wait until he was fully recovered, anyway? Or did he just wait as long as he felt he could before needing to carry the Lakers back into playoff position?

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland?

This was the biggest concern about LeBron’s injury. It’s possible to play through a groin injury, but there’s a strong possibility of aggravating it. If LeBron didn’t fully recover, he faces that risk – likely heightened by his need to play his way back into shape.

The Lakers (28-29) are three games and two teams out of playoff position. They have little margin for error. They need LeBron healthy and playing at least near his usual elite level.

I’m not convinced we can take either for granted the rest of the season.

More evidence suggests disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy fixed games

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Disgraced referee Tim Donaghy and the NBA have always been aligned on one narrative: Donaghy didn’t fix games.

Provide inside information to gamblers? Yes. Bet on his own games? Yes.

But fix games? No.

That’s the story Donaghy had to tell to avoid more jail time and the story the NBA had to sell to preserve its integrity.

It just never held up to scrutiny. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop led the charge of publicly investigating Donaghy’s claims, and professional gambler (later Mavericks employee) Haralabos Voulgaris reviewed the calls. They concluded the system Donaghy admitted to – leveraging his knowledge of other referees’ biases toward against certain players and coaches – would have lost money. The money was made on his own games.

It just fits common sense. Donaghy was unethical enough to gamble on his own games but drew the line at altering calls to win his bets? C’mon.

Now comes perhaps the most definitive account of Donaghy’s misdeeds yet, including details on the gambling operation and statistical analysis of its outcomes.

Scott Eden of ESPN:

Donaghy favored the side that attracted more betting dollars in 23 of those 30 competitive games, or 77 percent of the time. In four games, he called the game neutrally, 50-50. The number of games in which Tim Donaghy favored the team that attracted fewer betting dollars? Three.

In other words, Donaghy’s track record of making calls that favored his bet was 23-3-4.

If one assumes there should be no correlation between wagers and the calls made by a referee, the odds of that disparity* might seem unlikely. And they are. When presented with that data, ESPN statisticians crunched the numbers and revealed: The odds that Tim Donaghy would have randomly made calls that produced that imbalance are 6,155-to-1.

“He can influence a game six points either way — that’s what he told me,” Tommy Martino said as we sat in the break room of his family’s hair salon, where he’s worked since he got out of prison in August 2009 after serving 10 months.

I highly recommend reading Eden’s piece in full. It is excellent.

I’m intrigued by the idea the NBA leaked the FBI’s investigation into Donaghy to undermine a search into whether more referees were corrupt. Donaghy claimed some were.

Donaghy lacks credibility. I don’t trust him on anything, including that.

But I could also see David Stern’s NBA wanting to stifle a deeper dive into the league’s officials before it got off the ground. That’d prevent wider problems just in case this was a rare time Donaghy was being truthful.

Again, Eden’s full article is worth reading.

Stephen Curry slips three odd phrases into All-Star interviews… for Jimmy Fallon (video)

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NBA All-Stars do so many interviews over the weekend. It can be fun to spice them up.

Anthony Davis did by talking in circles.

Stephen Curry did by using phrases – “energizer bunny,” “flippin’ pancakes” and “wham bam can of ham” – for a segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.