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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.

Trailblazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.

Joel Embiid returns, puts up 31 and 16 to lead 76ers past Nets, give Philly 3-1 lead

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NEW YORK — Joel Embiid scored and rebounded. He blocked shots and even threw the most important pass of the game.

The only thing he didn’t do is lose his cool after his hard foul triggered a scuffle.

After having to sit out the last game, there was no way Embiid was going to risk an ejection and miss his chance to help the Philadelphia 76ers seize control of the series.

Embiid had 31 points and 16 rebounds, and passed to Mike Scott for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds left as the 76ers beat the Brooklyn Nets 112-108 on Saturday to take a 3-1 series lead.

Embiid also had a flagrant foul that led to a scuffle and two ejections during an eventful return to the lineup after missing Game 3 with a sore left knee.

“I know these guys are going to go at me because they want me to retaliate, so I’ve got to be mature when I’m on the court and just stay cool and not react,” Embiid said.

“Today I could have reacted but I felt like my team needed me more than they needed Jared Dudley, so I’ve just got to stay cool and mature and do my job.”

Tobias Harris had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the 76ers. They can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight season with a victory at home Tuesday night.

They got a big boost from the return of Embiid, who scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter after the Nets led by seven. He helped the 76ers overcome the loss of Jimmy Butler, who was ejected in the third quarter after Embiid’s hard foul on Jarrett Allen.

Even that ended up working out for the 76ers. Scott took what probably would have been Butler’s position on the floor in the final seconds and turned Embiid’s seventh assist into the go-ahead basket.

Embiid also had six blocked shots.

“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say that he must have had on the game,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “To have 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, six blocked shots and you win, well it’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant.”

Caris LeVert scored 25 points after being inserted into the Nets’ starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell and Allen each added 21.

Dudley also was inserted into the starting lineup for the Nets and had been agitating the 76ers with his defense and his talking, but was gone midway through the third quarter as one of the central figures in the scuffle that spilled into the stands.

Embiid swung his arm forcefully while fouling Allen, and Dudley quickly moved in and bumped Embiid. Butler then ran in and pushed Dudley to start the shoving. Dudley, Simmons and referee Ed Malloy all got knocked into the seats, and after a lengthy video review, Butler and Dudley were given technical fouls and ejected, and Embiid’s foul was ruled a flagrant 1.

Dudley said he was trying to send a message. The Nets have been upset over an elbow Embiid hit Allen with in Game 2 that they felt should have been an ejection, and were further angered after when Embiid laughed as he apologized in his press conference.

“When you have a guy giving flagrant fouls, I mean Joel Embiid is second in the league in flagrant fouls,” Dudley said. “So for that elbow he had before just to have a flagrant 1, no fine, no nothing, laughing in the media, if you think that a team that I play on is going to have (to accept) that, that’s another thing coming, especially on this young team.”

Embiid would later make the biggest mark with his offense. The 76ers were trying to get the ball to him trailing by one after Joe Harris’ layup, but Embiid couldn’t control the pass under the rim. But he regained the ball and found Scott in the corner for a 3 and a 110-108 lead.

Allen then turned the ball over after three Sixers surrounded him and Harris closed out the scoring with two free throws. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was angry afterward, feeling Allen was wrapped up by Harris as he tried to roll to the basket.

Dudley and Simmons jawed at each other after Dudley gave him a long stare with his arms up after hitting a 3-pointer during a 9-0 run that gave Brooklyn a 63-53 lead shortly before halftime. The Nets led 63-57 at the break.

Blake Griffin active for Pistons-Bucks Game 3

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DETROIT – Blake Griffin got technical fouls in Games 1 and 2.

He’ll have a chance to contribute much more in Game 3.

Despite a report he was likely to miss the entire first-round series with knee pain, the Pistons activated Griffin for Game 3 against the Bucks tonight.

Detroit has gotten walloped in the first two games with Griffin inactive. Now comes a glimmer of hope.

Griffin is the Pistons’ best and most important player. Their entire offense was built around him. His unique ball-handling and passing ability for a big allows him to create for himself and others. If he actually plays, it could transform Detroit back into the team it was in the regular season.

But those Pistons also lost all four regular-season games against Milwaukee. They still must face the NBA’s top team throughout the season. Detroit got outscored by 15 points per 48 minutes with Griffin on the court against the Bucks.

Griffin also looked quite hobbled late in the regular season. The extent to which he was helping the Pistons at that point was questionable. He can do only so much as a decoy, especially one a step slow defensively.

But, at minimum, Griffin could shake up a series that was running firmly in Milwaukee’s favor.