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Clippers might buy, might sell, will be ‘careful’ at trade deadline

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The Clippers are walking a tightrope heading into the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

They are currently tied for the seven/eight seed in the West and want to stay in the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements to bolster that effort, just 3.5 games separate seeds six and 11 in the West. The Clippers may want to add a player who can help them make a playoff push.

On the other side, the Clippers will be major players next summer in free agency, with enough cap space for one max contract player and, with some maneuvering, two. There have been strong links reported between the Clippers and both Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant (the Clippers are nearly stocking Leonard this season with their staff). The Clippers do not want to make a deadline trade move that messes with that cap space.

What will they do?

Be careful but look for trades that work, coach Doc Rivers told Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

“It’s a lot that goes in it,” Doc Rivers said about the trade deadline. “It’s easier when you think you have a shot to win it. Then it’s an easy move. If there’s a move to make your team or put your team over the hump, those are easy.

“Where we’re at, you have to be very careful with anything you do because anything that puts money on your cap and all that, it’s probably a bad move in some ways. Unless you think it’s a longtime guy. Every team has their own stuff. It’s different for everyone.”

The Clippers could trade or, barring that, buyout third point guard Milos Teodosic (if he takes enough of a discount).

Beyond that, the Clippers have a lot of expiring contracts that could interest other playoff teams, but the Clippers are not just dumping them for picks or taking on additional salary.

Otherwise, the Clippers are not actively shopping any of their expiring deals that could have value to the numerous teams pursuing a playoff spot — Patrick Beverley, Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott and Avery Bradley ($2 million partial guarantee for 2019-20). It is also unclear what each player’s respective trade value is currently, as all six players have endured up-and-down seasons (more down for Mbah a Moute, who has missed 44 of 48 games with a sore left knee).

The Clippers caution speaks to this entire trade market. The Clippers are in too good a position to just be sellers, but they are not aggressive buyers either because there is not that much of an advantage in the short term. There are a lot of teams that before the season were expected to be sellers who find themselves in the playoff mix and debating whether they should go for it (Brooklyn is at the top of that list, they will go for it, and then there are bubble teams like Orlando).

There are a lot of buyers but teams don’t want to give up picks/young players, and they don’t want to take on bad salaries. Which limits the market.

It’s likely going to be a quiet trade deadline, with some smaller moves (Jeremy Lin or Kent Bazemore may be the biggest names traded), but then a very robust buyout market. Then again, this league has a way of surprising.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.