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Doc Rivers as Clippers look to free agency: ‘This is the start of something great here’

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers overcame low expectations and a roster without any current or former All-Stars to win 48 games, make the playoffs and push the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games.

Now they’re ready to go shopping. A blockbuster list of free agents comes on the market this summer.

The Clippers have depth and a cohesive bunch of players who fight to the finish – comeback wins of 31 points in Game 2 against Golden State, 28 points at Boston, 25 points at Detroit and 20 points at Charlotte – and that should help catch the eye of big-name talent.

They went 48-34, extending a franchise record with their eighth consecutive winning season. Their 13-2 mark was the NBA’s best in March.

“We did more than most thought we could,” coach Doc Rivers said. “This is the start of something great here.”

After missing out last year, they returned to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. As an eighth seed, they lost in 4-2 in the first round to Golden State, but not before their Game 2 comeback – the biggest in NBA playoff history.

“That’s a beautiful basketball team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve got a bright future.”

Some things to watch:

IMPACT ROOKIES: Two of the team’s three rookie guards made a big impact. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started 73 of 82 games at the point, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists during the regular season. He scored a Clippers rookie playoff record 25 points against the Warriors. Landry Shamet joined the team in February in a trade from Philadelphia, where he played his first 54 games. He finished fourth all-time in 3-pointers made (167) by a rookie during the season, when he shot 42 percent. Jerome Robinson showed promise while struggling to find minutes in a crowded backcourt, dealing with a nagging foot injury and going back and forth to the G League. The trio’s presence could help make the Clippers an attractive free-agent destination, knowing their youngsters can make plays in big games and have huge upside. “They were complete pros,” Lou Williams said. “They took every challenge that we had for them, on the road, in practice.”

GETTING A STEAL: C Ivica Zubac came over from the Lakers in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline in February. The 7-foot-1 center started 12 of 33 games for his new team, averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. He had a playoff career-high of 18 points and 15 rebounds against Golden State. Zubac and Montrezl Harrell formed one of the best center combinations in the league. Zubac, a third-year pro, can become a restricted free agent after the season.

OFF THE BENCH: Harrell and Williams, a candidate for his third Sixth Man of the Year award, proved a lethal combo off the bench. They notched the highest combined scoring average of any reserve duo in NBA history at 36.9 points. Williams led the league in bench scoring at 20.1 points (also tops on the team) while becoming the No. 1 bench scorer in league history. Harrell was fourth at 16.8.

FRONT OFFICE: The Clippers have a solid front-office to pursue free agents. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank presides over general manager Michael Winger, assistant GMs Mark Hughes and Trent Redden, and consultant Jerry West. Winger is so committed to seeing the franchise build a long-term contender that he took himself out of contention for Minnesota’s basketball ops job. Under Frank, the team traded its highest-scoring players each of the last two seasons (Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris) for multiple draft picks and other players while freeing up room under the salary cap to offer maximum deals to free agents this summer. Coach Doc Rivers is locked in for what’s to come, having said in March he’s working out a long-term contract extension.

Klay Thompson on Trump: “I didn’t appreciate the language he used with Bahamians”

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Klay Thompson has said it before and is saying it again:

He’s pissed at what President Donald Trump said and did in the wake of the destruction hurricane Dorian brought to the 700-island nation of the Bahamas, where at least 51 people died (that number is likely very low, with more than 1,300 people still listed as missing).

Thompson has deep ties to the Bahamas. His father Mychal — a former No. 1 NBA draft pick who was a member of the Showtime Lakers — was born there. The Thompson family has long had a special relationship with the island, with Klay having spent a lot of time there in his youth. Klay felt the need to defend the Bahamas after the Trump Administration did not grant “Temporary Protected Status” to the people fleeing the destruction on the island so they could come work and live in the USA until it was safe to return.

Thompson spoke to Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I didn’t appreciate the language he used with Bahamians,” Thompson told USA TODAY Sports. “They’re gang members and criminals? I’ve known Bahamians my whole life. Yes, there are criminals in Nassau. But there are criminals worldwide. When you lose everything, your home, your loved ones and thousands are dead, and then you generalize a whole population, I thought it was very very ill advised and bad timing. That language really (ticked) me off.”

Trump, while not granting “temporary protected status” to the people of the Bahamas fleeing the destruction from Dorian, said “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

“He’s wrong about the gang affiliations over there,” Mychal said. “There are people over there that are good people. Hard-working people. So he was wrong with that statement. I don’t think (other) Americans have misconceptions about Bahamians. We don’t have gang problems and that type of hard problems in the Bahamas. We have people who are in need and in poverty. But for the most part, Bahamians are great people and help each other out in times of need. That’s what they’re doing right now.”

Klay and Mychal, through their family foundation and a golf fundraiser with proceeds going to Bahamas relief, think they will donate about $1 million to the relief effort.

It’s going to take billions of dollars and many years for the Bahamas to return anywhere near its former self. The Thompson family is raising money, but more importantly, is raising awareness. It’s the start of a long, long process.

Thompson himself continues his recovery from a torn ACL suffered during the NBA Finals, an injury that will keep him out for much, and potentially all, of next season.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.