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How Kawhi Leonard signing, Paul George trade created real rivalry in Los Angeles

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There’s a real rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers now.

The Lakers were incredibly confident internally in recent days that they would be the new home of Kawhi Leonard. They had the history, the brand, and LeBron James and Magic Johnson helping make their pitch. The Lakers were selling the best big three the NBA had ever seen: LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Leonard.

What the Clippers had — after a year-long pursuit of Leonard — was both his interest in playing for them (not in the brighter spotlight of the Lakers) and inside information: Leonard wanted to play with Paul George, and George wanted out in Oklahoma City. The Clippers also understood what it would look like if the Lakers landed Leonard — a dominant superteam in the same building, casting them again deep into the shadows in Los Angeles. That gave the Clippers both the appropriate fear to get the deal done and an opening, and they ran right through it agreeing to sign Leonard and trading for George.

It’s now LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the hallway series in Los Angeles. Lakers fans were stunned and angered by the news that their “little brother” just stole their star free agent and grabbed the guy they thought was a lock to be theirs a couple years ago. The Lakers finished 11 games back of the Clippers last season, landed Anthony Davis, and still lost ground.

The Clippers are now legit title contenders because they landed two guys the Lakers wanted.

Leonard was always an enigma who teams could not predict, but it was the trade for George that blindsided the Lakers and everyone else in the NBA.

The rumors of some tension between Russell Westbrook and George after just two seasons had bubbled up a little around the league in recent days (reminiscent to a degree of the things said about the Kevin Durant and Westbrook relationship in years past), but it seemed more smoke than substance.

Leonard helped make it become real and solid.

George sat down with Leonard in Los Angeles this week — before Leonard met with any teams — and they hatched this plan. If George’s relationship with Westbrook were ideal, if George thought the Thunder were contenders, Leonard’s request may have fallen on deaf ears. It didn’t, but George came to Westbrook’s defense on Twitter.

The bottom line is George and his agent asked for a trade. That blindsided the Thunder organization.

This was the same Paul George that a few years ago was forcing his way out of Indiana and had his people telling every suitor that would listen not to sign him because he would head to the Lakers as a free agent in a year. In large part because they believed they would land him as a free agent, the Lakers didn’t go all in trying to trade for George from Indiana. That lack of a serious effort to trade for George, plus a good first season with Westbrook, had George deciding to stay in OKC and signing a new contract just one year ago.

However, George’s relationship with Westbrook evolved, as did his understanding of how far the partnership in OKC could really go. How much of George’s decision was that and how much was Leonard’s pitch, we will never quite know. What we know is combined that was enough for George to ask out.

The Clippers gave up a TON to get George, but to them it was worth it because it is really getting two stars — Leonard would not be a Clipper either without this trade. If the Clippers want to compete with the Lakers on the court for a title, if they want to compete off the court in Los Angeles for fans to fill the expensive seats and for team sponsors, if owner Steve Ballmer wants to get a new building approved and built for the Clippers in Inglewood, it was going to take star power. This trade is worth it for them, but the price was high.

For most rivalries to gain real traction, the teams have to meet in the playoffs with a lot on the line. This is the exception because the Clippers got two players the Lakers wanted and now stand, at the very least, on equal footing with them in the West. The Clippers are actually little ahead because of the depth of roster around their stars (Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, etc.).

The history and legacy of the franchises are not near the same. The Lakers remain by far the more popular team in Southern California, they have the 16 titles, they are the franchise where fathers pass on their love of the team to their sons and daughters. That, however, is ancient history to players. If you have been in the NBA for the last five years, what do you know about the Clippers? They went to the playoffs every year, they have a coach that everyone loves to play for in Doc Rivers, they were the excitement of Lob City, they rebuilt on the fly to a team that was clearly having fun playing together last season and got along, they have Jerry West as part of a smart front office, and they have a competitive owner worth $50 billion who is not afraid to spend it. The brand? Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were not hurting for major national endorsements as Clippers.

What have you seen from the Lakers the past five seasons?

Clippers vs. Lakers games at Staples Center next season are going to be intense.

Knicks reportedly had players-only meeting before David Fizdale was fired

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New York had lost eight in a row, blowing big leads in a couple of those games. The last two games the Knicks were listless — a 44-point crushing by the Sixers, then a 37-point thrashing by the Nuggets — and looked like a team that had given up.

Friday morning, team veterans — led by Marcus Morris — called a players-only meeting before practice to talk about the need for the players to not roll over and play harder. Particularly with coach David Fizdale’s job on the line. That meeting was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Fizdale then ran the team practice.

One meeting and one practice was not going to stop the inevitable, Fizdale was fired later on Friday. The Knicks have made that official and assistant coach Mike Miller will take over as the interim head coach.

Sometimes there is a boost of energy teams get from a coaching change, but in the case of the Knicks it may well be a dead cat bounce. That is unless the veterans really do take charge and start pushing this roster.

While Fizdale certainly deserves blame for the lack of identity on offense and defense from the Knicks, I’m not a believer that an NBA coach is fully responsible for his team’s motivation. These are professionals getting paid millions of dollars, it shouldn’t take a rah-rah speech from a guy in a tie to get them focused and ready to do their job. It’s on the players. Motivation is always part of a coach’s job, and with a young team keeping the players on task certainly is part of the coach’s responsibility, but at the NBA level a coach should have to worry less about firing his guys up on a nightly basis.

Knicks make it official: David Fizdale fired, assistant Mike Miller promoted to head coach

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UPDATE: The Knicks have made all the reporting official.

As had been expected, David Fizdale is out as the Knicks head coach after an ugly 4-18 start to the season. This was a case where Fizdale was given an “Island of Misfit Toys” roster to work with that was never going to be good, but he also didn’t do much with it. New York had no identity on either side of the ball. The Knicks have lost eight straight, the last two by at least 37 points, and the team was simply lackadaisical in its effort recently.

Who will coach the Knicks next season depends on the answer to another question: Are team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry safe, or are they on their way out, too?

In the short term, New York promoted Mike Miller into the big chair, and bring up Keith Bogans from the G-League coaching staff to round out the roster, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Miller spent four years as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the franchise’s G-League affiliate, and was the G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He was eventually promoted to the Knicks bench.

Don’t expect a major shake-up in the Knicks’ offensive and defensive systems, or with the rotations, at least in the short term. There just are not a lot of practice days built into the NBA schedule to allow a mid-season replacement to overhaul everything. Plus, with this roster, there’s only so much a human being can do.

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This has been confirmed by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.