Blake Griffin

Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

1 Comment

Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a three-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now, Randle said. So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.

(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important, he said. That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

Report: Pistons, Andre Drummond ‘talking at a business level’ about extension

Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

In what will be a down free agent market next summer, Andre Drummond could be one of the biggest names available.

Drummond has a $28.8 player option for next season but has all but said he plans to decline it and test the free agent market, where he expects a max contract. Pistons owner Tom Gores has said that keeping Drummond is one of his top priorities.

So what about an extension?

While it’s unlikely, the sides are talking, reports Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press.

Gores confirmed the two sides are “talking at a business level,” and two sources told the Free Press that the Pistons have told Drummond’s representatives the franchise would like to retain his services. This comes after multiple sources told the Free Press last month Drummond requested a contract extension at some point during the offseason.

Numbers have been exchanged, but it’s clear what he expects: He would like to sign the second maximum contract of his career.

It’s not going to happen, and it’s all about the money.

An extension would involve Drummond opting into next season at $28.8 million, then the Pistons can add as many as three years onto that, with the first year of the extension starting at $34.5 million. If Drummond opts out he could sign a five-year max extension with the Pistons for $190 million ($38 million a year average) or a four-year deal with another team for $140 million ($35 million a year average). Drummond told Ellis he believes he is a max player, and sounded like a player who wants to sign a max deal.

The question for the Pistons: Do they want to offer Drummond the max? Do they want to be locked into Drummond for years after Blake Griffin‘s contract ends?

Drummond is an All-Star level player who averaged 17.3 points per game last season at 53.3 percent shooting, plus is (arguably) the best rebounder in the NBA, averaging 15.6 per game (he was second in the NBA last season in overall percentage of available rebounds grabbed at 25.4 percent). He averaged a ridiculous 5.4 offensive rebounds a night. Plus, Drummond is a solid paint protector on defense.

However, Drummond does not space the floor and is a throwback — an effective one, but a throwback — as the NBA evolves to space and pace. Teams are hesitant to pay big money for centers right now, a position teams more and more believe they can fill nearly as well for far less money.

Is there a max market for Drummond next summer? This past summer Al Horford signed for four years, $109 million in Philly (Horford is older at 33). Nikola Vucevic re-signed in Orlando for four-years, $100 million, after a career season. Brook Lopez got four-years, $52 million to stay in Milwaukee. If those guys aren’t getting the max, and DeMarcus Cousins is settling a one-year deal for $3.5 million (granted, coming off multiple injuries), would Drummond? That might be a reason for him to consider an extension.

One way or another, Drummond is going to be playing a big role in next summer’s free agent market.

Doc Rivers almost quit six days into Clippers job

Associated Press
3 Comments

This story is one of seemingly a thousand (some public, some not) that illustrate how chaotic things were when Donald Sterling owned the Clippers.

Doc Rivers is NBA coaching royalty, a championship coach (one of six now currently on an NBA sideline), a former NBA coach of the Year, and the kind of guy players — specifically Kawhi Leonard — love and want to play for. He’s a guy who played a big role in turning the Clippers around.

However, Rivers almost didn’t last six days on the Clippers job.

Rivers told the story to Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times. It begins when Sterling tried to stop an already agreed to sign-and-trade to bring in J.J. Redick to Los Angeles. The Clippers’ coach explained what happened

“I was on the job for six days and I quit,” Rivers said. “The deal went through and everyone said it was a great deal. I flew back home to Orlando for a couple of days and I got a call from [former Clippers president] Andy Roeser saying Donald Sterling decided he didn’t want to do the deal. I said, ‘What do you mean? The deal is already done. JJ is a free agent. He backed out of a deal to sign with us. If we don’t do this deal we’ll never get another free agent. It’s our word.’”

“I got on the phone with Donald and he was telling me how great his word was,” Rivers said. … “I was in the airport parking lot screaming, ‘No, no, no, no! You’re not going to do this! This is my reputation!’ He just went on and on about his reputation and how great it was…

“Finally at the end of it I said, ‘If you don’t do the trade, I quit.’ He said, ‘You can’t quit, you signed a five-year deal, I’ll make sure you don’t coach anywhere!’ I said, ‘I’m fine with that. I’ll find a job…

The next morning, Roeser told Rivers the deal was done. “I still have no idea what happened,” Rivers said. “I guess Donald just changed his mind, but I had quit.”

Rivers was part of a wave that came in and worked to change the Clippers’ culture. Blake Griffin played a vital role in that — he not only was an elite talent, but he also has an incredible work ethic and Neil Olshey, among others, pushed the Clippers to start matching it off the court on the basketball side. Change did not come easy, something Rivers talks about in the L.A. Times story, which is why you should read it.

If you’re up for a deep dive into the sleazy world of Donald Sterling, check out the podcast series Ramona Shelburne of ESPN did on him, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

 

 

 

With this era’s flame still flickering, Pistons load bench with name recognition

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Just three teams have had the same trio of $16 million-plus-salary players each of the previous two seasons and next season:

Golden State won a championship, returned to the NBA Finals and enters next season with four-ish stars in a two-star league.

Detroit missed the playoffs, got swept in the first round and enters next season with, um, a reasonable chance at making the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Pistons’ expensive core has underwhelmed while limiting flexibility. Drummond and Jackson are paid too much to trade for value and too good to tank with. The best option is probably the least drastic, keeping this group together and hoping for the best.

Same story last summer. Same story this summer.

But maybe not same story next summer.

Jackson’s contract expires after next season. Drummond has a player option he sounds ready to decline. At that point, the Pistons must decide what to do with Griffin – keep his top supporting players, find new ones or trade him to kickstart a rebuild.

In the meantime, Detroit added yet another expensive potential starter and a few recognizable reserves. This far into the plan – no matter how lackluster the results so far – the present remains a high priority.

The Pistons turned Jon Leuer‘s deadweight contract and the No. 45 pick into Tony Snell, No. 37 pick Deividas Sirvydis, No. 57 pick Jordan Bone, the Trail Blazers’ 2023 second-rounder and $3 million. I would’ve rather kept Snell and the No. 30 pick sent by the Bucks for taking his undesirable contract (and Detroit’s original second-rounder, No. 45). But that wouldn’t have generated the $3 million cash.

Milwaukee dumped Snell because he’s too expensive for a fringe rotation player there and due $12,178,571 in 2020-21. Leuer’s contract was expiring. But the Pistons are so desperate on the wing, they might start Snell.

The Pistons also signed Derrick Rose (two years, $15 million), Markieff Morris (two years, $6.56 million) and Joe Johnson (partially guaranteed, surely minimum). That’s a former MVP, someone who finished fourth in Most Improved Player voting at age 24 and a seven-time All-Star.

But those likely backups are past their primes. Rose looked like he’d fall out of the NBA before a resurgent/outlier-shooting season last year. Though helpful more often recently, Morris didn’t crack the Thunder’s playoff rotation. Johnson has been playing in a 3-on-3 league for NBA retirees.

Expectations shouldn’t be too high. But there’s at least hope this group packs more punch than departed Ish Smith provided off the bench. More bench scoring could limit the load on Griffin, who – even in his best season in years – wore down by the playoffs.

Because of Rose’s injury history, it was important to sign Tim Frazier (minimum) as third point guard. Claiming Christian Wood off waivers was another a good under-the-radar move. But signing Joe Johnson will make it harder for Wood to make the regular-season roster.

If all goes well, Detroit’s best move of the offseason will be drafting Sekou Doumbouya No. 15. I rated him No. 7 on my board. But that was because I like his raw talent in a weak draft, not because I’m convinced he’ll become a good NBA player. It’ll take a while to assess that pick.

This summer wasn’t easy for the Pistons, but it was simple. Their status quo could change soon. If they play well next season, they’ll face difficult choices with Jackson and maybe Drummond. If they don’t play well next season, that’ll invite its own problems.

They’re hoping to face the play-well issues and built this team accordingly. But with limited flexibility, the outlook remains similar, with next summer looming as the major inflection point.

Offseason grade: C

Blake Griffin on time with Clippers: ‘We ultimately didn’t accomplish anything’

Getty Images
5 Comments

In six seasons with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers won 66 percent of their games. Only the Spurs and Warriors won more during that span (2011-12 – 2016-17).

But L.A. lost thrice in the first round and thrice during the second round in that span.

The Clippers are moving onto a new era with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Griffin doesn’t sound as if he’s waiting for a pat on the back for moving the franchise forward.

Griffin, via Alex Wong of Yahoo Sports:

“We ultimately didn’t accomplish anything,” Griffin says. “In sports, that’s how you get measured… If they succeed, they’ll be the ones who really turned the franchise around and actually solidify them as not the same franchise that it was back in the day.”

I get why Griffin feels that way. He’s a competitor chasing a championship.

But I disagree and wish our discourse won’t so title-or-bust.

Those Clippers teams were very good. Particularly for the Donald Sterling-owned franchise. This was the best era in franchise history.

They were the last team to beat the Warriors in a playoff series before Golden State turned into a dynasty. They beat the Spurs in a series that was too good to belong in the first round. They won a lot of games.

Did they accomplish as much as they could have? No. Did they accomplish as much as they should have? Probably not. That blown 3-1 lead against the Rockets in 2015 will live in infamy.

But we should still appreciate what the Clippers did. It was far more than nothing.