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

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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.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard’s advisor and uncle Dennis Robertson asked teams for guaranteed sponsorship money

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Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers won the offseason.

Leonard got a max contract to play in Southern California, where he grew up and clearly wanted to return. He’ll also be joined by his desired co-star, Paul George.

The Clippers get both stars and early status as championship favorite.

But the process has left some bitterness with the teams that didn’t get Leonard.

The Raptors have spread word Leonard’s advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, made unreasonable requests. The Lakers reportedly feel they got played in their Leonard pursuit.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

This is me putting on my reporter’s hat here. People in NBA circles are talking about this right now. Allegedly, the uncle, Uncle Dennis, was asking for a lot of stuff from the other teams. Houses, planes, sponsorship, guaranteed sponsorship money, just as an example. They’re throwing this stuff out there.

I have no idea whether this is true or not. I’m not trying to cast any aspersions on Uncle Dennis. But people in NBA circles are talking about this as we speak.

This chatter is designed to make both Robertson and the Clippers look bad.

Robertson is painted as greedy and preposterous. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits teams from providing players with those types of special benefits. In fact, a team arranging a sponsorship for its player is specifically listed as salary-cap circumvention.

Still, I don’t have a huge problem with Robertson asking. There have been numerous suspicions of under-the-table payments. If that happens regularly, of course Leonard should want his cut. If that’s not really something that happens, it’s on the teams to say no.

But did teams say no?

This raises questions about what the Clippers did to lure Leonard. They reportedly looked into acquiring his logo from Nike so they could gift it to him contingent on him signing. (That didn’t happen, and lawsuits between Leonard and Nike are pending). They also previously got fined for arranging a sponsorship for DeAndre Jordan when he was a free agent.

If there’s credible suspicion or even just accusations from other teams, the NBA should investigate. But people should put their names behinds their accusations – at the very least to the league.

Without that, this just looks like sour grapes.

Report: Kevin Durant wouldn’t participate in sign-and-trade until Warriors sent Nets first-rounder

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Kevin Durant openly pondered whether the Warriors were taking advantage of him with his discounts, might have resented how they handled his injury and reportedly felt disrespected in Golden State.

Did Durant get his revenge, not just by leaving for the Nets, but by demanding Brooklyn get more return in a double sign-and-trade for D'Angelo Russell?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

First, Durant initially balked at being traded for Russell straight up, multiple sources said. He didn’t think it was a fair deal, and in this case, the Warriors had to not just satisfy the Nets, but also Durant.

Leverage was applied by the player, and Golden State had to include a first-round pick before Durant would agree to sign off. The Warriors begrudgingly gave it up and did so with a heavy condition: If the pick falls within the top 20 next year, they don’t have to send it, and instead will only give Brooklyn a second-round pick … in six years.

This characterization seems unfair to Durant.

Was he pettily trying to stick it to Golden State? Perhaps. I can’t rule that out.

But I wouldn’t assume his motivations.

This could easily be spun into Durant helping his team, which at that point was the Nets. The only way Brooklyn getting an extra draft pick helps Durant is helping his team build a winner. At that point, he no owed the Warriors no favors in building their team.

The Warriors badly enough wanted Russell – the youngest All-Star ever to change teams through fee agency – that they agreed to the trade (and to send Andre Iguodala plus a first-round pick to the Grizzlies and to get hard-capped).

Acquiring Durant in a sign-and-trade rather than signing him directly was also an important aspect of the Nets’ offseason. They dealt $30,479,200 of salary* to acquire Durant and his $38,199,000 max salary.

Cap room goes only as far as its actual amount. Teams can acquire 125% of outgoing salary plus $100,000 in a trade.

That extra spending power was key to signing DeAndre Jordan.

*Russell’s $27,285,000 max salary plus $1,597,100 guaranteed to each Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier.

There were other workarounds if a sign-and-trade didn’t go through. Durant could have taken a discount, as initially reported. He could have put unlikely incentives in his deal, as Kyrie Irving did.

But a sign-and-trade worked well for both Durant and Brooklyn.

Whether Durant was acting on his own or as a conduit for the Nets, the extra pick makes the arrangement even better for Brooklyn.

Here are incentives Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving must hit to get max salaries

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Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, according to initial reporting, took discounts so the Nets could sign DeAndre Jordan.

That isn’t the full story.

Both Durant ($38,199,000) and Irving ($32,742,000) can get their full max salaries next season. They just must hit incentives.

Brooklyn cleverly structured Irving’s contract to maximize cap space. The Nets had enough cap space for his base salary plus incentives. But once signed, Irving counted toward the cap at only his base salary plus likely incentives. Unlikely incentives – by definition, ones he wouldn’t have achieved last season – stop counting once he’s signed. So, that offered wiggle room used to get Jordan.

Irving has $1 million of unlikely incentives next season divided into eight $125,000 possible bonuses, according to Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks of ESPN: Irving can trigger the bonuses by:

  • Playing 70 games
  • Playing 60 games and averaging fewer than 2.4 turnovers per game
  • Playing 60 games and averaging 4.6 free-throw attempts per game
  • Shooting 88.5% on free throws
  • Making 2.8 3-pointers per game
  • Committing fewer than 2.1 fouls per game
  • His team scoring 114 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor
  • His team allowing 106 or fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor

These are all in reach for Irving, but none are locks. I’m surprised his incentives are set as so difficult. There were ways to structure these as more likely while remaining technically “unlikely.” Irving is a superstar. He had all the leverage.

Still, I doubt he’s fretting over $1 million.

These incentives carry through the other three years on his contract and presumably increase as his salary rises. So, there’s more than $4 million at stake. Again, I doubt Irving is too concerned.

Durant also has $1 million of incentives. He can get the bonus with any of the following:

  • His team making the playoffs
  • His team winning at least 43 games
  • Playing 50 games
  • Making an All-Star team

The individual honors seem highly unlikely next season with Durant sidelined by a ruptured Achilles. The Nets will probably win enough for Durant to qualify, anyway.

I see no roster-building reason Durant, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Warriors, has incentives in his contract. Durant could have seemingly signed a straight max deal and left Brooklyn the same flexibility to sign Jordan and do everything else this summer.

My best guess: Durant wanted to show a shared sacrifice with Irving. That’d be in-character for Durant.

There are a lot of good vibes coming from Brooklyn right now.

Winners and Losers in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George choosing to play with Clippers

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Forget that little bit of shaking in Las Vegas, this was the earthquake that shook the NBA Friday night:

Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers and convinced Paul George to force the Thunder to trade him to Los Angeles as well. They formed their own superteam just down the hall from LeBron James and Anthony Davis — and the Clippers have a far better supporting cast. The rivalry is on in Los Angeles.

Who won and who lost in the big moves? Let’s break it all down.

First, one quick note: The Toronto Raptors are not on the list below. After this I can’t exactly call them winners, they just lost the best basketball player walking the face of the Earth and got nothing back. However, they aren’t losers, either — they won an NBA title with him. This was the gamble team president Masai Ujiri made: They could do everything right and still lose Leonard. That’s exactly what happened, and now they likely start down a path retooling around Pascal Siakam. But losers? They took a chance and won a title, that’s still the biggest win in the NBA.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

Remember when we thought Leonard was just a basketball-playing robot devoid of human emotions or ambition outside of winning titles? A player custom-designed for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. That seems a very, very long time ago now.

Leonard has taken charge of everything. On the court in these playoffs, he staked his claim as the best player in the world, leading Toronto to a title.

Now he’s taken charge of his career off the court in an “I’m a superstar and I can do what I want” kind of way. He forced his way out of San Antonio. After a season in Toronto, he tried to recruit Kevin Durant to join him on the Clippers (but KD, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan were already all but headed to Brooklyn). So Leonard convinced Paul George to go into the Thunder offices, a year after he signed a max contract to stay there, and demand a trade to the Clippers. Then Leonard told the Clippers he would only sign with them if they landed George.

That is a superstar getting what he wants. That’s a winner.

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

This win isn’t just about being title contenders, although the Clippers are certainly that now. This is a win about perception for the Clippers.

Talk to a basketball fan over age 28 about the Clippers and the images that come to mind are Donald Sterling’s comments and racism, drafting Michael Olowokandi, and Elgin Baylor as a caretaker GM not spending money. This was the organization that Lamar Odom begged not to bring him back.

That is not these Clippers. It hasn’t been for a while, but it takes time for perceptions to change. Ask a 24-year-old, fifth-year NBA player what he knows of the Clippers and he will say they make the playoffs every year, have a coach in Doc Rivers everyone wants to play for, they used to be Lob City, last season they had a scrappy team that looked like fun to play on, they have the logo in the front office, and they have an owner in Steve Ballmer worth $50 billion and he’s not afraid to spend it. The Clippers of recent years have been one of the best-run organizations in the NBA.

Now everyone will see that because they are contenders.

Loser: Los Angles Lakers

The Lakers — and Los Angeles as a city on some level — are a star-driven culture. Showtime was Magic and Kareem and Worthy. Then came Shaq and Kobe. Then Kobe and Pau (although Gasol was never quite pure Los Angeles in terms of showmanship and brand). It is in the franchise’s DNA to chase stars.

So there really wasn’t a choice for Laker GM Rob Pelika and company: Chase Leonard as their third star. Sure, there were risks, but they had to do it — and it was the right move. They came close to landing Leonard and having the greatest “big three” the NBA had ever seen.

But the nearly six days it took for Leonard to make his call — he was basically stalling for time so the Clippers could pull off the George trade, but he needed the leverage to get the Clippers to go all-in — left Los Angels with a much weaker field of rotation players to add to the roster. Guys who had been likely targets such as J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, Brook Lopez, Patrick Beverley, and more were off the board. The Lakers did well to land Danny Green, and DeMarcus Cousins can play a role, but the pickings got slim on the Lakers. Pelinka still has a lot of work to do on this roster if they are going to be a serious title threat.

Winner: NBA Fans: There is no superteam

This is Adam Silver’s favorite thing about the trade.

There are right now, by my (maybe conservative) estimate, eight NBA teams who can go into next season with the thought they have a shot at an NBA title. That is as close to parity as the NBA will ever get. The race is wide open. If Leonard had chosen the Lakers the NBA would have been back to the start of the last two seasons, just with Los Angeles taking Golden State’s place — there was one dominant team to beat and it was going to take a lot of things to go right to knock them off. Now, we get to see how team chemistry, healthy, and a plethora of other factors play into an open race, rather than seeing if some team can shock the world.

Loser: Russell Westbrook

This isn’t a “he’s a bad teammate” rant, in part because there are plenty of guys who would like to play with Westbrook, and in part because Paul George said that’s not the issue.

Instead, Westbrook is a loser because his world just got turned upside down. Westbrook thought he had a true partner in crime, but his man ran off to Los Angeles with some guy who has cornrows driving a 1997 Chevy Tahoe. The Thunder, as constructed, will be a borderline playoff team in the West. That means another year of Westbrook against the world, or the Thunder trade him, too. Which is likely the path everyone decides to go down, but finding a good team to take on the four years, nearly $170 million still on Westbrook’s contract (counting his option year) is not going to be easy.

Winner: Thunder GM Sam Presti

One year ago, Presti was validated. Oklahoma City had gambled on trading for Paul George when the people around the star tried to warn everyone off because he wanted to be a Laker, but after a year in OKC George signed up for four more.

This week, George walked into Presti’s office and demanded a trade to the Clippers. It was a punch to the gut on a lot of levels, a blow to the culture the Thunder thought they had built.

Presti recovered and got a haul equal to what the Pelicans got for Anthony Davis. OKC receives Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (second-team All-Rookie and a promising player), Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks (the Clippers first-round pick unprotected in 2022, 2024 and 2026, the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 pick and Miami’s lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick) plus the right to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.

Whatever direction the Thunder go now, they have a lot of assets and options.

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers

Kawhi Leonard is out of the East and now the path to the Finals just got a whole lot easier. The Bucks and 76ers are two clear favorites to come out of the conference, and one fewer hurdle stands in their way.