Reggie Jackson

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

Leave a comment

Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Troy Weaver takes over as GM, looking to ‘restore’ Pistons

Troy Weaver Pistons
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Leave a comment

DETROIT — The timing eventually worked out for Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons introduced Weaver as their new general manager on a video conference Monday. The former Oklahoma City Thunder executive joins a Detroit team that was interested in him previously – and he takes over a GM spot that was vacant for a couple years.

“We had actually tried to talk to Troy a couple years ago. OKC wasn’t quite ready to let him go,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “So he’s been on our radar for a while.”

The Pistons shook up their front office two years ago. Stan Van Gundy had been the coach and team president, and after Detroit moved on from him, there was no official GM. Ed Stefanski took over the front office, and Dwane Casey was hired as coach.

Now Weaver will fill the GM role, with Stefanski remaining as a senior advisor to Gores.

“Troy, Ed and Dwane will work on a day-to-day basis with each other,” Gores said. “Troy will have normal, and even higher than normal, GM responsibilities.”

Weaver said he felt loyal to the Thunder and wanted to help bring a championship to Oklahoma City – but he thought now the fit was right with the Pistons.

The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, although Weaver described the situation as a “restoring” and not a rebuild. The Pistons went 20-46 this season and traded Andre Drummond in February. They hope to have more flexibility going forward.

“We didn’t have a lot of cap room at the time when Ed came on, so we felt like we really needed to clean things up,” Gores said. “I think he did a great job. … The reason Ed did not come on as GM, we had decided that Ed was going to be one level kind of above that, and that we needed to leave that spot open for our next 10, 15 years, for somebody like Troy.”

Although the Pistons dealt Drummond and bought out point guard Reggie Jackson, they still have an expensive star on the roster in Blake Griffin. Weaver mentioned Griffin and guard Derrick Rose immediately when asked about Detroit’s roster.

“Those guys have had some injury history, and they’re looking forward to building their careers back, so that stood out. Excited to get them healthy and help us move forward,” Weaver said. “Then the second piece of it is the young players on the roster – Sekou (Doumbouya), (Luke) Kennard, Bruce Brown, Svi (Mykhailiuk).”

Weaver did not want to discuss forward Christian Wood because of his free agency.

The Pistons announced the hiring of the 52-year-old Weaver last week. He spent the past 12 seasons with the Thunder, including three-plus years as vice president of basketball operations. He served eight seasons as vice president/assistant general manager.

Weaver, Gores, Casey, Stefanski and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem were all on the video conference Monday.

“I always recognized Troy as one of the top talent evaluators – you just look at the finished products in OKC, he had a big part of doing that. Not only that, he’s a man of his word,” Casey said. “He’s genuine, he’s real, and I will say this, and in today’s time, with all the unrest, here’s an opportunity for an African American man to be named to this position, and I’m going to credit Tom and Arn and Ed for opening up the door for the opportunity for him to step in.”

Gores was asked about the importance of diversifying the front office with this hire.

“Did we put an emphasis, and make it a priority? Yes,” Gores said. “But at the same time, can’t take an ounce away from Troy. He was the best person in the world for this job.”

Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division and the Central Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.

Three Things to Know: Welcome to the Lakers’ measuring stick weekend

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Welcome to the Lakers’ measuring stick weekend. The conventional wisdom from NBA pundits — and their sources inside the game — is that there are three teams on the top tier in the NBA as we approach the playoffs: The Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers.

Every other team with title dreams — Boston, Denver, Houston, Toronto — are trying to prove they belong on that level.

This weekend, we may get a sense of the pecking order in that top tier. Friday night, the Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks. Sunday, the Lakers and Clippers face off in the last meaningful game between them this season.

This is the Lakers’ measuring stick weekend.

The Lakers have been the best team — and the most consistent team — in the West all season long. After years of conserving energy during the regular season in preparation for a deep playoff run (where he had to carry lesser teams), LeBron James has gone all-out in an MVP-level season. LeBron averaged 25.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and an NBA-best 10.7 assists a game, all while playing strong defense night in and night out. Mix in a season from Anthony Davis that will get him down-ballot MVP votes — 26.6 points and 9.5 rebounds a game — and you have the best duo in the NBA.

Those two, with just a little help, can get the Lakers a win most nights.

This weekend for the Lakers is not most nights.

The Milwaukee Bucks come to town with the best defense in the NBA this season by a longshot, one predicated on taking away shots in the paint and corner threes. That will be the most interesting thing to watch in this game: The Lakers have great size and length, and they average 53.7 points in the paint a game (second in the league), while the Bucks surrender just 38.6 points a game in the paint, fewest in the league. Can the Bucks turn the Lakers into a jump-shooting team? If they do, Milwaukee wins. If the Lakers get to the rim, they win.

Then there is the MVP-proxy battle. The Bucks are led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been better this season than last and is in the mix for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year again. At this point, talking to voters, LeBron is the only real threat to Antetokounmpo’s MVP repeat. One game does not an MVP-case make, but this subplot will be watched.

Then on Sunday, the finally-healthy-and-rolling Clippers will host the Lakers. The Clippers come in having won six in a row, including demolishing the Houston Rockets on Thursday night — they have looked dominant of late. The Clippers have been a paper tiger all season, with injuries holding them back — Doc Rivers has had to go with 28 different starting lineups. Finally the Clippers are whole, they added Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson at and after the deadline, and they have looked like a team living up to their potential. The Clippers are long, play good defense, have the deepest bench in the league — Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are both in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year again — and they have guys who can get shots whenever they want in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Regular season games in March do not decide playoff series. If these three teams meet, as expected, in the playoffs it will be in late May and June, and every team will have evolved some by then. Things will be different.

But this weekend we get to take the measure of the best teams in the NBA going against one another. For a Lakers’ team that has questions to answer, this weekend is the first big test.

Come Monday, we’ll have a slightly better idea what the top tier of the NBA looks like.

2) Clippers continue to roll, this time right over small-ball Houston. When the Rockets fully embraced small-ball, the intuitive counter argument was always “they will struggle with size.” However, that never meant “just post up Rudy Gobert” — the Rockets are good against that.

The real question was what would happen against a team with size all over the court, one can use that size and a little ball movement to get clean looks over the top of the undersized defense?

Thursday night, one of those teams — the Clippers — demolished the Rockets in a win in Houston. The final score of 120-105 makes this game seem a lot closer than it was, the Clippers led by more than 20 midway through the second quarter and kept that lead most of the way, going up by 30 at points in the fourth quarter, before garbage time kicked in.

Kawhi Leonard led the way for the Clippers with 25, but this was a balanced attack where Ivica Zubac had 17 points and Montrezl Harrell had 19 (size does matter).

Part of what went on here is Houston had an ice-cold shooting night, just one of those fluke off games. The Rockets were 7-of-42 from three on the night, at one point missing 20 in a row. That’s not going to happen again.

The Clippers, however, are finally healthy and are looking on the court like the contender they have been on paper all season. They get a good test come Sunday against the Lakers.

3) Stephen Curry drops 23 points in return, but Warriors still can’t beat Toronto. The Raptors have a way of spoiling big games in the Bay Area. Last June, it was the final game at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, which saw the Raptors celebrating a title.

Thursday night, it was Stephen Curry’s return.

Curry was back on the court after missing 58 games over four months with a broken hand. After a rough first quarter, he adjusted and looked pretty good. Curry finished with 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting overall and 3-of-12 from three, plus seven assists and seven rebounds.

That wasn’t enough to get the win. The Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell dominated this game, combining for 63 points and getting to the rim seemingly at will. Thanks to some key late plays from guys such as Pascal Siakam, the Raptors held on for the 121-113 win.

Still, it was great to see Stephen Curry back on the court. The Warriors just got a lot more interesting for the next five weeks.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jamal Murray drains the fadeaway game-winner for Denver. The Nuggets are trying to keep pace with the red-hot Clippers and hold off the charging small-ball Rockets. Denver needs every win it can get right now.

Which is why Jamal Murray’s game-winner to beat Charlotte matters.

Murray finished with 18 points to lead a balanced Denver attack where seven players scored in double figures. Nikola Jokic had another strong night with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists, but the officiating got in his head over the course of the game.

Pistons: Derrick Rose out at least two weeks with ankle injury

Pistons guard Derrick Rose and Jordan McRae
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

If they didn’t make him outright unavailable, the Pistons at least set an extremely high asking price for Derrick Rose before the trade deadline.

And, hey, Rose was having his best season in years. He’s entertaining and carries name recognition. He was the Pistons’ biggest draw.

But there was always risk in relying on a 31-year-old with extensive injury history to maintain his production. Detroit’s season is a lost cause, but this ought to raise concern even for next season.

Pistons release:

An MRI performed Monday on the ankle of Pistons guard Derrick Rose confirmed a grade two right ankle sprain.  Rose will begin treatment and be re-evaluated in two weeks.  He’s expected to make a full recovery.

This late into the year and with Detroit tanking, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rose misses the rest of the season.

The Pistons’ top five in points per game are now unavailable. Rose, Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard are hurt. Andre Drummond got traded to the Cavaliers. Reggie Jackson got bought out and signed with the Clippers.

Where will Detroit get scoring?

Maybe Jordan McRae, whom the Nuggets waived yesterday and seemed bound for the Suns.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Detroit has turned its attention to guard Jordan McRae, who was recently waived by the Denver Nuggets, sources said.

The Phoenix Suns intend to put in a waiver claim for McRae, sources said

Because the they have a worse record than Phoenix, the Pistons would get priority if both teams submit waiver claims.

McRae appeared to have a deal to join the Suns and agreed to a buyout with Denver if he cleared waivers. But I doubt he’d balk at going to Detroit. The Pistons can offer playing time as he approaches free agency. By claiming McRae, Detroit would get his Early Bird Rights and inside track on re-signing him this summer if the next month goes well.