Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

4 Comments

Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Report: Suns’ top point-guard target is Clippers’ Patrick Beverley

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Leave a comment

The Suns were reportedly targeting the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, Pacers’ Cory Joseph and Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

One of those point guards apparently stands above the others.

Stadium:

Shams Charania:

I’m told they’re targeting Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. He’s been at the top of their list.

The issue is price, asking price. Phoenix has only been willing to give up second-round picks in all their discussions for a veteran point guard, which they’re trying to acquire. And the Clippers, just like every other team that knows Phoenix needs a point guard, wants a first-round pick.

The Suns trading for Beverley could make sense. Phoenix badly needs a point guard, and Beverley could fit with high-scoring Devin Booker like he did with James Harden. L.A. has plenty of players capable of being lead guards – Beverley, Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Jawun Evans and Tyrone Wallace – and has already gone toward taking a step back to this season to position for the future.

But a second-rounder if far too little for Beverley. If that’s all the Suns will offer, there’s nothing realistic about this.

On the other hand, an unprotected first-rounder would be too much for Phoenix to surrender.

Perhaps, there’s a middle ground – a protected first-rounder (with Troy Daniels used to match salary). It’s just a matter of negotiating the protections and determining whether there’s common ground.

Hornets’ offseason not quite a joke, but not much better than that

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
6 Comments

NBCSports.com’s 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.

At least Mitch Kupchak avoided the most biting wisecracks at his expense.

After getting fired by the Lakers in part for giving Mozgov a ridiculous four-year, $64 million contract, Kupchak’s first roster move as Hornets president was… trading for Mozgov. And maybe Kupchak is that delusional about Mozgov.

But Charlotte later flipped Mozgov to the Magic for Bismack Biyombo, who’s much better and paid only slightly more. That deal might have just fell into Kupchak’s lap, as Orlando is overloaded at center anyway and needed to aggregate salary to acquire Jerian Grant.

Still, Kupchak’s original sin with the Hornets stands. He traded Howard’s expiring contract and wound up with Biyombo, who’s due $17 million each of the next two seasons. That extra year of high salary could be disastrous.

Kemba Walker will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Charlotte has even fewer means now to upgrade its roster around him. Maybe a max contract and loyalty will convince him to stay, but at this point, Walker’s max salary might push the Hornets into luxury-tax range. That has always been a no-go for owner Michael Jordan, which means Walker returning could force downgrades elsewhere.

How appealing is any of this to him?

Charlotte could argue just shedding Howard’s presence will help, and it might in some ways. But he was also pretty productive on the court, and that counts, too.

Charlotte could also point out it got a couple second-rounders (plus $5 million) in the Howard-Mozgov trade and a couple more in the Mozgov-Biyombo trade. (The Hornets also got two more-second rounders by taking known Clippers target Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 then trading him to L.A. for the No. 12 pick, used on Miles Bridges.) But those second-rounders don’t near the going rate for accepting $17 million of 2019-20 salary. The Hornets would have been better off just buying out Howard and ending their salary commitment after this season.

At least all those second-rounders are already going to good use. Charlotte traded two for No. 34 pick Devonte’ Graham, who looked good in summer league.

Graham could help with the Hornets’ biggest weakness, backup point guard. So could Tony Parker, who received $5 million guaranteed with an unguaranteed salary next season.

But that’s a high price for the over-the-hill Parker, and that money probably could have lured a more productive player. Surely, part of Parker’s appeal was his ability to help new Charlotte coach James Borrego – hired from the Spurs – install his system.

Borrego replaces Steve Clifford, who’s a good coach but wasn’t Kupchak’s guy. Kupchak is clearly putting his stamp on this team.

Kupchak is one of the most accomplished general managers of all-time. He built multiple championship teams in Los Angeles. But he also appeared out of touch late in his tenure there. Is he a good general manager whose bad breaks just happened to have come most recently, or has he fallen behind? It’s a question he’ll settle in Charlotte.

The early returns are not encouraging.

Offseason grade: D

In surprise move, Clippers match offer sheet to Tyrone Wallace

Getty Images
1 Comment

Most around the league expected the Clippers to move on from Tyronne Wallace when the Pelicans gave the restricted free agent a two-year offer sheet. They liked his play last season, but Wallace would give the Clippers 17 guaranteed contracts on the roster, meaning they would have to pay two people not to play (they already were going to have to do that with one). Plus, the Clippers are loaded at the guard spot Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson, and Sindarius Thornwell.

The Clippers are going to match the offer anyway, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That has since been confirmed by the Clippers.

“We identified Tyrone as a versatile, competitive and tough-minded player who adds to the organizational culture,” Clippers head of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said in a statement. “Ty worked hard with our staff at Agua Caliente and Los Angeles, and his growth has been a reflection of his commitment to getting better. Together with our team’s player development program, Ty demonstrated impressive improvement and contributed meaningfully to our team last season. We are excited to welcome Ty back to the Clippers.”

Expect the Clippers to try and make a trade to cut their costs in the coming weeks, although that will come at the price of draft picks most likely.

Wallace was in camp with the Clippers last season but was cut and signed with their G-League team in Ontario, then in January got bumped up to a two-way contract. However, with all the injuries and roster changes in Los Angeles last season, Wallace got thrown into NBA action quickly — he played 31 minutes in his first game for the big club. Wallace ended up playing in 30 games for the Clippers, becoming a steady part of the rotation near the end.

Wallace looked like a guy ready for the NBA. He fits the modern game in that he’s a versatile player who can be put in at either guard spot and can defend spots one through three. He moves well without the ball. The rest of his offensive game needs work — he doesn’t have enough shooting range yet, his ball handling and decision-making need to get better — but he impressed the Clippers enough they are going to keep him.

How many minutes he can get in that rotation remains to be seen, but this is a win for Wallace because he’s getting paid.

Clippers’ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ready to bring his style to NBA

Getty Images
3 Comments

When you talk about standouts from the Las Vegas Summer League, do not leave the Clippers’ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander off the list — he averaged 19 points and four assists per game, and showed he knows how to use that 6’6″ hight and 6’11” wingspan. He posted up smaller guards, made jumpers, and showed off his own sense of style on the court.

Just like he did off-the-court draft night with the most eye-catching suit of the evening.

In a Q&A with Jovan Buha of The Athletic, Gilgeous-Alexander talked a lot about his style and his inspirations.

He also talked about learning to use his height and length in the NBA.

Because I’m so tall for a point guard, I obviously understand how to use the size. But the next thing is still playing low. Guards at this level are obviously faster and stronger and will get underneath me to make it difficult. So playing low and playing at their level will help me.

His length makes him an intriguing defender as he gets stronger (something he knows he needs to do, like most rookies).

Right now I can guard a 2. Most 2s. Some 2s are really strong. 3s? Eh. Really in the NBA it’s a lot of switching, so I feel like I can guard them. 4s is where it gets a little tough because guys are stronger and taller. I feel like 1 through 3 I can definitely guard right now pretty well. But I still need to put on weight.

How Doc Rivers will slide Gilgeous-Alexander into the guard rotation will be something to watch. Patrick Beverley is back healthy and likely will start at the point, Lou Williams is certainly a guy who wants the ball in his hands, and Milos Teodosic is still in the mix as well. That’s a lot of quality guards to handle a limited number of minutes.

But Gilgeous-Alexander could be the future at the point for the Clippers, they traded up to get him, and he’s got to get his touches and learn.