Blow it up: Why the Clippers should embrace a rebuild

The Clippers are only one game back from the eighth seed in the West. Lou Williams is playing outside of his mind. Blake Griffin is back from concussion protocol and Patrick Beverley says he could potentially play again this year. Not to mention, they’re one of the most injured teams in the league, all around, and they still beat the Warriors on Wednesday.

So why blow it up? Why not keep getting healthier and make one last meaningful run at the title while everyone has written them off?

Easy answer to an easy question; They won’t win a title in the West. They can’t. Not with this roster in this conference with this level of competition.

The Clippers are already teetering on breaking their streak of six straight playoff appearances. So here’s why they should wave the white flag and lean into the disappointment.

Trade chips

Lou Williams’ value will simply never be higher than it is right now. He’s averaging 31.6 points per game off the bench in his last 10 contests. He’s a virtual lock for Sixth Man of the Year, although he’s pretty much playing starters’ minutes. And he dropped 50 points on Golden State on Wednesday night, which is significant because the name of the game for 29 teams in the Association is to beat the Warriors at all costs. That’s something to, at the very least, take into consideration while going over a shopping list.

Clippers

Lou Williams tries to score over Omri Casspi. (Photo by: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

The Clippers also have two of the premiere offensive-minded rebounders in the league in Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan.

At 28 and 29-years-old respectively, are both in that sweet spot where the Clippers can trade them away without an iota of seller’s remorse. Historically, big players have started to have a downturn in their numbers around 30-years-old. So, the Clips can say that they held onto Griffin and Jordan in their prime, tried their very best to make it work and can sell very high to teams in need of their production.

Also, if they keep Beverley off the court this year and maintain an air of mystery around what he is capable of, then they can sell high on his defensive potential during the off-season.

Coaching

Doc Rivers is a prolific players’ coach, and puts more stock in talent than schemes. This isn’t a knock against him in any way, and, in fact, it is what won him a championship in Boston.

The problem is that without transcendent talent on the floor, coaching has to be about schemes and patterns. Now that Chris Paul is a Rocket, Blake Griffin can’t seem to stay on the court for an entire season, and defensive wizard Patrick Beverley is probably done for the year, Rivers is not the right fit for the team.

Clippers

Doc Rivers yells at an official while Deandre Jordan begins to hold him back (Photo by: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Trading away talent for picks and placeholders is an easy way to phase out Rivers and begin again with a clean slate. His contract is up after next season, so if the team commits to the rebuild, then next year’s record should be pretty bad. That’s an excuse to let Rivers go find his next job and lets the Clippers pick a new direction.

The draft

The Clippers don’t have a wealth of draft picks this year. In fact, as of now they only have one pick. Obviously, if they trade away stars and want to rebuild, that will (or should) result in more picks.

The 2018 draft should be pretty balanced and should feature some franchise-altering talent in the first round. That leaves two ways Los Angeles can play this particular game.

They can stockpile picks and see what sticks and what doesn’t, a-la the Philadelphia 76ers. Or, they can bear hug the tanking philosophy after trading away Williams, Griffin and Jordan and aim for a high pick. Once that pick is secured, they can flip it for more chances at less-valued players, or go for broke and try to draft a star.

Either way is equally risky and equally viable, but it should all depend on what they can get for their on-court talent.

Clippers

Blake Griffin throws down a dunk. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

It’s not easy to say goodbye to Lob City. The Clippers were, genuinely, one of the most exciting teams in the NBA for a long period of time. They also successfully overshadowed a certain purple and gold clad team that shares their arena.

But with Chris Paul dropping dimes in Houston, an aging frontcourt and no real identity, it’s time to watch these players be great somewhere else. Steve Ballmer is, arguably, a top-10 owner in the league, so let’s all hope he won’t want to mortgage the future for another meaningless first round exit.

Two good teams in Los Angeles is good for the Association, and good for the fans. If this happens, however, there will be two pretty bad teams in Los Angeles, for what is probably the very first time. But this is a Band-Aid that needs to be ripped off. They still have the Dodgers, after all.

Featured image by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

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Making the case for every fringe playoff team

The NBA season is halfway over, which means it’s time to start evaluating potential playoff teams.

The top four seeds in each conference are virtual locks, due to overall talent and coaching. The fifth-seventh seeds will do some changing around as teams jockey for their playoff seeding. Although, close followers of the NBA probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons or the Trailblazers fell out of the playoff picture after overachieving slightly in the first half of the season.

As with any sport’s playoff, however, the most interesting storylines are the ones involving the teams on the bubble.

With that in mind, let’s look at each conference’s eighth seed and first two teams on the outside looking in.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (21-19, No. 8 seed)

The Pacers have been just fine without Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been playing close to his ceiling, although they’re still overpaying for him. The other piece of the trade that sent George away, Domantas Sabonis, has also been playing nicely. He’s two rebounds shy of averaging a double-double, and will probably end up setting career-high averages in every meaningful category.

While their offense has been clicking, their defense is some of the most below average in the Association. Not awful, just very mediocre. Their offense alone can win the Pacers enough games to keep them in the 8th spot. Lack of defensive consistency will have been their downfall if they fail to make the cut.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, first team out)

Philadelphia is one of the most exciting stories in the NBA this season. The “process” seems to have finally come to fruition, and we are finally seeing glimpses of what this long and arduous rebuild has wrought.

Even though the 76ers are a .500 team, don’t be fooled. They’re currently first in the league in rebounds per game, second in assists resulting made field goals, and sixth in points. A rested and re-energized team could ride that kind of momentum to a playoff spot after the All Star break. Plus, their first overall draft pick hasn’t even played five games yet.

NBA Playoffs

Embiid scores on Whiteside. (Photo by: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What will keep them out of the playoffs is their youth and inconsistency in their game to game performances. As the season drags on, the young players might start to slow down, which will only exacerbate their inconsistency issues. Those red flags usually mean a .500 team will stay a .500 team, but playing in a weak conference will definitely help.

New York Knicks (19-21, second team out)

The Knicks are a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. They are ninth in points in the paint and second in points allowed in the paint. Yes, we’re talking about the New York Knicks.

The team is huge, size-wise. Porzingis, O’Quinn, Kanter and Noah are all either over or close to 7-feet. That length pays dividends over a long regular season, but could actually be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs. The East is full of jump shooting teams, which will stretch New York’s strengths too thin to make them truly effective.

Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, No. 8 seed)

New Orleans might very well be a better team than their record indicates. They’re second in points in the paint thanks to Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. They’re also second in the NBA in assists per game thanks to some great guard play both from starters and off the bench. Not to mention they have the second toughest schedule in the NBA (according to 2016-2017 team records).

Team defense leaves a lot to be desired for the Pelicans. Bottom five in opponents points in the paint per game doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the front court they have. They also give up the third most points in the league per game.

NBA Playoffs

Davis and Cousins during a game against the Spurs. (Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It’s an especially strange case on New Orleans’ part. The chemistry and coaching is clearly there, as evidenced by the assist totals. But the defense is nowhere near where it should be, in spite of Cousins and Davis. Remember that Alvin Gentry was brought on to be a defensive mastermind, and the roster has only gotten better since he came to town. Maybe look for a coaching shake-up if the Pelicans miss the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, first team out)

Doc Rivers’ team is hurting out west. The Clippers have been a staple of the Western Conference playoffs for the past six years, but the days of Lob City have finally come to an end. Chris Paul’s departure marked a culture change for the Clips, and the team has not found its stride just yet.

Los Angeles still has a great 3-point game. Beverley, Williams, Rivers and even Griffin can all pull up from distance. They also have great personnel for man-to-man defense. Those two things are golden in NBA playoff basketball. But, yet again, team defense is going to be the main hurdle between them and their playoff streak.

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

The new look Jazz are in a soft rebuild. After losing their number one scorer in Gordon Hayward, the Jazz were almost certainly take on a new identity. But picking up Ricky Rubio and finding a steal in Donovan Mitchell should have stopped the bleeding more than it has.

Their defense is some of the best in the NBA, all around. In fact, the Jazz are top 10 in almost every meaningful defensive category under Quin Snider. Against the trend, the offense is what will probably keep Utah out of the playoffs this year. Although, again, this is a new look team. And offense almost always comes together more quickly than defense. If they can keep up the defensive dominance, they won’t be out of the playoff picture for long.

 

Featured image by ANTHONY GRUPPUSO-USA TODAY

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Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets trade: Clippers get assets for free

On Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets trade sent the NBA offseason mood from buzzing to bewilderment. In an offseason packed with rumors of blockbuster trades and splashing free agency leads, fans of the NBA finally got a trade to chew on.

The Clippers ship nine-time All-Star Chris Paul to Houston and receive Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and a 2018 first-round pick. The pick is top-three protected for the draft next June.

Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets trade

Chris Paul will team up with James Harden in Houston, and the Clippers adjust to a new identity (Photo: Slam Online).

The haul for Paul is absolutely staggering. Rumors swirled that the Clippers were already going to lose both Paul and Blake Griffin in free agency this summer, so Los Angeles was already going to have to move on without their stars. The fact that the Clippers pull in what will end up being four players for a guy who was already planning to leave the team is stunning.

The Clippers essentially received fruit snacks, a Little Debbie, a bag of chips and an extra drink for a bologna sandwich they weren’t planning on eating at lunch anyway.

The Los Angeles front office basically watched the Rockets front office lob them an alley oop, only for LA to slam it right in the Rockets’ innocent face.

According to The Vertical, Chris Paul was so far out the door of Los Angeles that he’d already made his way into the Rockets’ headquarters. Paul and James Harden had previously talked about wanting to team up, so Houston landing the Wake Forest product this summer was extremely likely.

Although the Clips lose a superstar point guard in the trade, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that Paul was already going to leave, so the fact that he’s “included” in the trade doesn’t matter.

Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets trade

The Clippers receive what will turn out to be some solid pieces and a brand spanking new rookie in next year’s draft. Sam Dekker is a young guy who was overshadowed in a crowded backcourt in Houston. Patrick Beverly can be a solid starter for Los Angeles and move back to point guard. Lou Williams can do what he does best: Be a scoring threat while getting Sixth Man of the Year consideration every single year.

Patrick Beverley: A solid two-way guard

It’s no secret that Patrick Beverley will most likely never break out and become a star in the NBA, but that’s OK. The Arkansas product is as consistent as they come. Beverley is a two-time All-NBA Defensive team selection and can play both point guard and shooting guard with ease.

In five seasons, Beverley has averaged 9.3 points per game. Again, that’s not fantastic, but it’s still solid. Los Angeles has the seventh-most turnovers in the league last season, and Beverley only averaged 1.5 turnovers per game last season. This could be a big step in taking care of the ball for the Clippers.

The bottom line is that you know what you’re getting from Beverley. He won’t be a star in LA, and may not produce many fireworks, but he’s a solid player that will make the NBA his home for a long time. The Clippers can use a leader like Beverley in the locker room and on the court, and that’s what they’ll get.

Sam Dekker: The next Gordon Hayward (maybe)

Sam Dekker’s first full NBA season came last year. In 77 games, Dekker averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field. Dekker may not seem like a big piece in the trade, but he could end up being a steal.

The 23-year-old wing man was drafted 18th in the 2015 NBA Draft. Dekker was one of the most consistent players in college basketball in his time with Wisconsin, and was the 19th ranked prospect in the nation in his 2012 recruiting class.

Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets trade

Sam Dekker could end up being a steal in the Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets trade (Photo: nba.com).

Dekker has received NBA comparisons to Gordon Hayward (cuz of course, lolz) for his versatility to play multiple positions, offensive prowess and ability to play above the rim.

Dekker’s per 36 minutes stats are encouraging. When using the metric, his points per game total jumped to 12.8. He also averaged 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes.

The Clippers will use Dekker as a versatile bench player. Dekker, who’s known as a small forward, played 87 percent of his minutes as a power forward for Houston last season according to Basketball Reference’s play-by-play stats. This only helps Dekker in that he can play from shooting guard to power forward.

The Clippers already have more depth in the backcourt than the frontcourt with Austin Rivers and the aforementioned Williams and Beverly. If the Clippers can sign J.J. Redick, they’ll have a quality backcourt. Dekker will most likely see more time in the front court which is where Los Angeles needs the most help. Dekker is a diamond in the rough in the NBA, and could break out in LA. If he does, it will make this trade even sweeter for the Clippers.

Lou Williams: Sixth Man of the Year, every year

Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets trade

Lou Williams will take his scoring expertise to Los Angeles (Photo: The Undefeated).

The Clippers need to just let Williams come off the bench and do his thing. Williams has finished in the top ten in Sixth Man of the Year voting six times in his career, including winning the award two seasons ago.

Williams has continued to improve over the course of his NBA career. He reached his career-high in scoring last season, averaging 17.5 points per game in his age-30 season. Williams shot 43 percent from the field as well. Williams has steadily seen his scoring totals rise during his career, and might as well be on pace to win the MVP by his 40th birthday.

A score-first guard, Williams can provide a scoring presence that neither Beverley nor Dekker can provide. Williams averaged 27.5 points per 36 minutes last season, which shows that when he’s on the floor, he scores at will and with tenacity.

Williams adds to what is becoming a loaded backcourt for LA. He can be the score-first player the Clippers need, and could possibly lead the team in scoring next season.

Clippers win Big, Set Up For Future

By the time this trade has panned out, the Clippers ought to credit the Rockets with an assist on keeping LA a competitive team. Yesterday, Los Angeles looked as though it could be reeling, with losing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin a real possibility. Now, Paul is gone, but the Clippers gain a lot from a trade rather than losing him in free agency.

Los Angeles’ backcourt becomes one of the ten-best in the NBA. The depth is incredible, and if the Clippers can resign J.J. Redick, it will be even better. Los Angeles will also get a chance to see Austin Rivers blossom as a starter. Rivers was a big time talent when Chris Paul missed time last season, so it seems the best is yet to come for Rivers.

Los Angeles now must focus on the frontcourt. Whether they resign Blake Griffin or sign another quality big man, shoring up the frontcourt needs to be the highest priority. If that happens, expect the Clippers to compete in the Western Conference next season.

Oh, and the Clippers will be welcoming a top-three pick to its roster after the NBA Draft this time next season.

 

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Rockets

Houston Rockets 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day 25 of our 2017 NBA Draftmas special focuses on the needs and targets of the Houston Rockets 2017 draft.

Houston Rockets 2017 Draft Summary

Houston Rockets 2017 Draft

Mike D’Antoni has taken this team to new heights along with top players James Harden and Trevor Ariza. (Photo by the Houston Chronicle)

Under newly hired head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets had an incredibly successful year. The team finished 55-27, although their season was cut short after losing in six games to a talented and well-coached San Antonio Spurs team in the Western Conference semifinals.

D’Antoni moved superstar James Harden to the point position on offense, which further enhanced their offensive success. Harden averaged 29 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds per game on 44 percent field goal percentage. His ability to score and facilitate has continuously kept the Rockets in title contention.

Other impact starters included Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly and Clint Capela, who were clearly the team’s best defensive players. Ariza and Beverly both averaged over one steal per game, while Capela averaged over one block.

The Rockets’ bench depth included two Sixth Man of the Year candidates, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, who averaged about 16 and 15 points per game respectively. Young guys like Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker showed that they can also be impact players as well.

The Rockets’ offense ranked first in three pointers attempted per game and second in points per game, showing that their offense needs no adjustments. On the other hand, their defense could use some tweaking, as they ranked 26th in points per game, 20th in blocks and 15th in defensive rebounding.

Houston Rockets 2017 Draft Picks & Needs

The Rockets traded their first round pick along with Corey Brewer to the Los Angeles Lakers in February in return for Lou Williams. This leaves Houston with only two selections in the upcoming draft, with both being in the middle of the second round.

First Round: N/A

Second Round: No. 43 (Via DEN), No. 45 (Via POR)

With defense being their glaring need, the Rockets will likely add a forward that can be a versatile defender as well as an above average rebounder.

Targets & Thoughts

Houston Rockets 2017 Draft

Jaron Blossomegame’s defense and athleticism would make him a perfect fit for the Rockets. (Photo by Draftexpress.com)

Pick #43: Jaron Blossomgame, Forward, Clemson

In his senior season, Blossomgame averaged 18 points, six rebounds and one block on 50 percent field goal percentage. He is a strong and athletic forward, who can use his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame to guard the two through four positions with ease. His explosiveness will allow him to be an exceptional rebounder and finisher near the basket.

He shot over 44 percent from three on more than three 3-pointers attempted per game in his junior season. His defensive and rebounding skills paired with his ability to hit the three makes him a great fit for Houston.

Houston Rockets 2017 Draft

2015-16 ACC Sixth Man of the Year, Isaiah Hicks, would be a steal in the second round for Houston. (Photo by TheScore.com)

Pick #45: Isaiah Hicks, Forward, UNC

Another senior, Hicks helped the North Carolina Tar Heels win a National Championship during the 2016-17 season. His per 40 minute averages were 20 points, 9 rebounds, one steal and one block per game.

In his junior season, he was awarded the ACC Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging 9 points and 5 rebounds per game on about 62 percent field goal shooting.

Hicks’ 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame allows him to be a menacing physical presence down low. Hicks would be a great fit in Houston as he would add a needed rebounding and defensive presence on the low block who also having enough athleticism to defend the perimeter.

Conclusion

With defense and rebounding as their blatant needs, the Rockets would be smart to add an older player out of the draft who can impact the game on the defensive end while also being able to attack the glass.

Jaron Blossomegame is a defensive stud whose athleticism will allow him to be a menace on the boards for a small forward. Isaiah Hicks would also fit the bill, as his defensive ability paired with his aggressiveness on the glass would make him a perfect piece for the Rockets moving forward.

 

Thanks for checking out the Houston Rockets 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 26 of our NBA Draftmas special to see what the Washington Wizards may do.

NBA Draftmas Day 23: San Antonio Spurs

NBA Draftmas Day 24: New Orleans Pelicans

 

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Expect An Exciting End to the NBA Trade Deadline

With the recent blockbuster trade that sent Demarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, the Trade Deadline has started to heat up in the NBA. What deals can still happen in the next few days?

There has been some speculation that the Cousins deal actually depreciated the market. Teams may be less inclined to give up a bundle of assets since the Pelicans gave so little for a superstar. The current state of the NBA lends well for some trades to still happen however. There are a few names in particular that seem to be hitting the market.

NBA Trade Deadline

Brook Lopez (Photo courtesy: twitter.com)

The Nets seem to be the biggest seller at this point. Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic have both been floating around trade talks for a good while now. Finding an appropriate destination for them is a different story.

Lopez was often linked to the Pelicans who have obviously satiated their need for a big man with Cousins. The Pelicans’ deal seriously hampers the chances of a Lopez deal happening. Although he was linked in trade talks with the Pacers, it seems unlikely that the Pacers’ first round pick will be enticing enough to get Lopez.

Bogdanovic is another story. He would be a perfect fit in Oklahoma City as they need a wing threat. He also could fit in Washington as a bench scorer, which is something the Wizards desperately need. It’s yet to be seen whether either of those deals could materialize, but Bogdanovic is much more likely to move at the deadline.

The most recent development of the day is the linking of Blake Griffin to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are one of the few teams that have the assets to grab a superstar (assuming Vlade Divac is done giving them away), and if anyone was going to make a huge splash it would be Boston. With Kevin Love injured, the Cavaliers may try and leverage their assets for a chance at a title push this year.

The bottom line is that even though the Cousins trade undoubtedly will make General Managers more wary about being on the wrong side of a deal, the atmosphere for big trades may have been increased. The parity in the league right now is as high as it has been in a long time, and teams may try to take advantage of a perceived window of opportunity.

The four best teams in the East (The Cavs, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors) all have a shot at winning the East after the Kevin Love injury. Although the Cavaliers remain the favorites, an upset is more likely than it has been since Lebron Left Cleveland in the first place. In the West, the Pelicans trade allows for significantly more parity, and the chances of a playoff upset increase astronomically.

The next few days could reflect those sentiments. Look out for at least a few deals to be made, and maybe even a blockbuster.

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