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Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blake Griffin practices, eyes return soon | Retired referee Crawford speaks out | What a weird week for LeBron James | Wolves’ decision on GM, coach on hold

No. 1: Griffin practices, eyes return — The wildcard with the Clippers has always been Blake Griffin, seeing as how his season was interrupted by a bum quad and a busted hand, and now we’ll get to see how wild of a card he is. Griffin returned to practice with the Clippers on Saturday, and the organization announced Griffin will begin serving his four-game suspension on Sunday after being medically cleared to return. Here’s Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times with the latest on Griffin and the Clips:

Of course, there will be one final delay included in any timeline. Griffin must serve a four-game suspension for punching team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, punishment that won’t start until the Clippers inform the NBA that Griffin has been cleared to play.

That could come as soon as Sunday, when the Clippers play the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, based on the results of Griffin’s first practice. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Griffin looked “phenomenal” while completing the entire session. His conditioning was also better than expected.

If Griffin began serving his suspension Sunday, he could return April 3 against the Washington Wizards and play in seven games before the Clippers open the playoffs.

“I don’t care if it’s zero, to be honest, now, as long as he’s playing to start the playoffs,” Rivers said when asked how many games he wanted Griffin to play before the end of the regular season.

The NBA is not expected to independently verify that Griffin has sufficiently recovered to play, but if it has any concerns it can step in and have him examined by a doctor of its choosing.

Rivers said Griffin had received clearance from his hand and quadriceps injuries “for a while” but needed to build strength and endurance before being allowed to practice. Griffin’s partially torn left quadriceps tendon, which has sidelined him since Christmas, was bothersome as recently as a few weeks ago, forcing Griffin to briefly scale back his workouts.

The Clippers held only a light practice Saturday and it was not clear whether they would need to see Griffin participate in more rigorous activities before clearing him to play. Griffin was not made available to speak with reporters.

“I don’t know if one practice is enough to activate him,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to activate him when we think he’s ready to play.”

Griffin was in the midst of possibly his best season before being injured, averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists while making 50.8% of his shots. The Clippers have gone 27-14 since Griffin last played but have struggled in recent weeks.

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VIDEO: Joey Crawford joins GameTime

 No. 2: Retired referee Crawford speaks out — For many years Joey Crawford was the referee that players and coaches and fans either loved or hated, depending on a variety of factors. That said, Crawford carried almost universal respect both within and beyond the walls of the league. He announced his retirement recently and plans to stay close to the game. He also had a chance to reflect, and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York filed this question and answer

What were your favorite games or moments you officiated?

Crawford: I think there’s only [five] Game 7’s in the NBA Finals in the last [31] years … and I have had three of them … to me it is a panacea. To [not only] get one of those games but then to get three of them … first one was Houston-New York (1994), second one was Detroit-San Antonio (2005) and third one was Boston-L.A. (2010) … My first Finals game was 1986 — Houston-Boston. Scared to death! I had sweat before that game, in places that I didn’t even know I had sweat. Man, could I run back then. It was a blur. I hit Bill Fitch with a T. I remembered that. He wasn’t happy with me.

Referees often say that they can’t remember their best calls but will never forget their worst call. Is there one big regret for you?

Crawford: There are situations that you regret. The Duncan thing is always a big thing, I regret that. There are numerous interactions that you have with players and coaches, that you get back into the hotel and say, “Why did I say that to him? Why did I do that? That was dumb! Stupid!” Those kind of things wore on me. My last nine to 10 years was a lot better because I wasn’t going through the inner turmoil. … After I went to a sports psychologist, I knew when I screwed up and I tried not to do it again, and even if I did screw up, I would apologize immediately. … As bad or as hard as that was to go through in 2007, it was something I did, I learned from it. I was lucky that Stern gave me my job back and I moved on. I tried to use it as a positive. It was hard to use it as a positive because there was so much negative that came out of it.

What would you say to Duncan if you guys talk about what happened and tried to get some closure?

Crawford: I would talk to him tomorrow. … I have not reached out to him and he has not reached out to me. What would I say to him? Great question! I would just say to him that it cost me more money than it cost you if we went by percentages of salary. No, you know what? I would just say to him, if we got down to it, the nitty gritty, we are sitting there having a couple of beers, I would say, “Hey, I made a mistake.” But you know what, in reality, I can’t go anywhere without somebody asking me about Tim Duncan. He is known for his great stellar career. I don’t know what I am known for. I guess it’s throwing out Tim Duncan. What are you going to do? It is part of my career. I don’t hold anything against him. It is just part of what happened.

What did the sports psychologist help you with the most?

Crawford: When I felt it kick in, to lose my temper or why I was losing it, he gave me certain exercises that helped. My problem was that I am overly passionate. It is a genetic thing. My father was the same thing. All you talked about in my house was officiating. I didn’t have many conversations with my father because he was gone all the time, but any conversation that you did was usually about officiating and how you approached officiating. And the approach in our house was aggression. … My father, he was going to fight Alvin Dark, who was the manager of the Giants, in back of the stadium after a game. I said, “Dad, why didn’t you?” He says they broke it up. He says we were going to fight. And he said, “I hated that man.” He said [even] in his 90s, “I would fight him.” … That is what I am talking about with the aggression. His approach to a situation was with aggression. That was when I first started reffing at 18, going up to the Eastern League at 21, 22, mine was aggression. When I first started working at the NBA, it was aggression. That is what I did. And I am not saying it was right.

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No. 3:  What a weird week for LeBron James — And that’s putting it mildly. We’re talking strange tweets, weird Instagrams, professed love for his old teammates with the Heat and of course the continued inconsistent performance of the Cavaliers. Keeping track of all the strangeness has been a full-time job, and followers of LeBron have gone nuts trying to figure out what it all means. Maybe LeBron James doesn’t even know. Anyway, Ken Berger of CBS Sports did an analysis of the week and tries to put it in perspective as best he can:

James’ decision to return to the Cavs that summer was stunning on some levels, but not if you’d been paying attention. James is about power and influence and winning, and Irving’s young legs and bright future would build him a bridge to the next chapter in the book on all of the above.

This is important context to have now that the honeymoon is so clearly over; or at least, the marriage is on the rocks. After a robotic, detached performance Thursday night in a 104-95 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Cavs’ Big Three sat in different corners of the visiting locker room at Barclays Center. They might as well have been on different planets.

Kevin Love sat quietly and checked his text messages while his feet and knees received (appropriately enough) cold treatment. Irving sat across the room to Love’s left, hands on his head as he leaned back in his chair, staring blankly.

James emerged from the showers and went about his postgame routine, which on a nightly basis involves getting dressed in front of two dozen or more strangers. He sang some lyrics I didn’t recognize and pulled on a pair of dress slacks and a black-and-blue camouflage shirt for a night out on the town in New York.

“Are you enjoying playing the game this year as much as you have in the past?” I asked.

There’s been a lot of stuff swirling around James lately, in case you haven’t noticed, so I thought this was a good way to invite him to address it. He took the pass and drove the lane.

“Any time I get an opportunity to get on the floor, I love the game,” James said. “I love leading these guys. I really don’t get caught up in everything else, because I don’t read much. I don’t listen to anything outside what we need to do inside the four lines. So that doesn’t bother me.”

But something does bother him.

“What bothers me,” he said, “is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have. That’s the only time I get a little frustrated, because I understand the moment that we have. And it’s not given every year that you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

So let’s back up and try to deconstruct the extremely complicated dynamic that surrounds James and the Cavs:

  • They’re 51-21 with 10 games left before the playoffs begin, a rare 50-win team that has endured a mid-season coaching change and copious amounts of drama.
  • They sometimes put forth sub-optimal effort, displaying a disturbing tendency to play down to the competition.
  • They don’t seem to enjoy being on the same court together. Basketball is supposed to be fun, and the Cavs make it look like work. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Everyone in Cleveland, from Dan Gilbert on down, is scared to death that all of these factors, coupled with James’ peculiar behavior on social media and some comments he made about teaming up with other stars, means that he’s going to leave Cleveland a second time.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the tweets, subtweets and his unfollowing of the Cavs on Twitter. Should James have realized that his words and actions on social media were going to be analyzed, dissected, interpreted and misinterpreted, thus bringing controversy upon himself and his team? Of course he should have. But James has been living in a parallel universe for so long, it’s not even clear that he can hear the noise or see the hazards anymore.

Then there was Saturday night in Miami, when James spent most of the halftime break chumming around with his buddy Dwyane Wade instead of warming up with his team, which was getting its doors blown off by the Heat. According to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, this was not some vague tweet that was open to interpretation; this was unacceptable.

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No. 4:  Wolves still unsure about front office — When you’re struggling, change is always possible even though the roster seems headed in the right direction. That sums up the state of the Timberwolves right now. Karl-Anthony Towns is a strong favorite for top rookie honors and other young players have shown measurable growth this season, but the Wolves still can’t win regularly and will wind up with another high lottery pick. After the death of Flip Saunders, who had the dual role of coach and GM, those duties were assumed by Sam Mitchell and Milt Newton, but purely on an interim basis, and that tag hasn’t been officially removed by owner Glen Taylor. The owner spoke recently to Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune, who filed this report:

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on Friday clarified his team’s future following the October death of part-owner, coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, saying he will keep General Manager Milt Newton on the job making personnel decisions at least through July’s NBA free-agency period.

Deciding he hasn’t yet had the chance to fairly evaluate Newton’s performance, Taylor told WCCO-AM that Newton will run the June draft in which the team likely will have a top-six or -seven pick and the July free-agency period, when the league’s salary cap will balloon with the arrival of a new $24 billion television contract.

“That’s what I’ve asked him to do,” Taylor told the radio station.

Taylor also said he doesn’t expect to complete his negotiations to sell 30 percent of the franchise to Los Angeles private-equity investor Steve Kaplan and said he has turned to discussions about selling a lesser percentage to other investors without the intention that they will eventually buy controlling interest.

Taylor expanded Newton’s duties and made associate head coach Sam Mitchell the team’s interim head coach last September after Saunders was hospitalized with complications from his cancer treatments. Taylor later said he’d give both men the entire season to prove themselves on the job.

Relying upon young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, Mitchell has coached the Wolves to a 23-48 record entering Friday’s game at Washington.

Taylor didn’t address Mitchell’s future on Friday, other than to say he and team management will evaluate “everything” at season’s end.

Newton hasn’t made a trade yet while working his expanded duties. The transactions he has made have included buying out the contracts and releasing veterans Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, both of whom then signed with title contender San Antonio. He also signed D League center Greg Smith to two 10-day contracts and now for the rest of the season.

“With Milt, we haven’t had the draft yet,” Taylor said. “That’s such an important part of our future, and we haven’t had free-agency opportunities this summer. That’s coming. So there are just a lot of things for him to either display his talents or really help our organization in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see how he does.”

Saunders hired Newton in summer 2013 to help him with front-office duties after the two men worked together with the Washington Wizards. A starter on Kansas’ 1988 NCAA championship team, Newton worked a decade in Washington, eventually becoming the team’s vice president of player personnel. He had never run an NBA team’s personnel operations until September.

Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, said he expects Newton will bring in experienced people to help him with the draft and free agency.

“There’s nothing wrong with people getting people around to help and advise, sort of like consultants, people who have been around the league and have experience doing this,” Taylor said. “I’m sure that is one of the things I’d expect him to do. Not to take this all on himself, but to utilize others who have experience. By doing that, shows you have good leadership.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmy Butler doesn’t think he’ll need surgery on his knee this summer, but his situation bears watching anyway … The logjam in the No. 3 through 6 spots in the East could stay tangled until the final game of the season, and the Celtics, about to embark on a long road trip, will need to maintain the paceAndrei Kirilenko gets his own day with the Jazz on Monday … The Sixers need everything, but we can start at point guard. The braintrust is busy scouting the NCAA tournament looking for talent but especially at that position … Speaking of point guards, did the Jazz get the bad end of the deal for Trey Burke, who led Michigan to the title game?Bill Walton doesn’t think his son Luke should leave the Warriors’ bench for the Knicks’ head job

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