Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26

Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”


No. 2: Questions abound for new-look Hornets — Change came in a major way for the Charlotte Hornets during the free agent summer of 2016. Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee signed elsewhere. Roy Hibbert joins the mix with Kemba Walker, Nic Batum and Marvin Williams (both signed to new deals) and the rest of a core group trying to build off of last season’s playoff season. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer raises some questions about the new-look Hornets headed into a critical season for the franchise:

Will Michael Kidd-Gilchrist bounce back from his injury-plagued season?

Two shoulder surgeries in the same season is serious stuff. The second injury was worse than the first for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is this team’s best defensive player.

Kidd-Gilchrist is as hard a worker as any Hornet, so you know he put in the effort throughout rehab on these injuries. And he’s incredibly tough, both mentally and physically.

The Hornets so missed what he provides: the ability to guard multiple positions, excellent rebounding for a small forward and ball-handling skills to complement the guards. Unfortunately, the rugged way he plays will always leave him susceptible to injury.

Can Roy Hibbert regain anything close to All-Star form?

It has to help that center Roy Hibbert has a relationship with Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing. If anyone is equipped to help Hibbert regain form, it’s Hall of Fame center Ewing.

Hibbert was a bad fit with the Los Angeles Lakers, who were transitioning last season from the Kobe Bryant era to a rebuilding mode. Hibbert had a career low in points per game (5.9) and his rebounding average (4.9) was his lowest since his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers.

One thing that should help Hibbert: Unlike with the Lakers, he shouldn’t be extraneous as a Hornet. One of the Hornets’ flaws last season was no real rim protection. If Hibbert can deliver anything close to how he impacted games with the Pacers, he’ll play a lot. Also, Clifford considers Hibbert’s offense under-rated.

Is Batum ready to live up to his new mega-contract?

Batum re-signed with the Hornets in July, for five years and $120 million – by far the biggest such deal in franchise history. General manager Rich Cho made no secret that Batum was his top priority, and the team and Batum cut a deal four hours after free agency started.

Batum didn’t have much impact playing for the French national team at the Rio Olympics. He had a different role with that group – he wasn’t a primary ball-handler, for instance – so perhaps how he played in August is immaterial to how he’ll play again in Charlotte.

Batum made things much easier for point guard Kemba Walker last season, as did Lin. With Lin leaving for the Nets, it’s all the more important Batum plays at least as well as he did last season. It should help if Kidd-Gilchrist stays healthy, which would reduce some burden on Batum at the defensive end.


No. 3:Pistons open camp in much better space  Stan Van Gundy‘s Detroit Pistons were in such a different space this time a year ago, on the eve of a training camp filled with uncertainty on the roster and in terms of their culture. There are no such issues this time around, as Rod Beard of the Detroit News reports:

Last fall, the Pistons were concerned about whether Andre Drummond would sign a contract extension. He signed a five-year, $125 million deal this summer, but a similar scenario exists with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock, whose rookie contracts are up. If they can’t reach a deal by the Oct. 31 deadline, both players could become restricted free agents next summer.

General manager Jeff Bower said the team has been in ongoing discussions with both players and their agents, but haven’t reached a deal yet.

“We’re all in agreement it’s an atmosphere and environment where they have good thoughts,” Bower said. “We’re going to continue to take those talks a little bit further through the month and see if there’s an opportunity to reach an extension now.”

After the Pistons used their cap space to re-sign Drummond and bring in the free agents, they don’t any remaining space, but would go over the cap to re-sign either or both players.

“It’s different for us now because we’ll be over the cap regardless next summer,” Van Gundy said. “We can try to get extensions done — and we’d like to if we can — if we can come to an agreement on something mutually beneficial.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to get both of those done.”


No. 4: What’s next for KG?Doc Rivers and the Clippers had a spot for him. Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves would have welcomed him back for another year as well. But Kevin Garnett knew it was time to wave goodbye after giving his heart and soul to the game for the past 21 years. With so few in his inner circle, no one is sure what comes next for the future Hall of Famer. Garnett’s brother-in-law, famed music producer Jimmy “Jam” Harris, has an idea. He shared his thoughts with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Was it time for KG to retire, and were you sad about the news?

I wasn’t sad, but I am reflective. That is the word I would use right now. I have so many thoughts going through my head. I feel so blessed to know him and watched him throughout his career. Go through bad times. Go through good times. Receive the ultimate, winning the NBA championship. I think that meant everything, and I was able to share in that experience.

It will be interesting to see what he decides to do. There are a lot of people that retire. There are some people that retire and go on and do better things after retirement. The best example of that is Magic Johnson. When you look at Magic, his impact is going to be as a businessman and a trailblazer for AIDS research and HIV. The basketball takes care of itself, and you talk about it, but it’s all the things that he is doing off the court. What he has done off the court is so much bigger for me.

There are certain people that have the opportunity to do that. Michael Jordan is well on his way in doing that with ownership and the things that he is doing. Now he’s become a lot more outspoken, which I think is great. You see the impact that Charles Barkley has on the way the game is covered and even the way it is played and called. People remember him playing, but they will remember Charles Barkley as the guy on TNT. He’s made a legacy after basketball.

There are a few players that will be able to do that, and I think Kevin will be one of those players. It will be very interesting to see what he chooses to do. He’s in a situation where he can choose to do what he wants to do. I think he will excel at whatever he does.

Garnett once said that he will disappear when he retires, and if you want to find him he’ll be playing basketball at the YMCA in Malibu, California. You think he we will be outside of the public eye?

Yes, you probably will see him at the Malibu YMCA playing ball.

I think he has the intention of, ‘You’re not going to see me.’ I think he has way too much to offer. And people that have a lot to offer need to be there for people who needs things. He will be there. He may hide from the spotlight a little bit because that never appealed to him. He’s never tried to be that guy. But I think there is a great future ahead of him that he may not know what it is at this point. And that’s fine.

Would you be surprised to see him on television as an NBA analyst?

No, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on TV. I would enjoy seeing him on TV. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to sit with him to watch a basketball game, but it’s hilarious. It’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did that. Ownership, he expressed an interest in that. But it’s too bad with Flip passing away. It was a great plan that Flip had. The initial plan was to bring him back, give him the ropes of ownership.

I think he still is interested in that. He has never expressed one definitive thing that he wants to do. That’s why I said there is no rush to me. I’m sure he’s made plans and there are things he wants to do.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Violet Palmer, the NBA’s first female referee, is retiring from on-court duties and moving into a manager role in referee operations for the league … There’s a reason Zaza Pachulia took less money to sign with the Golden State Warriors … The Phoenix Suns have spent the past six months preparing for this moment … Rob Hennigan is at it again in Orlando, raising the bar on playoff expectations for the Magic … Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis is driven to succeed … Nuggets hoping youth movement and internal growth and development sparks turnaround … The Sixers opened their new practice facility just in time for training camp and the Ben Simmons era …     

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