Posts Tagged ‘Blake Griffin’

Back to court in the Sterling affair

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Any hope that a Monday meeting between Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer would provide some sort of resolution to the Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership saga, currently tied up in probate court, should be tempered with a cold dose of Sterling reality.

Nothing with this comes quickly or definitively.

The process of separating Sterling from the Clippers has had more starts, stops and resets than anyone could have imagined when Shelly Sterling signed an agreement on May 29 to sell the team for $2 billion to Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.

Monday’s meeting, after court adjourned, between the Clippers’ current owner and the team’s possibly future one sent a buzz around the basketball world. But, by now, we all should realize that Donald Sterling’s mood and mind changes on a dime. There is no need to read too much into “friendly” talks between the two men. Not when there is so much that could change throughout the course of this probate hearing, which continues Tuesday and Wednesday with closing arguments scheduled for Monday.

The most optimistic of observers held out hope that a settlement might have been reached after the meeting. That is, undoubtedly, the preferred outcome of many.

But just last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was not certain that new ownership would be in position at the start of the 2014-15 season. The sale agreement between Shelly Sterling and Ballmer mandated that the sale close by July 15, with a possible one month extension built into the deal. If the matter isn’t resolved by Sept. 15 the NBA has the option of resuming the termination proceedings and the sale of the team.

Our David Aldridge asked and answered the bigger and perhaps even better question before Monday’s meeting: What happens if Donald or Shelly Sterling is still in charge of the Clippers when training camp starts?

There is another provision that allows the parties another year to consummate the sale, subject to Ballmer’s and the league’s approval. That would, of course, mean that Shelly or Donald Sterling, depending on what the probate judge decides, could still own the team when training camps begin in October.

The NBA has said that that won’t happen, and that if the probate judge rules in Donald Sterling’s favor, it will quickly reinstate the termination hearing originally scheduled for last May, when the league sought to take the team from Donald Sterling after it determined he had made racist remarks in a conversation with a girlfriend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million.

The termination hearing was postponed after the league helped Shelly Sterling find a buyer for the team. Ballmer outbid several well-heeled prospective buyers for the Clippers, who set a record for highest price paid for an NBA franchise. Only the sale of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for $2.1 billion is higher.

But when I asked Silver at his news conference last week if he could say with certainty that neither Donald nor Shelly Sterling would still be in charge of the team at the start of next season, he could not.

“No, I cannot say with certainty, and I can’t say with certainty because it’s in the hands of the probate court right now, and Donald is in the process of suing us for lots of money, and we’re defending ourselves against those lawsuits,” Silver said, referring to the $1 billion lawsuit Donald Sterling filed both against the league and Silver in June.

“The only thing I’ll say, and I appreciate that [Sacramento Mayor] Kevin Johnson, who’s been representing in essence the players in this matter and direct discussions with the players and the Players Association understand it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this,” Silver continued. “I can say with certainty we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA, and as I said, if the probate ruling doesn’t go in our favor, we’ll recommence our procedures under termination.”

So while the Monday get-together made for promising headlines, it should be noted that there are reportedly no more talks planned, per The Los Angeles Times.

Plus, there is so much more ground to cover in the probate hearing. The chief financial officer of Donald’s properties said in court Monday that Sterling needs the sale to go through to pay off some $500 million in loans — or he’d have to sell off a large part of his real estate empire.

That bit of news may provide some additional hope for those looking for a quick resolution to this mess. But there are almost certainly more twists and turns coming. That’s the reality.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ spring and summer roller coaster, courtesy of the Sterling affair

19 players to vie for World Cup roster


VIDEO: All-Access: USA Basketball 2013 mini-camp

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – USA Basketball announced a 19-man roster for its training camp that will begin in Las Vegas on July 28. From this roster, 12 players will be selected to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins on Aug. 30 in Spain.

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo said Monday that he’d like to whittle down the roster to “about 15 players” at the end of the week in Vegas, and then have the 12-man roster set when the team heads overseas on Aug. 23, after stops in Chicago and New York.

“The ultimate roster,” Colangelo said, “will be determined when we’re about to leave for Spain.”

On the 19-man list is Derrick Rose, who last played in a game on Nov. 22. Rose has fully recovered from his latest knee surgery and is ready to test himself and knock off some of the rust.

“We’d like to see him play like the Derrick of old, because he is one of the best players in the world,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday. “What we’ve heard is that he’s in great shape.”

Rose can look toward Tyson Chandler for inspiration. In 2010, Chandler was coming off an injury-riddled season with the Charlotte Bobcats. He got healthy in the summer and used the 2010 World Championship as a springboard to a great season in Dallas and an NBA title.

“Hopefully,” Krzyzewski said of Rose, “this would be a launching pad for him for a great NBA season.”

Rose is one of four point guards (Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard are the others) on the list. Colangelo has typically carried three point guards on his roster and Krzyzewski has often played two of them at the same time.

Also on the list are DeMar DeRozan and Chandler Parsons, additions made to the original list of 28 players on the greater 2014-16 roster in January. They’re two of nine wings who will be in Vegas, with the idea that the team has been at its best over the last several years with perimeter players manning both forward positions.

Not on the list is Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who is on the 2014-16 roster, but withdrew this summer. Other players on the bigger roster but not on this one are LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, David Lee, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.

Colangelo didn’t expect the guys with multiple Olympic medals to play this summer. And he understands why Leonard withdrew after a long NBA season. But it was clear on Monday that he was disappointed with another “no thanks” from Aldridge.

“We can only offer an opportunity,” Colangelo said, “and then they can either accept or not. In Aldridge’s case, this has happened a couple of times previously. But the bottom line is he advised us that he’s not available.”

The absences of eight of the 12 guys who won Olympic gold in 2012 leaves the U.S. with six guys with National Team experience, led by Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, the only two who won gold in both 2010 and 2012.

Love is one of six true bigs on the list. The U.S. has carried only three true bigs on its rosters in 2008, 2010 and 2012, usually with just one on the floor at the time. But it may choose to bring an extra to Spain, where the hosts will be their top challenger, likely with four NBA bigs (Victor Claver, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka) and on its roster.

“We’re going to sort through all of that in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York,” Colangelo said. “There’s a lot of versatile guys who can play 4 and 5, and 3 and 4.”

2014 Men’s National Team Training Camp Roster

Player Team POS Height Age Exp. National team exp.
Bradley Beal WAS G 6-5 21 2
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW G 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP F-C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR G 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kevin Durant OKC F 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN F 6-8 24 3
Paul George IND F-G 6-9 24 4
Blake Griffin LAC F 6-10 25 4
James Harden HOU G 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA G-F 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE G 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL G-F 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR G 6-3 24 2
Kevin Love MIN F-C 6-10 25 6 2010, 2012
Chandler Parsons DAL F 6-9 25 3
Derrick Rose CHI G 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW G 6-7 24 3

Age = When the World Cup begins on Aug. 30.

Morning Shootaround — June 25


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel discusses LeBron James’ opt out

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Are Clips willing to deal Griffin to get James? | Boeheim thinks Anthony would thrive in Chicago | Cavs still torn on who to take No. 1 | Report: Kings, Pistons talk J-Smoove swap | Report: Pelicans looking to move into first round

No. 1: Report: Clips interested in Anthony, James, but won’t trade Griffinor would they?LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom are on the free-agent market after their recent decisions to opt out of their contracts, are both close on a personal level with L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul. James and Paul have been close friends for years, while Anthony and Paul are also tight (anyone remember Paul famously toasting a future with Anthony during ‘Melo’s wedding?). The Clips are interested — like every other team in the league — in trying to nab Anthony and/or James this summer, but they won’t move Blake Griffin to make either transaction happen. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

The Los Angeles Clippers have strong interest in pursuing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony if they can clear the requisite salary cap space to make a maximum-level offer to the superstars, who have both elected to become free agents starting July 1.

One player they have no interest in moving, however, is forward Blake Griffin. While the Clippers would need to move significant players and money to make a run at either James or Anthony, sources told ESPN that Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers has told Griffin on numerous occasions that he considers him “untouchable” in any trade.

The Clippers have $76 million committed in salaries for next season. That figure will decrease to $71.7 million after Darren Collison, Glen Davis and Danny Granger opt out of their contracts for next season, meaning the Clippers likely would have to trade some combination of prized young center DeAndre Jordan (one year, $11.4 million), Jared Dudley (three years, $12.1 million), Matt Barnes (three years, $10.1 million), Jamal Crawford (three years, $16.3 million) or J.J. Redick (four years, $27.7 million) to facilitate a deal.

The Clippers’ discussions about making a run at James or Anthony have been internal thus far; however, sources said the team has engaged in trade discussions this spring with the Orlando Magic regarding shooting guard Arron Afflalo.

Paul is one of James’ best friends and the two have talked about playing with each other since they were in high school, when they met on the AAU and prep all-star circuits. Paul is godfather to James’ son Bryce and they were in each other’s weddings.

The Clippers have a similar interest in Anthony, who is close with both Paul and Griffin, but it would be too difficult to clear enough salary cap space to pursue both James and Anthony in tandem.

While Shelburne makes it pretty clear the Clips won’t deal Griffin for James or Anthony, that may or may not be the truth in L.A. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times echoes that the Clips are indeed interested in LeBron and that they’d be willing to move Griffin to make a deal for him happen.

Here’s more from Turner:

Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations and coach, and his staff are doing their due diligence to make the team better and would consider moving All-Star power forward Blake Griffin along with others in a sign-and-trade deal to get James, according to the officials.

The Clippers could consider sending Griffin and Jared Dudley or Griffin and Matt Barnes to Miami to get James.

The Clippers wouldn’t mind trading DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and either Barnes or Dudley to the Heat for James, but the team knows that would most likely be hard to do.

One official said James really liked Rivers and was good friends with Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

Another official said James’ wife, Savannah, really loved Los Angeles, and that her preference would be for her husband to play for the Clippers rather than the Lakers if he decided to leave.

“The Miami Heat does not think he’s leaving,” one official said. “Miami thinks it’s a ploy by James to make the team better.”

The Clippers also haven’t ruled out making a run at Carmelo Anthony, who opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the officials said.

Another NBA official said that Steve Ballmer, who has agreed to pay $2 billion to buy the Clippers from Donald and Shelly Sterling in a deal that isn’t official yet, would be willing to “pay the luxury tax” if he was able to acquire James or Anthony.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith talks on GameTime about which team might land LeBron James

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Spurs, Heat Have Questions (And More Offseason Queries)

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.cm

VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses what’s next for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship since 1999, but it took 15 years for the most stable franchise in pro sports to play in back-to-back NBA Finals. What’s left to accomplish?

That’s right, back-to-back titles.

That’s only one reason to expect Spurs captain Tim Duncan to continue his brilliant career for at least a 18th season. The talk has always been about Kobe Bryant chasing Michael Jordan‘s six rings, but it’s now Duncan in his twilight years who has the greatest chance to get it done.

So why in the world would Duncan, his body holding up as strongly as his production, hang ‘em up now?

Versatile forward Boris Diaw, high-octane point guard Patty Mills and reliable-when-needed forward Matt Bonner are the only players not under contract for next season. While Diaw and Mills have raised their stock and will be attractive free agents, it’s certainly not out of the question that they’ll be back in the silver-and-black.

Even if the Spurs lose one, or both, their Big Three — plus Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a couple new reinforcements for the bench — will have the Spurs as a favorite to make it three consecutive Finals appearances.

Duncan, 38, just completed a phenomenal postseason, averaging 16.3 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds while logging 32.7 mpg. That followed up a regular season in which he played in 74 games while coach Gregg Popovich again masterfully managed his playing time.

So, again, what would be the motivation to retire now? A man of similar body type, the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won a championship with the Lakers at age 40 and played in The Finals at age 41.

While Duncan, for whatever reason, hasn’t come out and stated that he’ll be back despite still having one year and $10.3 million left on his contract, he has smiled through interviews while making statements lightly-sprinkled with hints that he has no plan of joining San Antonio resident David Robinson on the golf course quite yet.

Fortunately, the anticipation for a definitive answer won’t take long. Duncan has a June 24 deadline, that’s one week from today, to notify the Spurs of his plans.

The Miami Heat’s future won’t be resolved quite so soon. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and become free agents. What they decide to do will be the biggest story of the summer and whatever they decide will produce ripple effects across the league.

And that brings us to the biggest story lines of the summer:

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Brooks and the power of continuity


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks with the media on Sunday afternoon

OKLAHOMA CITY – The fickle and volatile nature of the NBA coaching business swept aside four 50-game winners the last two seasons. Memphis’ Dave Joerger nearly became the fifth last month, and the second in a row with that franchise.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ job security always seems to be a topic fluttering in the breeze. He’s overseen three Western Conference finals appearances in the last four seasons, yet his critics continue to howl. Saturday’s Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs ended a second season of falling short of a return to the Finals.

However, it didn’t stop the franchise’s superstar, the league’s MVP from endorsing his coach.

“That’s our guy,” Durant said of Brooks during Sunday’s exit interviews, “and I’m riding with him.”

It would seem owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti would, too, but then Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson – fired 50-win club members — are still tidying up their resumes.

That’s typically not the case for a coach who has won better than 70 percent of his games in each of the last three seasons. Brooks has two years left on his contract at what is believed to be between $8 million and $9 million. The Thunder are not a franchise that takes a cavalier approach to paying one man not to work while paying another to fill his position.

Yet, Mike Brown is out in Cleveland with $16 million owed to him.

Is it possible the Thunder believe Brooks has taken this team as far as he can?

“It’s something that I don’t even consider. I do my job every day,” Brooks said. “I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother and she’s always told me this: You do your job every day and you live with the results. ‘They say,’ you can’t worry about what ‘they say’; you never ever meet those people. I have many stories that I can tell you about my mom and that’s one of them — don’t worry about ‘them.’ Those are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a 4-11 freshman in high school. My dream was to be an NBA player. If I would have listened to ‘they’ I would never have been able to make it.”

Presti won’t listen to ‘they.’ He’ll make up his own mind, if there’s even a decision to make. He spent Sunday conducting exit interviews with players and he will soon talk with Brooks, who Presti hired as an assistant onto P.J. Carlesimo‘s staff in Seattle and then promoted when he fired Carlesimo after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.

Soon after, Brooks elevated No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook to starting point guard. If Brooks and Westbrook have anything in common, it’s that criticism never strays far.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

Brooks said the Thunder’s No. 7 -rated offense must continue to evolve around his two superstars, to become a better passing team with higher assist totals and fewer turnovers and periods of stagnation.
“I know I have to get better and I know our team has to get better,” Brooks said. “And we’re excited about moving forward together as a group as the summer unfolds, and coming back in October with a better team.”

If scheme isn’t Brooks’ forte, as his critics will claim, forging relationships is a strong suit. He’s helped develop a team of talented youngsters at the ages of 20 into perennial contenders now at 25. Before the All-Star break, Durant called Brooks the coach of the year for steering the team through Westbrook’s multiple knee injuries.

The Thunder remain as well-positioned as any club to challenge for Western Conference supremacy for at least the next two seasons, and beyond that if Durant re-signs when he can become a free agent in the summer of 2016. Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka have three years left. Reggie Jackson is eligible for an extension this summer.

The 2013-14 season was a struggle from the start of training camp when Westbrook was told he needed a second surgery on his right knee. He tore the meniscus in the second game of the first round last season and missed the remainder of the postseason. Westbrook had to undergo a third surgery in December just as he and the team were rolling. He was out through the All-Star Game.

Then OKC lost defensive-specialist, and now unrestricted free agent, Thabo Sefolosha and starting center Kendrick Perkins each for six weeks with injuries.

The Thunder still finished with 59 wins and Durant won the MVP. They beat Memphis in the first round and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the second round before falling to the Spurs. Both Westbrook and Perkins said the key area of improvement for next season isn’t personnel, but sharpening their mental approach to the game, specifically limiting careless turnovers that can turn a game or even a series against a team like San Antonio.

Changes will be made on the periphery of the roster, but the core is set for another run at a first title. It would seem the coach is, too, for a general manager and a franchise that place high value on continuity.

“You can easily say we lost the season because we didn’t win a championship,” Durant said. “But I don’t look at it that way because we learned so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially, and it’s going to help us towards the future. When you look at it that way it stings not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up, and hopefully one day you’ll look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his future in OKC and more

Durant must be defensive force, too

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive Game 1 and get ready for Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – Kevin Durant scored 28 points and made 10 of his 19 shots in Game 1. Four of his seven 3-point attempts were good. He pulled down nine rebounds and had five assists.

He needs to get to the free-throw line more than just four times, including only once after the first quarter. He said he plans to be more aggressive in tonight’s Game 2 (9 p.m. ET, TNT) to help make that happen.

Assuming the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going to magically figure out a way to protect the rim in Serge Ibaka‘s absence with their current personnel,  and with so little time to work on schemes against the mighty San Antonio Spurs, Durant needs to make an impact on the defensive end. He can help do that by improving in two key areas: Steals and turnovers.

Durant had no steals in Game 1 and turned it over a game-high six times. Obviously, steals can lead to fast breaks and decreasing turnovers can help prevent them the other way.

We’ve seen Durant try to defend bigger bodies at times this postseason like Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan in Game 1. It’s not his strong suit. He’s most effective when he’s utilizing use his ridiculously long limbs to disrupt passing lanes and pressure the point of attack.

When he, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson combine their length and quickness, they can create tipped passes and opportunities to break out in transition for easy baskets.

In Game 1, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had it far too easy to do whatever they pleased. Each had just one turnover. The Spurs had just 10 turnovers and they outscored Oklahoma City 16-11 in fast-break points.

“We can get there, we can guard these guys, and we just have to do it,” Durant said. “We have to be engaged for initially the first 10 seconds of the shot clock because that’s where they get most of their points. We have to be solid throughout the whole shot clock, as well.  They’re a deep team.  They have a lot of guys that can come in and score quickly for them, but we’ve got a lot of good defenders, as well.”

OKC is a high turnover team and as long as Durant and Westbrook are playing, turnovers are going to be part of it. Limiting wasteful possessions is going to be critical against a team that was able to score virtually at will during Game 1.

Durant has 21 turnovers and just three steals in the last four games (he does have six blocks in that time).

We’ve got athletic guys here, and we have to do it,” Durant said of clamping down defensively. “In order for us to get where we want to get to, we’ve got to do smart things like that.”

It starts with the MVP.

CP3 witch hunt needs to stop!

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Chris Paul endured some tough moments during the Clippers-Thunder conference semifinal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The grumblings started long before the fall, long before Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

They’ve been rumbling around the basketball world for years now, the questioning of Paul’s place among the game’s current greats. Where does he fit in a landscape where he’s generally considered one of, if not the best point guard in the game? And yet there is still that glaring hole on his resume.

Paul has never been to the conference finals and has therefore only been a spectator when the NBA’s champion has been crowned.

He’s won multiple gold medals in international competition, including the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and is a staple in the talent-laden USA Basketball pipeline. And still, there are folks that want to chip away at his armor after years of excellence from him.

It doesn’t help that his contemporaries have hardware he lacks. LeBron James has championships rings and MVPs trophies to spare. Kevin Durant joined the elite club with his first MVP this season. Tony Parker has a Finals MVP and plenty of rings. Derrick Rose has his MVP. Rajon Rondo a ring and multiple trips to the conference finals and The Finals. Even the oft-maligned Russell Westbrook has been to The Finals.

Paul is in that weird superstar purgatory where everyone knows he belongs in any conversation of the best of the very best, until they start weeding guys out based on their accomplishments. The same superstar purgatory that veteran All-Stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love have taken up permanent residence in the past few seasons (Anthony has been to the conference finals but still gets panned for not winning it all. Love is still waiting to make the postseason.)

Paul’s been a subject of a witch hunt, of sorts, this season in particular, with pundits and Hall of Famers questioning the validity of his superstar status. It’s a witch hunt that needs to stop!

Paul’s a seven-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA pick (three times on the first team), a five-time All-Defensive team selection and has led the league in assists three times and in steals six times. He knows better than anyone that the shortcomings in the playoffs are the one dark mark on his ledger right now, that’s why he takes the losses as hard as he does. That’s why this latest failure stings the way it does and will until he gets a chance to make it right.


VIDEO: A quick recap of the spectacular six-game series between the Clippers and Thunder

Those of us who chronicle the league have been tossed into the fire as well. We’ve been accused of giving Paul a pass because he’s always been good to us, always been as cooperative as possible and is a drama-free superstar in a world that boasts few of those.

That’s garbage. I don’t hold Paul to any different standard than anyone else. He and Deron Williams came into the league and promptly bum-rushed the point guard hierarchy. Paul played his way into the elite mix, held his own all the way up and fended off challenges year after year.

He doesn’t have to defend his position to me, you or anyone else.

He is not the fist superstar to fall down at a big moment in the playoffs, the way he did in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Westbrook and Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. That final and disastrous 13.9 seconds will not define Paul’s season or career. And to hear people suggest that it would or even should is a testament to the prisoner-of-the-moment syndrome that permeates every fiber of our current sports culture.

“I just feel awful for him, point-blank I do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after his team bowed out to the Thunder in Game 6. “He’s the spirit of our team and right now his spirit is broken.”

You’d expect nothing less of a man who holds himself to the standard Paul does. But if we start running down the list of Hall of Famers who came up short in big moments, who didn’t win it all, we’d be here all day … and night.

This notion that Paul’s incapable of leading a team to championship heights is preposterous. No one took the Clippers serious as a contender before his arrival. For him to power them through the turmoil of the ongoing Donald Sterling saga the way he did goes down as another of his standout performances.

That in no way lets him off his own hook. Paul’s not looking to be patronized by me or anyone else for doing and saying the right thing, or coming close but not breaking through to the conference final threshold after a decade in the league. He wants more, he needs more. And that’s the way we all like our superstars, our champions to be built.

Paul believes he has championship DNA. And he knows that the only way to validate his own belief in himself is to make sure he and Rivers, Blake Griffin and the Clippers find their way to that next level in the near future.

If that means going back to the grind for yet another summer with the rumblings surrounding him and the questions lingering about whether or not he’s going to be a true superstar or a superstar with an asterisk, bring it on.

“I prepare for every offseason like I always do,” a clearly agitated Paul said after that Game 6 loss to the Thunder. “It’s nothing just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”


VIDEO: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin address the media after losing Game 6 to the Thunder

L.A.’s roller coaster came to weary end

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Doc Rivers speaks after the Clippers’ Game 6 and series loss

LOS ANGELES — Through all the ugly, unwanted daily questions that started with the name Donald, Clippers coach Doc Rivers maintained a sense of humor to the end.

In the postgame news conference moments after his team succumbed for the last time to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal series, Rivers was informed of the latest, jaw-clenching news of the day that broke shortly before tip-off: Banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling asserted he will not pay the $2.5 million fine levied last month by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and vowed to fight the league’s intention to force him to sell the team.

Seated at the dais in front of a microphone, Rivers threw up his hands: “I’m not paying my $25,000 fine either,” he deadpanned.

Rivers was fined by the league Thursday morning for his criticism of the referees following the controversial call at the end of Game 5, a game L.A had in its back pocket before a calamity of errors allowed a seven-point lead to evaporate in the final 49 seconds.

The standing room-only crowd of reporters burst into laughter. Rivers, his suit coat long gone and his tie and top button of his white dress shirt loosened, flashed a fatigued smile just as his players in the adjoining room slumped at their lockers in painful silence.

Sterling had not been permitted inside the Staples Center since the first round. But his specter never left the building.

“The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way,” Rivers said. “Just watching our guys, it just felt like all of this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released all of their emotions. That was tough. That was tough for me to see as one of their leaders. I wish I could have done more for them.”

Rivers, in his first year with the Clippers following the rare coaching trade that released him from Boston’s rebuilding job, has been hailed as the perfect man for such a uniquely dispiriting turn of events. Throughout the playoffs, Rivers spoke openly and honestly about how he and his players were feeling and thinking without once losing his cool during the daily drudgery of such an unexpected mission.

His blowup after Game 5 might have been less about a call that didn’t go his team’s way than it was a month’s worth of emotion bubbling to the surface.

“I’ve said this before, and I’m not trying to show humility or anything like that,” Rivers said. “I think any coach in this system would have been the right coach, the right man. I just think you had to be. It’s not like we had a choice in it. None of us was chosen for this. None of us signed on for this. But this is what happened. The way I looked at it, it was my job to do everything that I thought was right.”

Soon after the Sterling audio was released, when emotions were at their rawest, Rivers said he didn’t know if he could coach the team next season if Sterling remained as owner. On Thursday night he made it clear that he will be back.

“I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know,” Rivers said.

For point guard Chris Paul, another season ended without advancing beyond the second round. His series of costly miscues in the final 17 seconds of Game 5 ate at him intensely. He wasn’t shooting it well in Game 6, but he was doing everything else as the Clippers maintained a lead until the end of the third quarter when an OKC burst tied it, 72-72.

Paul’s jumper with 7:59 to go tied it at 80-80, but the Thunder bolted on a 10-0 run and never looked back. Paul’s 14-point quarter accounted for more than half the Clippers’ points in the period, but it wasn’t enough.

The seven-time All-Star never pointed to the officiating after Game 5, only shoveling blame on his own shoulders. And when it was all over, he didn’t even lay the team’s exhaustive second-round loss at the feet of the disgraced owner, only at his own shortcomings.

Asked in the postgame news conference for his thoughts if Sterling is still owner by the start of next season, Paul shook his head and decided he was better off not answering at such an emotional moment, only to say that Sterling — who Paul and teammate Blake Griffin addressed only as “him” — is being paid too much attention.

“He’s the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken,” Rivers said of Paul, who averaged 22.0 ppg, 12.0 ast and shot better than 50 percent. “He’s going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year. But he’ll be back. He’ll be ready.”

Most of the 2013-14 Clippers that won a franchise-best 57 games, will be back. The club has nearly $72 million tied into Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is under contract next season for $5.45 million dollars, but the full amount is non-guaranteed.

Even with Paul missing six weeks of the season with a separated right shoulder and Redick limited to less than half the season with multiple injuries, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Rivers predicted the coming summer to be “messy” as the Sterling fight enters the next phase. For now, it appears the Clippers’ coach and players are content to allow that drama to play out on the periphery while they focus in on a brighter day and renewed goals come next October.

“We had a really, really good team, a great team,” Paul said. “Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, ‘It’s crazy, you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play.’

“And it’s crazy that it’s over.”

Thunder rise as one; Clips fall as one

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

 


VIDEO: Kevin Durant dominates as OKC ousts the L.A. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti waited outside his team’s locker room after Thursday’s 104-98 series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Folded arms. Straight face. Business as usual.

Still a few birthdays shy of turning 40, Presti started cutting his teeth in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office more than a decade ago. Come Monday night in San Antonio, Presti’s hand-crafted Thunder will take on the Spurs for a second time in three seasons for the right to advance to the NBA Finals.

For anyone who believes it is impossible to recreate the successful, machine-like precision of the small-market Spurs in this demanding age of instant results and quick hooks, the Thunder deserve a much deeper look. Starting with the fortuitousness to be able to draft a once-in-a-generation superstar who lacks elitist sensibilities, both franchises are rooted in front office and coaching stability, fiscal responsibility, shrewd drafting and, beyond all else, an overarching foundation of trust and sense of family.

The Thunder, of course, hope to begin their own ring collection.

“We’ve been together so long, we’ve grown a lot,” said the once-in-a-generation superstar and first-time MVP Kevin Durant, who persevered through a 1-for-7 start to then go 11-for-16 and finish with a game-high 39 points and 16 rebounds, two shy of his career best. “Guys have matured through every type of situation and every type of game.”

All of it shined through during difficult moments of a seven-game, first-round slog against Memphis and in this wild, momentum-shifting semifinals series against L.A.’s talented point guard Chris Paul, its rising star Blake Griffin and rock of a coach Doc Rivers. All were thrust into the unfair position of shouldering an untold emotional toll beyond the realm of the hardwood, heaped upon them by a disgraced owner now banished from his team and league for the remainder of his life.

It’s impossible to gauge just how much cumulative damage the ongoing Donald Sterling saga wreaked on the Clippers, but it was always there.

“I know I’m tired, I can tell you that,” Rivers said. “That’s what I was really trying to do throughout this, is try to bridge; I felt like I had to try to protect our guys. The playoffs are hard enough without any of this stuff.” (more…)

Controlling emotions huge key to Game 6

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Temperature is rising as Thunder and Clippers meet for Game 6

LOS ANGELES — A heat wave is cooking Southern California — 95 degrees out here in the land of palm trees. But inside the Staples Center tonight is where things could really boil over.

This Western Conference semifinal series has already seen earth-rattling events from natural wonders (Chris Paul knocking down eight 3s in Game 1; Russell Westbrook‘s Game 2 triple-double and Kevin Durant nearly matching it; Blake Griffin‘s various bloodied facial parts) and unnatural disasters (both teams blowing double-digit, fourth-quarter leads in successive games; Game 5′s controversial out-of-bounds call; Doc Rivers, a stabilizing rock and picture of calm during the Donald Sterling mess going volcanic after Game 5).

With nerves on edge and pressure dialed higher than the blazing L.A. sun, tonight’s Game 6 (10:30 ET, ESPN) could come down to which team keeps it cool through the inevitable ebbs and flows, no-calls, good calls and bad calls. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers finished the regular season first and second in technical fouls assessed, with Griffin (16) tied for first among all players and Durant (15) third.

“We have an emotional group of guys, I’ve known that since Day 1,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You have to have a very even-keel approach to the game because it’s an emotional game, it’s a very competitive game, 10 of the greatest athletes competing against each other and you have to be able to remain calm in the moments. At times we struggle in that area, but for the most part we do a pretty good job of that.”

In the five games, 10 players — seven on the Thunder — have been hit with at least one technical foul. Paul and Westbrook are tied for most in the playoffs with three each. For the Clippers, Matt Barnes has two while the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Durant all also have two. Even Brooks has a T.

Rivers worried about his team’s penchant to fray when things start to slip away a bit or when calls don’t go their way. During the season he instituted the fourth-quarter rule: No technical fouls in the fourth quarter.

The bigger concern tonight is the first quarter and how the Clippers respond emotionally from their demoralizing Game 5 collapse that left Rivers hot — he was fined $25,000 Thursday for his post-game criticism of the officials — and Paul, who in the final 17 seconds committed two critical turnovers and the foul on Westbrook’s 3-point play, as demoralized as some longtime followers have ever seen the seven-time All-Star point guard.

“He’s normal, he’s normal,” Barnes said of Paul. “A lot comes with being great. You get a lot of blame when you lose and you get praise when you win, and unfortunately it went the other way this time. We let him know it was any one play. We win as a team, lose as a team. He took it hard, but I have no doubt he’ll be back to his self today.”

Rivers tried to tamp down the flames from the Game 5 collapse and controversial call on the team’s flight home from Oklahoma City. He approached the players, asked for the music to be turned off and card games halted so he could talk to them.

“It gave me butterflies almost,” Barnes said. “It’s just like this guy really has our back and he really believes like we believe. It was already stuff we were talking about, but he just came and reiterated it, and told us it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be easy, enjoy it and be ready to work in Game 6.”

The Thunder know the feeling. A controversial call didn’t nip them during their nine-minute meltdown in Game 4 that allowed the Clippers to overcome a 16-point deficit to win. Oklahoma City started Game 5 flat, falling behind 30-15 after sprinting to a 29-7 lead in Game 4.

It’s not a pattern the Clippers want to follow.

“I think we’re in a good mental place, I really do,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said after the team’s Thursday morning shootaround. “Obviously that night, guys were really frustrated and really down. I think that’s a normal reaction; I think it’s good to be that way, to try to get it out and you move forward from there.”