What’s Keeping Title from Los Angeles Clippers’ Grasp?

New Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has always been the ambitious type, and his foray into professional basketball promises to be no different.

According to the Los Angeles TimesEverett Cook, he was recently asked by a long-time ticket holder how the next 26 seasons would differ from the last 26.

I’ll boldly say that the Clippers will win many, many, many, many more Larrys in the next 26 than in the last 26!” Ballmer replied, referencing the Larry O’Brien Trophy awarded to NBA champions.

After describing his $2 billion purchase to reporters as, “an L.A. beachfront price,” it reasons that the former Microsoft CEO is expecting big things. And with two All-Stars and a title-winning head coach leading the way, the optimism is well-founded.

If anything, it’s a bit surprising these Clippers haven’t done even better since point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin joined forces.

Since Paul joined the team for the 2011-12 campaign, Los Angeles has twice advanced to the conference semifinals—losing to the San Antonio Spurs in 2012 and to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. In 2013, the Memphis Grizzlies ousted the Clippers in a six-game opening-round series.

After having gone five seasons without a playoff appearance, the CP3 era has been a relative success.

The question is whether it’s underachieved.

This is a club that has a way of eliciting optimism.

On the brink of last season’s playoffs, Sheridan Hoops’ Chris Sheridan wrote, “The Clippers have their weak points, but their offense can be spectacular. If it holds, the Clippers should start dusting off a shelf for their 2014 NBA championship trophy.”

Instead, the franchise battled the Donald Sterling sideshow, even as it somehow managed to survive a seven-game, first-round marathon against the Golden State Warriors

The Thunder that followed were a battle-tested operation with two All-Stars of their own. While the Clippers were a deeper team in theory, Griffin and Paul were no match for their star counterparts.

After a season in which he finished third in MVP voting, Griffin was solid against OKC—averaging 23.8 points and even exploding for 34 points in a Game 3 loss. But the man who finished first in that MVP voting was transcendent, averaging 33.2 points and 9.5 rebounds against the Clippers.

A similar story unfolded at point guard.

Paul’s 22.5 points and 11.8 assists per game in the series were impressive. But the longer, hyper-athletic Westbrook responded with 27.8 points and 8.8 assists of his own. The matchup arguably resulted in a draw, but it was a draw the Clippers could ill-afford.

They needed someone to outplay his OKC rival, to control the game on both ends of the floor. 

That didn’t happen.

This is a solid roster, but it doesn’t have the defensive pedigree to outlast especially potent opposition. 

As CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore wrote of last season’s rotation, “They had a bevy of wing shooters but few who can create or defend, and they were perilously short on frontcourt defense.”

Absent an arsenal of two-way role players, Los Angeles needs virtually flawless performances from its big names—which increasingly includes center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged just 6.7 points in those conference semifinals.

One historically bothersome factor has been health—not catastrophically damning injuries, but the kind of nagging wear and tear that have limited Paul and Griffin. Griffin battled a debilitating ankle injury in 2013 and a knee injury the year before that. Paul dealt with a groin strain in 2012 and hamstring issues last season.

Though it’s difficult to find a direct culprit for that kind of misfortune, it wouldn’t be surprising for Rivers to watch minutes a bit more closely this season.

Even with the capable likes of Darren Collison around to spell Paul last season, the 29-year-old still played 35 minutes per game—up from the 33.4 minutes he averaged in 2012-13. For his part, Griffin played 35.8 minutes per contest a season ago, well above the 32.5 minutes he averaged the season before that.

The reigning champion Spurs remained fresh in 2014 on account of a radically egalitarian distribution of minutes. No one on San Antonio’s roster played 30 or more minutes per game. Point guard Tony Parker led the way averaging just 29.4 minutes.

On paper, the Clippers have enough depth to approach that kind of equilibrium—especially with the acquisition of big man Spencer Hawes bolstering Rivers’ interior rotation.

Beyond the management of playing time, the other consideration for Griffin is his playing style. Exploding to the basket with gravity-defying liftoff makes for brilliant highlights, but it also increases the risk that the 25-year-old will land awkwardly or otherwise succumb to injury-inducing collision. 

A still-developing mid-range game could afford Griffin the luxury of adopting slightly more conservative tactics.

There’s no science to categorically avoiding injury, but the Clippers need every advantage they can get.

This is a team that needs its superstars at full strength at season’s end. It also needs to find its rhythm at the right time. The margin for error in a top-heavy Western Conference is slim.

It probably doesn’t seem fair for Griffin and Paul to shoulder all the responsibility, not when pivotal contributors like Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick were equally responsible for last season’s shortcomings. 

But there’s nothing fair about the demands of a championship season. The Clippers were built to rely on two larger-than-life superstars, and Ballmer‘s high hopes ultimately rest with them. 

They’ll have to stay healthy, and at times they’ll have to outplay MVPs.

Those “Larrys” won’t settle for anything less.

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Kyrie Irving on his first three years in Cleveland: ‘I didn’t really have help from anybody’

The Cavaliers guard spoke about the changes in leadership and his own role.

      
 

 

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Cavaliers acquire Kevin Love from Timberwolves

The Cleveland Cavaliers have officially acquired forward Kevin Love in a three-team trade that sends guard Andrew Wiggins and forward Anthony Bennett to Minnesota and a protected 2015 first round pick (via Miami) to Philadelphia. As part of the three-team trade, Minnesota will also acquire forward Thaddeus Young from the 76ers, while Philadelphia receives forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved from the Timberwolves. OFFICIAL: #Cavs acquire Kevin Love – [MORE]: http://t.co/u7NgYmsnyr RT to show the love & welcome @kevinlove to #CLE! pic.twitter.com/piQMHnPqP0 — Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) August 23, 2014 “Kevin joining the Cavaliers represents a very special and unique opportunity for our team. At only 25, Kevin has already firmly established himself as one the NBA’s elite players and his talent, versatility and fit are major parts of our team’s vision for success,” said 

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What Should New York Knicks Expect from Carmelo Anthony After Offseason Changes?

Through the tumult of the New York Knicks’ disappointing 2013-14 season, it was easy to see past the sequoia-thick silver lining of Carmelo Anthony authoring arguably the best season of his 12-year NBA career.

That was hardly consolation for Anthony himself, who very nearly wound up bolting for the more championship-ready Chicago Bulls, before finally agreeing to terms on a fresh, five-year, $124 million deal to stay in New York.

Despite a slew of mostly lateral moves, the Knicks are by no means seen as a conference powerhouse heading into the 2014-15 slate. Still, Phil Jackson has managed to improve his team on the fringes, while the addition of Jose Calderon alone gives Anthony the pure point-guard playmaker he’s never had.

So should Knicks fans expect an encore performance from their franchise cornerstone?

One thing we can count on is a drastic change in offensive philosophy, from the isolation-heavy sets that defined the Mike Woodson era to Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher’s triangle-inspired system.

Indeed, Jackson spoke to precisely this point during a July press conference, relayed here by ESPN New York’s Fred Katz:

If we’re still going to sit and rely on Carmelo to do everything and put that load on him, that’s not going to happen. Sometimes it means buying into the system and giving yourself into a process.

One of the things about the offensive system is you can’t try to score every time you catch the ball. You have to participate and you also have to have guys who are strong enough to know that there’s a whole offense to run.

Yet, while Anthony’s reputation as a shameless gunner has become something of a basketball gospel, his career assist mark—3.1 per game, to go along with a wholly respectable 15.8 percent assist rate—imparts some hope that a change of schematic scenery could do wonders for the All-Star forward’s all-around game.

Assuming, of course, that Anthony sees vessels worthy of his trust around him. That, in the end, might be Jackson and Fisher’s biggest test.

The good news: Even Anthony admitted, during an interview with Raul Alzaga of PrimeraHora.com, that this season could be another somewhat painful prelude to bigger and better things. He said it would take time to be a championship team, and that’s not a realistic expectation for this season, although he’s very much invested in the process (translation h/t to Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk).

For Jackson, that process involves outfitting the Knicks with more triangle-conducive pieces. Calderon, whom New York acquired in a predraft trade that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks, being the opening salvo to that strategic symphony.

In Calderon, Anthony will have the ideal triangle complement: a player who, for all his defensive shortcomings, possesses both the poise and playmaking ability to keep the offense humming harmoniously along. And the 41 percent career three-point rate doesn’t hurt, either. Pablo Prigioni, meanwhile, gives the Knicks an equally triangle-friendly backup.

As for the rest of the roster, question marks abound. For all their offensive skills, Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire don’t exactly fit the mold of the playmaking triangle center. Ditto Samuel Dalembert and Cole Aldrich, two centers likely to round out the team’s post depth.

And while New York’s wings could prove a strength—J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. all being capable shooters, albeit with varying degrees of pass-aversion—how Fisher manages those minutes looms large in terms of the team’s on-court chemistry.

Still, taken as a whole and considering the offensive makeover afoot, Anthony has to feel far better about his team’s prospects now than he did even a few short months ago.

Conceptually, the triangle—by virtue of its built-in dynamism—will allow Melo to both operate as a playmaker from the elbow, while affording him ample open looks from the wings (although he was considerably more efficient from the left than the right last season, per Vorped).

All the while, baseline cutters (Shumpert and Hardaway could be dangerous in this regard) and spot-up shooters (the aforementioned wings, as well as Calderon, Prigioni and perhaps even rookie Cleanthony Early) should spare Anthony the burden of relying too heavily on his role as basketball bully.

Writing at Bleacher Report, Sean Hojnacki emphasized that, for Anthony, thriving in the triangle is less about reinventing himself than it is about readjusting his approach:

There will be an adjustment period, to be sure. A whole host of new players have joined the team, chief among them the new starters in center Samuel Dalembert (who has not averaged more than 22.2 minutes per game in any of the last three seasons) and point guard Jose Calderon, both of whom will be 33 years old when the season begins.

The triangle will benefit greatly from Calderon’s three-point shooting (44.9 percent, 191 threes made) in addition to Pablo Prigioni’s marksmanship (46.4 percent from downtown last season), which placed both of them in the top five among all three-point shooters for 2013-14.

However, the jewel in the crown will be Melo’s play in the pinch post. It will be up to Anthony to become the prototypical scorer from that floor position, where he is uniquely capable of thriving.

Even if Anthony’s scoring goes down, his efficiency and assist rate could be poised for career clips. On the flip side, reducing Melo’s raw shot attempts mean fans should expect his rebounding (he registered a career high 8.1 per game a season ago, 1.9 of them on the offensive glass) to take a bit of a hit.

Defensively, it’s likely Anthony will remain what he’s always been: mostly passable, with dashes of lock-down aggressiveness and flagrant nonchalance sprinkled in.

Being the all-world talent Melo is, the statistics will take care of themselves. More important from Jackson and Fisher’s perspective is whether their hardwood warhorse can become the leader New York needs, not only for this team this season, but through the rebuild to come as well.

Judging by his well-publicized recent weight loss—part of the goal of which, a source told the New York Post‘s Marc Berman, was to “be a facilitator in the triangle”—Anthony seems committed to assuring that’s not a faith placed in vain.

With the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers looking like the lone sure things in a still-inferior Eastern Conference, the Knicks are one of many teams whose fortunes could veer in wildly different directions.

For New York, much hinges on Fisher’s ability to make his team’s triangle transition as seamlessly as possible, along with the players’ willingness to both buy into the system and pay out something resembling their potential worth.

With so many X-factors in play, next season guarantees to be a complicated calculus for the Knicks. Good thing, then, that they can still count on one of the game’s steadiest and most spectacular constants.

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What to Expect from the NBA’s 2nd-Year Coaches

Last season, the NBA received an influx of new coaching talent. Nine first-year head coaches entered the league, and now with one season under their belts, it’s time to see what year two holds.

Only three of these second-year coaches will be returning to playoff teams. Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta and Dave Joerger in Memphis will all be trying to reach the postseason once again. Jason Kidd, who guided the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs, will try to do so with his new team, the Milwaukee Bucks.

For the rest of the coaches, it’s time for their teams to show some improvement. Coaching leashes seem to get shorter and shorter by the year in the NBA, and so the second season is critical both to a coach’s reputation and his future job security.

With all that in mind, let’s break down what to expect from all nine of these coaches in their second years in the league.

 

 

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NBA Rumors: Latest Whispers from Around the Association as Season Approaches

It’s only a matter of time before Kevin Love is officially a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Wiggins is on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the specifics of what appears to be a three-team trade are still being worked out. 

Specifically, the Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers are still discussing terms and players.

However, that’s not the only rumor circulating around the league. Kevin Durant likely has big money and sneakers on his mind, and Dante Cunningham could be joining Minnesota as well.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the latest rumors from around the NBA.

 

Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves Talking Shop

All indications are that the 76ers are going to be the third team in the Love trade, and Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun has an update:

This is a very fluid situation with a number of names being thrown around, but Wolstat and Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune kept up with the developments as of Thursday evening:

From Minnesota’s perspective, it would have to be classified as a win if it could keep Thaddeus Young, Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. The Timberwolves aren’t going to trade Wiggins, but the thought was that Bennett would be involved in acquiring Young. That is apparently no longer the case.

Yes, Bennett disappointed in his rookie season, but he was a No. 1 pick and is still only 21 years old. Combining the last two No. 1 picks with 26-year-old Young is a major step in the right direction toward building a competitive and young core.

Minnesota is not going to win a title in the near future, which is one reason it is getting rid of Love, but those three pieces and Ricky Rubio, who is still only 23 years old, represent potential. If everyone fulfills that potential, this could be a team that makes the postseason relatively quickly. 

From Philadelphia’s perspective, Joel Embiid is a critical cog for the future. It makes sense to acquire a mentor in Luc Mbah-a-Moute if it helps Embiid develop, even if Bennett has a higher ceiling than the former UCLA Bruin.

 

Kevin Durant

Darren Rovell of ESPN.com provided an update on the endorsement battle for Durant:

Kevin Durant’s representation Roc Nation Sports informed Nike on Wednesday that he has a deal on the table with Under Armour worth between $265 million and $285 million over 10 years, sources told ESPN.com.

The deal includes Under Armour stock and other incentives, such a community center built in his mother’s name, whose exact worth will not be known for some time.

Nike, which saw its signature business related to the Oklahoma City Thunder forward grow to roughly $175 million at retail last season, will have the right to match, which is a condition of Durant’s current contract with the brand. Durant can still choose Nike if it doesn’t match but can’t legally choose Under Armour if Nike does.

Rovell also notes that the potential deal would represent Under Armour’s largest sponsorship ever and that nearly 10 percent of the current annual marketing budget would be directed toward Durant.

It’s really not that surprising that Under Armour is targeting Durant with so much money. The forward grew up in Maryland, and the Baltimore-based company is known for sponsoring local teams and athletes. The Maryland Terrapins, Michael Phelps, Navy and the Baltimore Ravens come to mind.

What’s more, Durant is still only 25 years old.

LeBron James may be the king of basketball right now, but he is older than Durant and has more mileage on his legs. If Durant was to win a title within the next couple of years as James gradually exits his prime, he could be the face of the league. 

Under Armour certainly hopes so if this deal goes through.

 

Dante Cunningham 

Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News and 1500ESPN.com noted that the Timberwolves could bring back a piece from last year:

Wolfson also hinted as to why the two sides are even having discussions in the first place:

Cunningham discussed the charges, their impact on his free agency and his reaction to the boos he heard last season before he was cleared, according to The Associated Press (via 1500 ESPN): “That’s been the most nerve-racking thing, knowing there were teams interested but they couldn’t make any offers. I just hated the fact of getting booed. I just hated my fans not knowing the truth.”

Cunningham played the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons for the Timberwolves and appeared in 161 games in the process. If nothing else, he is a durable piece that can serve as a solid forward in a deeper rotation.

On his career, Cunningham is averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds a game, and he played more than 20 minutes a night the past two years in Minnesota. He is a stretch forward with athleticism and length that help on the defensive end. 

With his skill set, it would be surprising if he didn’t find a landing spot somewhere in the NBA if the Timberwolves ultimately look elsewhere.

 

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The 6 Biggest Whiffs from 2014 NBA Free Agency

Amid the flurry of NBA activity this offseason, a number of moves (or non-moves, as it were) grabbed headlines but never materialized to anything more.

For one reason or another, these almost-partnerships never made the transition from the rumor mill to the transactions log.

Depending on how the 2013-14 campaign plays out, some of these could be remembered as costly missed opportunities. There were some potential landscape-changing moves discussed.

Granted, not everything that gets thrown at the wall has a great chance of sticking.

As fun as it might have been to imagine Carmelo Anthony forming a Big Four with the Miami Heat or LeBron James teaming with ”Mini LeBron” Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns, those rumors always felt heavier in hope than substance. No one thought Anthony would leave a significant stack of cash on the table (he didn’t), and most painted James’ decision as being Cleveland or Miami (he went with Cleveland).

The six near-stories on this list seemed to have some serious legs, though. While circumstances kept them from coming to light, the thoughts of what could have been won’t fade away nearly as easily.

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Nene compares Anthony Davis to Dhalsim from Street Fighter

Washington Wizards forward Nene plays against New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis twice a year. So you would think that Nene would know how to play against Davis right? Well Davis and his US teammates faced Brazil’s National Team last Saturday and Nene watched Davis show why he is one of the premier young players in the league. After the game, Nene spoke to the media and he was asked “what is like to play against Anthony Davis”? Nene proceeded to compare Davis to Dhalsim from the video game Street Fighter. What, Nene was asked, did he think of Anthony Davis, the young New Orleans center who dominated (20 points, eight boards five rebounds) at both ends? “He looked like Dhalsim,” Nene said. Who? “Dhalsim. The street fighter. Like a cartoon. With both hands. He was catching everything. Yeah.” At first I laughed. But then I thought about it, I can see why Nene would say that. Davis arms are probably the longest in the NBA. That’s a very clever response by Nene. Related posts: An…

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Oregon State player collapses from ‘apparent cardiac-related’ incident

Certified athletic trainers provided immediate CPR on Baker.

      
 

 

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Calipari calls radio show as ‘John from Kentucky’

The two argued about Francesa’s opinion of Calipari as a coach.

      
 

 

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