Who’s making the call for the Clippers?
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Let me see if I’ve got this media excitement straight: Doc Rivers is going to the Clippers to coach. So wink, wink, Boston will allow that if the Clippers trade them several young players so they can rebuild while the Celtics give the Clippers a couple of old, washed up veterans with big names and no games anymore? The Clippers are supposed to do that?
Are they nuts! Oh, right, they’re the Clippers. That’s the problem with being the most troubled franchise in NBA history. Rival executives will believe you are stupid enough to do anything. But it seems it is kind of half a house there with the Clippers as the team that won a franchise record number of games last season was basically put together last summer by Vinny Del Negro, who had to act as general manager. And now Del Negro is gone because of Chris Paul.
So who’s running the show?
Funny we haven’t heard much from the new Oz of Westwood, Paul, who basically appears to be making the Clippers’ decisions these days. Oh, sure, Clippers’ executives all jumped up and down to say Paul had nothing to do with Del Negro’s departure after Paul said he was mad and maybe he’d become an Atlanta Hawk. Which only people reading books about Clippers’ championship seasons believed. Sure, nice threat.
It’s understandable in some sense in this NBA given Paul is a free agent and the pivotal player going forward for the franchise. But these curious scenarios are where Paul comes in and why Blake Griffin, much to the chagrin of Clippers’ staff, could be leaving before all of this is over.
So how does an old, broken down Kevin Garnett with more than 50,000 minutes played on now troublesome, much operated on knees who had to be rested all season to get knocked out in the first round become some vaunted prize? It’s because Paul supposedly isn’t all that thrilled with Griffin. Or at least his game. After all, how does Griffin’s name get thrown out in some bizarre sign-and-trade scenario with the Lakers and Clippers’ executives aren’t screaming, “Untouchable! Untouchable!” Because I doubt he is. It was no secret last season that Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan chafed under the withering criticism from Paul. It’s not generally imagined given his angelic appearance, but Paul is a very tough and demanding teammate who hasn’t taken well to the imperfections of his two young big men, who basically wonder why he gets the pass and they get yelled at all the time.
Though it seems even the Clippers won’t make a ridiculous kind of deal for Garnett and Pierce to bail Danny Ainge out of his failure to let the team grow old together, the reason Garnett’s name comes up is because there were rumors last winter at trading deadline. But there may be a bigger reason, and why you may not want to dismiss some sort of Griffin trade. As unlikely as it would seem.
By the way, the Lakers seem hardly likely to dress up Dwight Howard, whom they really want, to pair with Chris Paul to probably deliver a title to their Staples Center neighbors, the Clippers. Yes, Griffin is good. But he couldn’t get out of the first round playing with Paul and Eric Bledsoe. So playing with Steve Nash and maybe Bledsoe in that latest scenario?
Paul is said to have made it clear he wants to play with a pick and pop big man, which fits better his driving game for passing. Neither Jordan nor Griffin is a good shooter. So defenders play off them and close the lane, thus further frustrating Paul’s play.
The issues are complex for the Clippers. They are desperate to resign Paul, and likely to do so as Paul likes Los Angeles and doesn’t really have better opportunities: Go to Atlanta with Dwight Howard to play before 8,000 NASCAR fans? Plus, the Clippers are good and the Lakers in the same market are faltering. But the Clippers don’t seem to want to call Paul’s bluff. It’s not like players haven’t bailed on the Clippers before. And Paul likely will make some free agency trips to scare them a bit. The Clippers also love the athletic and exciting Griffin and his fan pleasing dunking. But does Paul believe he can win with Griffin? Likely not.
Which gives the Clippers a heck of a trade chip if they choose to use it in Griffin. You certainly can get some very good players and draft picks to be able to move forward with. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Paul pushed for someone like David West, his former Hornets teammate who is a pick and pop player and physical. And a free agent. He’s talked about resigning with the Pacers. But his game is hampered some playing on the Pacers without a true point guard. Would the Clippers cash in Griffin for a big package of players and picks and then sign West? Would the Timberwolves give up Kevin Love? It all seems highly speculative and maybe unlikely. But so did Doc Rivers and half the Celtics being Clippers a few weeks ago. You never say never in the NBA. It’s why it’s such a great league.
LeBron’s casual nature continues to draw questions
-- It’s difficult to condemn a guy who has 25 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals in a Finals game, as LeBron James did in Sunday’s Game 5 loss that gave the Spurs a 3-2 lead in the series. But, nonetheless, James was questioned about his play once again. Perhaps it’s the curse of being so good, that you are expected to do so much all the time. But, after all, the true definition of greatness really is consistency, producing at a high level all the time. But this time instead of giving up and losing by 25 or so, the Heat made a late run. But it was by Ray Allen and not James, who mostly stood back in the fourth quarter with three points in 11 minutes. I understand how much James does. But it’s head scratching to continue to watch him make a strong post move in blowing Kawhi Leonard out of the way and not trying it again, walking the ball out of the backcourt, standing around. I was talking with a coach — not Thibs, who probably had film of last season’s loss to the Hornets going — during the game and he said he remained amazed the way James continued to miss layups without powering over opponents, as he does all season. Look, this Spurs defense isn’t any special. All teams play off James and Dwyane Wade, preferring they shoot jumpers. Everyone backs into the lane, and the Spurs aren’t even big and hardly physical. This continues to remain the most curiously indifferent series by a great talent. It’s not that James doesn’t contribute or produce. It’s also not that he isn’t the Heat’s best player and probably the best player on the floor. So maybe we expect too much. But it’s just how casually he continues to approach so many parts of the games, more so than perhaps any league MVP who has been in a Finals.
Brooklyn hands the ball to Kidd, but will it work?
-- Jason Kidd could become perhaps the first ever rookie coach to start his coaching career suspended. That’s because Kidd still has a pending DWI case to which he pleaded not guilty. Perhaps the Nets wouldn’t care, anyway, as half of what’s done with New York sports teams seems to be about getting headlines in the tabloid newspapers. Kidd’s shocking hiring did a few weeks after he retired as a player. There was much surprise given Kidd didn’t have any of the usual apprenticeship of coaching anyone. Ever. Yes, it was pointed out Doc Rivers, Larry Bird, Mark Jackson and really Doug Collins basically came without working their way up the assistant rout or college or as an executive or some management connection. Or coaching someone. And they all did well. The gentle irony, in some respects, is Kidd may hope he doesn’t have anyone to coach like Kidd, who is credited with being a tough guy to coach, a frequent complainer who got Byron Scott fired in New Jersey and turned on Scott Skiles in Phoenix. Getting his buddy Deron Williams to coach should be entertaining. So the story in two years could be Williams being quoted about being shocked Kidd was fired. After all, the difference with all those previous no experience coaches was their teams were poor and success was getting to 50 wins. The Nets are there and the owner talks of titles with a questionable and aging roster. It seems a doomed to fail job given the unrealistic expectations. But the larger point is what it means for coaching? Yes, there are bad coaches, and Kidd is an intelligent basketball player. So he could be competent and do well. But most coaches will be rooting against him because if owners believe you can hire former well known players instead of coaches they never heard of the door is open to scores of former players over all the guys working their way up. Other than being a player, there’s no higher paying job in the NBA than coaching. So the Tom Thibodeau types get to stay behind the bench and here comes Grant Hill and Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan and Steve Nash and Ben Wallace. OK, maybe not silent Ben, but you get the idea. A lot of people are going to be watching this experiment.
NBA news and notes
-- One of the big stories of the Finals has been the shooting of the Spurs’ Danny Green at 56.7 percent overall and a record breaking 65.7 percent on threes through five games. One guy didn’t make many threes. Actually one. But perhaps the greatest unexpected Finals shooting performance was John Paxson in the 1991 Finals, when he was 32 of 49 in the five games for 65.3 percent and the last five baskets to win the clinching Game 5 in Los Angeles. ... More positive signs for an emerging Kings organization with the hiring from Denver of the very solid Pete D’Alessandro. He was the top assistant to Chris Mullin in Golden State and Masai Ujiri in Denver. ... Mo Cheeks is the Pistons’ eighth coach in 14 years. Cheeks is one of the better people in sports, a professional, classy guy. But this was the job for Isiah Thomas to return to Detroit and bring the spirit, if not the tactics, of the best Detroit basketball has had. GM Joe Dumars seemingly will be on the clock with this latest hire with the new ownership group. Interesting that with Phil Jackson as an advisor, Brian Shaw was again passed over. The knock on the quiet Shaw is he’s been unimpressive with owners in interviews given his spare, modest personal style. After players complained about Lawrence Frank’s critical style, the easy going Cheeks was brought in. Similarly in Milwaukee, after players rebelled against Scott Skiles, who doesn’t much pursue relationships with players, new coach Larry Drew emphasized how well he relates to players.
-- Jeff Van Gundy on the ABC Finals broadcast offers a lot of hyperbole, mostly about brilliant decisions by every coach. You talk for three hours and anyone can say goofy stuff. Lots of questions, though, came up in one of Van Gundy’s love notes to the Heat when he called Dwyane Wade one of the top five shooting guards of all time. But he’s probably right, which also makes an interesting point about the position, which despite having the best player ever in Michael Jordan was probably the least talented position for depth of historic talent. Maybe along with power forward. The greatest players in history have generally been centers and point guards with small forwards next. I recently did a list of the top point guards, and listed the likes of Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Pete Maravich there. Some would consider them shooting guards. So at shooting guard I probably go Jordan, Kobe Bryant, George Gervin, Wade and Bill Sharman, the latter in a nod to the early years as probably the best shooter of that era. After that group comes Hal Greer, one of the most underrated guards ever, Clyde Drexler, who could have been at No. 5, Sam Jones, Gail Goodrich, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Tracy McGrady if he hadn’t gotten hurt after a great eight-year run. Maybe Andrew Toney if he had a longer career.
-- If you’re the Cavs with the No. 1 pick, the only position you really don’t have covered is small forward, and Georgetown’s Otto Porter is a good long distance shooter and the top small forward. Given uncertainty about any of the top players, it would seem a reasonable choice to go along with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. ... The most interesting rebuilding may be with the Spurs, who seem never to have to do so. No, they’re not building around Tiago Splitter. The Spurs have been the league model for maintaining success and a reasonable payroll. But they have dabbled in high salaried pickups, though it didn’t work with Richard Jefferson. But it shows they will. Though Manu Ginobili had a big Game 5 Sunday, you can’t be that sentimental. If the Spurs let free agent Ginobili walk and perhaps make a few tweaks, like buying out Matt Bonner, they could be serious free agency players. Dwight Howard? Nah. But perhaps Josh Smith with an actual demanding coach for the first time in his career. Al Jefferson? O.J. Mayo? David West? The Spurs aren’t done yet.
-- Nice to see Bill Fitch with that Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement award. Great NBA coaches too often are left out of the Hall of Fame because they cannot pick their opponents like most winning college coaches do. You take someone like Fitch, who won a title with Boston and took the Rockets to the Finals. To get pro jobs, you have to take bad teams, like he did with the Cavs in turning them around. But you pack on a lot of losses that way. Fitch has more than 1,100. But also more than 900 pro wins. So he loses out when so many college coaches are honored when their first 10 games most seasons are sure wins. Which is why guys like Cotton Fitzsimmons also get overlooked and shouldn’t be. ... If the Lakers lose Dwight Howard and elect to go for cap room and signing free agents after next season, you figure Toronto would take another look at bringing in national favorite Steve Nash, who at least would get Rudy Gay shots he won’t get with the guards they have now. ... Ouch. Tough one from Phil Jackson, who told a Los Angeles group in his book tour that in advising Brian Shaw about jobs he said, “I just want it to be the right one for him. The last conversation I had, I told him to make sure he doesn't end up in a no win situation like Charlotte."