TrueHoop: J.A. Adande

Free, Love: The liberated T-Wolves

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
5:50
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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The only thing we know with certainty is that Aug. 23, 2014, marks the date of the liberation of the Minnesota Timberwolves. We don’t know yet if it will go down as the day the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired their final championship component, or the day the Timberwolves landed the Next Big Thing. Too many variables involved to be sure. But go ahead and rejoice in the freedom of the Timberwolves. They’re freed from expectations, freed from conventional NBA style and most of all freed from that most hellish of NBA locales, the Cape of Mediocrity.

There was all of this pressure to get good or lose Kevin Love. Fret no more. Now they’ve lost him, even though it turned out they weren’t that good with him. Their best record in Love’s six seasons in Minnesota was this season’s 40-42 -- and there’s not much worse in the NBA than being 40-42. That’s not good enough to be a contender, not bad enough to have a good shot at getting a top draft pick in the lottery.

Now there’s no need for them to get good right away. Flip Saunders is in his first year back as coach. He also happens to be the GM. He’s not on the hot seat, he just did the ice bucket challenge.

With Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine flying through the air and Ricky Rubio throwing them lob passes, the Timberwolves have a chance to be the most entertaining team in the league. They never were going to be that with Love. Even though I could spend entire summer afternoons watching this Love outlet GIF -- it’s that mesmerizing -- Love doesn’t make you jump out of your seat and immediately start texting your buddies.

And if the best thing the Timberwolves have to offer is style, maybe they can play in a way that runs counter to the NBA trend of jacking up 3-pointers all the time. Last season they were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA (ranking 26th), but that didn’t stop them from attempting just as many 3s as the league leader in 3-point percentage, the San Antonio Spurs. Love was the biggest culprit, and his 505 3-point attempts were more than all but five players in the league.

Wiggins wasn’t a stellar 3-point shooter in college and Anthony Bennett made only 10 as a rookie last season. They should be attacking the hoop and leaving the 3s to Kevin Martin. Scrap the layups/3s/free throws model the rest of the league operates under and go for dunks/dunks/more dunks.

Minnesota’s good luck should be our good luck ... and it all starts with Cleveland’s good luck. Has anyone ever benefited more from someone else’s good fortune than the Timberwolves? Usually premium talent becomes available because something went wrong. Clashes with management, attitude issues, contractual stalemates. In this case Minnesota had a chance to cash in because so much went right for Cleveland. The Cavaliers landed No. 1 pick after No. 1 pick, and then the best player in the game returned because he got homesick. So the Cavaliers had the motivation to accelerate their winning window and the means to get Love with that ultra-rare offer of back-to-back No. 1 picks.

I’d much rather have rookie contracts than expiring contracts (which is primarily what Minnesota sent to Philadelphia, along with a first-round pick from Miami, to get Love fill-in Thaddeus Young). If the Timberwolves so desire, they can have Wiggins and Bennett for a combined $53 million over the next four years. Compare that to, say, Eric Gordon on a $58 million deal over four years.

When the Timberwolves first came to grips with the likelihood they’d have to trade Love they couldn’t have imagined they would end up with the top pick in the most anticipated draft in years. They’ve got a player with the talent to become a star. Even if Wiggins’ potential goes unfulfilled, at least the Timberwolves are unburdened.

Durant sizes up the new KDs

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
8:11
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Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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For a guy with his own line of signature shoes, Kevin Durant sure spends a lot of time wearing retro Air Jordans. The sneakerhead side of Durant came out Thursday, because he didn’t just drop the proverbial other shoe following Paul George's horrific injury. By withdrawing from the U.S. men's national team, Durant dropped a pair of still-in-the-box kicks, addressing both the impact of George's injury and the notion of championship windows.

Both were fair game when George broke his leg in a USA Basketball exhibition game last week. We wondered if it would shock the red, white and blue out of other players, and we also wondered whether this was the end of the Indiana Pacers' championship pursuit. The Pacers have already lost Lance Stephenson, their toughest competitor in the 2014 playoffs. George could miss next season, and who knows how much stronger the other Eastern Conference teams will be in 2015-16. The only Pacers currently under contract for 2016-17 are George and George Hill. It's quite possible that Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals represented the pinnacle of these Pacers as we've known them.

Maybe Durant is stirred by the fear that the same could be said of his Oklahoma City Thunder team that won Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals. He didn't know that would be James Harden's final series in a Thunder uniform. He couldn’t have guessed that Russell Westbrook would be lost after two games in the 2013 playoffs or that Serge Ibaka would miss the first two games of the 2014 Western Conference finals.

Here's what Durant does know for sure: He has two more years on his contract, Westbrook and Ibaka have three more, and next summer Reggie Jackson will command far more than the $2.3 million he'll make this season. There are tangible limits to the Thunder future that once seemed to stretch out like the Oklahoma plains. This season could very well be Durant's best opportunity to win a championship with this group. Or ever.

The Thunder split the four playoff games in which Ibaka played against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. The players who accounted for 89 percent of Oklahoma City's points in that series are returning. Durant is the reigning Most Valuable Player. There's no promise that the circumstances will ever be better.

So, for the first time on the national stage, Durant put himself first. In the USA Basketball news release, he said, "I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season."

Although he didn’t cite George's injury, the timing of this move is telling. It’s not as if he just looked at the schedule and saw there'd be up to five more weeks of work. He knew the level of commitment going in. And this is from a guy who seems indefatigable in the summers, showing up to play anywhere there's a rim and a net.

Durant has already logged two runs with the national team, competing in the 2010 world championships and the 2012 Olympics. He won a gold medal both times. His account is paid up. And all of that time in the casino during Team USA training camps in Las Vegas has taught him the wisdom of leaving the table when the chips are stacked in your favor. He has missed a total of only five games the past five seasons; no need to add unnecessary risk to that run of durability.

Durant doesn't want what happened to Paul George -- or even worse, what could happen to Paul George -- to happen to him.

The Clippers' no-win situation

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
6:41
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
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There’s no need for Doc Rivers, Chris Paul or any other member of the Los Angeles Clippers to abandon ship now, because there’s no way for them to beat Donald Sterling. You can’t defeat a man who doesn’t care if he loses, and Sterling’s made it clear he fears no loss at all. He doesn’t care if he loses out on the $2 billion he could get if he signed off on the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer. He doesn’t care about salvaging whatever respect accompanied his name. He doesn’t care about paying attorneys for a never-ending series of lawsuits.

There’s no reason to prove a point to the NBA because commissioner Adam Silver and the league are on their side, having banned Sterling for life with a willingness to vote to oust him if need be. If the forced sale gets tied up in the legal system, so will an attempt by Sterling to overturn his ban. Either way, don’t expect Sterling to be sitting courtside on opening night. So what would a resignation by Rivers – as interim CEO Richard Parsons suggested could happen -- or a player boycott accomplish? It would create nothing but hardship for other players, fans, arena workers and broadcast partners.

For anyone contemplating bailing, it’s really about resolving a conflict with their own conscience. And the only way to do that would be to give back every dollar they ever made from Sterling. They can’t act as if Sterling’s true nature only came to light when TMZ posted the V. Stiviano recordings in April. If they signed their contracts in a shroud of ignorance, that’s on them.

Sterling’s lawyers are trying to portray this entire saga as an unfair exploitation of an illegally recorded private conversation. It’s so far beyond that now. Every act of defiance by Sterling, every sponsor who stays away from the Clippers while he still owns the team, every day this story drags on all conspire to “affect the Association…adversely”, which is one of the criteria for the NBA to terminate ownership. So is delinquency in paying debts to the league, and the NBA says Sterling still hasn’t paid the $2.5 million fine levied by Silver.

It’s impossible to discern Sterling’s end game. He can’t realistically hope to keep his team. He’s not looking to get as much money as possible. He apparently enjoys inconveniencing as many people for as long as he can. The option of inconveniencing him right back isn’t viable. He takes the witness stand and disparages everyone in the NBA, yet he resists a $2 billion opportunity to rid himself of their company forever. Apparently, he prefers this misery.

Even if the players, sponsors and fans abandon him and he feels compelled to sell he’ll still reap a windfall. We just witnessed the Clippers go through a no-leverage sale (get rid of the team immediately or have the league do it for you) and get sold at quadruple the market value. Apparently there’s nothing that can depreciate this asset. Sterling’s best efforts couldn’t.

The irony of Rivers weighing the option of quitting is that it would be the equivalent of firing someone who had just typed up a letter of resignation.

As draft ends, even more questions arise

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
1:06
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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The most intriguing draft in years is over, and it still doesn’t feel like we know anything.

How many of the top 10 picks have you feeling like you can confidently describe what they’ll bring to their teams next year?

How well rookies contribute is always a question. The difference this year is trying to anticipate exactly what offensive skills theses guys will perform –- and for how many games?

Will Joel Embiid’s fractured foot allow him to play at all? Will Julius Randle need to take some time off to have his foot tuned up?

And those are just the injured guys. Exactly what does Dante Exum bring to Utah? Or Noah Vonleh to Charlotte?

[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Wiggins led a host of teenagers taken in the 2014 draft. Which youngsters will develop into stars?
For years we were sold on the potential of this draft, and now that it’s over it’s still about potential. That’s what happens when teams place a greater premium on upside and combine measurables than basketball experience.

The first nine picks had an average age of 19 and consisted of six freshmen, two sophomores and the Australian, Exum, who didn’t go to college in the United States.

Doug McDermott, a senior who was the NCAA player of the year, went No. 11. Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, the best player on the best college team in the regular season, wasn’t selected until the second round.

It’s obvious why Adam Silver has made raising the minimum entry age a priority. Otherwise these NBA general managers can’t help themselves.

I definitely don’t blame the players for fleeing the serfdom of the NCAA. If the NCAA loses the lawsuit brought by Ed O’Bannon, and players are ultimately allowed to be compensated for their likenesses, it could be the best thing to happen to everyone involved.

Staying in school might be a lot more appealing to players if they could get paid six figures to do so. They’d have fewer responsibilities and more time to learn and compete against players their own age. College basketball would have a better talent pool, and the TV networks providing all that money would have a better product to showcase.

The NBA could get more time to evaluate these players before making multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitments to them. Or, as MSG Network’s Alan Hahn suggested on Twitter, if we did away with the fallacy of amateurism, teams could draft American players and stash them in college to develop -- similar to the strategy that is used with Europeans. It could even allow players to wield a bit of influence regarding where they’re drafted if they could hold the threat of staying in school against undesirable teams that wanted them to enter the league right away.

Players should be encouraged, not forced, to stay in school longer. But as long as NBA teams are tripping over each other to take the least accomplished athletes, they’ll keep making the leap regardless of preparation level. The top three picks in this year’s draft can claim one NCAA tournament game victory between them (Andrew Wiggins at Kansas). That’s the fewest for the top three since the “one-and-done” era began with the 2007 draft, and barely surpasses the zero from 2001, when two high school players (Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler) and a Spaniard (Pau Gasol) went with the top three picks.

I’ve had general managers tell me they don’t even scout the NCAA tournament, that if they don’t have enough intel on a player by the time March Madness arrives they haven’t been doing their jobs properly. I disagree. The best of the recent Charlotte draft picks, Kemba Walker, is the guy who led his team to a championship.

Joakim Noah helped Florida win a championship, then defied draft projections to stay in school and help the Gators win another one. He was punished for it, falling to the ninth pick in the 2007 draft. Yi Jianlian of China and Brandan Wright, a freshman from North Carolina, were among those who went ahead of Noah. Lucky for the Chicago Bulls, they wound up with a player who was the Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA this past season.

Maybe LeBron James was onto something when he raved about Shabazz Napier on Twitter, and the Heat made sure to accommodate him by trading with Charlotte to acquire the former UConn point guard. Somehow the guy deemed the most outstanding player of the 2014 NCAA tournament was still around at No. 24. Perhaps winning two championships with Shane Battier, the most outstanding player of the 2001 NCAA tournament, helped LeBron realize the value of collegiate championship pedigree. It's kind of ironic that a guy who entered the league straight out of high school places so much importance on college accomplishments.

Just as some teams were in the dark about certain players’ medical records, teams drafted without much evidence of the top prospects coming through in the big games.

High draft picks are expected to dominate, to alter the course of their franchises. But the safest expectations these days might be no expectations. When my colleague Ramona Shelburne asked Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak if his team’s selection with the No. 7 pick, Randle, was the type of player to build around, Kupchak’s answer was telling.

“He’s young, and you don’t know how somebody’s going to develop,” Kupchak said. “There’s really no reason why he can’t continue to improve. To make a decision about building around a 19-year-old player right now is really premature.”

In that light, grading any draft for the teams in the top 10 is premature. Not only do we not know, we know even less than we usually don’t know.

Joel Embiid fits Lakers' needs

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
8:14
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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Joel Embiid is shaping up as the latest incarnation in the storied lineage of Los Angeles Lakers centers. He’s got the back problems of Dwight Howard and the foot problems of Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers should not take him if the two screws implanted into the navicular bone in his right foot Friday scare away enough teams to leave Embiid available at the No. 7 pick. At the moment he’s a better fit for them than any other team in the draft’s top 10.

With Kobe Bryant under contract for two high-cost seasons, the Lakers don’t need to a pick for the long term. They need to extract as much as they can from what’s left of Bryant’s career. With that mentality, it wouldn’t be as devastating to them if Embiid’s career is cut short by injuries. Even one or two high-level seasons would suffice. It’s the same risk they took when they brought in Howard fresh off back surgery in 2012; they shouldn’t get shy because it didn’t pay off.

Besides, the chances of getting a long-term franchise cornerstone at No. 7 are slim. None of the seventh picks from 2003 to 2008 has stayed with his team for the duration of his career. (Two of them, Kirk Hinrich and Corey Brewer, are back with their original teams after going elsewhere).

The long-term success of the Lakers isn’t strictly dependent on striking gold in the draft. They’ve shown they are capable of landing major free agents or making trades with confidence that players will re-sign with them. Hearing Julius Randle glow about the mystique of the Lakers and his admiration for Kobe after his workout in L.A. this week served as a reminder that the Lakers still resonate with the up-and-coming generation of players. They also have the financial means to go into the luxury tax to assemble and maintain their roster.

No other team with high draft picks has that fallback. They all need their picks in this deeper-than-normal draft to click if they’re going to have success.

The Lakers’ fan base wouldn’t freak out if they picked Embiid. While O’Neal had that problematic big toe and Gasol has dealt with plantar fasciitis, the Lakers don’t have the star-crossed injury history of say, Portland, with its litany of limping big men from Bill Walton to Sam Bowie to Greg Oden that would immediately make Laker fans fear for the worst.

Actually, Walton’s Portland years -- one great season, four injury-plagued ones -- would be more than enough for the Lakers from the No. 7 spot. Walton played more than 58 games in a season only once for the Trail Blazers, but that once was enough to get him a Most Valuable Player award, a championship and a cherished spot in the hearts of all Blazers fans. That might be more than Embiid fulfilling his potential, Bryant returning to 80 percent of his capacity and a key free agent could accomplish for the Lakers ... but at least Embiid could entice with possibilities.

There’s no player in this draft who’s guaranteed to make his team into an annual championship contender. Among the players the Lakers have brought in for workouts this week were Randle, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Nik Stauskas and Elfrid Payton, who is rocketing up the mock draft lists and impressed the Lakers in his session Friday. All could be good, none has the potential of Embiid.

If the Lakers take Embiid and it doesn’t work out, there won’t be the pervading sense of “What if?” that haunts the Trail Blazers with Oden and Kevin Durant. For the Lakers, it’s always, “What’s next?”

The small numbers that led to $2 billion

May, 30, 2014
May 30
8:05
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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The $2 billion valuation for the Los Angeles Clippers wouldn’t be possible without the numbers 5, 3, 6 and 10. Those were the digits on the ping-pong balls that allowed the Clippers to win the 2009 draft lottery, the combination that led to them landing Blake Griffin. Steve Ballmer’s record-setting purchase price for the franchise makes that pick the financial equivalent of the enduring success the San Antonio Spurs enjoyed by winning the Tim Duncan sweepstakes.

Everything the Clippers have become started with Griffin. Without Griffin there’d be no Chris Paul. Without Chris Paul there’d be no Doc Rivers. And without Griffin and Paul and Rivers, would there be a $2 billion dollar sale?

We’ll never know for sure. Maybe Ballmer was just that set on getting a team. A league source said Ballmer had expressed regret about losing out on the Sacramento Kings and wished he’d kept going until the number got so high the NBA had to relent to his Seattle-based group. The source said Ballmer vowed to never get outbid again. Maybe all it took was the availability of a team in Los Angeles in a modern arena with a local television deal that’s about to make them free agents in the city’s most competitive sports TV rights market ever. Maybe those factors alone were enough for Ballmer to get to three commas, then quickly double it.

But the fact that it was a good team couldn’t hurt, right? It’s not the L.A. NBA team with the glorious past, but it is the more successful L.A. NBA team of the present, and the one with the more promising future.

And that all goes back to Blake Griffin. Sometimes I’ll look at him, off at the far end of the Clippers practice facility shooting free throws, and wonder how so much money – a mini-economy, really – can be tied to one person’s basketball ability. If he ever had those thoughts as well he just saw a clear example leap out of the headlines the way he soars to the hoop.

The bad part is there’s no way for him to be justly compensated. His salary remains the same no matter if the franchise value quadrupled during his time in uniform. It’s actually been worse for Tim Duncan. The salary cap rules have forced him to slash his salary in order for the Spurs to surround him with enough talent to keep contending for championships.

Here’s an idea for the next go-round of collective bargaining: what about allowing teams to provide shares of the team that vest upon retirement for players who have spent at least 12 years with the same franchise? Give the superstars some equity for the loyalty they’ve shown to the team and the value they’ve added to it. That way the Lakers could simply reward Kobe Bryant for what he’s meant to them, rather than simultaneously punish him by making it harder for him to chase his sixth ring because his salary eats up so much of the cap.

The side effect could be small market teams would be less likely to get LeBronned and watch a superstar draft pick depart to spend the prime years of his career elsewhere. The prospect of spending a dozen years in Milwaukee might be more appealing to a player if he knew he could reap the benefits the next time the team gets sold for a surprisingly high amount.

The way it stands now, the NBA is players’ league – until it’s time for the biggest checks to be deposited. That's when even the high-flying Griffin can only stand to the side and watch.

Resolving the problem

May, 29, 2014
May 29
2:16
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- One of the San Antonio Spurs’ most admirable qualities -- their resilience -- is now one of their most essential. The resolve that helped them bounce back from last year’s devastating loss in the NBA Finals and put themselves in position to grab another championship is what they’ll need to draw from in Thursday night’s Game 5 and the remainder of the Western Conference finals.

“They’re a real professional group,” Gregg Popovich said of his team. “There’s not going to be any team at this point in the playoffs that’s not professional and hungry and play hard, whether it’s a win or a loss.”

Popovich is right, despite the occasional evidence to the contrary the Indiana Pacers provide. His words are particularly accurate in the West, where it’s quite possible that the Oklahoma City Thunder’s athleticism advantage is more significant than the Spurs’ wisdom edge.

Yes, the lineup of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard -- the Spurs’ second-most used unit this season –- boasts a collective 725 playoff games of experience. But if Scott Brooks wanted to he could easily field a lineup with a total of 584 playoff games to their credit: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins.

The other day, Durant said that experience pays off in “knowing that we’ve been here before and knowing how we responded,” as well as saying “just knowing that a couple of possessions can switch the series up.” It’s the knowledge mixed with the athletic ability that makes them so dangerous. Popovich used Westbrook as an example of a player whose effort on the court reflected the stakes of Game 4.

Somehow the Spurs didn’t respond. At the moment, the Thunder have the edge in awareness.

“It’s important for us to have ... a sense of place, a sense of where we are and what kind of an opportunity we have here, and to what degree do we want to take advantage of it,” Popovich told reporters Wednesday. “These things don’t come along every year, to be in this kind of a position. I’m anxious to see what our approach is mentally to the game.”

The rest of us are curious to see whether Popovich has any significant adjustments for Game 5. He got everything he could have asked for from the lineup of Diaw, Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner and Aaron Baynes that he sent in once the Spurs fell hopelessly behind. That doesn’t guarantee we’ll see more of it, in any form.

“That was a situation that called for something like that,” Popovich said. “But I wouldn’t think that that’s going to be a staple.”

The Spurs could use a “stretch 4” to pull Ibaka away from the basket.They actually have one in Bonner, but he brings defensive concerns and has fallen out of the rotation in the past couple of years. His reduced usage can be traced back to the 2012 conference finals against the Thunder, when Bonner’s play increased from 11 minutes in Game 1 to 17 minutes in Game 2 to 23 minutes in Game 3, then dropped to two minutes in Game 4, 50 seconds in Game 5 to not playing at all in Game 6. Bonner’s time in the 2014 series has mostly come once the outcome has been decided.

Diaw has been the primary frontcourt sub, but he’s shooting only 27 percent on 3-pointers in the series.

The Spurs had some success running their offense through Duncan in the high post and letting him make passes to players cutting to the basket. He had assists on three of the Spurs’ eight baskets in the second quarter of Game 4. That’s another area they could explore.

The longer a series goes on, the less it becomes about adjustments. Radical change at this stage often reeks of desperation. It’s more about maximizing than countering, as Ginobili alluded.

“We’ve got to get to a point where we play much harder and much smarter,” he said. “We’ve got to attack quicker, don’t let their pressure bother us or get us on our heels.”

They’ve got to dip into their well of resolve.

Sterlings miss game and point

May, 12, 2014
May 12
12:13
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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Donald and Shelly Sterling are showing that they don’t care about the Los Angeles Clippers, they care about owning the Los Angeles Clippers.

They want the status that comes with being in that select circle of professional sports owners, especially now that there’s the bonus of the Clippers being legitimate contenders. But at this point they’re distracting from the Clippers’ playoff push, not contributing to it. If the Sterlings cared about the best interests of the team, they wouldn’t have spent Sunday sitting down for interviews on the same day the players faced their biggest test of the season to date.

So even while the Clippers were embarking on their dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Twitter was ablaze with talk of the Sterlings.

Donald Sterling, still banned by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, invited CNN’s Anderson Cooper to his home and told him that he isn’t a racist while wondering, “Am I entitled to one mistake?”

Shelly Sterling, who was at Game 3, was away from Game 4 while telling ABC’s Barbara Walters that she’ll divorce Donald and fight to keep her ownership stake in the team.

If they cared about the team’s success, they’d both be silent right now. They’d let the players focus on the most important time of the season, they wouldn’t draw attention from where it should be. They’d take a lesson from Mark Cuban, the league’s most outspoken owner, who strapped a metaphorical muzzle on his mouth during the 2011 playoffs until his Dallas Mavericks had their hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy.

What the Sterlings don’t realize is that the more they speak out about their rights to own the team, the more they help the NBA’s case to take it away from them.

The league can’t oust an owner based on his personal views. But it can act based on the public reaction to those views if they are found to “affect the Association or its members adversely.” The league could cite the dropped and suspended sponsorships from the Clippers’ corporate partners as evidence of adverse effects. They could say that prompting negative reactions from LeBron James at a time he should be talking up the playoffs is a step backward.

While a lawyer for Shelly Sterling said that “California law and the United States Constitution trump any such interpretation,” they fail to realize that the NBA tramples on constitutional rights all the time. The NBA tells players what to wear, it fines them for what they say on camera and on Twitter. It has the means to do so because the players acknowledge those powers in their contracts.

The same applies to owners, but the Sterlings are so used to their money getting them what they want that they don’t want to accept this. The lawyers I’ve consulted on this issue say it comes down to members of a club deciding who they want in or out of their club, and the only way that becomes a matter for the courts is if there’s proven to be discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc. And the Sterlings would know about the difficulty of proving discrimination in court. They’ve counted on it in the past.

I suppose the Sterlings could use the “no such thing as bad publicity” argument, and claim that without them the Clippers wouldn’t be leading newscasts on every network imaginable, or working their way into presidential news conferences.

They could even say that their team is helping the NBA right now, bringing added interest to a team playing in the nation’s No. 2 television market. But that only applies as long as the Clippers still participate in the playoffs.

What the Sterlings don’t realize is that the team’s postseason success is in spite of them, not because of them.

The Warriors' new weapon

May, 1, 2014
May 1
6:42
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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One of the Golden State Warriors’ most effective moves during the course of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers has been posting up Klay Thompson against the Clippers guards. Thompson has been able to get to the basket or shoot a short-turnaround jumper over his smaller defenders.

Thompson said it’s something that he added to his repertoire in the middle of last season, and he worked on it even more last summer.

Why not utilize it more? Because it’s risky to stray too far from the normal flow of an offense, no matter how successful a breakout play can be. And the Warriors offense is at its best with the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands and the other players playing off the defense’s attention to him, not standing around watching one player work his matchup.

“It’s something that we don’t want to overkill,” Thompson said at Warriors’ shootaround Thursday morning. “But if it’s working and I feel like I have a mismatch, I’m going to go to it. I try to go with it within the flow of the offense. If they send a double or something we’ve got easy looks at the rim on that.

“I’ve got a lot of good looks. I’ve been successful in that area in this series. If it’s in the flow of the offense, I’m up for it. But if it’s something that we’re going to have to [isolate] and keep force-feeding me, I don’t think it works as well for us.”

Curry's big breakthrough?

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
2:44
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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By the time Stephen Curry figured out a way to attack the swarming defense the Los Angeles Clippers threw at him it was too late to make a difference in Game 2. That doesn’t mean it’s too late to make a difference in this series.

The Clippers’ strategy is to make Curry into a passer by having a big man jump out on Curry whenever he attempts to come off a screen or make a foray into the lane. It helped keep him in check for the first six quarters of this series. But in the third quarter of Game 2 Curry managed to squirt between the two defenders and race toward the hoop, usually getting there before the defensive help could arrive. Aided by a couple of transition buckets, Curry scored 20 points in the quarter…although it wasn’t nearly enough to close the gap in what eventually was a 40-point Clipper victory.

It did provide a plan of attack heading into Game 3 Thursday night, when the Golden State Warriors hope the raucous crowd in Oracle Arena can help them gain the advantage in a series that’s tied at 1-1.

“Just continue to be aggressive, knowing that if they play the pick-and-roll a certain way, I’ve got to attack it and not have to settle for taking on that trap every single possession and forcing me to give it up,” Curry said. “I’ve got to be able to get around the big [man], be able to take the guard off the dribble, get into the paint and be able to make plays from there.”

Of course it would help if there were a second Curry, as in the Chris Paul/Cliff Paul commercial for State Farm running during this series that has the Paul twins come across a pair of identical Currys.

“That was done last summer,” Curry said. “I don’t know the whole decision-making process. I’m guessing it worked out pretty well for State Farm.”

Proximity sparks modern playoff rivalries

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:13
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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If you can't wait for the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors series to begin, if watching the "Bad Boys" 30 for 30 documentary made you all nostalgic for back-in-the-day rivalries, you'd better hope the NBA keeps the conference playoff format.

This year's West-East disparity has people rushing to their keyboards to scrap the geographic divide and simply take the teams with the 16 best records, regardless of their location. That way everybody's favorite lottery-bound team, the Phoenix Suns, would have a place in the postseason party instead of a seat in Secaucus. The sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks could stay home.

But you know what else would not happen in the first round under that scenario? Clippers-Warriors, the series even players and coaches on other teams are talking about with anticipation. This is the matchup that generated nine technical fouls, two ejections and one flagrant foul during four regular-season meetings. It's the series that Clippers forward Matt Barnes said will include "some hostility and animosity and hatred."

If you took the top 16 teams, you'd have the Clippers against the Washington Wizards. Where's the history there? (Ummmm... one-time Clippers draft pick Danny Ferry is the son of former Washington general manager Bob Ferry?)

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Andrew Bogut
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsThe Clippers and Warriors have met eight times in the past two years, sparking a heated rivalry.
Proximity, as much as familiarity, breeds contempt. That's why divisions and conferences haven't completely outlived their usefulness. Even though this is the first playoff meeting between the Clippers and Warriors, they've had eight contentious regular-season games the past two years. There have been hard fouls, outright mocking from the sidelines, turf battles and stare downs. It's as much a part of this series as the superstar point guard matchup between Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.

"I'm not sure you can leave the emotions behind," Blake Griffin said. "I think both teams need that, to a certain extent. You can't be too emotional to where it's affecting your play, but you've got to play with some emotion. You can't take that out of the game."

And thanks to this playoff format, you can't make it easier for these teams to hide on opposite sides of the bracket.

Conference playoff formats played a huge role in the Detroit Pistons rivalries, too, as seen in the "Bad Boys" documentary. The most amazing statistic in the film was the 24 games the Pistons and Boston Celtics played in two seasons, thanks to two lengthy playoff series and 11 regular-season meetings, back when there were only 23 teams to fill out the 82-game schedule.

Of course, the most memorable part was the footage of the hard punishment inflicted by (and against) the Bad Boys, with such little punishment from the officials and the league.

"It was incredible," Barnes said. "It was physical -- the stuff they did to [Michael] Jordan and [Larry] Bird.

"It was just physical basketball. They may have even tried to hurt each other back then. You kind of just wish that the game [today] could be a little more physical.

"If I did some of those fouls last night that I saw, I'd have to find a new job. Take my kids out of private school, cut my wife's allowance. We'd be in trouble."

What the documentary didn't show was the real aftermath of the Bad Boys, who showed that superior talent could be taken out by rough play. The New York Knicks took it from there, and by the mid-'90s some of the grace of the sport was lost. When Jordan took his sabbatical from 1993 to 1995, what was left was a league of slower play and lower scores.

Clippers-Warriors gives us a modern-day remix of the old rivalries. It's ornery, but artistic. There will be elbows at close range, but also long-distance shots by Curry and Klay Thompson. There will be trash talk, but also high-flying jams by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The primary common link to Pistons-Celtics or Pistons-Bulls? The conference playoff format made their meeting much more likely.

Pau Gasol's final scene in Lakerland?

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:39
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol looked out onto the court, where the team from his past played the team of his present, then looked up to the scoreboard, where the clock ticked down toward the start of his future.

The Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol’s team from draft night in 2001 until the 2008 trade that sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers, were finalizing the Lakers’ 55th loss of the season. Same old story for the Lakers: hang tight for a half, lose by double digits. And a frustratingly frequent tale for Gasol: sidelined by injury, missing his 20th game and counting, with a bout of vertigo guaranteed to keep him sidelined for the Lakers’ two remaining games on the road.

He’ll be a free agent this summer, which means this might have been his last home game at Staples Center. It certainly meant he felt the emotional impact. As the game drew to a close he reached toward the seat to his right and tapped teammate Jordan Farmar’s leg to signal that it was time for them to leave. Except Gasol wasn’t really ready to leave. He congratulated his brother, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, then playfully shoved Marc away so he wouldn’t sweat on Pau’s nice, movie-ticket-taker- burgundy red jacket. He moved on to other players and coaches, stopped to talk to a couple of fans, then chatted with courtside regulars Jimmy Goldstein and Dyan Cannon.
[+] EnlargeMarc Gasol
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsMarc and Pau Gasol, the brothers who were traded for each other in 2008, greet each other Sunday.

He stopped and signed autographs for fans on the other side of the courtside seats. He leaned in behind a woman who took a selfie with her phone. He entered the tunnel and accommodated more fans who reached through the rails to have him sign programs, hats, tickets and -- just when he was ready to cut things off -- a fan who dangled a No. 16 Gasol golden Lakers jersey.

Finally he said no mas.

“I gotta go in,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

He blew the fans a kiss with both hands, bowed and moved on to the Lakers' locker room.

“I always appreciate the fans,” Gasol said. “You never know. The last couple years when I walked out of this building it’s been emotional. This year it’s been a little bit different because we haven’t been successful as a team, we had a lot of injuries, I haven’t been able to finish the season playing. So I kind of had it more in my mind.

“The last couple of years I didn’t know if I was going to be back. This year with even more reason, because now I’m a free agent. It’s just a way of me appreciating everyone and our fans.”

The fans showed their appreciation, giving him a warm cheer when he was showed on the scoreboard video screen late in the game. Will the Lakers do anything similar -- something along the lines of the golden parachute they granted Kobe Bryant? The Kobe contract might actually preclude a Gasol gift by eating up too much salary cap room. Gasol can’t expect to match the $19 million he made this season; he might get about half of that, from what some general managers say. It's also possible that the Lakers could sign him to a short deal that would give them the possibility of using him as a trade asset next season.

But a multi-year contract would alter any Lakers plans to make a big splash in the 2015 free agent market -- or even to bring in the additional pieces the Lakers would need around Bryant and Gasol.

That’s why Sunday was the night for sentiment. Come July 1 it will be all business.

“You’ve got to put heart and emotions aside a little bit and think what’s going to be the best position for me to succeed, not just individually but collectively,” Gasol said. “And hopefully help put myself in a position where I can win a championship. That will be the goal. Where can I win and where can I be a key piece to help a team win, whether it’s here or another team? I don’t know exactly what’s going to be the structure or the roster [with the Lakers], so there’s going to be a lot of question marks here. But I’m open to listen. I’m a good listener. I will listen to what’s offered.”

Then there’s the possibility of playing with his brother in Memphis.

“It’s appealing,” Gasol said. “We have a lof of fun always in the summers [playing together with the Spanish national team]. But I don’t know if it’s going to be completely 100 percent up to me, because there’s going to be a lot of teams that are going to be probably limited or conditioned to a trade, and the Lakers will probably have some say in that. We’ll see. It’ll be an interesting process. I don’t know if the Grizzlies are one of the teams that are most interested.

“I’d love to play with Kobe more, because he’s a friend, he’s a winner and he’s a guy that I’ve been through a lot and won championships with. I would love to play with my brother, but you can’t have everything. Just try to think where is the best position for me to succeed collectively and individually.”

Time passes so quickly in the NBA, turning from ally to enemy. Gasol made the Lakers championships contenders when he arrived in February of 2008, and they were on their way to three consecutive NBA Finals. In April of 2014, the only player in uniform who was around for that heyday was Farmar. It’s no accident that he was sitting next to Gasol.

“[The bond is] even sweeter for us because we lost one [NBA Finals] first,” Farmar said. “ We got all the way there, we lost, and then we learned as a group and came back to win back-to-backs. So we’re a little closer. It’s a little more special. It’s experiences you can’t really teach. You just have to go through it and know what it takes. It’s hard to pass that knowledge on to young guys. There’s just no way they can understand the dynamics of a championship team unless you’re on that caliber of a team.”

You can see why playing for another team consisting primarily of those young players wouldn’t appeal to Gasol at age 33. You also can see how a 33-year-old who has missed 53 games over the past two seasons with injuries stretching literally from his feet (plantar fasciitis) to his head (vertigo) might not have GMs filling his voicemail inbox this summer. But he’s still an experienced big man who averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds this season.

“In this league, no one person can do it by themselves,” Farmar said. “You need to put a team together of guys that understand the importance of winning,
that are committed to it and fit well together. I think that’s what it comes down to. The front office knows that. I think Pau, whether it’s here or someplace else, will be on a team like that.”

For the past three seasons we’ve wondered if the Lakers would send him someplace else before the trade deadline. Now it could be of his own volition. That’s why this wasn’t just another night in Staples Center, the building where the two most recent Lakers championship banners hang as a result of his handiwork.

Silver's un-Stern stern move

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
4:43
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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If the NBA’s decision to fine the Dallas Mavericks for public address announcer Sean Heath’s tweets about the officiating seems very David Stern-like, it could be because new commissioner Adam Silver is doing his best to NOT be like Stern.

In 2010, Stern revealed that one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as commissioner was that he didn’t crack down on Phil Jackson and Pat Riley when they kept insinuating that league agendas were behind the officials’ calls during their playoff battles in the early 1990s.

“I wish I had to do it all over again and, starting 20 years ago, I’d be suspending Phil and Pat Riley for all the games they play in the media,” Stern said.

Stern believes that failing to do so allowed the conspiracy theories to fester, making the default explanation for any blown whistle become either “the TV networks want the series to last longer” or “the NBA wants the biggest TV markets to meet in the Finals.” If the most prominent coaches said it, why wouldn’t the fans believe it? Every fan believes the league is out to get his favorite team. Hearing the same thoughts come from the participants themselves only encourages them.

Apparently, Adam Silver’s regime won’t make the same mistake as Stern. When Heath took to Twitter to complain about the officiating following a Mavericks loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 1, Heath’s biggest mistake in a series of tweets was writing “@NBA: the ONLY professional league in the US with the reputation that the games are rigged. Know why? Because of games like tonight. #shame”

Actually, the shame is that a representative of a team would do anything to fuel the conspiracy-minded fans. “Rigged” is too serious an accusation to casually toss around without consequences. This week we learned what they were: a $25,000 fine for the Mavericks, as reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.

MacMahon wrote that the league’s first impulse was to suspend Heath, but that action would be complicated by the fact that he is technically a contract worker, not a team employee. That still sounds like the revised mindset of which Stern spoke four years ago.

I bet it’s something that Silver will not regret upon reflection 20 years from now.

Clippers keep drawing successful combos

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
9:38
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Credits earned in the regular season don’t always carry over into the playoffs, as the Los Angeles Clippers learned last year when their first Pacific Division championship, home-court advantage and a 2-0 lead in the first round quickly vanished into the teeth of the Memphis Grizzlies.

It feels like this season’s Clippers squad has a higher credit rating. If there’s one thing the Clippers have earned, it’s the benefit of the doubt even as they carry an array of injury issues with them into the final stage of the season. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford might not suit up in any of the remaining regular-season games? That might go for Danny Granger as well? Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick are walking around like they could use a day spent at the chiropractor’s office? Shouldn’t matter.

The Clippers have proved their adaptability over the course of the season. They have played at least nine games with four versions of their starting lineup, and have winning records with all four of them. They’re 11-5 with Chris Paul, Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin and Jared Dudley. They’re 8-3 with Paul, Crawford, Jordan, Griffin and Dudley. They’re 6-3 with Darren Collison, Redick, Jordan, Griffin and Matt Barnes. They’re 12-2 with Paul, Collison, Jordan, Griffin and Barnes.

Sunday was the first time they used the lineup of Paul, Redick, Jordan, Griffin and Barnes, and they’re 1-0 with that combo after beating the Lakers 120-97.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin has jammed on successfully with a rotating cast of Clippers.

“Our mindset as a team -- and you can just feel it before every game, no matter who’s playing or who’s not playing -- we’ve just got to go execute our stuff and we’ve got a chance to win, every single night,” Griffin said. “I think that was really evident, especially when CP went down [13-6 without Paul in the starting lineup]. Because everybody kind of wrote us off a little bit. And then when he came back, J.J.’s out. Guys don’t really make excuses. ‘Oh, he’s not playing tonight? It’s my turn, it’s his turn, it’s somebody’s turn.’

“That’s encouraging going into the playoffs, just to know that whoever we have on the court, we’re going to compete.”

It’s the best thing they have going for them. And sometimes all it takes is having one best thing.

“I think we know who we are,” Griffin said.

They have to realize that they’re not defensive stalwarts. They’re also the second-worst team in the league in allowing opponents offensive rebounds, even though Jordan is the NBA’s top individual rebounder. But they’ve maintained the NBA’s top scoring offense despite the lineup fluctuations. That has to start with Griffin, of course, averaging 24 points a night with only five games with fewer than 20 points since Dec. 16.

More attention should be paid to Collison, who has gone from backup point guard to starting point guard to starting shooting guard depending on the situation.

It looked bad Jan. 4 when, in Collison’s first game starting after Paul injured his right shoulder, the Clippers lost by 24 points in San Antonio. Reflecting on it later, Doc Rivers realized they let Collison down by asking him to fill Paul’s role rather than play his own. After that, the Clippers won five in a row and 12 of their next 14 while Paul recovered. Collison averaged 14 points and six assists and shot 51 percent during that stretch.

“If I’m going to start, I’m going to play my game,” Collison said. “That’s when I play my best. I firmly believe that. I’m an aggressive player -- sometimes I can be overaggressive -- but that’s just how I play.”

You’ll often hear Rivers and other Clippers players say they’d like Chris Paul to share that mindset -- to look for his shot from the get-go. That’s especially true now that Paul has regained his 3-point shooting touch. His 3-point percentage of .349 this season is one of the lowest of his career, but he made all four of his attempts Sunday, the fourth time in the past six games he’s made at least four 3-pointers.

So here are the safe bets for the Clippers heading into the playoffs: Griffin and Paul playing like top-10 players. Double-doubles from Jordan. Collison quietly doing what’s necessary. Group confidence in Doc Rivers.

That’s a lot to work with, before adding the possibilities of Redick (who made 7 of 11 shots Sunday) and Crawford.

At this point, the knowns are outweighing the unknowns.

“It just shows we have a lot of experience out there,” Collison said. “No matter who’s down, no matter who’s hurt, it seems like another guy’s coming in, stepping in and contributing the way he needs to contribute.”

Thunder fall out of first as Clippers close in

March, 9, 2014
Mar 9
9:33
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Big win for the Los Angeles Clippers in Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s not a mistake. Even though the scoreboard said it was the Lakers that beat the Thunder, 114-110, the Clippers were the biggest beneficiary.

When the Clippers beat the Lakers by 48 points last week the accomplishment was lost amid nationwide scuba diving to determine just how low the Lakers had sunk. Maybe now the Clippers’ accomplishments in that landmark victory and their seven-game winning streak can bob to the surface. People can realize that the Lakers didn’t simply roll over, the Clippers did plenty of kicking. The Clippers turned a 15-point lead against the Lakers into a 52-point lead. The Thunder turned an 18-point lead into an 18-point deficit, and then an L. “You can’t play the score, you have to play the game,” Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher said, in one of those veteran-y quotes.

Oh, and the Clippers are now within 2½ games of Oklahoma City’s second spot in the Western Conference standings. So, yeah, Sunday was a good day for the Clippers.
[+] EnlargeKevin Durant
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists but OKC fell to the Lakers.

The one thing you haven’t heard the Clippers do lately is lament. As in: “We did not come with the defensive intensity that we needed in the third quarter,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamented.

That’s a verb used only when you don’t get what you want. The Clippers have gotten the W in their past seven games, making them the hottest team in the league at the moment. They’re beginning to grasp the defensive concepts Doc Rivers is preaching, and held four of seven opponents to less than 100 points during the streak, a standard they failed to meet in nine of their previous 10 games.

While they’re reaching a crescendo, the Thunder have fallen into what Coach Brooks called “a defensive valley,” allowing opponents to score 110 points per game and shoot 47 percent while losing five of their past eight games. They dropped into second place in the Western Conference, a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs, who’ve won six straight and have to be feeling good about themselves as well.

Brooks was as critical as he gets about his team, saying, “It comes down to taking pride in guarding your man and we had trouble staying in front of the basketball tonight” as well as “In the third quarter we did not come out with the defensive toughness it takes to win in this league.”

The Thunder aren’t making excuses about the absence of the injured Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but it’s clearly an issue.

“Thabo is a defensive player,” Brooks said. “Perk is one of our best defensive players. He’s not only good on the post, he’s good on the pick-and-roll coverage and he’s good at communicating.”

Perkins communicates not only on the court but in the locker room and through the media, quick to call out insufficient efforts from his team. He wasn’t around Sunday, so that left it to Fisher.

Yes, Kevin Durant, a 40 percent 3-point shooter on the season, has shot 33 percent on 3-pointers in February and is 9-for-32 (28 percent) in four games in March. And just when it seemed Russell Westbrook had regained his shooting touch by making 58 percent of his shots in the previous five games, he cratered to a 7-for-23 (30 percent) shooting performance Sunday afternoon.

Those aren’t the type of things that have Fisher concerned.

“It’s a larger perspective in terms of just where we are as a team, our mentality, our mindset, our ability to bring the right type of focus to the game,” Fisher said.

“As a team we have to decide what’s most important to us. And if it’s the team’s success, then you’ll start to see offensively and defensively things tighten up the way they need to tighten up. … Just in terms of respecting the game, respecting each other, bringing the right sense of urgency to our jobs.

“I don’t question guys’ commitment to the team, I’m just saying we’re not right now putting it out there on the court."

The Thunder left the arena muttering to themselves, the Lakers were granted a temporary reprieve from their miserable season, and Jodie Meeks had a career-high 42 points to savor. Nobody had it better than the Clippers, though. They had a day off to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in L.A., and their status improved at the same time.

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