TrueHoop: Los Angeles Clippers

Blake Griffin, The Lob Creator

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
9:57
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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We take you inside the numbers to reveal Blake Griffin's hidden league-leading talent.

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We need to talk about the Clippers

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
12:45
PM ET
Han By Andrew Han
ESPN.com
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Blake GriffinHarry How/Getty ImagesThey are still West contenders, but something is starting to feel amiss with the Los Angeles Clippers.
There is a certain irony that the most expensive NBA franchise ever purchased is bereft of usable trade assets. So when the Clippers compiled and dealt what little they did possess in exchange for Austin Rivers on Thursday, an alert must have notified the Federal Reserve that the franchise was in distress. It was a transaction that spotlights a misevaluation of circumstances, a failure to frame the negotiation before their position was defined for them.

Doc Rivers had a penchant to reuse and recycle certain calculated phrases last season: “process,” “building identity,” “emotional hijacking.” Words that have since been made scarce in conversations and debriefings this season.

Which isn’t to say that the symptoms that prompted such language are gone. In a Dec. 19 loss at Denver this season, the Clippers were charged with seven technical fouls, including five in the fourth quarter and three in one possession. They boast four players on the top-40 leaderboard in technical fouls, second only to the Phoenix Suns (five players). The composure, it’s fair to say, has been uneven for a team that returns its top six players and head coach.

That doesn’t mean the Clippers have been bad this season. Far from it. Through 39 games, they are 26-13. At the same point last season? 26-13. Even their net efficiency through 39 games is near identical -- plus-6.4 in 2013-14 vs. plus-6.7 in 2014-15. The Clippers rank third in Hollinger’s Power Rankings and fourth in expected win percentage. For all the troubles with their defense and crunch-time offense, the Clippers are elite by most metrics.

But something has been missing this season, and even though the Clippers haven’t been able to put a finger on it, the fans sense it. During the Jan. 11 matinee loss to the Miami Heat, “Let’s go Heat” chants echoed loudly enough at Staples Center to reverberate onto the court. It caused enough of an annoyance that DeAndre Jordan quipped sarcastically after the game that it’s tough to “get a road win.” It was the Clippers' 23rd sellout of the season and 165th in a row.

How does a team riding high off the ousting of one of the most repugnant owners in professional sports -- a team that was mere moments from seizing control of last year’s second-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and earning a bid to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history -- reach a point where they felt turned away by a home crowd? Even for a moment?

Attendance is high and sales are brisk. But the season has left a palpable uncertainty in the air. And uncertainty breeds anxiety. And anxiety breeds resentment.

It’s no secret that the Clippers have rarely been good in their tenure as California residents. To be a fan of the Clippers is to be a fan of potential; that was the implied pledge -- the team typically struggled, pinning hopes that “tomorrow” gave new opportunity. They were a carousel of young players and journeymen, all with the visage of untapped abilities waiting to be unlocked, reclamation projects of misunderstood talents.

Spring traditionally brought the start of scouting season for fans. Which college prospect would finally usher in a winning era for the franchise? What undervalued player would somehow ignite the underperforming franchise? No team has had more lottery selections since 1985 than the Clippers (21). The trade deadline and offseason would bookend management’s surrender of prospects that didn’t miraculously revitalize the franchise, swapping them for other faulty assets that “just need a change of scenery.” The only coherent strategy to improve was maintaining a promise that they would improve. It was a vicious cycle.

Yet fans have openly expressed distaste with how this season’s campaign has progressed, one going as far as to say that this team has been the hardest to root for in some time. At worst the Clippers are now a fringe contender. Were the bad old days really preferable?

Resoundingly no. But for a fan base that has gulped nothing but continuity and process for the past 18 months, the Clippers have shown very little of either, vacillating between Spursian precision and Keystone Cops, sometimes within the same game. The schizophrenic identity of the team has manifested itself as manic behavior from its supporters. Off the court, it gets no better.

Rivers, on balance, has leveled the scale since his arrival; brushing aside troublesome losses that no doubt sting, downplaying wins that are typically elating. He resides behind the shield of a championship ring -- a title buys impunity, it buys political capital. Hold a franchise together through an ownership crisis? Even more capital. But for all the calmness he brings to a locker room, very little has translated in composing the lineup and filling the margins.

There is no precise roadmap to improve the deficiencies that stymie the team. No perceivable methodology or insight to help understand how Doc is preparing the roster to improve and grow. That is, unless the thesis is that the starters will carry the burden or Rivers simply plans to attract the staunchest Celtic opponents from 2009. And there lies the root of fanatical angst: that a path to glory is claimed but for an obscured reach.

Journeymen and veterans are sliding through their Playa Vista facility like plates on a lazy Susan: Dahntay Jones, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Stephen Jackson, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens, Darius Morris, Maalik Wayns. Farmar was waived on Friday after being awarded the bi-annual exception, meaning the Clippers bound themselves to the hard cap in 2014-15 (incurred along with the Spencer Hawes signing) and gave up the ability to use the exception next season for nothing. Reggie Bullock, their 2013 first-round pick, was traded to Phoenix after failing to develop in limited minutes.

Something is missing from the Clippers this season. And while the team sifts for the intangible, fans are starting to feel the creep of a familiar cycle.

Follow Andrew Han, @andrewthehan.

Revealing map of North America's NBA fans

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
7:23
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive


Twitter has produced an interactive map of NBA fandom based on the locations of people following official team accounts. The results give some insight into the predilections of NBA fans who use social media, if not fans in general. Here’s a rundown of interesting facts in the info.

1. Los Angeles is not Lob City
Check out Los Angeles County, home of your Clippers of Los Angeles. Actually, "your" might be stretching it because so few claim this team on Twitter. The Clips have a meager 6.79 percent following to the Lakers' 50.32 percent. In their own backyard, the Clippers have about as much traction as they have in certain Canadian regions (They’re at 5.35 percent in Queens, New Brunswick). Put another way, the Lakers are far more Twitter popular in Quebec (17.71 percent in Montreal!) than the Clippers are in Los Angeles.

2. Nobody cares where you played in college
The NBA likes its rookies to spend time playing college ball under the logic that it boosts league branding.
[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesNo matter which way Kobe Bryant points, chances are he will find a heavy concentration of Lakers fans.
Perhaps this is so, but we don't see college affiliation mattering much in these numbers. This is true for a few players, but Stephen Curry is a good example. Back in 2007 and 2008, he gained renown for elevating a plucky Davidson team. Despite that history and despite Curry leading all West players in All-Star votes, the Warriors register only 1.66 percent fandom in Davidson's home county of Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

3. The Great Purple North
Yes, the Raptors are the most popular team in Canada. The Lakers aren't far behind, though, claiming a fan majority in British Columbia and various counties scattered across the vast nation. Canada has yet to purge the Laker menace.

4. The Thunder Run Wade Hampton County, Alaska
Thunder fandom is largely confined to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, but they do have a far-flung outpost. OKC is the favorite team (10.56 percent) of Wade Hampton County, Alaska. Sure it has only 8,000 people, but still, way to spread the word.

5. The Hawks don't fly at home
Hopefully, this recent Hawks on-court success can woo some fans. In Fulton County, where the Hawks hail from, we see slightly more Lakers followers (15.52 percent) than Hawks followers (15.42 percent). You'd think having an entire state to yourself would give you a hold on a local audience. Not so much -- yet.

Damian Lillard vs. Chris Paul

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
12:42
PM ET
By Tom Haberstroh and Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Tom Haberstroh and Amin Elhassan debate which point guard is better right now -- Damian Lillard or Chris Paul?

Then & Now & Later: Eric Bledsoe

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
9:30
AM ET
Foster By DJ Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Eric BledsoeGetty ImagesDespite his stature and unique skill set, Eric Bledsoe ranks among the elite guards in the NBA today.
"Then & Now & Later" is a scouting profile series that analyzes the perception, development and potential of young players in the NBA. Previous editions tackled Anthony Davis and Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving. Up now: Eric Bledsoe.

Then


As a 6-foot-1 high school kid from Alabama, Eric Bledsoe had the confidence to tell Kentucky coach John Calipari, of all people, that he “didn’t care who else he was recruiting.” And even with John Wall running the point and DeMarcus Cousins hogging the headlines in his first season with the Wildcats, Bledsoe entered the draft as a freshman.

That decision was a surprise to some. A late bloomer in high school, Bledsoe didn't benefit from years of big exposure prior to Kentucky, and he was at best a third option offensively while playing there. Largely because of this, he fell out of the lottery to the 18th pick, where then-Los Angeles Clippers general manager Neil Olshey did something almost completely unheard of during Donald Sterling’s reign of terror: traded up to get him.

Olshey’s risk would soon be rewarded. Baron Davis and his bloated salary would hit the sideline with acute Baron Davis-ness, and Bledsoe, drafted 10 slots after the Clippers selected Al-Farouq Aminu, took on a temporary starting role. The then-21-year-old showed flashes as a rookie, particularly on the defensive end, but his debut season mostly took a backseat to the one by Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick from the previous season who quickly turned into a nightly must-watch.

Riding high for a change, the Clippers pushed in their chips that offseason, dealing for one of the league’s best players in Chris Paul. Bledsoe was frequently mentioned in reported talks leading up to the trade, but the Clippers would hang on to the burly mighty mite, setting up a backcourt dynamic with which he was all too familiar.

With Paul at the point, Bledsoe would see his playing time cut in half, to just 11 minutes a night. But his immense talent wouldn’t stay under wraps for too long. Underutilized in every sense of the word by coach Vinny Del Negro, Bledsoe made do with whatever scraps he was given in his third season, averaging 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes with the kind of on-ball defense the Clippers desperately needed.

But despite overwhelmingly positive numbers when the two guards shared the floor together in limited time, a Bledsoe-Paul backcourt was never really deployed. Interestingly enough, Paul made thinly veiled comments during the 2012-13 season about Bledsoe “deserving to run his own team." Sure, there was praise for a teammate, but it also was a tacit admission that it wouldn't be happening on the Clippers.

The result was a muted breakout for Bledsoe. After two seasons of testing his boundaries and turning over the ball a bunch in the process, Bledsoe reined himself in a bit and started to pick his spots more effectively. The chaos was more controlled offensively, but Bledsoe was still unleashed against opposing ball handlers, beating them to their spots with quick feet and not relenting position with his strength.

Still, while his ability to be a dominant two-way player was clear, the inability to neatly categorize a player like Bledsoe hurt the guard's stature. He was too short and his set shot was too odd-looking for comfort.

With Doc Rivers at the helm in the 2013 offseason, the Clippers struck a three-team trade that sent Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns, who forfeited only Jared Dudley in the deal.

As per usual, Bledsoe both rewarded the team that sought him (Phoenix battled for a playoff spot when most had it pegged for a top-three pick) and managed to be overshadowed by the play of a teammate (Goran Dragic). He was “Mini-LeBron” and a “Slash Brother," and then he was a restricted free agent no team touched in the 2014 offseason.

The Suns would eventually re-sign Bledsoe to a five-year deal worth $70 million, but not before they would sign -- you guessed it -- another point guard in Isaiah Thomas.


Now


Even though he’s come a long way from the rookie who would sling wild layups off the glass at impressive speeds, Bledsoe is still in need of further development.

His jumper is slow, erratic and utilizes minimal lift, which allows both wings and big men to sag off and protect the paint more than they would against most career 32 percent 3-point shooters. Bledsoe also has a nasty tendency of leaving his feet without a plan, and his aggressive nature on the drive invites a lot of contact and leads to a lot of turnovers.

That being said, to suggest that Bledsoe’s height is in any way a hindrance to his performance -- at either guard spot -- is nothing more than archaic thinking.

Bledsoe’s career total rebounding percentage (8.1) is right in line with Kobe Bryant’s (8.2) and vastly superior to wings with “prototypical size” such as Klay Thompson (5.4).

There’s more here than just rebounding, too. Dwyane Wade is considered maybe the best shot-blocking shooting guard of all time, but Bledsoe blocks a very similar percentage of shots (2.1 to 1.7) and could very well take the torch from Wade once the Heat guard calls it quits.

Length on the perimeter and in passing lanes is probably what matters the most here, but Bledsoe’s 6-foot-8 wingspan, rock-solid frame and explosiveness allow him to do everything on that end, aside from maybe contesting shots with the very top of his head.

Some teams are starting to come around on this and some aren’t. While it’s possible the Suns view Bledsoe as a shooting guard only in the short term with Goran Dragic an unrestricted free agent who should garner a big payday this upcoming offseason, the pairing has worked well for the time being.

Dragic has predictably come down to a earth a bit from his 2013-14 season, for which he won most improved player honors, but Bledsoe is thriving. He’s 30th among all players in real plus-minus (RPM) and 18th among all players in wins above replacement (WAR). He’s a one-man fast break adept at pinballing off smaller defenders or using reverses to stymie would-be shot-blockers. And Jeff Hornacek’s pace-and-space system, with its open driving lanes, is the perfect fit.

So far this season, Bledsoe is shooting a higher percentage at the rim than James Harden, Monta Ellis and Russell Westbrook in a similar amount of chances per game. He’s been electric.


Later


A future status as one of the best guards in the league isn’t guaranteed. Bledsoe has had multiple knee surgeries, and players who rely so heavily on their athleticism typically don’t tend to fare well down the road.

Still, there’s a tendency to take for granted the skill and nuance that some of the league’s more superior athletes employ on a nightly basis. Bledsoe’s time spent as a caddie to Paul clearly taught him a few things, and you’ll see flashes of that when he keeps his defender on his hip in the pick-and-roll or when he uses lateral movement with his dribble to better manipulate angles.

One would assume that Bledsoe can also become a better perimeter shooter with more repetition. Many guards have reinvented themselves later in their careers, but Bledsoe is still only 25, and he might not feel the need to downshift just yet when he’s getting to the rim without many problems.

But can he fulfill his potential as a legitimate franchise building block? The new contract would indicate that Phoenix believes he can, but the prospect of potentially losing him for nothing in free agency might have forced the Suns' hand.

Still, Bledsoe’s ability to mesh with other backcourt partners can’t be taken for granted when considering his overall value. The signing of Thomas could have thrown a real wrench into the Suns' backcourt rotation, but in the 299 minutes Thomas and Bledsoe have shared the floor together this season, the Suns have posted a blistering offensive rating of 115.1 and an overall net rating of plus-11.8 points per 100 possessions.

Whether or not the jumper comes along, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he continues to be left out of conversations surrounding the best players in the league. His game is loud -- the dunks, the defense, the drives -- but for some, it’s still in another language. There are plenty of other guards who more closely align with the over-idealized vision of a “true” point guard.

But even without a neatly defined label or a conventional set of skills, Bledsoe provides the one thing that actually matters: production.

Ekpe Udoh, 'Serial' fanatic

December, 30, 2014
12/30/14
6:12
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Clippers big man Ekpe Udoh has fallen for the whodunit podcast "Serial."

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Clippers still searching for accurate gauge

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
1:27
AM ET
Gutierrez By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com
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MIAMI -- The season hadn't even reached double figures in games played, yet this early seven-game road trip for the Los Angeles Clippers felt very much like a soul-searching voyage.

Not that losses to the Sacramento Kings in the season’s first week, or to the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls since then, is anything to be ashamed of.

What has made the Clippers rather confounding is that, despite relatively low roster turnover and a second year under Doc Rivers' watch, they haven't looked like a team benefiting from that continuity. They haven't looked like a team, frankly, that is better than last season's version.

Two games into this road trip, the results would make you believe the Clips are indeed finding themselves. Yet comfortable wins against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat on back-to-back nights haven't exactly settled every concern in the town once known as Lob City.

"I don't think we were worried, but at the same time we're not trying to write ourselves as champions," said Chris Paul after compiling an effortless 26 points and 12 assists. "It's two games."

This wasn't exactly the Heat team against which the Clippers could truly measure themselves.

Not when Dwyane Wade is sitting out his third straight game, or when Shawne Williams is still starting because Josh McRoberts isn't fully healthy, or when Luol Deng remains lost in Miami's offense, or when Danny Granger is so rusty he hit the backboard on a wide-open corner 3.

Most importantly, it's difficult for the Clippers to gauge just how effective they really are when the Heat defense was as bad as it has been this season.

Still, it was difficult to ignore just how crisp and natural that Clippers offense played, particularly in a first half that saw them shoot 59.5 percent and lead by as many as 24 points.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyChris Paul and the Clippers had little problem dispatching the shorthanded Heat.
Los Angeles finished with 31 assists on 43 made field goals, with perhaps the most stunning statistic of the night being Jamal Crawford's 9-to-5 assist-to-point ratio. Crawford couldn't recall the last time that ratio was even 1-to-1.

"I think half-court-wise, we have some killer sets -- some sets we know that if we need a bucket, we're going to them," Blake Griffin said after a 26-point game where he never had to force anything. "And some sets that we run over and over and over until somebody stops it.

"That 'get out and run' is great. We don't want to shy away from it, but at the same time it's not something where if we don't get anything in transition that we're struggling to score still.”

Besides not truly knowing if the Clippers' offense was that good or the Heat's defense that bad, the other element of L.A.'s performance that leaves you wanting more is the lack of a running game.

Yes, the Clippers were surgical in the half court, and Thursday's contest didn't require that Griffin & Co. rack up the easy transition buckets (6 fast-break points).

But at this point, the Clippers haven't shown much of that style of game at all.

According to Synergy, Los Angeles is 21st in the league in transition scoring at less than 14 points a game.

Last season, the Clips were second in that category at 22.5 a game.

If you believe we're deep enough into the season to consider that a red flag, there are several available theories to explain that significant drop-off.

It could simply be an early-season malaise for a team with a deep postseason run in the plans. It could be the team's emphasis on establishing its half-court offense under Rivers.

Or it could be the same reason why the Clippers' defense has struggled early: a lack of dynamic ability on the wing.

It's the Clippers' most noticeable void. No offense to Matt Barnes, but he's 34 years old, won't consistently force turnovers to ignite a fast break, and doesn't get up the floor as quickly anymore. And behind him, the options don't get any better, with Hedo Turkoglu as the next best option.

The point is, Lob City may not have been the formula for a championship. But there has to be a few strolls through Lob Neighborhoods every once in a while if L.A. wants to compete for a title.

Thursday, the Clippers had seven lobs, but most of them were half-court gimmes against an overwhelmed Heat defense.

If Los Angeles is going to succeed against a team like Memphis, which happens to be the next opponent on this Clippers road trip, the fast break has to be more of a prominent element. And it's quite possible the Clippers don't have the necessary pieces at the shooting guard and small forward spots to make that happen.

"You have to have balance," Rivers said. "You're not going to be one or the other. You're not going to win [playing] all half court. You're not going to win [playing] all transition. You better be good at both of them."

The Clippers might want to go ahead and get good at both elements, too, because an early look at the Western Conference says it could be up for grabs. The Spurs are the early clear favorite to make a third straight Finals trip, but past San Antonio, every other team has visible flaws.

The Grizzlies don't have enough shooting, the Warriors are turnover-prone and lack interior scoring, and the Houston Rockets are weak at power forward and the bench (you can add the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers to that list if you like, but they remain a notch below contender status at the moment).

That should leave the Clippers as prepared as any team to come out of the West. And yet this group has yet to inspire confidence.

Somehow, Paul has managed to put even more responsibility on himself to make sure his team runs enough to truly reach its potential.

"The biggest thing for us is defending," Paul said. "When we defend like that [against the Heat], even when they were scoring, we were getting the ball out quicker and playing with a faster tempo.

"A lot of that's on me, not to walk the ball up the court and make sure I'm forcing us to play a little bit faster."

The Clippers managed to play fast enough Thursday, even against a Heat team that tends to slow the game down.

But again, how much can you gain from playing an overmatched opponent? Not much.

It won't be until Sunday in Memphis that the Clippers can learn if this road trip is some sort of vision quest, or just confirmation that the early-season inconsistencies are real, long-term concerns.

Can the Clippers own the future?

October, 16, 2014
10/16/14
11:00
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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ClippersNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Clippers, once L.A.'s indie darlings, have gone mainstream. Is the future theirs for the taking?
The Ballmerization of the Clippers and the rejection of “eternal Clipper hell” doesn’t mean Los Angeles isn’t still a Lakers town. Clippers fans know that, and many of the lifers wouldn't want it any other way. The team has long been an expression of sports counterculture, a dive bar for NBA-crazed Angelenos who can't tolerate the velvet-rope club, Team Bukowski. Tribal identities are difficult to shake, no matter how much history evolves.

One of Los Angeles’ newer tribal identities is “eastsider.” Much of the cachet that used to belong to the city’s westside has moved that way, and these neighborhoods on the downtown side of Western Avenue have caught fire. Westsider Baron Davis could see it coming three years ago.

This year’s cult television comedies, “You’re the Worst” and “Transparent,” are set in Silver Lake and neighboring environs, and their thirtyish characters claim eastside citizenship as an element of their urban identity. Ryan Gosling and James Franco have planted stakes in the neighborhood. Are these real and fictional people Clippers fans? Unknown, but spiritually that’s where they live. If they’re not, their kids, unburdened by the past, will be.

There has long been a civic obsession in Los Angeles about the future, probably because there isn’t as much of a past. The city has been playing a game of catch-up with its eastern brethren and San Francisco for more than a century, and has never stopped building. That’s a nice ethic for a city to have, but it also encourages Angelenos to get lost in a fantasy of what the city will look like. The most alluring feature of Spike Jonze’s “Her” last year was his imagination of Los Angeles’ near future -- a dense urban paradise, greener, walkable; a warmer, more communal place that still gets more than 300 days of temperate sunshine.

Given current trends, would the Clippers be a better representative of that future Los Angeles than the Lakers? It’s hard to say, but the normalization of the Clippers under Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul means this is a legitimate question for the first time. According to an ESPN Sports poll, NBA fans are far more likely to switch allegiances -- OK, bandwagon hop -- than fans of other sports. Los Angeles is a young and diverse market that's obsession with the future only compounds the possibility a championship-caliber Clippers team could make up ground, especially if the Lakers swing and miss on the league’s marquee free agents and stop playing basketball in May and June. At least that’s the thought.

The Clippers as the city’s team of the future isn’t a bad piece of casting. When a glossy mag wants to showcase the next-wave American athlete on its cover, it brings Griffin in for a shoot. With Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan in the leads, the product on the court is fast, physical ... modern. Meanwhile, the Lakers limp to the starting line with a couple of aging, brittle Hall of Famers seven seasons or so past their prime and a few adhesives.

Under an owner who, as a matter of principle, believed that capital investment is a gimmick, the Clippers lagged behind most of the league in areas of innovation. With Ballmer and Rivers presiding, the organization has expanded its analytics operation, pushed its way to the front of the line for snazzy tools that used to be the domain of the Texas triumvirate and are listening to cutting-edge health specialists. With no real guiding principle other than the preservation of tradition for its own sake, the Lakers were the lone holdouts at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and still regard the European market as a novelty.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/John LocherCan Blake Griffin become the face of Los Angeles sports once Kobe Bryant cedes the throne?
Los Angeles’ core is more dynamic than most, but power and wealth are still concentrated in the 310. The Clippers are beginning to gentrify the basketball landscape in town, but it’s not as if Paul, Griffin and Rivers are moving next door to Jimmy and Gretchen from "You're The Worst" or hanging out on York Boulevard -- they live west. And no matter how unsightly the freak show gets, the Lakers will continue to rule, at least for a good while. Fifty-two percent of NBA fans in Los Angeles call the Lakers their favorite team. The Clippers draw only 12 percent. Kobe Bryant is the favorite of 55 percent of those fans, while Griffin checks in at 4 percent. Those numbers will move in the coming years -- and they already are. The Clippers clocked in at only 2 percent to 3 percent just three seasons ago, while the Lakers have tumbled considerably from 70 percent. But turning Los Angeles into a Clippers town still might not occur in Ballmer’s lifetime.

The Loy Vaught-Michael Cage contingent in Clippers Nation might not care if the team closes the gap, but the silent majority would love to see counterculture turn mainstream in Los Angeles -- and so would the organization. Pioneering new territory is all well and good, but you still need somewhere to eat in the neighborhood, a reliable grocery, some decent coffee and a dry cleaner that’s worth a damn. Ballmer didn’t spend $2 billion for a boutique storefront; he wants to own the block.

What will that take? Aside from hanging some fabric alongside the sleek new LED fixtures at Staples Center, Griffin evolving into an iconic star. As the old trope goes, the NBA is a superstar league and the Lakers’ dominance is as much an expression of Magic and Kobe as it is the rings. Bryant will soon retire, and when he does that 55 percent will come off the board and it’s Griffin’s for the taking if he can parlay his crossover appeal into broad approval.

Demography and rivalry aside, maybe the better question is whether it matters at all. Does a team need to win the popular vote in its market to affirm itself or its fans? The revenue from a more robust local cable deal would be nice, especially since Ballmer figures to be spendy, but Clippers fans might just prefer to keep the chains out of the nabe, and Griffin as their indie hero.

Seceding from superstition

August, 13, 2014
8/13/14
10:00
AM ET
Han By Andrew Han
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Blake Griffin, DeAndre JordanAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezNeither an injury "scare" nor a hang-up in the sale of the franchise can stop the Clippers these days.
Small fracture in his back” is the type of phrase designed to minimize anxiety. It’s no big thing. A little something. Don’t pay any mind to “fracture” or “back” because “small” is the operative word. The phrase implicitly creates context from a cloudy condition. “Stress fracture in his back”? That’s the kind of notification alert that sets bells off, injects doubt. Ask former consensus No. 1 overall pick Joel Embiid.

When Blake Griffin withdrew from Team USA training camp and this summer’s FIBA World Cup, fleeting murmurs bubbled as to whether he played too concussive a style of basketball, whether this was the harbinger to his athletic deterioration. Is this the beginning of the end for Griffin and the Clippers?

It turns out that there was an answer; it was no. Griffin continued his offseason workout regimen, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It's less than a hairline, and my back is not fractured. Everything is still intact.” In a summary assessing the repercussions for Team USA, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst went as far as to suggest that, while Griffin and the team are appropriately treading carefully with the injury, nearly 70 percent of big men growing up experience a fracture similar to the one Blake is rehabbing. This was more precaution than cautionary tale.

So it goes for the Clippers these days. For a franchise that has had its share of unusual occurrences, even in recent memory -- a water main bursting during a game in Memphis? -- unfortunate events most would attribute to “karma” or “luck” have had more logical explanations come to their defense. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the team’s two stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who repeatedly claimed upon their arrival that the past was of no concern. Their ambition was to seize control of the future. It was an odd juxtaposition for a franchise that viewed fate as a four-letter word.

And yet here we are, a half-decade later with perceptions shifted and the couching and parsing of words to mitigate unreasonable speculation. The downplay of injury to a top-10 player on a contender. Nary a mention of the “Clippers curse.” Barely a whisper of such superstition in the past few years. In the span of marveling at in-air acrobatics to hating the team’s brashness to begrudgingly accepting their ability, the Clippers have inched further and further away from the self-defeating stigma and, frankly, excuses of a moribund franchise.

In fact, the du jour topic after last season was whether Griffin had quietly surpassed Paul as the best player on the team.

Now with Donald Sterling officially excised from the organization, any vestigial hexes have eroded and the Clippers are reborn in a new space: win (or lose) on their own terms.

Fans have observed a slow but methodical transformation: have a young star legitimize the team, bring in a superstar to introduce lofty aspirations, attract a championship-winning coach to validate those aspirations, inject stability via ownership swap. Star, coach, front office, owner; every component has been replaced and rejuvenated in the past four years. What else is there?

It’s a scary thing to have beaten a curse. Gone is the comforting “it’s the Clippers” catch-all. Banned is the caricature of a villain typically situated courtside -- although Shelly Sterling still retains her own set of courtside seats as a stipulation of the sale, and it seems she has every intent on using them. A goodbye wave to the perpetual anxiety cloud that floated over Staples Center, source of constant trepidation for fans, reminding them not to get their hopes up.

It’s always easy to find excuses for losing. And none of the changes guarantees the Clippers will win a championship. The only thing it means is they’re accountable for their own fate. Isn’t that all anyone really wants?

Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him @andrewthehan.

The Clippers' no-win situation

July, 23, 2014
7/23/14
6:41
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive

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.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Process makes perfect

July, 2, 2014
7/02/14
10:00
AM ET
Han By Andrew Han
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Doc RiversAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesDoc Rivers spent his first season in L.A. selling a "process." Will the Clippers keeping believing in it?
Chris Paul calls it winning time -- the closing frames of a tight game, every possession drawn out, each play stretched to its breaking point. It’s when Paul purposefully pounds the hardwood, drawing the defender onto his hip, slapping the lead hand away. He pivots his body, extends the off leg to buffer the ball from the guard, turns the foot outward to open his stance and flip the corner, pinning the would-be thief to his back while he skates into the lane for a layup before the rotation realizes what’s happened.

Winning time can also be slow time. For the Clippers, the shift in relativity from Games 4 to 5 of their second-round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder to the eventual elimination of Game 6 would bend even the sturdiest of psyches. To lead only for 59 seconds of Game 4 and somehow divine a miraculous victory. To lead for 45 minutes and 59 seconds in Game 5 and crumble in a stunning defeat.

Before Game 6, Doc Rivers expressed how he assuaged the team’s exposed confidence.

“I wanted them to know how well we played. We played 44 pretty much flawless minutes, and I thought they needed to hear that,” Rivers said. “You know, we’ve had this thing; I talk about it in life, but I’ve talked about it with our team all year. And, especially with the stuff that’s happened, about not playing the victim role. And I said to them, ‘we’re not going to have that.’ And I just wanted that to be clear. That we’re either going to win it because we earned it or we’re going to lose because they beat us. But we’re not going to play the victim role.”

Curious but telling phrases popped up in Rivers’ lexicon this past season: “emotional hijacking,” “victim role.” Euphemisms with an emphasis on what can be controlled. And there’s a lot the Clippers can’t control.

They couldn’t control Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in crucial moments of back-to-back games. They couldn’t control whatever questionable officiating colored their playoff run. They certainly can’t control the erratic actions of a seemingly anosognosic owner.

The Clippers lacked agency in so many areas, but one they’re able to take possession of is the on-court shortcomings. How do they address those personnel failings though? What is the offseason edict for Los Angeles Clippers basketball?

It reads like a carbon copy of 2013 training camp needs. Concerns remain eerily similar to last July: an unsteady perimeter defense faltering over shallow frontcourt depth. For all the praise Doc Rivers the coach received on retrofitting his strong-side pressure defense and streamlining a stagnant offense, the results of Doc Rivers the senior VP are more convoluted. Sure, when a veteran buyout hits the market, Rivers has his pick of the litter. After all, Doc is offering the chance to play under his tutelage.

But the splashy move to usher in Rivers’ tenure bore middling fruit. J.J. Redick was immediately penciled in for the Ray Allen role and, barring the unforeseen injuries, he’s filled that function neatly. Jared Dudley, thought to be an ideal floor spacer, ended the season more prominently featured as wall decoration.

In the finale, Rivers played a rotation that averaged 56.22 games in a Clippers uniform for the season; i.e., just two-thirds of a season. Injuries robbed the team of consistent playing time and the opportunity to develop the telepathic chemistry featured by some of the longer-tenured contenders. But it was also the product of a front office constantly shuffling through non-guaranteed contracts, hoping to plug gaps across the bench.

That’s not to say front office blame lay exclusively at Doc’s feet. Donald Sterling’s public vacillation between selling the team and standing down only hints at the amount of indecision that has plagued the Clippers. Simply the subtraction of such a dodderer would relax Rivers’ restraints. Doc struggled with ownership several times throughout his maiden season, beginning with the very first deal and all the way up to the trade deadline, where the Clippers’ charter sat on an LAX tarmac, stewing while yet another consummated deal collapsed under the insecure gaze of Sterling.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul and Blake Griffin
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesWith few moves to make this summer, the Clips will rely on their stars to take them to greater heights.
A franchise can only know so much about where it’s going with constant uncertainty hovering overhead.

The Clippers’ identity resides in one of process, and in the first season under Rivers the team consolidated those principles nicely. But what the Clippers had finally started to recognize in the playoffs was, frankly, they were a scoring juggernaut. Los Angeles shredded the the Nos. 3 and 5 defenses to ribbons in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. While the key players for the Clippers ranged from mildly subpar to adequate defenders, they are all sublime offensively.

Does a firmer grasp of “Clipper basketball” actually exist? Eighty-two regular-season games followed by 13 playoff appearances and the most identifiable roundball feature is still the improvisational moniker Blake Griffin coined upon Paul’s arrival three seasons ago: “Lob City.” It’s the middle pick-and-roll, CP with his choice of a rolling Griffin, who spawns a decision tree unto himself, or turning the corner and hanging the sphere up above the box for DeAndre Jordan to pluck.

What gets conflated in discussions about champions and title worthiness is that a contender has to be not simply defensively inclined, but defensively oriented. But what’s the brand of basketball most typically associated with the two members of this year’s NBA Finals? The Miami Heat’s pace-and-space system. The San Antonio Spurs’ ball movement and elegant off-ball design. Defense is the thread used to pick apart would-be contenders. With rare exception, offense is typically how a franchise is defined.

In this sense, maybe the Clippers can draw upon the San Antonio Spurs for guidance. Imitating the newly crowned champions is no easy endeavor. But when confronted with an agonizing loss in the 2013 Finals, the Spurs simply ran it all back, swapping players on the periphery that would become costly with similar stock. Nebulous and intangible things like “familiarity under pressure” and “time to experiment with the lineup,” those were the key differences for San Antonio a year later.

Los Angeles has its core players secured. There isn’t an ocean of cap flexibility for it to remake the roster. And, in truth, there is no need. For all their flaws, the Clippers had figured out who they were. They ran even with the elite in the NBA postseason.

But at some point, the difference in winning time is all simply a matter of pressure and time.

Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him, @andrewthehan.

Why Phil Lord loves the Clippers

June, 3, 2014
6/03/14
12:53
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Arnovitz chats with "22 Jump Street" director Philip Lord about his Clippers fandom, the madness of the past month and whether the team should change its name and look.

The small numbers that led to $2 billion

May, 30, 2014
5/30/14
8:05
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
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.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

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