Originally Published: February 8, 2013

1. Will Clippers Go All-In With Deadline Trade?

By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Chris PaulKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHold off and build for the future or deal now and play for the title? That's the L.A. Clippers' dilemma.

It finally happened Friday night for the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the 52nd game of what should go down as the first 50-win season in franchise history, Vinny Del Negro had his full complement of players at last.

Everyone was in uniform for the first time all season for the Clips' ESPN-televised trip to Miami.

Which means that Friday's beatdown inflicted by the Heat, with Chris Paul on a minutes restriction, also launched a brief but critical period of evaluation for Clippers decision-makers in the wake of a painful 3-6 slide while their franchise QB's bruised right kneecap healed. With the Feb. 21 trade deadline fast approaching, that L.A. team pretty much no one bothered to talk about until CP3 went down has to take quick stock of how all its primary pieces click and decide how badly it needs to make a move.

The suspicion here, though, is that the Clips already know.

In a win-now season, they look more and more like a team that needs to take a midseason gamble.

The whispers of optimism emanating from Staples Center about how confident the Clippers are that Paul will sign for the long term when free agency hits in July have been rampant for months. And if the Clips' co-tenants can continue to get away with saying they're convinced Dwight Howard will choose to stay, no matter how the Lakers' increasingly nightmarish season continues to be, maybe they have a right to act so sure.

As one source close to the situation put it this week when asked to grade the Clips' chances of retaining CP3, keeping in mind Paul's well-chronicled love of the Hollywood scene and the fact that this team was good enough to reel off 17 wins in a row earlier this season: "I'm saying 99.5 percent."

Yet the surest way to address that pesky half a percentage point -- assuming you buy the above prognosis -- is for the Clips to make a long playoff run that conclusively proves to Paul that he has no need to look elsewhere to satisfy his championship ambitions. A run that takes them, at worst, to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

This is where you ask, with full justification, whether the team many regard as the league's deepest in regular-season terms really has enough playoff know-how and toughness to get there.

The suspicion, again, is that the Clips already know they don't.

Although this is obviously the best Clippers team we've ever seen, their need for a reliable crunch-time frontcourt partner for Blake Griffin along with an extra shooter to loosen things up for Griffin inside are glaring weaknesses that the grind of the postseason is bound to expose. This is especially true in a Western Conference where the Clips can reasonably expect to play Golden State, Denver or maybe even Memphis in Round 1 before having to deal with San Antonio and/or Oklahoma City.

Expect the Clippers, then, to quietly keep searching for trade partners if the Boston Celtics, as it increasingly appears, dial back their willingness to surrender Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett in exchange for a package headlined by CP3 protégé Eric Bledsoe.

As much as the Clippers dread the thought of parting with Bledsoe before they have Paul's signature on a new deal, sources close to the situation acknowledge that the Clips know it's just as dangerous (or maybe even more so) to leave the roster as is and thus expose themselves to an early playoff exit because DeAndre Jordan's offensive limitations or free throw woes (or both) render him a playoff non-factor. Or because Lamar Odom proved too small and ground-bound to close games alongside Griffin when it mattered most.

Word is there's frustration on both sides when it comes to Jordan, with the 24-year-old center unquestionably hungry for more playing time and an expanded role from Del Negro amid presumed skepticism from the coach that he'll ever be able to produce like the third-highest-paid Clipper should.

But trading Jordan for a more finished article, sensible as that sounds, might not be feasible before the trade buzzer in a mere 13 days, since prospective trade partners will surely have all those same questions. Bledsoe is the Clipper other teams covet, with serious consequences risked whether L.A. decides to give in or hold firm.

Do nothing and the Clips would still appear to have enough firepower, as a team that has ranked in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency for much of the season, to stay on course to win their first division title in a 43-season run that began in beautiful Buffalo.

Yet the suspicion, once more, is that everyone in Clipperland surely understands it's going to take more than a Pacific Division banner to take the pressure off Del Negro -- who's in the final year of his contract -- and the organization as a whole when it comes to quenching CP3's title thirst.

Dimes past: 25-26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | Feb. 1-2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

2. Western Conference

Much of the latest trade buzz emanating from the West tends to cover what won't happen between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline as opposed to what will.

• The latest word out of Memphis is that Zach Randolph, irrespective of any whispers in circulation suggesting that the Grizzlies have another big move in them, is going nowhere. The Grizzlies, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, have taken the step of telling Randolph so this week, assuring him to ignore any further trade chatter because they're not entertaining the thought no matter how many calls they get. The Griz don't want to make any more significant moves, sources say, hoping to restore some calm to the locker room in the wake of the Rudy Gay deal that has clearly sent Gay's old teammates -- and especially his former coach -- into a woe-is-me funk.

• Maybe there is enough time before this month's trade deadline for Indiana to find a trade partner willing to gamble on Danny Granger. This much we do know, though: It's not going to be Houston. One source with knowledge of Houston's thinking left little doubt that recent reports portraying the Rockets as a potential suitor for Granger, as they were in the past long before James Harden showed up, are out of date. Houston is not chasing Granger, who is increasingly regarded as expendable in Indy in the wake of Paul George's rise to All-Star status.

• Is the following mere posturing or the real-deal stance in Denver? Only time will tell, but one source plugged into the Nuggets' plans insisted this week that Russian center Timofey Mozgov -- widely presumed to be a lock to be dealt before the deadline -- will not be moved unless the return is "crazy good." Don't know that such an offer is going to materialize for a player behind Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee in George Karl's frontcourt rotation.

Some numbers of note in the West this week:

39: The Spurs -- as they did in 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2010-11 -- have notched 39 wins through 50 games for the fourth time under Gregg Popovich. Only one other coach has pulled that off as many times as Pop: Phil Jackson did so three times with the Bulls and twice with the Lakers.

4: This is also the fourth time in the Popovich/Tim Duncan era that San Antonio had the league's best record through 50 games, as it did in 1998-99 (37-13), 2004-05 (39-11) and 2010-11 (42-8).

3: Only three players are averaging at least 20 points and seven assists this season: Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Miami's LeBron James and San Antonio's Tony Parker.

12.1: Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic leads the Western Conference with 12.1 points per game in the paint this season, trailing only Miami's LeBron James (13.4) and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez (12.4) in that category. Pekovic also happens to bee the only player leading his team in both total points and rebounds who was born outside the United States. The Suns' Marcin Gortat is the only foreign-born player who held that distinction last season.

11.2: How much will Kobe Bryant & Co. miss Pau Gasol for the next six to eight weeks? During the Lakers' recent 6-1 turnaround, they were outscoring opponents by 11.2 points per 48 minutes with the Spaniard on the floor. Without Gasol in those seven games, L.A. was outscored by 3.2 points per 48 minutes.

3. One-On-One ... To Five


Five questions with Warriors guard Jarrett Jack:

Q: What were your realistic expectations when you were traded to the Warriors?

A: With me, I'm never one to put ceilings on anything, because I think the best part about playing basketball and playing sports in general is the unknown. Who knows what can possibly happen? Nobody knows where you're gonna be at the finish line.

Once I got familiar with the team and [spent time] around the guys, I thought we had a lot of people that were capable -- a very deep team. This is obviously when Brandon Rush was healthy and looking at it from the standpoint that [Andrew Bogut] was going to play opening night, but I knew we had an opportunity to do something special if we could just change that mindset or that stigma that we're just a team that only plays offense.

Q: I have this conversation with scouts all the time: How did the Warriors improve so much defensively and rebounding while Bogut couldn't even play? Can you explain it to me, because it doesn't make a lot of sense to those of us on the outside?

A: When you play good defense, I think it puts you in position to rebound the ball. And I think we've done a tremendous job of buying into that defensive end of floor. The teams that struggle on the glass from my perspective are that teams that gamble, which causes you to over help, and that kind of takes you out of defensive rebounding position and allows the offense to gain that advantage. To be a good defensive team, you have to finish it with a rebound. And that's the thing we've been stressing since day one in camp.

We do it by committee. The one thing that I always harp on, [comparing the] NBA and college, in college we have teammates and in the NBA you have co-workers. But I think there's a difference with this team. I think here we have teammates. And the thing we've been doing is going the extra mile for each other the entire season to cover up for mistakes.

Q: There was so much talk before the All-Star teams were announced about David Lee and Steph Curry and whether they'd both get in. How much were you guys talking about that in the locker room?

A: We were all just hoping for the best. … I was hurt by [Curry's snub] because I thought we had put ourselves in position to get two All-Stars, [with] two guys who've been playing tremendous basketball. But I think, with Steph, probably the respect of your peers goes a lot longer way than necessarily being named to an All-Star team. And everybody is obviously respecting what he's done this year and the maturation process of him not just being a scorer but being a playmaker and a leader for us.

Q: What was your view of what happened at the end of the Houston game this week?

A: Whatever Coach [Mark Jackson] says, that's what we're doing, and nobody should have any ifs, ands or buts about it. We were just trying to get the game over with, get out of there, and we're not going to allow any records or precedents to be set on us if we can help it. That's the stance he took on it, and that's the stance [we're] rollin' with. If somebody's doing something to you and you're able to stop it, why wouldn't you? [Intentional fouling] might not have been the most popular decision, but we're not here to win any popularity contests.

Q: What about your chances of winning the Sixth Man Award?

A: Just getting mentioned for an award is gratifying in itself. I think, with me, I'm a little bit different than your typical sixth-man candidate, because usually the guys mentioned with that award are instant-offense kind of guys who come in and straight get buckets, like J.R. [Smith] or Jamal [Crawford]. I'm more of a playmaker who comes in and provides offense, but I make plays as well. A lot of people may look at my numbers and say, well, he's only averaging 13 and 6, but I think if you combine the two together, I'm having a pretty good impact as well.

4. Marc's Quote

"On all of Mike's teams, guys emerge as 3-point shooters that were never considered 3-point shooters before."


Lakers guard Steve Nash, speaking to ESPN.com in November and responding to the many naysayers around the league suggesting that L.A. simply didn't have the shooters needed to provide the necessary spacing to run Mike D'Antoni's offense.

Fast-forwarding nearly three months later, Nash got it half right.

You really can't refer to Earl Clark as a 3-point bomber when he's attempting only one trey per game on average, but Clark has unquestionably emerged in a big way -- as Nash predicted someone would -- to rank as one of the few success stories in Lakerland this season.

How big? Clark logged all of 36 minutes in November and December before, as Nash was turning 39 this week, becoming an indispensable member of D'Antoni's frontcourt rotation.

Yet what makes Clark so unique, in comparison to others who have previously risen to prominence in D'Antoni's world, is that he doesn't sustain himself with the 3 ball like Steve Novak or even defensive ace Raja Bell did. And Clark certainly doesn't play with the ball in his hands a la Raymond Felton or Jeremy Lin.

Clark indeed has an underrated and multifaceted offensive game -- with echoes ofLamar Odom -at-his-best versatility and trusty range when needed -- that enables him to slot in next to Dwight Howard more comfortably than Pau Gasol does. But it's as much Clark's length, athleticism and willingness to play D and scrap on the boards that have allowed him to rise to prominence without warning.

Clark, in short, is keeping the game simple and playing to his strengths. He's making 43 percent of the 3s he does take because he doesn't go hunting for them, wisely choosing to let them fly only when his feet are set.

It's an approach that makes Clark, in his fourth season, one rare source of feel-good for a team that has been churning out seemingly endless amounts of Shaq-and-Kobe-level drama, going all the way back to that 0-8 record in the exhibition season. Surely you heard how TNT's Charles Barkley downgraded the Lakers' chances of rallying into a playoff spot from zero percent to "negative 17" percent in the wake of Gasol's foot injury and looming six-to-eight week absence as a result.

If Chuck is right, no one will be blaming Clark. After coming over with Howard from Orlando for the purposes of satisfying the salary-cap math in the four-team Dwight blockbuster in August, Clark averaged only 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in his first 19 appearances in the Lakers' lineup. In the Lakers' recent 6-1 surge before Thursday night's splat in Boston, Clark averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, ringing up four double-doubles.