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January 23, 2020 | 9:13 pm UTC Update

Clippers in turmoil?

Montrezl Harrell had spoken his truth, telling the world on Jan. 4, after a 26-point home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, about the frustrations that had surfaced inside the Clippers’ complicated locker room. Now it was Doc Rivers’ turn. The 58-year-old, who is one of just six current NBA head coaches to have won a title, has been known to take the head-on approach to discussing disagreements with his players, and so it was that he decided to address Harrell’s unfiltered media session from the afternoon before. With his Clippers set to host the New York Knicks that afternoon in the second of a home back-to-back set, sources say Rivers lit into his team in the pregame meeting and directed his ire at Harrell multiple times in reference to the comments he had made.
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The gist of the expletive-laden message had been sent loud and clear: Keep your frustrations internal. Don’t vent to the media and create distractions for this locker room. But the damage was done. Harrell, the 25-year-old center whose passion had shone through in those candid three minutes with reporters, had pulled back the Clippers’ curtain just enough to make us wonder: After executing one of the most stunning moves of the summer, adding superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a team that was among the league’s most cohesive and gritty before they arrived, why did these Clippers — even on those winning nights — seem somewhat off?
As more than a dozen sources shared in The Athletic’s reporting on the matter, the transition from the team’s overachieving past to the promising present has not been seamless. From the frustrations relating to Leonard’s injury management and his quiet ways, to the different views regarding regular-season competition, to the reality that their chosen style of play isn’t always conducive to collective joy, there are issues tugging at this talented team that will need to be resolved by the time the playoffs come around. Harrell, sources say, was hardly alone when it came to some of the sentiments he had shared.
The adjustment period with Leonard and George was inevitable, especially in a confident Clippers locker room where they took so much understandable pride in what they accomplished last season. Without an All-Star, the Clippers finished 48-34 and — with Beverley, Lou Williams, Harrell and all the rest leading the way — even took two games from the vaunted Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. At the time, it was a perfect recruiting pitch for players of Leonard’s and George’s caliber. Fast forward to this season, and the introduction of the injury management lifestyle has led to a shift in ethos and, at times, made for an awkward adjustment. What’s more, this was hardly the first time that the combination of Leonard’s unique handling of his health and his sometimes-distant personality has led to questions about team chemistry.
Storyline: Los Angeles Clippers Turmoil?
According to Clippers sources, that’s precisely why they refer to Leonard’s situation more accurately as ‘injury management.’ As The Athletic reported in early November, the fact that Leonard was not considered a “fully healthy player” meant he would sit out as often as the doctors advised this season. Sources say the medical advice, at present, still mandates that he not play in back-to-back games — hence the fact that he sat out against the Hawks despite the fact that the team was already without two other key players.
Even Leonard’s biggest supporters will admit that he is a lead-by-example type, and the fact that George tends to be the same means there is occasional uncertainty about whose voice should rise above the rest. “I think it boils down to Kawhi not talking, and so who is their true leader?” one source with knowledge of the Clippers’ dynamics said. “How do you get around that?”
January 23, 2020 | 8:14 pm UTC Update
January 23, 2020 | 7:34 pm UTC Update
January 23, 2020 | 6:44 pm UTC Update
“I think Jimmy’s been very clear, and I think I’ve spoken a few times, it’s conversations that we had about Miami early on, and it’s certain people that you just know are Miami Heat guys when you know the culture,” Wade said during a conference call Wednesday to announce his new role with Turner Sports. “And for me, I always thought that Jimmy was that — not knowing that this would actually happen — but I always thought that Jimmy’s personality and his crazy is perfect for [Heat president] Pat Riley and [coach] Erik Spoelstra’s crazy.”
“I think it’s all based off of honesty, truthfulness, hard work and intention,” Butler told ESPN after scoring 24 points, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds in a 134-129 overtime win over the Washington Wizards. “And I feel like when you talk about myself, you talk about Spo, you talk about Coach Pat, that’s what all of this thing is based off of: how hard you work, how you can keep it real with one another and not take anything personal. It fits for me here. I’m loving it, man. They’re constantly in my ear, and we’re constantly going back and forth, figuring out ways that I can be better. How I can make everybody else better. But this culture — I’m super happy to be here. I’m fortunate to be here, man. This is a great group of guys. It’s a great organization. But like [Wade] said, this is the right type of crazy for me.”
January 23, 2020 | 6:33 pm UTC Update
Jenkins has given Crowder his blessing to speak up in such situations. Crowder’s been a starter since Day 1 this season due in part to his ability to lead — both by example and with his sometimes harsh words. He barks at his teammates when they are not in position, and he speaks his mind when he disagrees with the coaching staff. And he might even applaud you if you pick up a technical foul.
“He’s an unbelievable leader,” Jenkins said. “Our first conversation, we sat down and had breakfast, and he was super excited about this opportunity. Obviously he’s bounced around the last couple of years, but he’s learned so much. He was freely sharing how much he’d learned from when he started in Dallas, the success that he had in Boston, going to Utah, a successful team. Obviously, as we started the season we had different expectations coming in. We didn’t know what we were going to have. But he was excited about helping these young guys grow and taking on a new role.”
Crowder arrived in Memphis as a piece in the Mike Conley-to-Utah trade. He was initially unsure about his place on the young roster and was apprehensive about playing on a team that many projected would be one of the worst in the Western Conference. Then the front office reached out to him and explained the team’s goals for the season. The Grizzlies wanted Crowder to be a mentor for their young roster. It wasn’t a role Crowder was accustomed to, but he accepted the challenge.
January 23, 2020 | 4:52 pm UTC Update

Mavericks, Sixers interested in Danilo Gallinari

Danilo Gallinari stands out as an option. Multiple playoff teams have expressed interest in the Thunder forward, including the Mavericks and Sixers, according to league sources. Gallinari is a potent scorer everywhere on the court, in any play type—whether he’s posting up, isolating, or in the pick-and-roll as a screener or ball handler. Though Gallinari, 31, has never been an All-Star, he’s played like one this season in Oklahoma City and last season with the Clippers. Gallinari can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but few teams will have cap space, and most of them will be younger teams unlikely to pursue players in their 30s.
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The Mavericks are continuously cited by league sources as a potential landing spot for Grizzlies wing Andre Iguodala, who could help them this season as a secondary ball handler without compromising their future cap space. The Mavs have also made offers to the Timberwolves for Robert Covington, but those have been declined, according to multiple league sources. Covington won’t make many plays off the dribble, but he’d be an upgrade over Dorian Finney-Smith as a 3-and-D wing. It remains to be seen whether Dallas has the ammo to complete a trade, but it’s clear that the team is looking to bolster its postseason odds.
Whereas Marc Gasol is positionally adept and can occasionally draw charges or make life difficult with his no-jump verticality, Ibaka makes a scorer pause, think and sometimes change his shot. Both players’ defensive versatility is growing, though. “The good thing is this year we’ve been trying to give them the same coverages,” Fred VanVleet said of the two centres. “It doesn’t always work. But last year, it was like two different teams — when Serge was at the five and Marc was at the five, it was completely different. But I think this year, they’re in the same coverages a lot. We’re challenging them to switch and be up and move their feet. It gives us a lot in the toolbox at the end of the year.”
“I think there’s a plan of being more aggressive and looking at the basket as a first option,” Gasol said. “And after that, just playing out of that. Some games, the ball is going to go in more, sometimes it’s not, but I’m someone that always looks for the next play, next action, and try to get guys involved. … Sometimes I overthink the game, trying to get going some of the guys that are not getting going. And you know, by being sometimes too unselfish, you can be selfish in a weird way.”
January 23, 2020 | 4:04 pm UTC Update
“It’s not something that I think the coaching staff was overly comfortable with, just conceptually. But I also don’t really care. We’ve spent 14 weeks putting him in position to have a sustainable future, and we’re going to be very mindful of that moving forward.” David Griffin on Zion playing in limited minutes.
That one stretch left Pelicans fans less bothered by the loss than downright giddy about what the future will hold. His teammates weren’t that impressed, though, because they believe this is just the beginning. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. He had some explosive rebounds and explosive (plays) to the rim,” said Brandon Ingram, who had 22 points on 6-of-22 shooting. “But I think as he gets comfortable, he can be even better.”
Privately, though, expectations for the 2019-2020 Knicks were set during the team’s first official meeting. Members of the front office addressed the players in the meeting and conveyed two distinct messages, according to SNY sources familiar with the discussions: 1. They said, in no uncertain terms, that they believed that the Knicks were a playoff team and anything less than that was a disappointment. 2. Players who were entering free agency in the summer of 2020 were told that they would be judged much more heavily on the team’s win-loss record than their individual play.
Why is LaMelo shutting it down now? We’re six weeks out from the original injury, and questions were starting to arise about his future there. Few NBA executives are surprised by this news, and even fewer who have spoken with The Athletic believe this is wholly about the injury. There has been an assumption throughout league offices that from the time Ball injured his foot, he was going to shut it down. That’s not to say the foot injury is illegitimate.