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The Window Has Closed On The Memphis Grizzlies

(photo courtesy of Justin Ford/USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy of Justin Ford/USA Today Sports)

The Memphis Grizzlies have been a physical team that bludgeons the opponent into submission over the years. Their combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post would constantly beat up opposing teams inside. And with that combination inside and Mike Conley Jr. giving them good point guard play, they have rode that success to playoff appearance after playoff appearance. But unfortunately for them, they have not been able to turn the corner and win a title. Each season, the Grizzlies continued to use this formula to win games and make the playoffs. Last year, they ran into a buzzsaw when they faced the Golden State Warriors and lost in the Conference semifinals. Going into the offseason, the Grizzlies had to make a decision on center Marc Gasol. Were they going to let him walk in free agency or were they going to bring him back and team him with Randolph again? Well, the Grizzlies decided they were not done with him just yet and signed Gasol to a five-year, $110 million deal to remain with the team. The thinking was they would pick up right where they left off. But unfortunately, the Grizzlies have not gained the traction they thought they would. The team currently stands at 19-17 which is good for sixth place in the West. But looking at this team as they currently stand, they are not ready to win a title at all and are not serious contenders. They have moved Zach Randolph out of the starting lineup and have went to a small lineup with Matt Barnes and Jeff Green starting at the forwards. But in all honesty, this team has missed the window of opportunity they had to win a title.

The Grizzlies were a team that seemed to have all the pieces except for one during their runs in the playoffs. They had solid point guard play and great inside play with Randolph and Gasol, but they never were able to get someone consistent at the small forward position. They once had a guy there at that position in Rudy Gay, but they traded him away to Toronto in 2013. But ever since then, they have never been able to replace his production at the position. It seems like everyone in the West had a small forward or wing player that could defend and make things happen on the offensive end but them. And now they are stuck with a guy like Jeff Green. The Grizzlies traded for him from Boston and thought they had solved the small forward position. But Green has been the same inconsistent player he has always been and that has not helped the Grizzlies at all. And what hurts them even more is they are paying Green $9 million this season for 10.7 points and the inconsistent play that has plagued him for virtually his whole career. Another thing that has plagued this team is consistent bench scoring. This year they have a solid bench in terms of scoring. With Zach Randolph and Mario Chalmers coming in off the bench, they surely have firepower that can pick them up when they have droughts. But over the years, they have had some pretty pedestrian bench scoring. And that has not helped when they are in the playoffs and need someone to give them a lift on that end. These two things along with bad shooting has cost the Grizzlies time and time again on their playoff runs.

Going forward, the Grizzlies have to make a move. This team is 19-18, but they are 5-15 against teams that are over .500 this season, which is not good at all. The team has been shaken up a little by going with the smaller lineup. But even with that, the Grizzlies have not gone on a run like they usually do. So since the team is not likely to go anywhere, it is time to make some deals. The first deal that would happen is Jeff Green going somewhere. The veteran small forward has a contract that is expiring at the end of the season. Some team trying to contend will get fooled by the potential of Green and want to give up a pick for him or either some talented young players. With that happening, that gives the Grizzlies more cap space to operate going into the 2016 season and potentially some picks to work with. The move also could free up playing time for young wing Jordan Adams. The next player that needs to go is Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies are paying him over $9 million to be a bench player for them. His stats have declined for the last three years. And although he has endured himself to the city of Memphis, the relationship has gone as far as it can go. They may have missed the window to get rid of him, but they may as well try to see what they can get for him. The main thing with potentially trading both of these players is to shed money and to get younger. At some point, the Grizzlies have to retool. They cannot continue to try and add pieces to win and struggle like they are right now.

The run has been great to watch. The Grizzlies did it their way and did it better than anyone else. But unfortunately, they did not have the pieces that they needed to win that elusive title while they were searching for. Now the Grizzlies are a team that is past their expiration date. And that means it is time for them to start making some wholesale changes and get younger. We shall see what happens, but the writing is on the wall about this team already.

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The Plan For The Charlotte Hornets To Build A Contender Has Begun

Michael Jordan meeting with the press. The Hornets plan for building a contender is underway. (photo courtesy of www.utsandiego.com)

Michael Jordan meeting with the press. The Hornets plan for building a contender is underway. (photo courtesy of http://www.utsandiego.com)

The Charlotte Hornets are a team that many thought would take the next step last season. They had made the playoffs in the 2013-2014 season and wanted to build upon it the next season. That offseason, they thought they added the missing piece in their equation when they brought in guard Lance Stephenson on a two year deal worth $9 million per year. The team also included an option to pick up Stephenson’s deal after the 2015-2016 season. Well, the deal for the missing piece in Charlotte ended up being a disaster. Lance was not the player they thought he was. He seemed like more of a round peg fitting in a square peg. And the scoring they thought he would bring was not there. In fact, Stephenson did not even average 10 points per game last season. So, going into this offseason, the Hornets were determined to change course. General manager Rich Cho started that one off with trading Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers. And in return, the Hornets received forward Spencer Hawes, who never seemed to fit in Los Angeles, and forward Matt Barnes. But if you take a look at the overall picture, this move was just the beginning of a master plan in Charlotte.

Michael Jordan has been the owner of the Hornets for a few years now. He inherited the team under the Bobcats nickname, but he them changed that to the Hornets once the New Orleans franchise abandoned it for their new nickname, the Pelicans. That first step helped bring back some credibility to the franchise along with them making the playoffs last season. And although he had a misstep this past season with the Lance Stephenson experience, the plan is still in place for the Hornets. The franchise has been rebranded to what it once was and that brought back the love of the community for the team to an extent. Jordan’s next step of the plan was to bring back some winning to the team as well. Even though they lost in a sweep to the Miami Heat in the playoffs in the 2014 playoffs, they made the playoffs and was expected to make a progression. They failed to do so in the 2014-2015 season, but the plan is in motion for 2016-2017 already. As mentioned, Stephenson is gone but he was not the only move made. The Hornets have also shipped out guard Gerald Henderson Jr. as well as last year’s draft pick, forward Noah Vonleh, in order to acquire forward Nicolas Batum. In doing this trade, the Hornets bring in a guy that can be a lockdown defender on one end and can do some things offensively that can help them spread the floor for point guard Kemba Walker to penetrate as well as give Al Jefferson a shooter teams have to worry about. Henderson was a solid offensive weapon for Charlotte, but they were never going to take the next step in their progression with him. And Batum actually does not need the basketball to be effective in a game like Henderson does. With Vonleh gone, the Charlotte Bobcats are admitting the mistake they made drafting him. Vonleh never really contributed and we still don’t know what all he can or cannot be. With Hawes now in place in Charlotte, he can do the things that Vonleh was supposed to do right now. And in Portland, Vonleh gets a fresh start and will get a chance for playing time should LaMarcus Aldridge leave this offseason as expected. This trade actually made sense for the Hornets and helps them be a more competitive team as well as a longer team defensively. The only bad thing that can come out of this one is the fact that one of their previous rookie 1st rounders, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, will be moved to the bench. But that move will actually help strengthen the Hornets and their bench actually.

The other move that was made already by the Hornets this offseason was pretty quietly done. The team traded Luke Ridnour, whom they acquired in a trade for Matt Barnes, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the services of shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. Lamb has been a player that has shown moments in his career, but unfortunately has not shown up consistently on the court and in the scoring column. With his addition, it means he is in a sink-or-swim year with Charlotte. When Lamb first entered the league, many thought his sweet stroke was something that would pay dividends for whoever drafted him. He was picked by the Houston Rockets and then used as a pawn in the trade that brought Houston James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The expectation was that he would end up eventually being the guard starting opposite of Russell Westbrook once he got to Oklahoma City. Well, he has not exactly fulfilled those expectations. Lame has not had consistent playing time since he has been there and it has been inexplicable at best. He shoots the ball well and can make defenses pay when they crowd him, but somehow he did something that kept him buried on the bench for the Thunder. In coming to Charlotte, Lamb now gets reunited with his former college teammate, Kemba Walker. Both of these men played well beside each other when they won a national title together at the University of Connecticut. And maybe in reuniting these two together, there will be some chemistry started and Lamb will help space the floor for Walker and Jefferson. With the sweet stroke that he has, it’s going to be interesting to see how he is used by the Hornets in their offense. As far as Ridnour, he has been traded more times in 24 hours than probably any player in NBA history. And it is ironic that he has come back to the franchise that he began his career with when they were in Seattle previously. The end is near for him in his NBA career and many have recognized that. He made a good run, but the time is slipping on his career like the sands from the hourglass. And the last little bit of grains are sliding down as we speak.

The Hornets have all these new pieces in place along with the addition of Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky via the 2015 NBA Draft. Now some may be ripping into Jordan for the reported trade he turned down from the Boston Celtics that included numerous draft picks, but there is a method behind some of the madness, or at least Jordan thinks there is. Besides the contract of Spencer Hawes, the contracts that the Hornets inherited with Lamb and Batum expire at the end of next season. And with the cap about to be at an astronomical number in 2016, the Hornets will be sitting with only Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston, Hawes, Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller on the roster should all still be on the Hornets team past the trade deadline. Three of those contracts are still rookie deals and only Kemba’s contract is one that takes up a good percentage of the salary cap in Charlotte. With the All-Star game coming to Charlotte in 2017, they need someone that will be a representative for them there. And in the summer of 2016, they will have the cap space to go get that guy. Al Jefferson will probably be someone they bring back provided he wants to be there after the 2015-2016 season and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will probably get an extension with the team, but the Hornets will need someone that brings star power to the team. And there is one man that is out there that can b4ing that to them. No, LeBron James is not coming to Charlotte in 2016. He will more than likely be making over $30 million per season when his deal happens in the summer of 2016. But there is a guy out there that can bring star power to the team and his name is Kevin Durant. The scoring machine from Oklahoma City is up for a new contract and it seems as if he is preparing to leave the city. Charlotte is not the place many have him pegged to go to. Many see him returning home to Washington. With Wall, Beal and Durant, the Wizards would have one of the best trios in basketball if not the best. But the Hornets may have more money to offer him and also may be able to bring in another piece with him should they decide to jettison Jefferson instead of re-signing him. This year, if the Hornets make the playoffs, the arrow will be trending up just like it was for Miami the year before they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh. And just like Miami, the Hornets could make a power play that could make them an instant contender. There are no guarantees that Durant will look at Charlotte in the summer of 2016. But then again, there were not many thoughts of LeBron going to Miami when he was a free agent until maybe a week before his announcement. The impossible has happened before and for the Charlotte Hornets, they are hoping it happens again. And it will all culminate with the summer of 2016.

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Lance Stephenson To The Los Angeles Clippers Could Be A Good Thing

Lance Stephenson is a Clipper now. What will he bring to this team? (photo courtesy of www.kid83.deviantart.com)

Lance Stephenson is a Clipper now. What will he bring to this team? (photo courtesy of http://www.kid83.deviantart.com)

The Los Angeles Clippers were almost to a place they have never been, the Western Conference Finals. They held a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets and many thought they had pulled it together at the right time. History was going to go the way of the Clippers finally right? Well, the Rockets decided they were not ready to go home and turned the series around quickly, erasing a 3-1 deficit and blowing out the Clippers in a crucial Game 7. The dreams of heading to the Western Conference Finals was over for Los Angeles. Fans of the game went from praising Chris Paul for coming up big in Game 7 versus the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs to wearing him out on social media for his performance in Game 7 versus the Rockets. Many took a look at the Clippers going into the offseason and wondered what all they could do. Obviously their main concern was signing center DeAndre Jordan back, but the team had more work than that to do in regards to improving their team. Well, on Tuesday night, the Clippers decided to roll the dice and make a move. The Clippers are trading small forward Matt Barnes and forward Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for shooting guard Lance Stephenson. This trade sent shockwaves, as the Clippers are taking a chance on Stephenson to come through. As for the Hornets, they rid themselves of Stephenson, who was not very good for the Hornets, averaging an astonishing 8.2 points per game. This trade is something that makes many scratch their heads in terms of the Clippers. And it could definitely go either way in the grand scheme of things. But there are so many positives that can come out of this move.

Lance Stephenson is known as a volatile player at times. The main thought that some have is “why would Doc take on this guy”? Well, there are some positives to this one. Defensively, Stephenson is a physical defender. If you take a look at the Clippers last season, Chris Paul was their best perimeter defender. That may be good due to the state of point guards in the NBA, but you need that one wing defender that can make it happen versus guys like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Andrew Wiggins. No offense to JJ Reddick, but there is no way that he is guarding any of the guys that have been mentioned. And with Reddick there, opponents would be able to put pressure on the bigs of the Clippers. With Stephenson in the lineup, it gives the Clippers a guy that can handle his own while also allowing the bigs of the Clippers to control the paint. With a coach like Doc Rivers, Stephenson could be a dream for him. With the right focus and the right coach in his ear, Stephenson has shown that he can be a good player on the defensive end. For example, look at the problems he caused at times for LeBron James when LeBron was in Miami and Stephenson was in Indiana. Now imagine if Doc can get him to focus in like that for all of the game. Along with his defensive prowess, Stephenson also brings an added toughness to the perimeter defenders that the Clippers never had. Barnes has been a tough wing defender for them, but he doesn’t bring that dog in him that Lance can bring to a team. And with him added, the toughness level of the Clippers just went up. He and DeAndre

But the effect of Stephenson is not just felt on the defensive end of the court. Stephenson has grown as an offensive player over his time in the NBA. And when he went to the Charlotte Hornets, he was expected to take that next step in his development. Instead, he went to a team that had a guard that dominated the ball in Kemba Walker. That meant that Stephenson had to play more off the ball than he was used to in his career. And that ended up in the disaster that was his lone season in Charlotte. With the Clippers, he is not going to be asked to be the main focus offensively. Some may think it’s a bad thing that he is not the focus, but it will be what is best for his career. Stephenson is a good player when he is not the main perimeter threat. With Paul there, he will take some of that burden he had in Charlotte off his hands. And there will be times where he will have to make something happen when he is off the ball. But the main effect he will have on this team is when Paul is out of the game. The Clippers did not have a solid guy off the bench last year to take over the ball-handling duties. They put guys like Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and even let Blake Griffin play the point guard spot a little against the Houston Rockets when Paul was out due to injury. No offense to any of them, but Lance proved he can handle that position a little bit better than these guys can. He is a playmaker and the Clippers need another one of those coming in to play for them, whether it be in the starting lineup or off the bench. Either way, he would be a help to them and make their offense even more diverse than it was last season.

The biggest thing that will be good for Lance Stephenson coming to the Clippers is the leadership. In Charlotte, he was expected to be a leader. And if you know anything about Stephenson, he is not one that is ready to lead a team. He is still figuring out who he is and is considered by some not to be mentally there at all times. For a team as young as Charlotte was, there is no way that Stephenson should have ever been brought in to be a leader of that team. Sure, he is a talented player, but leadership is not one of his strong suits. With the Clippers, he is now in position to receive leadership. Doc Rivers is a guy that has been known to exhibit great leadership and be an example for his players. And many players that have played for Doc have loved every second they have played for him. His ability to focus and Stephenson will be a key ingredient in his success there if he is to have some. But not only will he be receiving leadership from Doc Rivers, but he will be receiving leadership from Chris Paul. Many have had jokes for Chris Paul over the years for his inability to make it deep in the playoffs, but the one thing you can never take away from him is his leadership abilities. Paul has a great ability to know when to push players and when to encourage them. His perfect mix of pushing buttons will be something that will help Stephenson mesh into this team seamlessly. Paul needs Stephenson there and he wants to win above all things, so he will do what needs to be done to get Stephenson up to speed.

The Clippers made a move that many did not see coming. They got younger on the perimeter while adding a guy that could have a better effect on both ends than Matt Barnes. But the biggest question mark for him is his personality. If he listens to Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, he can be a valuable assets to this team and help make them better. But if he does not listen to those two, then we could see knucklehead Lance make an appearance once again. The ball is in Lance’s court and he could potentially make himself some more money as he could potentially be a free agent after this year (Clippers hold the team option for him after the 2015-2016 season). Another bonus for the Clippers in this one is if Lance acts up, they only got rid of a backup big man they signed that failed to crack their rotation (Spencer Hawes) and a swingman that is getting long in the tooth in the NBA (Matt Barnes). The chips have been pushed to the table for Doc and he is gambling on being able to get the best out of Stephenson. This move, like the move he made last season to trade for his son midseason, will be one that will be closely watched all season long. And it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

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The Los Angeles Clippers Were Tragically Flawed From The Beginning

Doc, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin having a meeting of the minds. (photo courtesy of www.rappler.com)

Doc, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin having a meeting of the minds. (photo courtesy of http://www.rappler.com)

The Los Angeles Clippers were one game away from heading to their first Western Conference Finals. The task was going to be tough though. The Clippers, after giving up a 3-1 series lead to the Rockets, had to travel to Houston to win a Game 7. You would have thought that the Clippers would have brought one of their best games with the season on the line. But after watching them fall in Game 7 to the Rockets 113-100, the Clippers just seemed to lack that energy to get the job done. The hope they had of making history was gone just like that and the Clippers are joining all the other teams that have lost in the playoffs in the offseason. Plenty are already assessing the blame of this loss on players like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. And others are blaming Clippers head coach Doc Rivers for the loss as well. But if you really take a look at this team, there were flaws with them from the beginning of the season. The team could have played better in Game 7 and that is understood. There were expectations that were there, but there were also many holes in this team and they were never really addressed by general manager and president Doc Rivers.

Looking at the Clippers, they had arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Chris Paul has been dazzling all of us with his play for his entire career. But in the playoffs, success has seemed to escape him. This year was the year that the pressure was mounting on him. Plenty felt he was going to make that jump as well with this current Clipper team. But if you take a look at their starting lineup, there has been an issue from the jump. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan were solid at the power forward, point guard and center positions. JJ Reddick was solid this season at the shooting guard position, even though he was somewhat limited in terms of all the things he could do. But when it comes to the small forward position, the Clippers were sorely lacking there. The team trotted out veteran wing player Matt Barnes as their starter this season. And although he had his moments starting for them, he was and is not a starter at this point in his career. The best thing for him to do is be a sub off the bench. In that position, he can come in and give energy, defend and make open shots. Moving him to the bench and bringing in a starting small forward would have been the ideal thing to do for the Clippers this season instead of depending on veterans like Hedo Turkoglu to be a backup off the bench. If you notice in this season, Hedo has not been the best coming in off the bench and he honestly is a guy that should not even be suiting up at this point. Barnes was severely exposed this series versus the Houston Rockets. His first game was great for the Clippers when he put up 20 points, but the rest of the series he was not very good. The veteran forward did not even crack double-figures the entire rest of the series and finished this series by not even scoring in the biggest game of the season. His counterpart on the Rockets, forward Trevor Ariza, had a way better series than he did. Ariza was in double-figures every single game and averaged 16.7 points. He was the perfect third scorer for the Rockets and he actually showed up in the big Game 7, scoring 22 big points and helping complete a big comeback versus the Clippers. The Clippers could have only hoped to have that type of production from Barnes, but they knew they could not depend on it at all.

Barnes starting at small forward was not the only issue the Clippers had. If you look at championship teams, everyone that comes off their bench brings something to the table. Even the teams with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade had pieces like Mike Miller coming in and shooting big shots along with other pieces as well. But if you look at the Clippers, it seems they did not have that piece at all besides Jamal Crawford. Crawford is instant offense, but he also has to put up a lot of shots to get his points. He shot under 40% for the series. But other than Crawford, the Clippers had absolutely no one they could count on consistently all season. Doc Rivers’ son, Austin Rivers, had some good games in the playoffs, but in the last few games down the stretch, he disappeared as well. And behind DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers really had no one to come in and make some plays for them. Doc Rivers barely played his free-agent acquisition, Spencer Hawes, when it came to this series and the previous series. And other than him, there was only Glen “Big Baby” Davis that was there to backup Jordan. On a championship team, these three are not enough to get it done. And in this series, they proved to be not enough. If you flip over to the team that they played on Sunday, the Rockets got contributions from every area off their bench actually. They got something from rookie big man Clint Capella, forward Terrance Jones, forward Corey Brewer and veteran point guard Pablo Prigioni. And this Houston team would have been even deeper if they had their starting point guard, Patrick Beverly, and their other big man, Donatas Montiejunas. The construction of that team was way better than that of the Clippers. And there were other teams that had better constructions of a team and bench than the Clippers, but they are the most recent to show their bench up. The bench really hurt the Clippers and it showed even more in Game 7. Over the season, they have been able to overcome the issues they had there, but it eventually caught up to them and it bit them bad at the wrong time.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the Clippers rebound from this loss. Center DeAndre Jordan is a free agent this summer and there is a possibility that he may not come back(even though he probably will be back in Los Angeles). Chris Paul just turned 30 and is not getting any younger. And Blake Griffin, who had been playing to an MVP level in the playoffs, decided that he would not come out with all his energy in Game 7. One solution to making the Clippers better may be to bring back Barnes and move him to the bench while finding a starting small forward. And while they are at it, the Clippers may want to take a look at sending JJ Reddick to the bench as well. He had a great season, but to expect him to duplicate that is asking a lot. Moving him to the bench while adding a bigger shooting guard (Reddick is 6’4” as listed) will make them a better defensive team and also will give their bench more pop. Doc Rivers will be on the clock for making this team better this offseason and he is definitely going to catching some heat for what he created in this team and this bench. Some say the Clippers may want to blow it up, but that may not be the case here. Some changes need to be made, but tearing this team up is not the answer. Making this team younger and more athletic at the shooting guard and small forward position along with making the bench better should yield better results for the Clippers. But as far as this team, they were tragically flawed and the hope in them went as far as their best players. But it died when you looked at the performances of their role players, which are needed to win a championship.

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