The winds of change appear to be traveling in the direction of Los Angeles this summer, especially after the conclusion of a disappointing injury-riddled season for the Lakers and a first-round playoff collapse by the Clippers. Both teams will certainly have significant decisions to make this summer as they look to regroup and come back strong in 2013-14, and coincidentally, it starts with determining the futures of their respective franchise players. We've got a few rumblings to share from each camp as we inch closer to the NBA offseason:
- When asked if Dwight Howard might try to force Mike D'Antoni out of Los Angeles, Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld (via Twitter) says that the soon-to-be free agent doesn't want to be involved in dictating the job security of the Lakers' coach. As for the player option of Jodie Meeks and the possibility of re-signing Earl Clark, Kyler points to the priority of determining Howard's future before taking care of anything else.
- Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles hears that Chauncey Billups would like to return to the Clippers next season, adding that he's feeling as good as he's felt in two years: "I would love to be back here and continue to help in this process...I feel like we are getting closer. I definitely want to be a part of it and I'll be able to show everybody who I've always been with a summer of getting myself together, so hopefully it works out like that."
- Billups also says that his goal is to play two more seasons and briefly touched upon his desire to be invovled in an NBA front office instead of coaching once his playing career is over.
- Though there were hints about Grant Hill's plans to retire after this season, Markazi writes that Hill could come back for another year if he feels healthy enough. Hill is currently under contract for about $2MM for 2013-14.
- Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles tweets that there's no truth to the rumor which suggests that Chris Paul will be leaving his agent Leon Rose for Rich Paul, who currently represents LeBron James and Clippers teammate Eric Bledsoe among others.
Twice it's seemed Earl Clark was on a fast track out of the NBA. The Suns, who made him the last pick of the lottery in 2009, declined their third-year option on his rookie contract, a maneuver usually reserved only for the most egregious of draft busts. A midseason trade to the Magic in 2010 opened up more playing time, and in the summer of 2011, Orlando saw fit to give Clark a two-year, $2.4MM contract. His scoring output in 2011/12 went back down to the same 2.7 points per game that prompted the Suns to turn down the option on his rookie contract, and he appeared to be little more than salary ballast accompanying Dwight Howard in the trade that sent both from the Magic to the Lakers.
When Howard and Pau Gasol were both injured earlier this season, that opened up playing time for Clark, who responded with an average of 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds over a 22-game stretch in January in February. His playing time and shooting percentages took a nosedive for the rest of the season as the Lakers' star big men returned to health, and Clark put up just 6.1 PPG and 4.3 RPG over the final 27 regular season games. He totaled just 14 points and 11 rebounds in 82 minutes over L.A.'s four-game playoff ouster, leaving suitors for the unrestricted free agent to wonder whether his midseason emergence was simply a mirage.
What's indisputable is the 6'10" Clark's renewed willingness to shoot three-pointers. He took just 15 shots from behind the arc over his first three NBA seasons, making two of them, but this year he averaged 1.8 attempts per game, the same number of long-distance attempts he averaged during his college career. While at Louisville, launching from the shorter college distance, he made just 29.8% of his treys, but this season he nailed 33.7% of them, capably filling the role of the stretch power forward in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense. He was particularly fond of the right corner, as his Basketball-Reference.com shot chart shows, and shot 37.8% on all of his three-point attempts during his hot stretch in the middle of the season.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told Clark during their exit interview this week that he'll have plenty of teams lining up to sign him in the offseason, but the 25-year-old has expressed a desire to remain with the Lakers, even if it means coming back at a discount. Still, Clark changed agents this spring, jumping from Happy Walters and Relativity Sports to Kevin Bradbury of BDA Sports. The Lakers have full Bird rights on Clark, but HoopsWorld's Steve Kyler predicts a one-year deal without much of a raise if he elects to return to L.A., given the team's luxury tax constraints. I'd be surprised if Clark bothered to change agents if he's simply seeking whatever the Lakers can give him. I also doubt that all of those suitors that Kupchak told Clark about are willing to pay him too much more than the Lakers are, especially if Clark's seeking a long-term deal.
Clubs that will take a look at Clark this summer will note his versatility on defense, where he guarded both wing and post players this season. He was often involved in cross-matches with Metta World Peace in which Clark guarded the other team's small forward while the older World Peace took the power forward. The net effect of the Lakers' defense wasn't pretty this season, as the team was 22nd in points allowed, so it's hard to give Clark too much credit, even though his defensive rating of 105 was tied with Jordan Hill for second-best on the team among players who saw significant minutes.
Clark seems well-suited to the Bi-Annual Exception amount of about $2MM a year, and if a team used that exception to sign him, it could offer a two-year deal. That would be long enough to give Clark some stable footing in the league, but allow the team a relatively early out if the former lottery pick can't duplicate his midseason success from this year.
The Lakers' season ended in unspectacular fashion last night as the Spurs completed their first round sweep with a 103-82 victory in game four. Dwight Howard was ejected along the way and headed back to the Staples Center home locker room, possibly for the last time. Here's the latest out of L.A as we look ahead to what should be a
- No one knows if Howard will be back with the Lakers next season, but Steve Nash sounds optimistic about it, writes Yannis Koutroupis of HoopsWorld. “I’m very hopeful that Dwight will be back,” Nash said at his season-ending press conference. “I think this is the place for him. He’s in the prime of his career, with his best years ahead of him. Playing for one of the greatest franchises in sports and an amazing city. I hope he sees it that way and hopefully as teammates we can be there to support him and find [him] back with us July 1."
- In his season-ending interview with reporters, Metta World Peace said that he'd like to be back with the Lakers next season, but declined to talk specifics about his player option and contract, tweets Mike Trudell of NBA.com. The forward holds a $7.27MM option for 2013/14 and as unpredictable as he may be, it's hard to imagine him turning it down.
- Earl Clark said that GM Mitch Kupchak told him that many teams would be interested in him this summer, Trudell tweets. For his part, Clark hopes to stay with the Lakers. The Louisville product enjoyed his best season to date in 2012/13, averaging 7.3 PPG with 5.5 RPG in 23.1 minutes per contest.
History was made this morning, as Jason Collins publicly came out as the first active male athlete to announce that he's gay. Collins, who hopes to continue his playing career, will be a free agent this summer, looking for a contract from a team in need of frontcourt help. In his latest piece for HoopsWorld, Steve Kyler looked at a few other big men facing free agency, exploring what their respective futures might hold. Let's check out the highlights....
- Andray Blatche is still being paid by the Wizards through next season, so he won't necessarily be seeking the highest salary offered this summer. However, if he can secure a multiyear deal, he may lean toward that opportunity, says Kyler.
- Although he's eligible for restricted free agency, Austin Daye is unlikely to receive a qualifying offer from the Grizzlies. Kyler doesn't expect the ex-Piston to be back in Memphis next season.
- Carl Landry remains likely to opt out of his last year with the Warriors in search of a longer-term contract.
- The Pacers won't hold full Bird rights on David West, but West's Early Bird rights will be more than enough to make him a competitive offer. Kyler thinks West and the Pacers are likely to work out a deal fairly quickly that will keep the power forward in Indiana.
- Kyler notes that trading Danny Granger would help give the Pacers the flexibility to bring back both West and Tyler Hansbrough, who is eligible for restricted free agency. Kyler expects the Pacers to issue a qualifying offer to Hansbrough and match any reasonable offer.
- Antawn Jamison is unlikely to re-sign with the Lakers, and if Earl Clark returns, it will have to be for not much more than the $1.24MM he made this year, says Kyler.
- Boris Diaw, who has a player option, and Matt Bonner, whose deal is only partially guaranteed, both figure to be back with the Spurs next season. However, Kyler says DeJuan Blair is "done in San Antonio," which echoes what we heard yesterday.
After being ejected and seeing the Lakers swept out of the first round, Dwight Howard called this season a "nightmare," an interesting choice of words given the "Dwightmare" label applied to last year's constant Howard trade rumors. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times proposes one way to end the nightmare, suggesting that the Lakers don't re-sign Howard this summer when he hits free agency. It certainly figures to be an interesting summer in L.A., given Howard's free agency, Kobe Bryant's recovering Achilles, and Pau Gasol's expiring contract. Here's an early look at the next steps for the team:
- Howard told reporters, including Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, that he expects to "step away from everything for a couple of weeks" to clear his head before he seriously considers his free agency. One source tells Spears that, given the uncertainty in Lakerland, Howard is expected to do his due dilegence when it comes to free agent options.
- Spears' source on Howard: "He's going to sign a long-term deal. It has to be the
right spot, the right commitment. There is no clear choice. The Lakers
choice has longevity. They've won a lot of championships. But at the
same time, that's not where they're at any more."
- Earl Clark tells Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News (Twitter link) that he'd like to re-sign with the Lakers, even if the team can't offer the same amount of years or dollars as other teams.
- Gasol doesn't believe his future with the Lakers necessarily hinges on what happens with Howard, as he tells Medina.
- Gasol deserves to be able to play out the final season of his contract with the Lakers without constant trade rumors swirling around him, suggests J.A. Adande of ESPN.com. However, as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times writes, it's also possible Gasol has played his last game with the club.
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times examines the Lakers' payroll options, including potential amnesty candidates.
We rounded up a few items from out of the Eastern Conference earlier in the day. Now let's head west....
- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle had harsh words for O.J. Mayo during and after last night's game against the Grizzlies, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com details. Mayo is widely expected to decline his 2013/14 player option and test free agency this summer, though MacMahon notes that the USC product recently told ESPNDallas.com he has yet to make a decision on the option.
- Carlisle's comments on Mayo show why the Trail Blazers shouldn't consider pursuing the shooting guard if he hits free agency this summer, says Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com.
- According to a Sports Business Daily report passed along by HoopsHype, Earl Clark has changed agents, making the transition from Happy Walters of Relativity Sports to Kevin Bradbury at BDA Sports.
- Having been acquired by the Grizzlies in January's Rudy Gay blockbuster, Tayshaun Prince is excited to be back in the postseason, and tells Derek Page of HoopsWorld he's happy for Ed Davis and Austin Daye, who also came to Memphis in the deal.
When Heat general manager Pat Riley spoke out against Celtics general manager Danny Ainge last week, it was a calculated move on his part to keep LeBron James around after 2014, writes the Daily News' Mitch Lawrence.
To say that the Lakers' season has been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement, and with a 7-2 record over their last nine games amidst a strong push for a spot in the Western Conference playoff picture, the purple and gold faithful have reason to hope that the car keeps climbing up. However, one of the biggest pleasant surprises seems to have hit a slump, as ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne notes that Earl Clark has only reached double figure scoring once in the team's last seven games. We have a few links to share out of Los Angeles tonight, and you can find them below:
- Chauncey Billups opens up about the adjustments that he's had to make with the Clippers, from moving to shooting guard and returning from an achilles injury (Broderick Turner of the LA Times).
- Although he's had his share of struggles from the free throw line, Dwight Howard is too valuable in other areas of the game to be kept off the court during crunch time, opines Janis Carr of the OC Register.
- Howard tells Eric Pincus of the LA Times about what he's learned by playing alongside Kobe Bryant, particularly about getting over his fear of missing shots and improving off the court habits. "I think this is a blessing for me, to experience the stuff that I've experienced this year. It's just going to make me a better man and a better player...Just from watching Kobe — this has been great for me. I wouldn't have it any other way."
- Defending the three point line has been a glaring concern for the Clippers, who may find themselves unable to advance in the playoffs if things don't change, writes Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles.
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer notes the importance of the Lakers making the playoffs for the Cavaliers, as Cleveland will have the option of swapping Miami's first round pick with the Lakers' if it falls out of the lottery.
With only five games on the NBA schedule for Tuesday night, let's round up some odds and ends from around the league here:
- Now getting extended minutes, Magic rookie Maurice Harkless - acquired from Philadelphia in the Dwight Howard trade - has begun to show the skills that made him the 15th overall selecton last June, writes Josh Robbins of Orlando Sentinel. Coupled with the pleasant surprise that is Nikola Vucevic, Harkless' development makes the haul that Orlando received for Howard look better and better, especially considering past deals involving a departing superstar.
- Another forgotten piece of the Howard deal, Earl Clark has thrived since joining the Lakers, writes Josh Newman of Zags Blog. Now in his fourth year out of Lousiville, Clark has seen his minutes double in Los Angeles.
- Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops calls the Pistons' Will Bynum a prime trade target, mentioning the Thunder as an ideal candidates for a match. With James Harden in Houston and Eric Maynor and Reggie Jackson unlikely solutions to spelling Russell Westbrook, Sheridan says Bynum would be a better pick up for Oklahoma City than Derek Fisher was a year ago.
- Scheduled for June 27, the NBA Draft is just less than five months away. But as the NCAA calendar moves towards March, draft talk should start to heat up. Jeff Goodman, CBS Sports' NCAA guru, provides his updated prospect rankings as well as a mock draft.
- Three days following Indiana's thrilling win over No. 1 Michigan, Draft Express publishes a scouting report on Hoosiers' guard Victor Oladipo. Previously thought to be a defensive specialist, the ultra-athletic Oladipo has nearly ensured himself a first round grade with a breakout offensive performance as a junior.
The Lakers have been struggling mightily this season, but big man Earl Clark has been a bright spot for the 22-26 club. Clark is positioning himself for a considerable raise in his next contract, but the impending free agent says that he would like to stay in Los Angeles, writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
"This is my first team that gave me an opportunity. I love the guys here," the 25-year-old said. "The organization and the style of play fits me. I really want to stay here."
In eleven starts over the last three weeks, Clark has averaged 10.4 PPG with 8.4 RPG and nearly one block per contest. Clark gave the Lakers 17 points and 10 boards agains the Pistons today and helped lead his team to a 98-97 win despite missing two crucial free throws down the stretch. The Louisville product is making just $1.2MM this season and where ever he winds up next, he figures to see a considerable raise.