A few notes from around the NBA's Western Conference.
- Speaking on ESPN radio, unrestricted free agent forward Matt Barnes said he'd like to return to the Clippers next season. He also thinks Chris Paul will return.
- According to InsideSoCal.com's Mark Medina, Lakers forward Pau Gasol is set to have two operations on both his knees this summer. Gasol has one more year on his contract, but will be the subject of trade rumors throughout the summer. It should be interesting to see if his knee surgeries temper any talk.
- The Kings face a big vote in roughly a week on whether they'll be relocating or staying in Sacramento, and the NBA has encouraged the local Sacramento buyers group to place all of their $341MM in an escrow account, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Matt Barnes saved his best for last on Friday, putting up a season-high 30 points and matching a season high in rebounds with 10. It wasn't enough for the Clippers, though, as they fell to the Grizzlies and were eliminated in the first round after a 56-win regular season. That sort of disappointing finish to the season could portend changes in Clipperland, even for players who exceeded expectations, like Barnes.
The gangly 6'7" forward spent last season "stuck in a bad situation," as he put it, under coach Mike Brown with the Lakers. That, coupled with legal trouble, left him unsigned into September. He was such a forgotten commodity that Chris Paul believed Barnes was still under contract with the Lakers when the two met up late last summer. When Barnes told Paul he was a free agent, CP3 sold the Clippers on the idea of signing him. Barnes was apprehensive, knowing the team was well-stocked with small forwards, but he relented and joined the Clippers for the minimum salary, which was all the team could give him after using all of its other cap exceptions.
The afterthought of a signing couldn't have worked out much better for Barnes or the Clippers. Barnes gave the team toughness and energy off the bench as part of perhaps the best second unit in the league. He often replaced starter Caron Butler as the team's small forward down the stretch, and saw plenty of time at power forward when the team went small. Barnes often shared the floor with the defensively challenged Jamal Crawford, prompting coach Vinny Del Negro to use Barnes on the other team's shooting guard if necessary.
He chipped in offensively as well, and not just with his 30-point outburst in the team's final game. Barnes scored 10.3 PPG this season, the best scoring average in his 10-year career. His shooting from the floor (.462) and three-point range (.342) exceeded his career marks. The only other season in which he scored more points per 36 minutes was 2006/07, his breakout campaign with the Warriors. Barnes tied his career high in PER this season, hitting the same 15.5 figure he posted last season in that "bad situation" with the Lakers.
His efficiency won't go overlooked this summer. Paul certainly won't be any less enamored with his play than he was last fall, and assuming CP3 sticks around, he'll likely continue to exert influence on the front office. Vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks, who's charged with calling the shots for the team's player personnel, will find it difficult to maintain the team's hallmark depth for next season. A max deal for Paul would put them over the cap, with Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf all hitting unrestricted free agency. The Clippers probably won't want them all back, but their replacement options are limited. They won't have their bi-annual exception, since they used it to sign Grant Hill last summer, so Sacks and company will have to make do with their mid-level exception, worth a starting salary of $5.15MM, to add free agents. Hill, too, could be gone if he elects to retire, as seems likely.
That would seem to make re-signing Barnes a priority, though it will be tricky. The team only has Non-Bird rights on him, meaning they can do no better than 120% of his minimum salary. That probably won't cut it, so the Clippers will probably have to dip into their mid-level to make it happen. At 33, Barnes won't merit a long-term deal, but he and agent Aaron Goodwin could be looking to maximize his salary for next season, since the former second-round pick has never made more than $3MM in any year, according to Basketball-Reference.
Other contenders probably envy what Barnes brought to the Clippers this season, and teams like the Knicks, Nets and even the L.A. rival Lakers, with Mike D'Antoni having replaced Brown, could all target Barnes with the taxpayer's mid-level exception of $3.183MM. That's just my speculation, of course, but Barnes could be tempted to leave the Clippers if another team dangles what would be the highest salary of his career. Matching such an offer would leave the Clips with just about $2MM with which to make upgrades, barring trades. The decision could come down to whether Sacks believes Barnes plus $2MM worth of talent would be better than someone they could sign for the full mid-level. Considering the return the Clippers got with Crawford using the full mid-level last season, they may be reluctant to split it up, signaling yet another change of address for Barnes.
The Clippers erased a 19-point deficit to the Jazz to win their 16th straight game tonight, but the NBA's best team still only has a one-game lead for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Thunder are tied in the loss column with the Clippers, and the Spurs are just a game and a half back of L.A. As usual, the West is stacked at the top. Here's more on the Clips and the teams trying to chase them down.
- Clippers forward Matt Barnes believes he was "stuck in a bad situation" under former Lakers coach Mike Brown, as Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times writes. "Last year, playing with the Lakers, I was told when I could shoot. If I made mistakes, I'd come out of the game," Barnes said. "This year Vinny (Del Negro) has installed a lot of trust in me. He lets me go out there and play my game. If I mess up, he still sticks with me and that goes a long way with any player."
- New Mavericks swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts, writing on his Tumblr account, chronicles his experiences in training camp with the Lakers this fall. He also reveals his decision to turn down a seven-figure contract from a team overseas to play in the D-League, which he felt offered the fastest route back to the NBA (hat tip to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com).
- Royce White's grandfather told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that White expects to work out with the Rockets next week (Twitter link). It's unclear whether that means he'll be formally returning to the team.
- JaVale McGee is playing less than 20 minutes per game after re-signing with the Nuggets for four years and $44MM this summer, but coach George Karl said the team doesn't regret committing so much money to him, HoopsWorld's Bill Ingram tweets.
- Michael Scotto of RealGM.com chronicles the journey of Mavs rookie and former Air Force Staff Sergeant Bernard James, including his early experiences in the NBA.
In what should be a sight for sore eyes for Lakers fans, Steve Nash took the court today at the team's El Segundo practice facility and participated in scrimmage. The impact he made on the floor could partially be summed up by teammate Dwight Howard, who told reporters after practice: "he (threw) a pass that I haven't got hit with since I've been here...not any offense to the guys who've been playing, but he made some tough passes today... Just little things like that will really help our team out." The 38-year-old veteran told reporters that he wants to test things out day-by-day and reiterated that Christmas Day's game against the Knicks is a realistic target for a return.
Sam Amick of USA Today cautions that Nash is still under considerable pain and will need some time to improve his conditioning in addition to establishing chemistry with the rest of the team. Here's more of tonight's links from Los Angeles:
Both the Clippers and the Lakers have a marquee player who'll be a free agent next summer, in Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, respectively. The teams also made a slew of offseason changes after finishing within a game of each other at the top of the Pacific Division standings and suffering playoff eliminations in the conference semifinals. The two Staples Center tenants seem to have a lot more in common than just an address as the 2012/13 season approaches, and we have news on Tinseltown's teams.
- We heard earlier today about Paul's influence on Matt Barnes' decision to sign with the Clippers, and Barnes told HoopsWorld's Yannis Koutroupis that it all started when he was at an open workout at the team's facility. Barnes was initially apprehensive, knowing the team already has Caron Butler and Grant Hill at small forward, but the Clippers kept pushing the idea, prompting Barnes to give it a go.
- The Lakers are leaning toward carrying just 14 players to start the regular season, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. Andrew Goudelock and Darius Johnson-Odom, both of whom are non-guaranteed deals, are "longshots" to make the team, Bresnahan says. That would make Robert Sacre, whose deal is also non-guaranteed, the favorite for the 14th spot.
- Howard thinks the controversy surrounding him last year with the Magic played a role in his failure to win a fourth consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award, Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes.
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times checks in with Lamar Odom, who's trying to play himself into shape with the Clippers.
Last night, we linked to a Los Angeles Times piece detailing the impact Matt Barnes has had in Clippers' camp. Within Broderick Turner's story on Barnes, there are a few more details on the influence Chris Paul had in recruiting the former Laker to L.A.'s other team.
"I've told everybody this: I hate playing against Matt," Paul said of Barnes. "But I
knew him on my team, I would love it. He's passionate on defense, just
like I am."
Here are a few more odds and ends from around the Pacific Division:
- Appearing on XTRA Sports 1360 in San Diego, Pau Gasol admitted that the trade rumors swirling around him last season made for an "uncomfortable situation," but said he's excited about the new-look Lakers and the coming season (link via Sports Radio Interviews).
- The Kings will have to make at least two more cuts before the regular season gets underway, even if coach Keith Smart isn't looking forward to it, writes Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. "I wish this could be our team, I really do," Smart said of the Kings' current 17-man roster. "I feel we've
had a lot of growth from the young guys on our team. I thought all the
guys we brought in, if we could keep them and have a true farm system because we've seen those guys develop."
- As the Suns prepare to make their own cuts, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic notes that roster hopefuls Diante Garrett and Luke Zeller would only earn the rookie minimum (about $473K) if they were on the team, while Ike Diogu and Solomon Jones would each cost the Suns the veteran's minimum (about $854K).
The news of the night is that Dwight Howard will make his Lakers debut tonight at the Staples Center against the Kings, tweets Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski. The offseason's biggest storyline was rumored to be on track to play tonight, but it is now official. Tip off is just over a half hour away. Here are some other odds and ends from around the league:
- Monta Ellis, who was traded to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut this past season, has a new outlook in Milwaukee, writes Shams Charania of RealGM. Ellis is through worrying about personal accolades, he says, and is concentrated only on winning with his new team. Charania says that Ellis and Brandon Jennings are building chemistry, while adding that Ellis is expected to opt out of his deal after the year and Jennings could be a restricted free agent.
- Given the Clippers roster, Matt Barnes didn't seem like the best fit when he signed with the team in September. But Barnes has been raising eyebrows in training camp and preseason, Broderick Turner of the LA Times writes.
- The team of writers at HoopsWorld looks at which NBA team will be this years' biggest sleeper. Believe it or not, all five guys chose different teams. Here is the list: Raptors, Bucks, Nuggets, Warriors and Wizards.
Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio has posted some thoughts from the weekend's preseason action, including impressions of players that have changed teams this offseason:
- Amico was impressed with the Dallas debuts of Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo, both of whom signed with the Mavs this summer.
- Out of the several veterans the Clippers signed this offseason, Amico says that Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes made positive first impressions, while Lamar Odom looked considerably less impressive.
- Amico writes that Hornets rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers had good performances in their preseason debuts.
- Second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and third overall pick Bradley Beal had strong showings in the Bobcats' victory over the Wizards, Amico writes.
- New Bobcats acquisitions Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions also had strong performances off the bench, writes Amico.
Dwight Howard engaged in a post-practice interview with the local media, admitting that he's "still trying to get his legs up and get in some shape" and also elaborating about the different options on offense that he has with his new Lakers teammates. In response to recent comments made by Shaq about being subordinate to Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez, Dwight replied, "I don't care what (he) says...He's done. He's gone. It's time to move on." (Dave McMenamin of ESPN reports). Ken Berger of CBS Sports further discussed the chance for Howard to put his recent past in Orlando behind him through his new challenge in Los Angeles. Here's what else is brewing out of the Pacific Division tonight...
- Lakers guard Steve Blake returned from injury and practiced today, says McMenamin. The back up point guard was originally projected to have a three week recovery after puncturing his foot, but was given full clearance to play just ten days after his injury.
- Clippers forward Blake Griffin appears to have fully healed from his knee surgery in July, reportedly moving well during scrimmages and connecting on some signature dunks (according to Eric Pincus of HoopsWorld). Pincus also gives his impressions from DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom from scrimmages and also mentions that while Chauncey Billups isn't ready to play yet, the activity level and mobility that he displayed is a good indication that he is progressing along nicely with his rehab.
- Tim Kawakami of Mercury News tweets that Warriors center Andrew Bogut looked good during his individual workout today, going through a 40-45 minute session with the team trainer after practice.
- In this report from CSNBayArea.com, Klay Thompson talked about his goal to improve his efficiency this season as he embarks on his sophomore year in the league. Coach Mark Jackson also spoke confidently about the young shooting guard, saying that Thompson is "going to get his shots." In the miscellaneous section, Jackson seemed non-committal on who the Warriors' starting small forward will be at this point.
- Newly acquired Wesley Johnson has shined during Suns team scrimmages, writes Paul Coro of AZCentral.com. Aside from more observations from practices, Coro also says that Goran Dragic may continue to do more work during the team's two-a-day session on Friday, and that Jermaine O'Neal will withdraw from tomorrow's practice because of soreness.
Earlier this week, the Clippers inked forward Matt Barnes to a one-year, minimum-salary deal, beating out the Heat, Lakers, Nets, and others. The Knicks also appeared to be interested at one point, but agent Aaron Goodwin believes that coach Mike Woodson was never "truly on board" with the idea. Here's more on the Clippers and other items out of the Pacific..
- While Gary Sacks formally signed Barnes, it appears that Chris Paul had a significant hand in luring the veteran to Los Angeles, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “Chris Paul was talking about how tough we were going to be next year, assuming I was a Laker,” Barnes said. “I told him I was a free agent and he said, ‘No, you’re about to be a Clipper.' "
- Joel Brigham of HoopsWorld thinks that the Kings are doing the right thing by holding off on an extension for Tyreke Evans. With fellow guards Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, and Jimmer Fredette in the mix, Sacramento has other options in the event that Evans doesn't return to his rookie-year form.
- The HoopsWorld staff previewed the 2012/13 Warriors and Yannis Koutroupis opines that if it weren't for the Lakers, Golden State would have had the best offseason of anyone in the division. The Warriors rounded out their team with the re-signing of Brandon Rush along with the additions of Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green.