NBA Sunday: Clippers Want J.R. Smith, Too
Clippers After J.R. Smith, Too?
It was mere days ago that we were all congratulating the L.A. Clippers for landing one of the last coveted free agents in Kenyon Martin, but on Sunday morning, Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times reported that the Clippers are now also after China’s other major unrestricted free agent, J.R. Smith.
Smith, who was Martin’s teammate in Denver last season, is very ready to return to the NBA but has to wait for the Chinese Basketball Association’s season to end in the middle of this month. Assuming Smith’s former team, the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, misses the CBA playoffs, Smith could join a new team as early as All-Star weekend.
The Clippers, who need depth at small forward, would be far from the worst fit in the world, and it would give Smith an opportunity to pursue a title. They don’t currently have a roster spot open, but it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to open one up. They can only afford to pay Smith a prorated version of the $2.5 million mini-mid-level exception, but there’s also the possibility that he be signed to the prorated equivalent to the $1 million veteran’s minimum salary. Either way, Lob City could very well be Smith’s chosen destination.
It’s interesting to see the shift in these kinds of inexpensive veteran free agents leaning towards the Clippers rather than last year’s one-stop destination for older players hoping to latch onto a championship team, the Miami HEAT. I’m not sure whether this signals players’ belief in the Clippers as a contender, the loss in faith in Miami as one, a combination of the two, or just a coincidence, but it’s interesting all the same. We know how players feel about L.A., and now that the Clippers have the hottest team in town, they’re hauling in the late-season free agents better than anybody else.
The Lakers also reportedly have interest, as do the New York Knicks, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that Smith ends up with the Clippers. But it does look like New York or L.A. one way or another. Players have to see what’s going on with the Clippers and envy how much fun everyone seems to be having. Smith, an explosive offensive player, would just make it an even more enjoyable team to watch.
Deng Returns, All-Star Selection Possible
Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, who tore a ligament in his wrist a couple of weeks ago, not only returned to the lineup Saturday in Milwaukee, but also played a team-high 41 minutes, scoring 21 points and hauling in 9 rebounds in the process.
“He was great,” Bulls head coach Thibodeau said. “You can’t say enough about him. He stays in great shape, got out there, he did everything. Played defense, rebounded the ball, made shots, made plays, made us function well as a team. Moved great without the ball. Very encouraging.”
It’s no secret that Chicago is a different team with Deng on the floor. With him gone, Chicago had a stretch in which they lost 3 out of 5 games, all of which came against the better teams in the Eastern Conference—Indiana, Miami, and Philadelphia. Those three games make up half of the team’s losses for the entire season, so it’s pretty safe to say the Bulls are relieved to get him back.
“I was told 4-6 weeks. To rest it for four weeks and then come back,” Deng told ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell after the 113-90 win over the Bucks. “I knew when I had the injury, the way it felt, that I could recover quick and when we were in New York, I was going to play, but it got sore.”
Deng thought perhaps he’d be able to return for the Miami game last weekend, and then there were rumblings again that he’d play a few days later in New York. Thibodeau thought this pseudo-home-game in Wisconsin was the best time for a return.
“I watch him every day. I see what he does in terms of his conditioning and what he’s been doing on the court,” Thibodeau said. “I didn’t know how he would handle all the contact. Three-on-three is a lot different than an NBA game. So you don’t know from a conditioning standpoint if he’s going to handle that or if he’s going to have any problems with his wrist. But he said he felt great. Once he showed he could handle it, we just got back to normal rotation.”
Deng’s excellent return performance provides further evidence that he deserves a spot in this year’s All-Star game. Teammate Derrick Rose already has been named a starter, but with seven reserve spots to fill—two or three of which will be forwards—the argument for Deng is actually a pretty strong one.
While he’s only 9th among Eastern Conference forwards in scoring (16.2 ppg) and 8th in rebounding (7.6 rpg), he has established himself as one of the best defensive small forwards in the league. If it comes down to a close call between him and somebody else—say Paul Pierce or Josh Smith—voting coaches tend to err on the side of team success. The Bulls, obviously, have plenty of that.
He’s right on the All-Star bubble, and the two weeks off due to injury probably didn’t help his stock. But whatever happens with All-Star selections, Deng is going to prepare for games the way he always has.
“I’m going to continue everything the same,” he said. “Every practice, I’m going to practice. I’m just going to forget about it. I’m playing, so I don’t even want to keep talking about it. I just want to just play. As long as I’m playing, I’m fine.”
It would be great to see Deng finally make an All-Star team, but even if he doesn’t get there, the Bulls will need him for any sort of serious title run. It’s good that he’s back, and as soon as Richard Hamilton finds a way to stay healthy for any sort of extended stretch, we may finally see what these Chicago Bulls are all about.
Suspension Coming for Kevin Love?
Kevin Love will undoubtedly find his way back to the All-Star game this year, but there’s a chance that he could miss some regular season time if the league decides to issue some sort of suspension for his stomping on the face of Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola in Saturday night’s game in Minnesota.
For those that missed it, Love went for an aggressive strip on Scola in the post, and it was hard enough to send Scola to the floor. Ricky Rubio ended up with the outlet and ran up the floor, but before Love could catch up, he stomped on the face and chest area of Scola. He appeared to look down before making the contact, which suggests that Love might have done it on purpose.
The CBSSports.com “Eye On Basketball” blog points out that, less than a week ago, when the Wolves and Rockets faced off in Houston, Scola went to save a ball from falling out of bounds by whipping it directly into the most sensitive area of Love’s body.
Perhaps Love was still feeling some animosity towards that. Or perhaps it really was an accident. Either way, it certainly looked like a dirty play, which goes against the image most people have had about Love as a person and a player thus far in his career.
If the league determines Love did what he did on purpose, he’ll get some sort of suspension. It will be interesting to see what sort of punishment he eventually incurs.