NBA@2: Trouble In Clipper Land?
The Los Angeles Clippers are just aching to be the feel-good story of 2011-12. They have one of the most exciting young players in the game with Blake Griffin, they acquired the NBA’s best playmaker in Chris Paul, Caron Butler is staging an unlikely comeback and the addition of Chauncey Billups appeared to be the icing on the cake.
The Clippers are whipping boys no more, and could even be contenders.
Of course, to contend you have to overcome a great deal of adversity, and adversity is starting to take aim at the Clippers.
Injuries are an unfortunate reality in professional sports, so when Billups went down with a torn Achilles it was accepted as part of the game. That doesn’t make it any less devastating, but it is what it is. The Clippers have to make some adjustments and move on.
Last night in Cleveland, however, a less anticipated but every bit as prevalent part of the game emerged to throw up a roadblock in the Clippers’ feel-good story. For some reason, out of the blue, sixth-man Mo Williams started talking about his contract situation and his role on the team.
“I just want to know where I stand with the Clippers,’ Williams told the Los Angeles Times. “”If you have a girlfriend and she tells you she loves you every day, obviously you know she loves you … the way (the Clippers) tell you they love you every day is by signing you to a contract extension.”
To be clear, Williams is not exactly being given the unwanted step-child treatment by the Clippers. He’s under a contract that pays him $8.5 million this season, and he has a player option that would pay him $8.5 million for next season. There aren’t many teams that would start talking about a contract extension a year and a half ahead of time, especially for a secondary player. Extend Chris Paul? Absolutely. Blake Griffin? Get it done! But Mo Williams is not exactly in the same class with those two perennial All-Stars.
After inferring that he might be a better player than either Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups, Williams seemed to go out of his way to express his displeasure with coming off the bench.
“For this team I have a role,” he said, “whether I accept it or not.”
On a night where he gave that interview – and you really should read the entire bizarre, even incongruous, conversation – Williams went out and shot 2-for-10 from the field and scored five points in 34 minutes . . .starter minutes, though he came off the bench. His uninspired play had a lot lot to do with the Clippers’ loss to Williams’ former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are no longer the laughing stock they were last season, but the Clippers should have been more than a match.
Perhaps someone should tell Mo Williams that the way you get a contract extension is by making yourself an invaluable member of the team, both on and off the court.
“I could be traded tomorrow,” said Williams. “I could be traded next week or before March 15, [the trade deadline], or before next season. They aren’t going to trade Blake Griffin.”
If he keeps playing like he did last night and talking like he did before the game, he just might inspire the team after all . . .to trade him long before a contract extension is really an issue.
In all fairness, it’s easy to take what Mo is saying negatively, but the truth is that Mo very much wants to be in LA and with the Clippers. He even told HOOPSWORLD recently that he would love to finish his career in LA. What he needs to do is take a different approach in talking about his desire for a contract extension, lest the Clippers decide he would be better off somewhere else.
Are The Rockets For Real?
Most of the time, when you hear about the Houston Rockets, you’re hearing about which big-name free agent they struck out on this time around. That’s a slight, but related, shift from the previous daily headline about which key players were injured. Slowly but surely, though, another story is emerging out of Houston . . .a story about how often the team is finishing games with more points than their opponents.
You know, winning?
It’s not a foreign concept to Rockets fans, who watched former head coach Rick Adelman seemingly “magic” wins out of thin air. The team was competitive every night, but posted just enough wins last season to avoid the playoffs and the draft lottery. It’s not a great place to be.
It was extremely difficult to judge the Rockets based on their January schedule. They started off by losing to every playoff team that faced – the Lakers and Clippers, Oklahoma City (twice), and San Antonio. They lost five of their first six games, with the lone win coming against the hapless Charlotte Bobcats.
Then the schedule reversed itself, and the Rockets went from playing possible contenders every night to playing the worst teams in the league. They won seven straight games over Washington, Sacramento, Detroit, New Orleans, and Detroit. They beat a Portland team that is miserably bad on the road, caught the Spurs without Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili, and managed to beat the Timberwolves. The Minnesota win might have been the only really impressive win in that stretch of games.
Since losing to a battered Milwaukee Bucks team to end the win streak, the Rockets have won five of their last eight games, though again, those wins are not easily quantified. They beat the awful Wizards again, took out the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony, beat the struggling Phoenix Suns, and then caught Denver without Arron Afflalo or Nene. In between they lost to Minnesota twice and also to San Antonio – both very likely playoff teams. The only really impressive win was, again, over the Portland Trail Blazers, whom the Rockets have owned for years.
After winning in Portland last night, a win that came very much on the strength of their bench, the Rockets are sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference. Admittedly, they are in a virtual tie with half of the West, where six teams share Houston’s record in the loss column – 11 – but still, it’s far and away better than anyone thought Houston would be at this point of the season.
Maybe they don’t need a superstar, after all?
Not so fast.
What doesn’t seem to be lost on the fans who would normally be housed in the vacant Toyota Center is that many of Houston’s wins are the direct result of a soft spot in the schedule paired with good fortune in terms of their opponents being injured. Against likely playoff teams – San Antonio, Orlando, Memphis, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Denver, Portland, and the LA teams – the Rockets are just 6-10 on the season, and again, three of those six wins came at times when the team they beat was missing a key piece or two.
The Rockets have yet to even face the defending champion Dallas Mavericks or either of the Eastern Conference finalists in Chicago and Miami.
Right now Houston is winning games they’re supposed to win, for the most part, and that’s more than a lot of other teams can say. Their record is a reflection of that and nothing more. It will be interesting to see how they fare on their next home stand, which features games against Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Utah, Memphis (possibly with Zach Randolph back) and Philadelphia.
We’ll know a lot more about this Houston Rockets team after that home stand.
Atlanta Hawks Add Dampier
The Atlanta Hawks today signed 15-year veteran center Erick Dampier to a 10-day contract, according to Executive Vice President/General Manager Rick Sund.
Selected 10th overall by Indiana in the 1996 NBA Draft, Dampier has played in 972 regular season games and 57 playoff contests with Indiana, Golden State, Dallas and Miami. He appeared in 51 games last season for the Heat, averaging 2.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 0.9 bpg (.584 FG%, .545 FT%).
He’s averaged 7.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 1.4 bpg over his career (.498 FG%, .626 FT%). With 6,980 career rebounds and 1,394 blocks, Dampier ranks 14th and 7th respectively on the NBA active career lists. His 2,713 offensive boards ranks 5th among active players.
Dampier will wear uniform no. 25.
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