As he gives away free school supplies and book bags to basketball campers in his native Baton Rouge, La., in many cases seeing kids who remind him of himself 25 years ago, Brandon Bass waits on another NBA opportunity.
Bass, a former Celtic who made countless midrange jumpers playing with the most recent Big Three and in the first two years of the Brad Stevens era, recently finished an unsatisfying season with the Clippers, appearing in 52 games and averaging just 11.1 minutes.
It’s been a difficult two years for the 6-foot-8-inch, 250-pound Bass since the Celtics chose to sign Amir Johnson and allow Bass to leave via free agency. He played the 2015-16 season with a putrid Lakers team, the career small/power forward playing backup center in many stretches.
Bass thought he would have a more pivotal role with the Clippers, backing up Blake Griffin for his former Celtics coach, Doc Rivers. But Bass mostly sat the bench. At 32, Bass said he still has a lot of basketball left. And over 12 seasons he’s played only 758 games. By comparison, 32-year-old LeBron James has played 1,061 regular-season games.
“With the Clippers things didn’t go as planned, for whatever reason,” Bass said. “Every time I stepped on the floor my production level was at an all-time high. So my whole thing, I hope people make sure they judge what I did in my time more than anything else because I can’t control the politics of basketball all the time. I’m better than I was when I was in Boston, it’s just all about the perception of things.”
The analytics back up Bass. In his short stint with the Clippers, Bass’s player efficiency rating was 19.7 (a career high and well above the league average of 15) and he also shot a career-best 57.5 percent from the field.
Bass was signed to supplement the Clippers’ bench, but it was a difficult season for him and the team. The Clippers, mired with injuries and chemistry issues, underachieved and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Jazz, dropping Game 7 at home after winning Game 6 in Salt Lake City.
“It was probably one of my most challenging situations to date,” Bass said. “I felt and all of my teammates felt that I could really help the squad. But Doc had other plans. He’s the coach and you can’t really get upset about that. I prepared every day like I was going to play 30 minutes a night, and when I got the opportunity I hooped every time. I was a professional the whole way. Everybody knows I’m a professional. I work my butt off. I helped my teammates. It was just challenging because of why I felt I was there. I felt I was there to push Blake and [center DeAndre Jordan]. We were never able to get really good chemistry as a second group or even as a team.
“There was no reason for that group [not] to get out of the first round. It was very disappointing to lose to the Jazz. That team was not supposed to beat us and they know that.”
Bass could become a victim of the shrinking NBA middle class created by the escalating salary cap. Teams have spent big money on free agents — signing many to bloated contracts — but it’s late July and most teams are done spending, so middle-class free agents are often forced into minimum contracts.
Given his age and his lack of production last season, Bass is trying not to become an afterthought. He always has kept himself in top condition and been a model teammate.
“I feel better than I did in past years,” said Bass, who averaged 10.6 points over four seasons with the Celtics. “Since I didn’t play much last year, I feel even fresher. Once the season was over with, I never stopped training. I’ve shot over 6,000 threes. I’ve taken all those threes just to add on to my game. All I need is an opportunity to what I do.
“The perception is I’m not better than I was in Boston with the Big Three, and I’m a better player than that today. I added more range. I’m a better defender.”
Bass was wise to add a 3-point shot. Most power forwards are now expected to stretch the floor. Bass is known as a knockdown midrange shooter, but he has attempted only 58 3-pointers in his career, 32 in his final season in Boston under Stevens.
So, Bass is trying to reinvent himself 12 years into his career, attempting to convince interested teams that he can step out and knock down the three. During his years with the Celtics, Bass was appreciated for his midrange prowess, but that is no longer a priority.
“I bring a variety of different things,” he said. “I bring a midrange game, my post game, offensive rebounding, defense, physicality, and with all that being unselfish in a stat-chasing league. I know my stats haven’t looked as great as other guys’ because other guys stat chase, and I never was a stat chaser.”
Bass will continue to work and wait for another chance. He just finished conducting both of his annual basketball camps in Louisiana. They are free. He is present every day. The kids get free school supplies. The camp he conducts at his former high school (Capitol in Baton Rouge) he tries to cap at 100 kids, but no one is turned away.
“In certain situation I get teary-eyed because I know I was once them,” Bass said of his campers, some of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds. “When they see me and be in awe of me, it lets me know how blessed I am. It’s seems like a gift I’m giving them but it’s actually a gift for me that I’m giving myself, being in their presence. They know it’s all love.”
JAZZING IT UP
Utah has keeper in guard Mitchell
One of the biggest surprises of the Las Vegas Summer League was Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who impressed with his scoring (28 points per game), defense, and toughness. The 6-3, 210-pound Mitchell entered the draft after his sophomore season at Louisville, and the Jazz made a draft-night trade with the Nuggets (relinquishing former lottery pick Trey Lyles) to get Mitchell. The move looks like a winner.
Mitchell, selected 13th overall by Denver, was a top high school baseball player — his father played in the Houston Astros’ system — before a wrist injury suffered while chasing a popup led to him focusing solely on basketball.
“It was tough [giving up baseball], but at the same time my heart was in basketball,” Mitchell said. “I still have a love for baseball. At Louisville everybody was coming up to me [at baseball games, asking why I didn’t play] so I just stayed tucked in a corner watching, breaking down different scenarios.”
Mitchell has embraced former NBA guard Baron Davis as a mentor. Davis was yelling instructions to Mitchell during summer league games.
“It’s great when you have someone who’s been in the pros and been through it to kind of guide you along,” Mitchell said. “It definitely helps.”
Mitchell played stellar defense against the larger Jayson Tatum of the Celtics in the Utah Summer League. Mitchell has the potential to be a gritty combo guard who can score.
“When you look at point guards now, what is a traditional point guard compared to a Steph Curry or a Kyrie [Irving] or a John Wall or a Damian Lillard?” Davis said. “Every point guard has their different styles. I think someone like him, because of his size, has an opportunity with his ballhandling skills to do well. He’s got wingspan. He can shoot. He has size.”
Davis has been working with another Jazz guard, Dante Exum, who will have more responsibility given the departure of Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. Exum was taken a pick ahead of Boston’s Marcus Smart in 2014 but missed the 2015-16 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He returned to play 66 games last season and offered a glimpse of his potential with a 15-point outing in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Warriors.
“It’s a matter of getting [Exum’s] game to where he wants it to be,” said Davis. “Just [listen] to his ideas about who he is and what he wants, just build a game and whole package of basketball skills around who he is. That’s what I want to do with a lot of these young likes, like a consultant.”
Davis, whose career ended with an ugly knee injury with the Knicks in May 2012, has embraced coaching young point guards, in addition to his many other interests.
“I know I can get guys better,” he said. “That’s what I like to spend my time doing. [Young point guards] have it tough because it’s all new for them. It’s like a different approach than the two levels that you’ve been at. And for the first time you become the one that’s doing the listening because in order to be a great leader you have to listen.”
New plan in place for the Clippers
After the Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Rockets, when he opted into the final year of his contract to facilitate the deal, they pursued a trade for Danilo Gallinari, costing them Jamal Crawford in a three-team deal with the Nuggets and Hawks.
The Clippers are taking a chance that Gallinari, a former lottery pick, can stay healthy and become a capable partner for Blake Griffin. Coach and team president Doc Rivers said the Clippers want to change their style, getting away from Paul completely orchestrating the offense and relying more on finding the open man. Rivers repeated the word “versatility” several times after acquiring Gallinari.
“What I have done most of my coaching career is have a ball-movement style of offense,” Rivers said. “I think with Gallo and with Blake we’ll be able to do that. More so in some ways. Everybody else on our team, we want to be that versatile. That’s the style I want to play and that’s the way we’re going to play.”
It seemed the Clippers tried matching arms with the Warriors, and they failed miserably. The Clippers have lost 10 consecutive regular-season meetings, and the last five have been by double digits.
The Clippers could have tried to bring back Paul on a maximum contract that would have lasted until he was 37, re-sign Griffin, and essentially return the same team that has faltered for five years.
Or they could revamp the roster with more versatile players.
Hence, the additions of Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, and Sindarius Thornwell to join Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Austin Rivers.
“A lot of teams make mistakes when they’re trying to match up with the Warriors,” Rivers said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to beat the Warriors playing the way the Warriors play. I think the way to do it is build your team the best way you can build your team and hopefully that will be enough. One of the things that I looked at, I wanted to get bigger, not smaller. I wanted to get more versatile with our bigs. You can get big and slow or you can be big and versatile. I think we’ve become big and versatile. I think that’s a way of being very effective in our league, as well.”
Executive vice president Lawrence Frank, a former Celtics assistant coach, said the Clippers’ strategy was to become dramatically different after Paul’s departure. The team did not seek a point guard to replace Paul, instead deciding to retool the roster with complementary players around Griffin. Gallinari is central to that plan.
“We went into this offseason ready to be light on our feet. Obviously after the Chris Paul trade we knew exactly the direction we wanted to go,” Frank said. “Doc and the front office team had targeted skill sets we needed to address. That’s why acquiring Danilo was so important. Regardless of what our team looked like, Gallo was always a guy we wanted on our team regardless of scenario. I think you always have to look at how you’ll get your team better and how you’re going to improve. The league is a little bit copycatish and sometimes those trends change and I think you want to be at the forefront of it. I think we have respect for Golden State and other teams in the league, but we have to do what’s best for us.”
Gallinari’s accomplishments were overshadowed in Denver. He hopes, four years removed from a torn ACL, he can become the impact player many expected, on a bigger stage and with more talent surrounding him.
“We have everything that we need in every position on the court,” Gallinari said. “We have a lot of options, and the more we’ll play together the better the chemistry will be and the better we’ll be as a team. We don’t have any weaknesses. One of the most exciting parts of playing on this team is playing with two big men [Griffin and Jordan] like this, that I never played [with] before. I’ve only played against them. It’s not easy to play against them.”
Given he is more of a finesse forward, Gallinari said he sees a nice mix with the more physical Griffin.
“We can play together at different positions,” Gallinari said. “I can play the three, he can play the four. In some situations, he can play the three, the five, I can play the four. I’m honestly very, very excited about that part of the game, especially.”
Nets general manager Sean Marks has had few first-round draft picks after inheriting the aftermath of the trade with the Celtics, but he continues to use available salary cap space to stock the roster with young talent. On draft night, he moved center Brook Lopez to the Lakers for second-year guard D’Angelo Russell and the final three years of Timofey Mozgov’s contract. Marks used the first-round pick acquired from the Wizards in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal to draft Texas center Jarrett Allen, and this past week he traded the contract of Andrew Nicholson to the Trail Blazers for sharpshooter Allen Crabbe. The Nets had enough cap space to withstand Crabbe’s $18.5 million per season over Nicholson’s $6 million, giving them a starting small forward nearing his prime. The Nets won’t make the playoffs next season but will be more competitive. Jeremy Lin, Crabbe, Russell, and DeMarre Carroll, along with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Isaiah Whitehead, make for a decent young core that will play hard under coach Kenny Atkinson . . . The Celtics are working on a two-way contract for second-round pick Jabari Bird. Two-way contracts allow players to play mostly in the G-League but spend a maximum of 45 days with the big club while earning a prorated NBA salary. It’s a way of keeping second-round picks and free agents playing in the G-League instead of heading overseas for more lucrative contracts. Bird played well in the Las Vegas Summer League and is likely to join G-League Maine along with Kadeem Allen, also a second-rounder . . . Jared Sullinger looks as if he’s ready for another NBA opportunity after flourishing in The Basketball Tournament. But four weeks into free agency and with many teams having already reached the salary cap, there may be few options for Sullinger besides a minimum contract. Sullinger is expected to consider an offer from the Chinese Basketball Association. Sullinger, 25, missed most of last season after slowly recovering from foot surgery. He has had two foot surgeries and a back procedure in his five-year NBA career.
The Pelicans added guard Rajon Rondo, on a one-year deal, to orchestrate their offense. The 11-year veteran is one of the most adept distributors in league history, ranking ninth among players with more than 700 career games in assists per game.