NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Forget like or dislike, Spurs and Heat just want the title — The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat square off in Game 1 of The Finals tonight (9 ET, ABC) and perhaps one of the storylines will be whether or not the teams dislike each other. Spurs star Tim Duncan addressed that topic during yesterday’s Finals media day, as did Heat star LeBron James … and so did just about every other player on either side of the matchup. The overall view to take away, as our Steve Aschburner writes, is not about who likes/dislikes whom, but that both teams are simply gunning for a championship — feelings be damned:
With all the yammering about shared respect and mutual dynasties heading into these 2014 Finals, you might expect to find the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, some night this week, strolling hand in hand along the Riverwalk on a moonlit night.Veteran Miami forward Udonis Haslem made it clear Wednesday, that ain’t happening.
“Just because this series may not be as physical as the Indiana series or may not be as physical as a [past] Chicago series,” Haslem said, “does not mean we like these guys any more.”
An absence of like might not be the same thing as an active dislike, but it’s a reasonable starting point for a potentially long, best-of-seven series that might lend itself to emotions and subplots in ways the 2013 Finals did not. It would take some doing – the Spurs don’t typically seek out headlines, the Heat see no one on San Antonio’s roster who can play the Lance Stephenson knucklehead/pest role.
But if the series is low in vitriol, it still will be high in competition, both sides’ dials cranked hard to the right to take rather than give.
“I don’t think it’s animosity,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “Indiana wants what we have – and you could tell, there was animosity on their part. We didn’t give much credence to that, and it wasn’t reciprocal. The Spurs are different. They’ve had serial success over a decade and a half. They want what’s out there and we want what’s out there. It’s not so much they want what we have or we want what they have.”
“I think that’s why this series was so great last year: It was about basketball,” Battier said. “It wasn’t about talk. it wasn’t about controversy. It was an awesomely officiated series last year – there were no refereeing controversies. There were no technical fouls, no flagrant fouls. It was about basketball.
“How novel for the NBA Finals to be about basketball. I expect the same sort of respect, and it being about the game, as it should be.”
No. 2: Olympic matchup with Heat’s future Big Three helped Spurs’ Mills — One of the key pieces in the San Antonio Spurs’ run to The 2014 Finals is reserve point guard Patty Mills. Known mostly last season for his towel-waving antics on the bench, Mills entered the 2013-14 season in great shape and quickly became a steady part of the Spurs’ rotation. In fact, the Spurs might not even be here were it not for Mills. He stepped in and kept San Antonio steady in the second half of a Game 6 West finals win over the Oklahoma City Thunder while star point guard Tony Parker nursed an ankle injury. Our John Schuhmann has a great story about how Mills learned during the 2008 Olympics that he had NBA potential:
The first time I saw Patty Mills was in the summer of 2008. We were in Shanghai and his Australian national team was playing a pre-Olympic exhibition against Team USA, a roster that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
That summer together had an impact on the Big Three eventually getting together with the Miami Heat. It’s a big reason why they’re here in San Antonio for The Finals, trying to win their third straight championship. It’s also a reason why Mills and the Spurs are here too.
Playing without Andrew Bogut in that exhibition game, the Boomers spread the floor and allowed an unknown point guard, who had just completed his freshman season at St. Mary’s College in California, to go to work. Mills proceeded to dart through the U.S. defense, causing problems for some of the best players in the world. Against the likes of Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, this 19-year old was making a name for himself. The U.S. won the game, but it was its toughest test of a five-game exhibition slate. A couple weeks later, the two teams met again in the Olympic quarterfinals and Mills scored 20 points in just 28 minutes.
Mills played a total of 31 minutes in last year’s postseason. The only Finals games he played in were Games 2 and 3, both blowouts. This year, he’ll have a much larger role, especially if Tony Parker isn’t 100 percent.
It was after last year’s Finals that Mills realized what he needed to do to get that larger role.
“First and foremost,” Mills said Wednesday, “I had to earn the trust [of the Spurs’ coaches] and earn the right to play. For me, it started with my fitness. My strength is my speed and my quickness. And I thought that if I could get in the best shape of my life, without even talking about any basketball skills yet, everything would kind of fall into place.
“So I went right back to basics, and it was almost like a lifestyle change. I was really strict about what I did in the kitchen, in the gym, and in the weight room. And it really changed a lot of things. From then, I worked back up to eventually getting back on the basketball court and specific stuff there.”
With the Spurs’ second unit, Mills shares ball-handling responsibilities with Manu Ginobili, but he’s still a big factor that the Heat have to worry about. Along with that quickness comes a much-improved jumper. He’s a ball-handler that can pull up at any time and make you pay for going under a screen. And if he catches fire, he can change a game.
Mills is one of the reasons the Spurs are a better team than they were a year ago. He went from towel-waiver to impact player.
”We wouldn’t be here without him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He was great off the bench for us this year and always gave us a good jolt of energy in several different ways.”
No. 3: Van Gundy, Pistons trying to figure out next move with Monroe— The Detroit Pistons introduced Jeff Bower as their new GM yesterday and now that he is in the fold working with coach/team president Stan Van Gundy, it’s time to get to work. The first job for the Pistons’ new front-office braintrust is to figure out what to do with restricted free agent big man Greg Monroe. Perry Farrell of the Detroit Free Press explains that Van Gundy has talked with Monroe and his agent, David Falk, and plan to talk with Monroe again in about 10 days:
Van Gundy has a very high opinion of the young power forward and made sure the media knew he had met with the Louisiana native, who is a free agent and stands to make more than the $3.218 million he made last year, the last under his rookie contract.
“Before you talk about style of play we have a current roster right here, right now and we’ve got to build around that, and I think a key piece around that right now is the Greg Monroe situation as a restricted free agent,” Van Gundy said. “What’s going to go on there? With Greg and Andre (Drummond) you certainly have to play a little bit differently than we played in Orlando. That doesn’t mean you still can’t find a fit.
“We have two of the best young guys in the league. I value Greg Monroe highly. I do want him here, but obviously when you’re dealing with a free agent, even restricted free agents, the situation gets a little more complicated.”
Van Gundy has met with Monroe and agent David Falk.
“We’ve sat down face-to-face and they know how highly I value him,” Van Gundy said. “Greg Monroe is a very good young talent. He has great offensive skills. He has very high character. Those are things we value a great deal. I hope he’s here for the long haul.”
Van Gundy admitted the trio of Josh Smith, Drummond and Monroe could play together, but shouldn’t be on the floor for long stretches. In looking at film, Van Gundy came to the conclusion that the three spent too much time on the floor together. He talked in terms of a three-man rotation between power forward and center and the coaching staff having to find ways to help Monroe defensively against quicker power forwards who give the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder problems.
“I’ve tried to sell him on our vision,” said Van Gundy. “I told him I have a pretty good track record with big guys being successful.”
No. 4: Carter-Williams ignorning trade talk — The lone bright spot — both for the season and perhaps for the future — for the Philadelphia 76ers last season was found at the point guard spot. Michael Carter-Williams stampeded his way to the Rookie of the Year trophy and dazzled Philly crowds with his athleticism, playmaking and promising skills. It seems strange, then, that he might be on the trading block, but that was exactly the talk coming from ESPN.com last week. Carter-Williams told The Intelligencer‘s
Michael Carter-Williams has heard the rumblings and insists they don’t faze him.
Last week’s espn.com report claimed general manager Sam Hinkie and the Sixers have “bounced around” the possibility of trading Carter-Williams, the 2013-14 NBA Rookie of the Year, and are intrigued by 18-year-old Australian point guard Dante Exum, who is projected to go in the top five of the June 26 draft.
Asked Wednesday if he’d be surprised if he’s dealt, Carter-Williams replied, “Nothing — I’ve heard rumors and everything like that. I’m not a big believer in rumors. If it was serious, I would’ve been contacted by somebody, so I’m not paying attention to it.”
Carter-Williams said agent Jeff Schwartz hasn’t even bothered to check with Hinkie about it, though he agreed that Hinkie trading all-star point guard Jrue Holiday in June 2013 shows anything is possible.
In an exclusive interview after Wednesday’s appearance at Gwynedd-Mercy Elementary School, Carter-Williams said his right shoulder “is coming along good” after surgery to repair the labrum on May 6, one day after becoming just the Sixers’ second NBA Rookie of the Year (Allen Iverson is the other).
He said he’s “not sure yet” if he’ll be able to play for the Sixers’ entries in the Orlando Pro Summer League (July 5-11) and NBA Summer League (July 11-21) in Las Vegas, though it’s hard to imagine that happening. Recovery time from labrum surgery typically varies from two to five months.
An NBA source doesn’t expect Carter-Williams to play in the summer leagues.
There’s no timetable for his return, according to Carter-Williams.
“I’m just going along based on how I feel, really,” he said, adding that he’s just rested the shoulder for the past month and hasn’t “really tried anything specific” with it.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hornets big man Al Jefferson is progressing nicely from his foot injury …Speaking of the Hornets, they will officially bring back “Hugo” as their mascot today … Danilo Gallinari looks to be ready for training camp … A bit of a mathematical look at how and when the Cavs tend to hire their new coaches … Shawn Marion wants to make another title run and isn’t necessarily sold on re-signing with the Mavericks … A late-season, little-known moved saved the Chicago Bulls from the luxury tax threshold … Ex-Knicks point guard and former New York prep star Mark Jackson explains why playing for or coaching the Knicks isn’t for everyone …