NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Popovich moves on to new era with Spurs — It will be strange sight come Oct. 25 when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Golden State Warriors (on TNT) and there’s no Tim Duncan lining up for the opening tipoff. Duncan’s retirement is something many Spurs fans are probably still getting used to or getting over, but that hasn’t been the case for coach Gregg Popovich. In a chat with Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express News, Popovich talks about his expectations for 2016-17 and what may be next for Duncan.
He and his staff leave for the West Coast on Friday for their annual retreat, where, as Popovich said, “the arguing will begin.”
Included on this retreat is Monty Williams, the onetime Spur and former head coach of New Orleans. Williams has officially joined the Spurs, though Popovich is still unsure whether Williams will work from the bench or from R.C. Buford’s box.Otherwise, Popovich says this is business as usual. “Same culture, same philosophy,” he said. “I only know what I know. We’ll hang our hat on defense. We just don’t have the greatest power forward of all-time playing for us anymore.”
They still have him around, though. Duncan hasn’t been in the Spurs’ practice facility every day this summer, but he was there this week. He hits the weight machines, does some shooting, hangs around the guys.
You could still use a backup center, couldn’t you?
Popovich laughed. “I can’t look inside those knees.”
Popovich has told Duncan to come around, to be here, to do what he wants. “If he wants to go on a scouting trip, fine. If he wants his own station in training camp, he has it. He’s in charge. He can tell me exactly what he wants to do. But I’m not paying him a penny.”
Most in the organization think Duncan will eventually join the franchise in a full-time capacity. They guess he won’t coach but will instead focus on personnel. Duncan has long been intrigued by the methods that Popovich and Buford use to identify talent.
Duncan has at times disagreed with their decisions only to be proven wrong. He’s curious why.
For now Duncan is standing in the background as an observer, and his own adjustment is jarring. For nearly two decades he has spent his summers building his body to withstand an NBA season. Now he can eat as much carrot cake as he wants without the need to burn off the calories.…
Popovich will want Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to be more demonstrative, filling the leadership void left by Duncan, and then there’s Pau Gasol. He not only brings Duncan-like skills to the team, he creates a familiar pastime for Popovich. Whereas Popovich was once consumed with rationing Duncan’s minutes, now he can be as obsessed with preserving Gasol.
“As a coach you deal with what is there,” Popovich said, “and I’m excited about what we have.”
Brett Brown, the longtime Spurs assistant who is now the coach of the 76ers, saw this coming years ago. He always thought Popovich could coach without Duncan the player, but that moving on without Duncan the friend would be tricky. Brown, after all, was around for the carrot cake deliveries.
“Pop will miss Timmy more from a relationship standpoint than a basketball standpoint,” Brown said this week. “And considering how great Timmy was, that is saying something.”
Brown compared Popovich losing Duncan to how he felt dropping off his daughter at college this month. You know the transition is natural, you know this is what has to happen. But there’s a gnawing loneliness.
“Absolutely,” Popovich said. “I have a hole in my gut.”
No. 2: Nowitzki holds off on committing about future — Dirk Nowitzki re-signed with the Dallas Mavericks this summer and is on board for his 19th season with the team. As for season No. 20 in Big D? That is anything but a certainty. This stance is nothing new for Nowitzki, who has somewhat toyed with the idea of leaving the only NBA team he has known for one last title shot somewhere else. Nowitzki shared his thoughts on his future and more before his celebrity tennis event at SMU writes ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon:
Dirk Nowitzki plans to play at least two more seasons for the Dallas Mavericks. That’s not a promise, however.
“I always said I wanted to kind of take it year by year,” Nowitzki said Thursday while promoting a celebrity tennis event he will host Sunday at SMU. “But signing a two-year deal doesn’t mean I necessarily have to play those two years. I think we’ll see how next year goes, how the body responds, and then we’ll make that decision again next year. But obviously, I would love to play the next two years and then just see how it goes.
“By that point I’m turning 40, and that’s already up there in age for the NBA, so we’ll just have to wait and see how the body responds next two years.”
Nowitzki never gave serious consideration to leaving Dallas, the only NBA home he ever intends to have, and originally agreed to a two-year, $40 million. He ended up with a $50 million deal after Mavs owner Mark Cuban insisted on paying the longtime face of the franchise more, although only $5 million is guaranteed in the second season.
“He’s been incredibly loyal to me, and I’ve shown obviously that I’ve wanted to be here last couple years,” said Nowitzki, who would join Kobe Bryant as the only players to NBA history to play 20 seasons with only one franchise if he completes the contract. “And I think he wanted to reward me in a way. It makes me obviously feel great and feel wanted. I’m happy that I can finish my career here in Dallas, where I always wanted to be, and hopefully finish strong the last couple of years.”
No. 3: Brown fired up about Sixers’ season — It is hard to find an NBA coach who has watched his players’ on-court growing pains and suffered more losses in the last three seasons than Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown. Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Brown as he has a young, talented squad that will add three marquee rookies (Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric) to a roster that added some solid veterans in the offseason. In an interview with local media, Brown shared his outlook for 2016-17, writes Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Brown spoke to the local media at a South Philadelphia restaurant on Thursday and his passion and enthusiasm were as strong as ever.
“Given our experience together, from where we were to where we are now, how can we all not feel a breath of fresh air, a new bounce, a higher level of hope and an excitement that together we haven’t experienced for awhile?” Brown said.
Brown said there are several reasons for the optimism, beginning with the expected debut of center Joel Embiid after missing his first two NBA seasons following foot surgeries. There is the addition of No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, the 6-foot-10 passing whiz from LSU who can play anywhere from power forward to point guard.
Forward Dario Saric, acquired in a 2014 draft-day trade, will be making his debut after playing in Turkey the last two years.
There are veteran additions in guards Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriquez, who is returning to the NBA after six years with Real Madrid.
Plus, there is the anticipated progression of young players Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington, and Jerami Grant.
With Embiid, Okafor and Noel, the Sixers have three centers, probably one too many. It’s still possible that Noel or Okafor could be traded, but Brown would have nothing to do with any speculation.
“I will coach them until they are not [here],” Brown said.
As for the health of Okafor, who underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on March 16, Brown says the knee is fine.
Okafor recently rolled his ankle, but Brown expects him to be ready when the team begins training camp Sept. 27 at Stockton University.
Brown praised Okafor for being in excellent physical condition.
The fourth-year Sixers coach also had high praise for Noel, although pairing him and Okafor together didn’t bring favorable results last season.
“Nerlens has elite gifts,” Brown said. “He is athletic, quick off the floor, and as quick to the rim as anybody I have coached, as any big man in the league.”
Brown said he couldn’t make a starting lineup at this point, although he did talk about the point guard position.
“If the season started today, you give Jerryd Bayless the ball and go from there,” he said. “I feel there will be times you will see Ben Simmons with the ball as the traditional point guard.”
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