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Morning shootaround — Sept. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

League, teams hoping to create social change | D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets | Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million | Road back-to-backs most dangerous

No. 1: League, teams hoping to create social change — In the wake of more deaths of black men at the hands of police and protests in Charlotte, the NBA and the Player’s Association sent out a joint letter to players about plans to take action and promote social change. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan released a statement calling for peace in the city. And talking with the media on Thursday, Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers said that his team will put together a panel to discuss the issue. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story…

As police-involved fatal shootings of black men continue to rock the nation and spark protests in cities and on playing fields, Myers recognizes that Golden State has a unique platform to create positive change.

But before players and coaches can be part of the solution, they must understand the issues. Myers and head coach Steve Kerr recently brainstormed ways to raise awareness of social injustices. Among the ideas is a panel of civic leaders, a list of names for which already has begun.

“We need to practice to play basketball,” Myers said. “But if one day, Steve walked in and said to (our players), ‘We’re not practicing today. We’re actually gonna go meet with these four people.’ That’s much more important and the players, we feel, will carry that with them.”

“What’s happening out in society, that’s not good,” Myers said. “It’s much more important than dribbling the basketball and making shots. What we’re going to try to do as an organization is take some opportunities to try to have these conversations.”

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No. 2: D’Antoni needs buy-in from Rockets — After a successful, five-year run in Phoenix, Mike D’Antoni had less-than-mediocre results in New York (where he went 121-167) and L.A. (67-87). Now D’Antoni is in Houston and as it does in every other NBA gym at this time of year, optimism abounds. The key for the Rockets, according to D’Antoni, is getting the players to buy in and believe in the system. Bleacher Report‘s Maurice Bobb spoke to the coach and Rockets GM Daryl Morey about their hopes for the season …

D’Antoni says he doesn’t think too much about his time in L.A. and New York, but he’s certainly aware of the main issues that plagued those locker rooms.

“I could never get the guys from the beginning to buy into the way we want to play,” D’Antoni told Bleacher Report. “We never got everybody going into the same direction. That was my fault. It happened. That’s in the past. This is a new team. Guys want to play the way we all want to play.”

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is betting that a change of scenery is all D’Antoni needs to flourish again. To Morey, a career .650 winning percentage over five years in Phoenix speaks louder than the well-publicized flameouts in the NBA’s biggest markets.

“The players are improved under him, the teams have improved,” Morey told B/R. “After he’s left, the teams have done worse. We also have had a lot of success playing an uptempo, spread-floor style. Our players fit that, and having his level of experience and knowledge added to our personnel, which is already set up for his style of play, was a huge factor in us hiring him.”

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No. 3: Lue’s hesitation was worth more than $25 million — When the Cavs fired David Blatt with a 30-11 record in January, they didn’t want to just make Tyronn Lue an interim coach. They offered him a three-year contract. But Lue never signed it, and it wasn’t necessarily because he thought he could get more money if he won a championship. As Joe Vardon writes for Cleveland.com, Lue wanted to make sure the job was right for him. And his hesitation resulted in a much more lucrative deal after the Cavs won their first title…

Lue, 39, knew what he was getting into when he took over for David Blatt last January. He knew Blatt was fired (Lue was Blatt’s chief assistant) despite a 30-11 record and a trip to the 2015 Finals.

He knew of the heightened scrutiny and brighter lights that come with coaching a team led by James, whose every word is dissected by media and fans and who can set off a firestorm with a simple Tweet.

That’s why Lue, born in little Mexico, Missouri, never signed a three-year, $9.5 million contract he had verbally agreed to with the Cavs when they promoted him to take Blatt’s job.

It wasn’t so much that Lue was betting on himself, although the gamble paid off handsomely. He steered Cleveland to the largest comeback in Finals history to win the franchise’s first title, and thus earned an annual raise of more than $4 million.

Lue held off, he said, because “I wanted to make sure it was the “right fit.”

“Was I right for this job?” Lue said, rhetorically. “I hate being on TV, hate dealing with media on TV. All that stuff, I don’t like that. Being with LeBron, who draws all kinds of attention, I knew I was going to see myself on TV. I hate that. I like to fly under radar. I wanted to make sure the fit was right.”

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No. 4: Road back-to-backs most dangerous — ESPN‘s Tom Haberstroh has the numbers on the increased frequency of occasions where healthy players get a day off to rest, from 19 in 2012-13 to 146 last season. He also talks to professor Masaru Teramoto, who has done a study on injuries in the NBA…

In a study provided to ESPN.com that will be published publicly in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport later this month, Teramoto researched three seasons of NBA injury data, from 2012-13 through 2014-15, in an attempt to determine if certain aspects of the schedule — in particular, back-to-backs and travel — led to players getting injured in games.

What Teramoto found surprised him: Back-to-backs alone are not associated with greater instances of in-game injury, but back-to-backs that are played on the road are significant predictors of in-game injury, generating 3.5 times the injury rate as those played at home.

The problem? Two out of every three back-to-backs are on the road.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap has a knee issue that will keep him sidelined for the next few weeksThe Kings have questions at point guard … Grizzlies.com caught up with a few of the team’s key players to get an update on their recovery from last season’s injuriesDorell Wright is going to camp with the Clippers … and Jason Terry doesn’t think Klay Thompson is in James Harden‘s league.

Millsap gets a checkup

It’s never a good time to get medical attention but at least Paul Millsap won’t miss any regular season time while the Hawks addressed issues with his right knee.

The team announced that Millsap just underwent a “preventative procedure” to reduce swelling and already declared him out of the team’s first two preseason games. That essentially means Millsap is on the shelf for three weeks at minimum.

“We agreed … that this was the best method and time to ensure his complete readiness for the start of the regular season,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer in that statement.

That’s good news for the Hawks and Millsap, who was an ironman last season, missing only one game (rest) and hasn’t had a significant injury in his time with the Hawks. Millsap is also in a contract year, with the option of nixing next year’s guaranteed money ($21 million) and becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The only downside of Millsap missing half of the Hawks’ preseason is timing; Dwight Howard has replaced Al Horford in the starting lineup and needs to develop chemistry with Millsap.

Millsap led the Hawks’ in scoring and rebounding last season in what was yet another solid season in Atlanta.

 

Bucks get Beasley from Rockets

The Bucks say they were already working on a deal before Khris Middleton suffered a torn hamstring that will keep him on the shelf for six months. But a timely trade that brings in forward Michael Beasley from Houston could help fill that sudden hole in the offense.

The trade that sends point guard Tyler Ennis to the Rockets was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

Beasley, 27, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, will be joining his fifth NBA team. After washing out in his second go-round with the Heat in 2015, Beasley resurrected his career in China last season, averaging 31.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals for the Shandong Golden Stars. He was signed by the Rockets in March and averaged 12.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 20 games.

Ennis was the 18th pick in the 2014 draft by Phoenix. Last season, he appeared in 46 games with seven starts for the Bucks.  Over the final 18 games, he averaged 7.6 points, 3.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds in just 23.6 minutes per game while shooting 48.3% from the floor.

With the signing of free agent Matthew Dellavedova over the summer, 6-3 point guard was going to have a tough battle for playing time in Milwaukee. Ennis will provide the Rockets with depth behind veteran Pat Beverley at the point.

The trade of Beasley could be a signal that the Rockets are confident in reaching a deal with restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who is still unsigned less than 24 hours before the club’s media day on Friday.

Garnett talking buyout with Wolves

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kevin Garnett‘s career may be over.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves are in talks about a contract buyout.

Garnett, who missed the last 37 games of last season (and the last 21 games of the previous one), had one more year (at $8 million) on a contract he signed with the late Flip Saunders last summer. His Instagram feed indicates that he’s been working out, but he’s been silent publicly.

Earlier on Wednesday, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Garnett was talking to Wolves owner Glen Taylor about his future.

“Glen and Kevin and his representatives are in discussions,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll keep that private for now, and we’ll see how it unfolds. But, obviously, what Kevin has meant to our league, the organization, he’s earned the right to have those discussions with Glen.”

Garnett played less than 15 minutes per game last season, but was a mentor for Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. The 2003-04 MVP and ’07-08 Defensive Player of the Year ranks 17th on the all-time scoring list and ninth in career rebounds.

If Garnett has indeed decided to retire, he will join Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in the prospective 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Bucks lose Middleton for six months

HANG TIME, N.J. — The first major injury of the 2015-16 season has hit, and training camps haven’t opened yet.

The Milwaukee Bucks announced Wednesday night that Khris Middleton is out six months with a left hamstring injury that will require surgery.

The Bucks signed Giannis Antetokounmpo to a $100 million extension on Tuesday, but Middleton (entering his fifth season) is still their best player. Last season, the team was 12.4 points per 100 possessions better with Middleton on the floor than they were with him on the bench. That differential ranked 10th in the league among players that logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

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In his absence, Bucks coach Jason Kidd will have to get creative with his perimeter rotation. Second year guard Rashad Vaughn and rookie Malcolm Brogdon should see more playing time than previously expected.

The Bucks are reportedly making calls, looking for more help.

The list of free agent wings who are still available includes P.J. Hairston, who worked out for the Brooklyn Nets (who chose to sign Chase Budinger instead) this week. Because the Bucks are above the cap, they wouldn’t have the ability to outbid the Cleveland Cavaliers for the still unsigned J.R. Smith.

After a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2015, the Bucks took a big step backward last season, especially defensively, where no team saw a bigger jump in its points allowed per possession. Even if they are able to come up with a Plan B, Middleton’s injury will prevent them from getting completely back on track.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry not himself during Finals | Kevin Love on being Westbrook’s college teammate | Giannis now cornerstone of Bucks

No. 1: Curry not himself during Finals – Anyone who saw Stephen Curry during the regular season, when he won his second straight MVP (and did so unanimously), and during the last month of the playoffs knew that he wasn’t 100 percent. That’s not to offer an excuse — remember, the Cavs didn’t have Kyrie Irving for all but one game during the 2015 Finals — but it was the sad reality for the Warriors and their franchise guard. Curry says he still hasn’t gotten over Game 7, and discussed that and more with Sam Amick of USA Today:

From here until the end of his Hall of Fame-bound career, the piece of film that likely will haunt him most is the NBA Finals Game 7 loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Say what you will about all of the factors that weren’t in their favor — Curry’s right knee injury that slowed him until the end, the Andrew Bogut absence in the last two games because of a knee injury, the Draymond Green suspension in Game 5 that led to a series-turning loss — the championship was theirs for the taking again.

The fact that Curry missed 13 of 19 shots, including 10 of 14 from three-point range, when it mattered most only made the offseason worse. He finished with 17 points, two assists and four turnovers in the finale.

“I still haven’t gotten over Game 7,” Curry told USA TODAY Sports during a break in the shoot. “That’s something that will stay with me pretty much forever, for good and bad reasons. Obviously you hated the feeling, but it’s also a motivator to come back even stronger and try not to have that feeling again.

“I’m at that point now where I can try to fuel any kind of terrible nightmares or thoughts about Game 7 into motivation for how I’m going to prepare myself for this year.”

And therein lies the saving grace for Curry and the new-look Warriors: they’ll be the cause of night terrors for the rest of the NBA soon enough.

If there were a cure for this kind of hoops hangover, the arrival of Kevin Durant should have been it. Less than two weeks after the Game 7 loss, not long after Curry and a band of other Warriors players, coaches and executives recruited the former Oklahoma City Thunder star in a Hamptons mansion, the Warriors got the word that the biggest fish in the free agency was coming their way. But Curry’s recovery was far too complicated for that to be the quick fix.

Those first few days were the roughest of them all, he admits, especially for someone who has always taken such pride in not letting his work life affect him at home. The Cavs had made history at Oracle Arena, becoming the first team in league history to recover from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win it all while winning two of the final three games on the road. LeBron James, who many believed had lost his unofficial title as the game’s best player to Curry before he re-seized that status, had celebrated in their halls as if he owned the place.

Even the smiles of Curry’s two young daughters, Riley and Ryan, and the support of his wife, Ayesha, couldn’t soothe that initial sting. Ditto for the golf outings with President Obama, the late-night talk-show appearances and the annual trip to China with Under Armour that were to come.

“Starting with that night (of Game 7), it kind of was like a surreal feeling at home, kind of like, ‘What just happened?’ because we were so confident we could get it done,” Curry said. “Human nature kind of took in, where I was a little down — kind of naturally. But I was able to kind of just get away, go on vacation with the family (in Hawaii), get in front of the next generation at a couple (basketball) camps, still be around the game but not be depressed at all and understand we’re playing for the Finals and hopefully get another chance at it next year.”

In a way, it’s apropos that the Warriors lost the what-if way. A year before, it was the Cavs who were left with questions regarding injuries: What if Kyrie Irving hadn’t broken his kneecap in Game 1, or if Kevin Love’s dislocated shoulder hadn’t ended his season in the first round against the Boston Celtics? This time, it was the Warriors’ turn to wonder what might have been.

Brandon Payne, Curry’s personal trainer who is based in his hometown of Charlotte but trains with him in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a front-row seat.

“The first day I saw him after (Game 7), we both just had a moment of, ‘Well that really sucked,’ ” Payne said. “But after that, we haven’t really talked about it. We just moved forward.

“It’s one of those things where we know it happened, right? We don’t have to (watch the tape). We know what happened, and we have a pretty good handle on why it happened. We’ll just focus on getting him ready for 82 games (next season).”

But not before Curry would rest in a way that spoke volumes about his health.

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul touched by HOF trip | Report: Smith to skip Cavs’ mini-camp | Report: Meeks set to return in November | Stevens says veterans will push Brown

No. 1: Trip to Hall of Fame resonates with Paul – LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this summer with the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award for his work with his organization, the Chris Paul Foundation. Initially, Paul was hesitant to come out to Springfield, Mass., for the event, but since then has drastically changed his tone about both the Hall itself and has a newfound respect for his the game at large. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com has more:

Chris Paul admits it — he viewed his trip to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last week as a bit of a nuisance.

It wasn’t the first time the Hall had reached out, but it was the first time the nine-time All-Star finally acquiesced.

“They ask,” Paul conceded to ESPN.com, “but you think, ‘I’m busy’ or ‘Oh no, it’s too far,’ or ‘I have too much other stuff going on.”’

During his tour of the birthplace of basketball, Paul was moved by the stories of African-American pioneers who were banned from hotels and restrooms that welcomed their white teammates. He delighted in locating the plaque of Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the legendary African-American college coach at Winston-Salem State, just miles from where Paul grew up.

It prompted a reflective Paul to deliver one of the most memorable and impassioned speeches from an elite player who wasn’t actually being inducted.

“Today was my first day having the opportunity to come here, and it was kind of touching,” Paul told the audience upon accepting his award. “If not for this game, I am not here. If not for this game, my family is not in the situation we are in. And so I’m grateful for this game and what it has done for me and my family …”

With his voice breaking, and tears welling, Paul pressed on.

“It really hit me today being here around all the history that we take so much for granted,” he said. “And I know I do [that] a lot of times.”

Before long, as Paul shared the story of how he pressured his parents to buy him a pair of Allen Iverson‘s signature shoes, he had Iverson — a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee — weeping, too.

“To be here on his special day … man, this game has taken me places I never imagined,” Paul said. “Guys, you gotta come see this, because it’s bigger than any of us.”

“I haven’t never been here before, and as I walked in I actually felt bad about it,” Paul said. “It hit home today, in a big way, what this game has done for me, and the people I love. You walk in and you see all the history and you realize, ‘I need to support this.’

“I’m one of those people who, my wheels get turning. You want other people to see this. You think, ‘Maybe it would be better if this was in New York or L.A.,’ but that doesn’t make sense. The game was invented here. There is where it has to stay.”

Paul, who is also president of the players’ union, said he plans to go back to his NBA brethren and encourage them to see for themselves how the pioneers of the game paved the way — and to spur them to give back.

“Every experience is different for every person, but this place? It got me,” Paul said. “I can’t wait to bring my son.”

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Antetokounmpo signs extension with Bucks

From NBA.com staff reports

The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the most versatile young players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo as the leader of a core group that includes Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-WilliamsKhris Middleton and rookie Thon Maker. The Bucks are making sure Antetokounmpo isn’t going anywhere in the future, as The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports he and the team have agreed on a four-year, $100 million extension.

Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also confirmed the report.

The team confirmed the deal shortly thereafter via an official statement:

 

The Milwaukee Bucks have reached an agreement with Giannis Antetokounmpo on a contract extension, General Manager John Hammond announced today.

Antetokounmpo, 21, appeared in 80 games (79 starts) last season and averaged career highs in points (16.9), rebounds (7.7), assists (4.3), blocks (1.4) and minutes (35.3). He became the first player in franchise history to record five triple-doubles in a season, and now ranks third on the Bucks’ all-time list for career triple-doubles.

Selected by the Bucks with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Antetokounmpo has career averages of 12.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 238 games (173 starts). He has improved his averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, field goal percentage and minutes over each season he has played in the NBA.

 

 

In 2015-16, Antetokounmpo set a team record for triple-doubles in a season (five) and averaged career highs almost across the board in every major statistical category. Under coach Jason Kidd, Antetokounmpo assumed many of the point guard duties last season and is expected to continue in that role in 2016-17.

 

Morning shootaround — September 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Marc Gasol is good to goSuppose there’s an anthem protest in Utah? | Unsigned JR Smith is still hopeful of being with Cavs

No. 1: Marc Gasol is good to go — The Grizzlies are one of the league’s mystery teams. Will Memphis be a 50-win club with reasonable post-season expectations? Or has time caught up with the Grit and Grind? Well, one thing in the Grizzlies’ favor is the return of Marc Gasol, whose season was cut short from a broken right foot. Gasol is also 32, but when healthy he’s one of the elite NBA centers. The subject of Gasol and other issues was explored recently by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

There won’t be a shortage of storylines. Several developments over the summer dramatically changed the roster and presented new head coach David Fizdale with plenty to ponder:

1. Gasol is healthy, but how quickly can he play at a high level?

Gasol is said to be a full participant with the Grizzlies after being inactive for several months, and the team plans to continue to proceed with caution. That Gasol didn’t play for Spain in the Rio Olympics wasn’t surprising given his devotion to being ready for Griz training camp. He suffered a fracture in the midfoot area, and despite the growing optimism, Gasol’s comeback won’t be easy.

Gasol will turn 32 years old in January, almost halfway through the season. So conventional wisdom would suggest that the Griz would initially put him on a minute restriction and allow the foot to strengthen for a strong stretch run.

There have been mixed results with big men returning from the injury over the past 15 seasons. Joel Embiid, a former Kansas Jayhawk, has yet to play in the NBA after suffering a midfoot fracture. Former Rockets center Yao Ming had a midfoot fracture during the 2008-09 season at age 29, and the injury essentially ended his career. Former NBA big men Brendan Haywood, Michael Olowokandi and Eric Montross never recovered.

Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is one of the success stories. The Griz believe they have every reason to believe that Gasol will be a positive exception, too.

2. What is the status of Jarell Martin and 2016 draft pick Deyonta Davis?

Martin underwent foot surgery after being drafted in 2015 and suffered a bone bruise and then required another surgery that cut short his season. Griz officials said that Martin returned to full basketball activity the past two weeks. Davis is doing strength and conditioning, and rehabbing after the team reported that plantar fasciitis in his left foot forced him to miss summer league play.

3. Could mounting injuries have cost athletic training Drew Graham his job?

The person hurting most this offseason might be Graham. He was fired, general manager Chris Wallace confirmed.

“We’re in the process of putting together a complete medical team,” Wallace said. “We’re revamping our approach to player care. He’s no longer our trainer. We wish him well.”

The Griz will not change team doctors.

Graham is believed to have two years remaining on his contract. The divorce is a bit curious given Graham’s history with the franchise and his accolades. Graham was named the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association’s Joe O’Toole Athletic Trainer of the Year after last season. The honor came after a season in which the Griz endured an unfathomable string of injuries and used an NBA-record 28 players while earning a sixth straight playoff berth.

The award recipient is recognized for exemplary achievement or outstanding service to the NBA, NBATA and his community. It is named after Joe O’Toole, a long-time former head athletic trainer of the Atlanta Hawks, long regarded as the father of the NBATA.

Graham recently concluded his 10th season as the Grizzlies’ head athletic trainer. He was also Vice President of Player Care, a promotion he received in 2013. Graham joined the Griz in 2006 after working the previous six seasons (2000-06) as an assistant athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach with the New Jersey Nets.

The Griz have not yet announced Graham’s replacement.

4. How will Mike Conley respond to a remarkable summer?

Shaquille O’Neal made the comment that “if Mike Conley gets $153 million, then (a team) would have to pay me $300 million (today)” during an interview as O’Neal entered the basketball Hall of Fame last weekend.

After recovering from a sore Achilles, Conley signed the richest five-year contract in NBA history at $153 million. Re-signing Conley was necessary to keep the Griz competitive and to preserve continuity.

Still, owner Robert Pera is embracing the risky nature of the business. Pera paid Dallas free-agent forward Chandler Parson a maximum $94 million, meaning there’s a bulk of the salary cap tied up in two players who have never made an All-Star team.

Conley has developed into a major cog of the Grizzlies’ Core Four. He’ll be forever judged by the contract — a la former Griz Rudy Gay. So after signing the deal, experiencing the birth of his first child (a son, Myles Alex Conley) and purchasing a $1.8 million home in Collierville, Conley now will be called upon to do major things on the basketball court.

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Popovich moves on to new era with Spurs | Mavs’ Nowitzki on future: ‘We’ll see how next year goes’ | Brown excited about Sixers’ season

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.

Accurate?

“Absolutely,” Popovich said. “I have a hole in my gut.”

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