Posts Tagged ‘Boris Diaw’

France bounces back on Day 2


VIDEO: Mike Fratello talks about the depth of international competition

GRANADA, SPAIN – Entering Day 2 of competition in Group A at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Serbia-France looked to be the game of the day. And it didn’t disappoint, as France came back from an 11-point deficit to pick up a much-needed 74-73 win in the final seconds.

Joffrey Lauvergne, acquired by the Nuggets in the 2013 Draft, hit the game-winning free throw with 1.1 seconds on the clock after drawing a foul on Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica.

This was a much different performance for France than we saw in Saturday’s loss to Brazil. Nicolas Batum didn’t have a big game, Boris Diaw was saddled with foul trouble and Evan Fournier couldn’t make a shot, but their offense was much more efficient than it was the day before, scoring 74 points on just 67 possessions.

It was starting center Lauvergne and reserve guards Antoine Diot and Edwin Jackson who provided big lifts. Both scored 15 points and were a part of a huge 10-0 run that got France back in the game early in the third quarter. Jackson assisted Diot and then scored six straight (including a four-point play) on the run.

Lauvergne (19 points, six rebounds, 7-for-10 shooting) played as many minutes in the first quarter on Sunday (10) as he did against Brazil. He was matched up against and severely out-sized by Raduljica (21 points, seven boards, 8-for-13), but used his mobility to make it a pretty even matchup.

“Raduljica is big,” Batum said afterward. “He’s a problem on offense. But Joffrey’s more quicker than him. So, he moves a lot and did a great job for us.”

Lauvergne tied the game with 1:31 left on beautiful feed from Diaw and had a half a step on Raduljica on a broken-play drive from the foul line when the Serbian center was called for the game-deciding foul.

Lauvergne looked to be a little out of control and Raduljica was clearly upset about the call. But he held his tongue after the game. Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion, however.

“Every bad call that was called today,” Djordjevic said, “was called against us.”

He said he didn’t have a good look at the Raduljica foul, but was more unhappy with a no-call on the other end of the floor. After Diaw tied the game with a drive with 18 seconds left, Phoenix Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic drove into traffic off a screen from Raduljica and lost the ball out of bounds with 4.8 seconds left, leading to France’s final possession and Lauvergne’s free throw.

A French defender had reached in on Bogdanovic, and Djordjevic wanted a foul on the play.

“It was a tie game,” Djordjevic said. “There was four seconds left. We would have had two shots. It was definitely a foul. It was a bad call.”

Djordjevic wasn’t the coach four years ago, but this is the same team that felt it got hosed against hosts Turkey in the semifinals of the 2010 World Championship, a game Turkey won on a play in which Turkish point guard Kerem Tunceri appeared to step out of bounds.

With Egypt and Iran also in Group A, Serbia shouldn’t have any problem qualifying for the knockout round. But they’re now 0-1 in games between the four best teams in the group, with matchups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) still to come.

France, meanwhile, is 1-1. The European champs are missing Tony Parker, but look stronger after getting big games from some of their role players. And after the United States and Spain, this tournament appears to be wide open.

So, after Saturday’s loss, this was huge for both Group A placement and France’s prospects down the line.

“You never know,” Batum said about how far his team can go. “It’s basketball. You get a lot of surprises sometimes.”

More notes from France 74, Serbia 73…

  • Bogdanovic got off to a great start, scoring or assisting on Serbia’s first 13 points. There was a smooth-looking, catch-and-shoot 3, a runner in traffic, and a nice dime to a slipping Raduljica. But he shot 2-for-9 after that (missing a couple of open 3s late), with three turnovers and no assists over the final three periods.
  • So it was interesting to see Serbia put the ball in the hands of the 22 year old, instead of veteran Milos Teodosic (who was also on the floor) for the final possession. “He can finish the game,” Djordjevic said of Bogdanovic. “The other players believe in him. He believes in himself. I believe in him. That’s his job.”
  • Nenad Krstic has long been one of Serbia’s best players, so it was a bit startling to see the 31 year old not playing at all on Sunday. He’s recovering from knee surgery, but Djordjevic called it a “technical decision.” “The way Raduljica played, we didn’t need Krstic in this game.”

Other games of note…

Group B: Croatia 90, Argentina 85

Croatia barely squeaked by the Philippines on Saturday, while Argentina blew out Puerto Rico. So it was a bit of a surprise to see this result a day later.

Dario Saric continues to look like a fascinating NBA prospect, even without a pretty smile. Reportedly, Saric had six teeth knocked out by an elbow from Andres Nocioni (of course). But he continued playing and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in just 25 minutes. He’s a big dude who moves well and has skills. And it’s a shame the Sixers won’t get him for another two years.

The Nets waited three years for Bojan Bogdanovic. The incoming rookie had another solid game, leading Croatia with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting (3-for-6 from 3-point range).

Luis Scola led Argentina with 30 points. The guy who averaged 27.1 points in the 2010 World Championship is now averaging 27.0 after two games in Sevilla. #FIBAScola is a legend.

Group B: Senegal 82, Puerto Rico 75

Maybe Argentina’s Day 1 win wasn’t that impressive, because Puerto Rico is clearly the biggest disappointment of the World Cup so far. And now, with an injury to Carlos Arroyo, they look to be in danger of finishing fifth or sixth in their group and not qualifying for the knockout rounds.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, #FIBAArroyo sprained his right ankle in the first minute of the second and was sent to the hospital for testing. Puerto Rico won the first quarter, 29-21, but scored just 46 points after that, with J.J. Barea shooting 4-for-12.

Gorgui Dieng had another big game for Senegal, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking two shots. Senegal looks good for the knockout rounds if it can beat the Philippines on Thursday.

More Day 2 notes

  • Incoming Bulls rookie Cameron Bairstow shot 6-for-7 in Australia’s easy win over Korea. Restricted free agent Aron Baynes has totaled 34 points and 17 boards in two games.
  • The Dragic brothers combined to score 40 points on 14-for-16 shooting (5-for-6 from 3-point range) in Slovenia’s 89-68 win over Mexico. Slovenia’s effective field goal percentage through two games? A ridiculous 67.3 percent.

Big games on tap for Monday

Groups C (Bilbao) and D (Gran Canaria) have the day off. But there will be a couple of intriguing games wrapping up action in Sevilla and Granada.

  • Puerto Rico is now desperate for a win. They’ll face 2-0 Greece (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) in Group B action.
  • Spain gets its first real test, facing Brazil in the Granada nightcap (4 p.m. ET).
  • NBA TV will also have #FIBAScola and Argentina vs. Andray Blatche and the Philippines at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Brazil gets biggest win of Day 1


VIDEO: USAB: Rose on FIBA Schedule

GRANADA, SPAIN – Group A of the FIBA Basketball World Cup not only has the most NBA players, but also four of the best teams in the tournament. So every day of pool play in Granada will bring at least one big game. Four teams from the group will advance to the knockout rounds, but a higher placement will likely get you an easier opponent in the round of 16.

So Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

The French are missing Tony Parker and a couple of their NBA centers. They don’t have any time to recover from this first loss, because they play a very tough Serbia team in Sunday’s first game.

Brazil gets Iran on Sunday before facing tougher tests against Spain (Monday) and Serbia (Wednesday). It’s passed the first one, knowing that any win in the first game was important.

“For us, it’s a big win, even if it wasn’t France,” Huertas said. “It’s not a definite step, but it’s a great step.”

More notes from Brazil 65, France 63 …

  • Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is in Granada to see Evan Fournier (whom the Magic got in the Arron Afflalo trade in June) play. But Fournier was the 11th guy to get in the game for France, entering with 3:06 to go in the first half. He went scoreless with two turnovers in just 8:25 of action.
  • Utah’s Rudy Gobert has potential. He didn’t look comfortable when there was someone between him and the basket, but he had a couple of athletic dunks off feeds from Florent Pietrus and blocked two shots. A few seconds after missing an ugly jump hook, he actually blocked Splitter without leaving his feet.
  • Nene got a couple of buckets off pick-and-roll feeds from Huertas late in the third quarter and grabbed eight rebounds, but otherwise had a rough night. He shot 2-for-6 and committed four turnovers.

Other games of note …

Group A: Serbia 85, Egypt 64

As expected, this was an easy win for Serbia, which pulled away with a 25-12 third quarter. Milos Teodosic led the way with 15 points, hitting four of his six 3-pointers.

  • Miroslav Raduljica is a hoss, and much bigger than anyone on Egypt’s roster. Starting at center for Serbia, he racked up 10 points and six rebounds in just 12:32 of playing time. He made like Moses Malone on a first-quarter possession that was going to end with either a layup by him or a foul, because he kept missing and Egypt had no chance of outmuscling him for the rebound. It properly ended with an and-one.
  • Raduljica was waived by the Clippers (via the stretch provision) on Friday, just three days after they had acquired him from Milwaukee. After one season in the league, he said he wants to stay (though it was “a little cold in Milwaukee”). He said he’s only heard rumors about any other teams that may want him and “I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen next.”
  • Suns draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic is listed at 6-6, but appears to be a bit shorter. He played neither great nor poorly on Saturday. He dished out four assists and was a game-high plus-23, but took just three shots (all 3-pointers). And it would have been hard to tell how NBA-ready he really is against this opponent anyway. France (Sunday), Brazil (Wednesday) and Spain (Thursday) will provide better tests.
  • After Brazil’s win over France, Splitter was asked about Serbia. His response: “I would say they are more talented than France. France is a very talented and athletic team, but Serbia, they know how to play basketball. They have a very good school of basketball, always.”

Group B: Croatia 81, Philippines 78 (OT)

This was the game of the day, as the Philippines came back from 15 points down to take a three-point lead with a little more than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. After Croatia came back to tie it, the Philippines’ Jeff Chan missed a jumper at the buzzer that would have given Gilas the huge upset.

They took a two-point lead in overtime, but Bojan Bogdanovic put Croatia up for good with four free throws and the Philippines didn’t get a foul call on the game-tying three at the buzzer.

  • NBA free agent Andray Blatche, playing for the Philippines, scored the team’s first two points, but was 1-for-9 from the field early in the second quarter, settling for jumpers. He then got the Croatian big men to bite on a couple of his shot fakes, got to the rim a bit more, and hot nine of 15 shots after the slow start. He was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, hitting a big one to tie the game late in the fourth. He finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Croatia’s Bogdanovic, not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdanovic, looks like he could be a solid player for the Brooklyn Nets this season. He led Croatia with 26 points on 7-for-14 shooting, getting his buckets in a variety of ways.
  • The Philadelphia Sixers look like they’ll be getting a player (eventually) in Dario Saric, too. He’ll have better tests later in the tournament and was able to take advantage of the size discrepancy (the Gilas power forwards aren’t very big) in this game. But he he also made some nice off-the-ball cuts and showed an ability to handle the ball in the open court, as he did in this highlight from Tuesday’s exhibition win over Lithuania.
  • Pacers incoming rookie Damjan Rudez had one smooth-looking, step-in jumper, but didn’t look too good otherwise. He shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with just four points in 14 minutes

More Day 1 notes

  • Serge Ibaka sat out Spain’s game against Iran. According to Spanish TV, he has a sore hamstring.
  • Group B saw a matchup of #FIBAArroyo and #FIBAScola, who are both *better than their NBA counterparts. Carlos Arroyo didn’t have it on Saturday though, and Luis Scola led Argentina to a 98-75 win over Puerto Rico with 20 points (on just 10 shots) and nine rebounds. J.J. Barea led Puerto Rico, which totaled only five assists, with 24 points. Pablo Prigioni had 10 of Argentina’s 22 assists.
  • * The opposite is true of #FIBANene
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo took just two shots from the field, but filled the box score with 11 points, five rebounds and three steals in Greece’s 87-64 win over Senegal. Gorgui Dieng led Senegal with 21 points and 14 boards.
  • Goran Dragic paced Slovenia to an important 90-80 win over Australia in Group D with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova shot just 1-for-7 for the Aussies.

Big games on tap for Sunday

  • Dominican Republic-New Zealand (6:30 a.m. ET) could ultimately be for fourth place (and a trip to the knockout rounds) in Group C.
  • Argentina-Croatia (7:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be an important game for seeding in Group B, though it could be a mismatch given the way the two teams played on Saturday.
  • Serbia-France (9:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) will be the day’s big matchup in Granada, with France needing to rebound from Saturday’s loss to Brazil.
  • If Dieng’s Senegal team is to have any chance of making the top four in Group B, it probably needs to beat Puerto Rico (1:30 p.m., ET).

World Cup stacked with NBA players


VIDEO: USA tops Puerto Rico in exhibition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James was always taking the summer off from competitive basketball. Kevin Love decided to do the same just before the U.S. National Team opened training camp in Las Vegas last month. But there are still reasons for Cavs fans to watch the FIBA World Cup, which begins Saturday in Spain.

The Cavs are one of two teams that will have four players taking part in the World Cup. Kyrie Irving, of course, will start (at least some games) at point guard for the United States. He’ll face new teammate Erik Murphy, playing for Finland, in the USA’s first pool-play game.

Murphy, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, may not necessarily be on the Cavs’ opening-night roster. Only $100,000 of his $816,000 contract is guaranteed, the Cavs are already over the 15-man roster limit, and they’ve yet to sign Shawn Marion.

Irving has already faced Brazil’s Anderson Varejao in an exhibition game. And he could go head-to-head with his Cleveland back-up — Australia’s Matthew Dellavedova — in the knockout round.

The Rockets are the other NBA team that will have four players at the World Cup. James Harden, the Dominican Republic’s Francisco Garcia, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas and Greece’s Kostas Papanikolaou will all represent the Rockets in Spain.

Papanikolaou is one of five incoming rookies at the tournament. The others are the Bulls’ Cameron Bairstow (Australia), the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia), the Jazz’s Dante Exum (Australia), and the Pacers’ Damjan Rudez (Croatia).

Croatia’s Bogdanovic is not to be confused with Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was selected in this year’s Draft by the Suns and will play at least two years in Turkey before coming to the NBA. The Serbian Bogdanovic is one of six guys taken in the last two drafts who has yet to come over.

The others are Alex Abrines (OKC, Spain), Arselan Kazemi (PHI, Iran), Joffrey Lauvergne (DEN, France), Raul Neto (UTA, Brazil) and Dario Saric (PHI, Croatia). (more…)

Popovich doesn’t see end of Spurs’ road


VIDEO: Despite an “exit interview” after the latest NBA title win, Popovich is going nowhere

Remember during the playoffs when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that on the day Tim Duncan finally walks out the door on his NBA career, he’ll be 10 minutes behind him?

Maybe it’s time for us to start envisioning the 38-year-old Big Fundamental rolling on past 40. Or 42. Or…

That’s because Popovich seems to be making no plans to leave soon, agreeing to a multiyear extension to continue as head coach of the team he’s led to 967 wins and five NBA championships since taking over on the bench 18 games into the 1996-97 season.

With all the uncertainty and turmoil that has kept the waters churning through the free agency period this summer, the Spurs have simply kept rowing their boat straight ahead.

Where’s LeBron James going? Who knows? What’s Carmelo Anthony thinking? What does it matter?

In San Antonio, there are ties — and professional goals — that bind.

The confetti was practically still falling from the rafters of the AT&T Center when Duncan announced that he was picking up the option on his contract and returning for 2014-15. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also under contract through the end of next season. The Spurs wasted no time in signing free agents Patty Mills and Boris Diaw to new deals. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is eligible for an extension, but nobody at all is worried that it won’t get done.

Popovich has often joked that his wagon is hitched tightly to Duncan’s. But during The Finals, Pop said that he wanted to continue and didn’t see any reason to stop.

One reason Popovich would stop, maybe, is his age — 65. But he’s often said that once you’ve had a couple of bottles of wine and taken a few weeks off, there’s nothing else to do except plan for the next training camp and the next season.

The other reason, of course, is that things won’t be quite so easy once Duncan really does hang it up.

But there is also that part of Popovich that will enjoy the challenge. Following right behind Duncan would be too easy.

Seeing the franchise make the transition into the next era behind Leonard and whatever new faces come in will be too much for a career teacher to resist.

The Spurs way is not cutting corners, not skipping steps. There will come a time when Popovich walks out the door, but not until he knows the organization he helped mold into a model franchise knows where it’s going.

Boris Diaw won’t miss chance to repeat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

The multifaceted Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Most Versatile Man in the world doesn’t want to miss out on one of the rare opportunities in the world: The repeat.

That’s right, Boris Diaw will re-sign with the newly minted champion San Antonio Spurs. Diaw, the 6-foot-8 power forward, small forward, point forward, shooting guard, whatever, announced via Twitter on Sunday evening that he’ll be hanging around for a few more years.

That’s music to the ears of Spurs fans who fretted that Diaw might seek (and find) a larger payday elsewhere after his magnificent, all-around performances in the NBA Finals. Instead, Diaw will remain with the team that in many ways resurrected his career when it plucked him off the Charlotte Bobcats’ trash heap in March 2012.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Diaw and the Spurs reached an agreement on a three-year deal worth $22.5 million.

The Spurs have managed to reach agreements with two critical players off a bench that made San Antonio arguably the deepest team in the league. Last week the Spurs came to terms with backup point guard Patty Mills, who will miss a chunk of next season because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. They get both players on reasonable deals, securing the services of both for the next three seasons at around a combined $11 million per year.

Contracts cannot be officially signed until the league’s moratorium comes to a close on July 10.

Diaw provides Gregg Popovich‘s team tremendous versatility and it was on full display during the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then in the NBA Finals in the Spurs’ five-game triumph over the Miami Heat.

Diaw scored 26 points in 36 minutes of the series-clinching Game 6 of the West finals when point guard Tony Parker was lost for the second half with an ankle injury. Popovich inserted Diaw into the starting lineup starting with Game 3 of the Finals after Miami’s smaller lineups took Game 2 in San Antonio.

Diaw, 32, replaced the bigger, less mobile Tiago Splitter, and put together three memorable performances in Games 3, 4 and 5 — all Spurs blowout wins — averaging 7.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 6.0 apg.

According to Wojnarowski, the third year of Diaw’s deal is not fully guaranteed. Diaw will be guaranteed $18.5 million over the first two years of the deal.

While the Spurs are keeping their own, they will continue to pursue free-agent center Pau Gasol. San Antonio is limited to offering its full mid-level exception of $5.3 million.

Otherwise, the champs will look very much the same when they open training camp in October. Before the start of free agency, Tim Duncan opted into the final year of his contract, and Manu Ginobili put off retirement for at least another year.

Still in the crosshairs of this club that has won four championships with the Big Three going back to 2003 is celebrating in back-to-back seasons.

Diaw apparently didn’t want to miss out on such an opportunity.

Five free agents that just can’t get away

Eric Bledsoe's potential departure from Phoenix would be a big blow to the franchise.

For the Suns to keep rising, they must re-sign the tough, spry Eric Bledsoe (left).

Most teams go into the free agency period saying they have every intention of hanging onto their players. They value them. They respect them. They’re ready to pony up and reward them. Truth is, in some cases, they can’t afford to let players that have become an integral part of the team and their identity walk out the door. It goes without saying that the Heat are all in to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So putting them aside, here’s the top handful of free agents that are just too valuable to let get away:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Knicks (unrestricted) — The new boss of Madison Square Garden Phil Jackson can keep trying to play hard ball and insist that Anthony accept less than a maximum level contract this season. But that truth is the Knicks need Anthony far more than he needs them. His options are many, from joining the Bulls or Rockets to try to lift them to the elite level, becoming another Hollywood star with the Lakers or even going to Miami to raise the temperature with the Heat. The Knicks’ options, if ‘Melo bolts, might include just leaving the ice down permanently at the Garden and letting the NHL Rangers play twice as many home games. Since LeBron has opted out this summer, the fantasy of chasing the game’s biggest name and best player will go back on hold in New York for another several years. The Knicks don’t have the assets to swing a deal for Kevin Love. They have a new coach in Derek Fisher. The declining Amar’e Stoudemire handcuffed the team further by deciding to opt in for $23.4 million. By keeping Anthony, the Knicks give fans a reason to show up or turn on the TV. Without him, they’re irrelevant.

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Suns (restricted) — Never mind that they picked up rookie Tyler Ennis on draft night. When he was healthy for 43 games last season, Bledsoe was a difference-maker and likely could have lifted Phoenix into the playoffs if he’d been around for the full season. Though there might be a few who’d question his durability, Bledsoe is a 24-year-old sheer talent with a very high upside. He and backcourt partner Goran Dragic can both slide over to play shooting guard. But it’s running the show as a 1 where Bledsoe has the potential to carry the Suns into the future and could even crack the All-Star lineup in a very crowded Western Conference backcourt race. General manager Ryan McDonough has vowed to match any offer that comes his way. Bledsoe needs to be the foundation on what the Suns are building in the desert.

Boris Diaw, Forward/Center, Spurs (unrestricted) — You almost never want to tell the Spurs that one individual not named Tim Duncan means so much, especially after they’ve just picked up championship No. 5 by demonstrating that the team concept can outshine superstars by a wide margin in The Finals. But the point-guard-in-a-big-man’s-body Diaw was a very large part of that accomplishment, shifting the balance of power in the series against the Heat when he moved into the starting lineup. There was a great deal of talk on Draft night that the Spurs got the next Diaw-type player in forward Kyle Anderson. But this is a team where the clock is ticking loud and the championship contending days for this bunch will come to an end in another year or two at the most. Anderson will be fine for the next generation, but the Spurs need their crafty passer, good rebounder and underrated defender to stick around in order to have a shot at hanging up banner No. 6.

Marcin Gortat, Center, Wizards (unrestricted) — Yes, the Wizards will have to overpay, but that’s just a fact of life when you’re talking about a big man. Especially when it’s a big man coming off a season of averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and anchoring the front court on a team that is built around guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Gortat is simply solid at both ends of the ball, helping with the efficiency of the offense and stepping up to the play the role of large body stopper at the other end of the floor. In short, he just fits. Plus, the 30-year-old gives Washington a veteran’s sense of perspective. If it comes down to a choice between Gortat and fellow free agent Trevor Ariza, it’s really no choice at all. While Ariza’s defense on the perimeter and streaky offense are nice to have around, the big man keeps everyone grounded and gives the Wizards credibility in the East.

Lance Stephenson, Guard, Pacers (unrestricted) — Was it the moment that he blew in LeBron’s ear? Or when he gave the King that little chuck on the chin? At some point during the Eastern Conference finals virtually everybody leaned in a little closer to the HDTV screen and asked: “What in the world is Lance thinking?” Of course, the answer might have been nothing at all. Surely, the Pacers will have to think long and hard about how far they’re willing to open the wallet for a 23-year-old with a crazy streak. But that’s just it — Stephenson is just 23 and if club president Larry Bird can eventually get through to a player who has been a personal favorite, this team finally reaches its potential. If they let Stephenson get away, the Pacers are giving up part of their identity, their edge and simply take a step back into the soft middle of the standings. Yes, he’s a risk. Yes, he’s going to be infuriating. But yes, Indiana has to keep him.

Another big bang of free agents on tap

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Most scientists believe it was roughly 14 billion years ago when a single point exploded to create the universe. Of course, it was a more thoroughly documented Big Bang four years ago that blew a hole in the NBA space/time continuum, sending the celestial bodies of LeBron James and Chris Bosh south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Two championships and four Finals trips for the Heat later, the potential for another explosion is on us.

Carmelo Anthony’s declaration that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks was the first stick of dynamite ahead of the July 1 start of the annual free-agent scramble. Then, Tuesday, LeBron told the Miami Heat that he was going to test the waters, too.

You can feel the ground quiver as the movers and the shakers in the league start to do their thing …

Who has the space?

There are a lot of big-name free agents on the market — or there will be July 1. But the number of teams who have enough space under the salary cap that would enable them to sign some of those big-money players … well, that’s a lot smaller. Here’s a list:

Miami Heat: Up to $55 million, assuming virtually everyone opts out of contracts.
Dallas Mavericks: Up to $32.4 million
Utah Jazz: Up to $29.6 million
Philadelphia 76ers: Up to $29.0 million.
Phoenix Suns: Up to $28.4 million.
L.A. Lakers: Up to $28.2 million.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Up to $23.4 million.
Orlando Magic: Up to $22.2 million.
Detroit Pistons: Up to $22.0 million.
Charlotte Hornets: Up to $19.5 million.
Atlanta Hawks: Up to $13.9 million.
Milwaukee Bucks: Up to $13.0 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: Up to $12.0 million, if Zach Randolph opts out of his final year.
Chicago Bulls: Up to $11.3 million if they use their one-time amnesty on Carlos Boozer.
Boston Celtics: Up to $9.3 million. (more…)

Ginobili’s in; World Cup could feature more than 50 NBA players


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili Exit Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Tony Parker was happy to remind everyone that he’d be taking the summer off after winning his fourth championship. Tim Duncan made his feelings regarding FIBA known after the 2004 Olympics. But Manu Ginobili couldn’t resist making one more run with his national team.

After The Finals, Ginobili was unsure if he’d take part in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. But he announced over the weekend that he’ll represent his native Argentina one more time, with the blessing of his wife. He’ll join fellow NBA players Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola to put Argentina in the mix for a medal.

When they’re at their best, no national team plays prettier, Spurs-like basketball than Argentina. And Ginobili’s presence is obviously a big boost to what was one of the top offenses at the 2010 World Championship. The Bucks’ Carlos Delfino has expressed his interest in playing for the 2004 Olympic champs as well, but is coming off two surgeries on his right foot that kept him on the sidelines the entire 2013-14 season.

Though Parker won’t be representing France and injuries will keep Al Horford (Dominican Republic) and Andrew Bogut out, there could be more than 50 current NBA players representing 16 different countries at the Basketball World Cup. That list includes five more Spurs: France’s Boris Diaw, Brazil’s Tiago Splitter, the U.S.’s Kawhi Leonard, and Australians Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.

Diaw and Splitter will meet in Group A, which could have as many 20 NBA players representing Brazil (four possibles), France (seven), Serbia (three) and Spain (six). Spain, the tournament’s host and silver medalist in each of the last two Olympics, is obviously the biggest challenger for the U.S., which will compete in Group C and which has won 36 straight games under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In January, the U.S. named 28 players to a preliminary roster for the next three summers. They have commitments from Kevin Durant and Kevin Love to play in the Basketball World Cup. They could also have a healthy Derrick Rose and the Finals MVP.

The U.S. will open a five-day training camp in Las Vegas on July 28. They’ll also train in Chicago and New York before making their way to Spain. The Basketball World Cup tips off on Aug. 30 and concludes with the gold medal game on Sept. 14.

In addition to the 50-ish current NBA players, there could be more than 20 former NBA players and several more players whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams.

Spurs belong with all-time elites


VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)

Spurs’ redemption makes game better


VIDEO: Spurs storm past Heat for their fifth NBA title

SAN ANTONIO — It was a season that the Spurs attacked like the world was their piñata, determined to keep hitting and hitting it, smacking and banging it until one day it would burst open.

When the prizes finally fell at their feet on Sunday night, it was relief and release and redemption.

“It makes last year OK,” said Tim Duncan.

He hugged his two kids. He wrapped Manu Ginobili up in a bear hug. He clamped a headlock on Kawhi Leonard. And he practically swallowed Gregg Popovich up in a grin that was as big as Texas.

Twelve months ago, there were the last 28 seconds of Game 6, Duncan’s own missed put-back in Game 7, followed by a year that probably seemed longer than a journey across purgatory on a lawn mower.

It drove them, but not to distraction. It pulled them along, but never pushed them over the edge. It, OK, spurred them with just enough sharp pain in their flanks to know they never wanted to feel that again.

“We wanted to redeem ourselves,” said Tony Parker.

It was a relentless, astonishing campaign of atonement through artistry, reshaping that ugly lump of lost opportunity into the basketball equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.

The Spurs won a league-best 62 games during the regular season and then sculpted a playoff drive that only got better as it went on and culminated with this jaw-dropping masterpiece against the two-time defending champion Heat.

In the process, the Spurs reintroduced the world to what it means to play the game at its purest form, the linear descendants of the 1960s Celtics and the 1970s Knicks, who share the ball and take away the breath of anyone who has ever loved the game.

Quite fitting that the culmination came on the opening weekend of the World Cup. So often called “the beautiful game,” futbol looks like a faded starlet with too much mascara when compared to these Spurs.

There are more passes in an average Spurs offensive possession than a singles bar on a weekend night, more cuts than a butcher counter, more bodies moving than in an earthquake. Their style of play practically comes with a musical score you can hear in your head.

They are the 38-year-old Duncan spinning in the paint to knock down turnaround jumpers, the 36-year-old Ginobili reaching into his past and rising up to throw down a thunderbolt dunk over Chris Bosh and the 32-year-old Parker conducting the symphony.

Now the Big Three have the 22-year-old company of Leonard as Finals MVP for a franchise that has stretched excellence over 15 years with five championships.

“Great coaches, persistence, drive and a love for the game,” said Duncan.

They wanted LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh and the rest of the South Beach spectacle that are the Heat precisely because they were the ones who benefited from the Spurs’ mistakes a year ago and that loud backdrop would make the brushstrokes of the Spurs’ collaborative game practically leap off the canvas.

This wasn’t a mere beating of Miami. They couldn’t have pulverized the Heat more by using a mortar and pestle.

The Spurs were the black velvet jeweler’s cloth that shows off the flaws in a low-grade diamond. They shot the ball better than any team in Finals history against a team that prides itself in playing a disruptive, smothering defense. They won all four Finals games by 15 points or more and it was an NBA-record 12th time in their 16 playoff wins with such a margin.

After dominating the first quarters of the first four games of the series, the Spurs devilishly spotted the Heat a 16-point lead in the clincher and then stepped on their throats.

James battled valiantly with his 31 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots, but he might as well have been a lamb taking on a pack of wolves. By the middle of the third quarter, if his teammates were any deader there would have been guys in white coats standing around waiting to harvest organs.

The plight of the four-time MVP James trying to carry the entire Heat cause on his shoulders was in direct contrast to the Spurs roster that is deeper than a philosophy class at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

They had Boris Diaw doing sleight-of-hand passing, rebounding and taking his turns playing defense on James. They had Tiago Splitter mixing it up under the basket and doing throwback Larry Bird impersonations with touch passes in the lane. They had Patty Mills from halfway around the world, the first Indigenous Australian to reach The Finals, slinging in killshot 3-pointers. They had the flinty Popovich to keep them looking ahead even while feeling the sting of the past like lashes on their backs.

With the exceptions of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres, they were all there a year ago in Miami when the dagger went in and the blood of remorse first rose up their throats and gave them a hint of what rejuvenation, reinvention, redemption might taste like.

“Last year was a tough one for all of us,” said Ginobili. “We felt like we had the trophy, that we were touching it, and it slipped away. It was a tough summer. We all felt guilty.

“Last year made us stronger.”

Now the game is better for that.