So what would you say about the idea of paying $1.1 million for a big man who played almost 1,400 minutes for the best team in the league last season?
DeJuan Blair was a feel-good story for the San Antonio Spurs. He was taken 37th in the 2009 Draft and quickly became a contributor for a title contender, despite his lack of ACLs.
But Blair was replaced in the Spurs’ rotation by Boris Diaw late last season, and he played just 77 minutes in the playoffs. Then, there were reports that the Spurs might bring over Slovenian big man Erazem Lorbek next season, possibly pushing Blair further down the depth chart.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Guess who needs to get nasty again.
None of the Spurs are reprising the famous timeout call to arms from coach Gregg Popovich during Game 2, but they are noting that an attitude change is necessary heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference final tonight against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a rally cry from a team that has a 2-1 lead in the series and wins in 20 of its last 21 games.
It’s not strange, it’s the Spurs. They have achieved a rare level of greatness – consistent success, sometimes championship success, through years of roster alterations and change in style of play – by refusing to settle for one loss every seven weeks or so. They are also historically stable, though, in a way that going back as the enemy into arguably the best home-court advantage in the league, as the Thunder try to tie the series, does not cause alarms.
The setting is not a concern. But the approach is, with the Spurs knowing they have to bring a different attitude tonight as part of the admission that Oklahoma City was more aggressive Thursday in Game 3.
“They were hitting first,” said Stephen Jackson, a reserve swingman acquired at the trade deadline specifically because he would bring more of that edge to the locker room. “They were way more aggressive, they were way more physical. They flat out wanted the game more than we did, and it was obvious from the jump of the game. We’ve got to match their intensity from the jump and be ready to play and we can’t expect our three stars (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) just to bail us out every time.”
SAN ANTONIO – The cast on Tiago Splitter’s left wrist doesn’t mean he had an unexpected and violent meeting with the glass case of a fire extinguisher. It also doesn’t mean that alarm bells will be going off in the Spurs’ locker room if their center can’t be in the lineup for Game 2.
Boris Diaw will continue to start at center. But DeJuan Blair, who started 62 games at center during the regular season, will be the first big man off the bench. Blair entered the game when Splitter was ruled out for the second half of the series opener after getting hurt trying to break a fall. Blair played 10 minutes, scored five points and grabbed two rebounds.
“DeJuan Blair is ready to go,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. “He did a good job (in Game 1). He sat for a long time, but he came in and got right to it.”
SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich, coaching his 182nd playoff game with the Spurs, couldn’t have been more comfortable if he were lying on a raft sipping a cold drink. Ty Corbin, coaching in his first playoff game with the Jazz, was in water over his head.
Not that there weren’t a bevy of other reasons – Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Stephen Jackson – that pushed Utah under in Game 1, but the button-pushing Corbin didn’t help himself when he hit the one labeled “panic” when he changed up his plan of attack.
First, Corbin shifted his team’s look by putting Josh Howard into the starting lineup in place of DeMarre Carroll, who had part of the five-game winning streak that put the Jazz into the playoffs. Corbin said he was looking for playoff experience and reaching back to the days of 2006 and 2009 when Howard played in the postseason for Dallas against the Spurs. Howard didn’t score.
More importantly, Corbin did not use his big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors long enough to have any effect on the game. We’ll excuse Corbin for making a rookie mistake – he reacted instead of acting. He admitted to allowing Popovich and the Spurs to set the pace and the tone of the game by going small.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
With a little more than a week left in the season, who do you like for No. 8 in the West? What’s going to make the difference?
Steve Aschburner:Houston. It would be nice, at this late stage of their careers, to have Steve Nash and Grant Hill in the postseason again but Phoenix faces a gauntlet of tough foes down the stretch (Thunder, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Spurs) with only that last opponent likely to ease up pre-playoffs. Going by strength of schedule – the biggest remaining factor – the potential-maxing Rockets are in the best shape, with New Orleans twice, Golden State once and a game at Miami on Sunday that might find the Heat in playoff-prep mode. Utah finishes with three home games but one is against the plucky Suns.
Fran Blinebury:The Suns have had the longest climb and they have the toughest finishing lineup of opponents. But only one road game. They are playing free and fearlessly and having a lot of fun and that goes a long way at this time of the year.
Scott Howard-Cooper:Houston because of the veteran presence. Phoenix was my first instinct, for playing the best of the candidates. Then I looked at their closing schedule. The Thunder, the Clippers (in a back-to-back), the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Spurs. Only one road game, Tuesday at Utah, but very unfriendly. If the Suns make it, they will definitely have earned it. (more…)
This game is all about jockeying for playoff position. In the homestretch, the Spurs have two goals: To stay healthy and to catch Oklahoma City and gain home court advantage throughout the Western Conference post-season tournament.
The Lakers are intent on keeping the Clippers in the rear-view mirror by securing the third seed. And in doing so, the Lakers would face Dallas in the first round, a team they’ve swept in the regular season (4-0). Also, with Kobe Bryant‘s injured shin most likely to keep him on the bench, the Lakers have another chance to develop the offensive chops of his teammates — something that would undoubtedly make L.A. even tougher to beat in the playoffs.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Few teams understand their deficiencies the way the San Antonio Spurs do.
When the man in charge, Gregg Popovich, is the commander of the real straight-talk express, that’s just the way it has to be. So we’re sure that Popovich didn’t spare anyone’s feelings after Andrew Bynum worked the Spurs for a career-high 30 rebounds in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs last night in San Antonio.
Depending on how things break down in the playoffs, it might not matter much. But if these two powerhouse franchises do get together in the postseason, the Spurs will have some things to resolve against Bynum and Pau Gasol.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Derek Fisher cannot fix all of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s problems right now.
The veteran point guard will certainly help shore up whatever deficiencies they have in their backcourt rotation. But Fisher doesn’t have what it takes to help the Thunder solve their problems in the middle.
There’s no need to panic or anything, but the Thunder have been beaten up a bit inside — at least in their last five losses — and that includes the thumping they took last night in Utah.
As talented, skilled and tough as Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and the rest of the Thunder frontcourt crew is, they have been vulnerable against opposing frontcourt players this season.
– Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap ransacked them last night for 36 points and 11 rebounds.
– In their loss to the Spurs, Tim Duncan finished with 16 points and a season-high 19 rebounds while DeJuan Blair smoked them for 22 points and 11 rebounds.
– In a loss to the Rockets rookie Chandler Parsons and Luis Scola worked them for 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
– Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison, Alonzo Gee and Ryan Hollins lit them up for 44 points and 22 rebounds.
Ibaka is as good a shot blocker as there is in the league right now. And no one has ever questioned the toughness of Perkins or Collison. But outside of the scoring Kevin Durant provides from his hybrid small forward/shooting guard spot on a nightly basis, the Thunder do not possess ability to truly challenge opposing frontcourt players on the offensive end.
The San Antonio Spurs have emerged as a strong suitor for free agent forward Caron Butler, according to a source.
Butler, the Mavericks’ forward who is coming off a knee injury suffered on New Year’s Day that caused him to miss the rest of last season, is one of the most sought-after small forwards in free agency. He is currently being pursued by the Heat, Bulls, Spurs, Clippers, Nets, Pistons and Bucks, according to the source. The Sacramento Kings were also initially interested in Butler, but have fallen off the hunt in the last couple of days. Butler, who works out in Chicago in the offseason with trainer Tim Grover, is expected to meet with the Bulls sometime in the next few days before making a decision on where he wants to go.
Butler could still re-sign with Dallas, but the Mavericks apparently have concerns about their status as a luxury tax payer going forward. With several other free agents to also decide on, including center Tyson Chandler and guards J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Mavs won’t be able to keep all of them.
San Antonio could be looking for a replacement for veteran Richard Jefferson, who has struggled in his first two seasons there after being acquired in the summer of 2009. Butler would be a perfect fit in the no-nonsense Spurs’ locker room, and with Tim Duncan entering the last year of his contract, and guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on the backside of their careers, San Antonio is preparing to transition quickly from the post-Duncan era with a new core group including guard Gary Neal, center Tiago Splitter, forward/center DeJuan Blair and rookie forward Kawhi Leonard, acquired in a Draft night trade with Indiana for guard George Hill.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Good luck trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing in the NBA’s ongoing labor impasse.
One minute all seems lost, with voices from both sides (players and owners) dispensing ominous soundbites about their fear that any sort of peaceful accord is anywhere in sight. And then the next, we hear that progress, however slight, is being made and that perhaps there is a chance that common ground is in the distance.
Following a series of small compromises by both sides, it was the owners’ turn to move the needle in a significant way. And they did: According to a person briefed on the negotiations, the league put forth a new number on the split of revenues, or basketball-related income, on Thursday, a step that could help propel the talks forward even as the start of training camps were set to be delayed and preseason games canceled — with such gloomy but fully expected and insignificant announcements expected Friday.
“It’s moving,” said another person with knowledge of the talks. “Not as fast as some people would want, but it’s moving.”
According to one of the people familiar with the bargaining, here is some of what transpired Thursday: After signaling last week that the players’ offer to move lower than the 54.3 percent share of BRI was a starting point that could lead to a deal on economics, league negotiators came back with their own number. Unsurprisingly, the number was lower than what the players had last proposed, though multiple people involved in the talks refused to specify by how much.
The owners’ proposed BRI split was made without specific system details tied to it, and the number itself was “unacceptable” to the union leadership, one of the sources said. Thus, the faces of both sides emerged from the Manhattan hotel after five hours of bargaining and delivered the same vague non-answers with strikingly similar flatlined demeanors and monotone voices.
“I’m sorry, but the most important thing is to see whether we can’t have negotiations conducive to ultimately getting a deal, which is what our committee and our board will like,” commissioner David Stern said on his 69th birthday. “And having these conversations with you doesn’t add anything to that. And that’s the dilemma.”
Before departing Argentina, where he helped Brazil qualify for next summer’s Olympic tournament, center Tiago Splitter told the Express-News he would sign on with Flamengo, a Brazilian club where former Suns guard Leandro Barbosa currently plays, if training camps were postponed or canceled.
“I do not want to be waiting for something to happen,” Splitter said. “I want to be playing, so if our (Spurs) camp will not start on time then I think I will sign with Flamengo.
“Of course, I will make sure I will be able to join the Spurs when the lockout ends, but I want to be playing and working on my game.”