Posts Tagged ‘Gregg Popovich’

Coach Pop out with “medical issue”

It’s not unusual to get the pre-game notification that coach Gregg Popovich is going to rest at one or more of his veteran players.

It’s part of the Spurs’ way.

But tonight at home against the Pacers it will be Popovich himself who’ll be out of action at as he is undergoing what is described as “a minor medical issue.”

Drawing the Xs and Os in Popovich’s place will be assistant coach Ettore Messina, who joined the Spurs staff this season. The Italian-born Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion.

Messina got his first taste of being in charge with the Spurs when he ran the show in a preseason game at Phoenix as Popovic stayed at home in San Antonio. The Spurs lost 121-90, but it should be noted that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili also did not travel to Phoenix and Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills were sidelined with injuries.

Popovich could miss several more games.

 

 

Fixing defensive downfalls remains job No. 1 for Cavaliers


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what the Cavs must do to shore up their defense

CLEVELAND – It sounded like the old Steve Martin joke, advising people how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (“First, get a million dollars. Then…”). Someone asked Gregg Popovich how he and his San Antonio coaching staff get players not known for their defense to “buy in” to the Spurs’ system so they uphold that team’s stingy reputation.

“I don’t bring anybody in like that,” Popovich said after the Spurs’ shootaround session Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. “Except maybe [Marco] Belinelli. He’s trying.”

Even the trigger-happy Belinelli got vetted through Tom Thibodeau‘s five-guys-on-a-string tactics in Chicago for a year before Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford signed him in July 2013.

The Cavaliers imposed no such prohibitions when they came together this offseason, parts being bolted around LeBron James in a flurry of trades and free-agent acquisitions. The incumbent backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had no particular defensive chops. Power forward Kevin Love racks up formidable rebounding numbers but otherwise hadn’t shown much defensive proclivities. Center Anderson Varejao is energetic and aggressive in the paint, but Love and Tristan Thompson aren’t bonafide rim protectors. Shooters Mike Miller and James Jones are, well, shooters. And even James’ defense seemed to slip a notch in his last season with Miami.

Through nine games, Cleveland’s defensive rating of 108.3 was tied for fifth-worst in the league. That’s not just worse than his Heat team’s performance last season (102.9), it’s worse than the 2013-14 Cavaliers managed (104.8) on their way to a 33-49 record.

The Cavs have given up 100 points or more seven times, and their defensive effective field-goal percentage of .536, which adjusts for the premium on 3-pointers, is third-worst in the NBA, better only than the Lakers (.551) and Minnesota (.559). The breakdowns in Cleveland’s schemes are clear, from zone coverage to pick-and-roll misdirections to some poor or lazy individual habits.

So while everyone has focused on the blending of offensive styles and responsibilities of James, Love, Irving and the rest, Cleveland opponents have found it awfully easy to score – a flaw the Cavaliers can’t afford to ignore.

“I don’t think it’s something you learn on the fly,” James said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you work on every single day. You teach it, you preach it, you demand it. I didn’t come [into the NBA] as being a big defensive guy. I played defense and my high school coaches did preach it, and we knew in order to win, we had to defend. This is a different level.

“When [former Cavs coach] Mike Brown came to this team, that was just his whole mindset, saying, ‘If we don’t defend, we can’t win.’ And he preached it every day. It was just instilled in us as players. You’ve got to teach it, you’ve got to preach it, you’ve got to demand it every single day.”

Sounds like current Cavs coach David Blatt is there now, too.

“You have to raise the level of expectation,” Blatt said the other day, “and the level of accountability, and you have to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes if you’re not blessed with great individual defenders, your principles have to be that much stronger, and your helps and your court recognition have to be that much better. And that’s why it’s taken us longer in that area of the game than on the offensive end.”

San Antonio, by contrast, ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating (96.0) after finishing fourth (100.1) last season and tied for third (99.2) two years ago. A team whose main pieces have been together for multiple seasons might be expected to have an edge, though effort and priorities matter as much or more.

The Cavs’ familiarity will grow, but it’s on them to drag the defense along. Bumping up Shawn Marion‘s minutes has helped some, and there has been chatter about pursuing Timberwolves wing Corey Brewer in trade. Still, a roster overhaul is unlikely and any defensive makeover will require lipstick (and more) on what so far has been a pig.

“Defensively we just need more than anything to just trust each other,” Love said. “We’re all capable, especially as a team. We’ve got to take the individual battle. But at the end of the day, we need to trust each other that we need to help each other out.”


VIDEO: LeBron James is driven to get the Cavs back to winning consistently

 

Spurs rest stars in Houston


VIDEO: Spurs edge Hawks on Wednesday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re just 10 days into the season, but the San Antonio Spurs’ maintanence program has begun.

The Spurs announced Thursday afternoon that Marco Belinelli, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter will not play in Houston in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 ET).

Belinelli left Wednesday’s win over the Hawks with a groin injury. Splitter played in his first game on Wednesday, but reinjured his right calf. Mills is recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t expected back until at least January.

Duncan and Ginobili are healthy, but they are just getting their first night off of the young season as their team plays its first back-to-back. Of course, it’s not the first time that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has rested healthy stars for a national TV game.

This could have been a great test for the 5-0 Rockets, but Popovich doesn’t care about making statements in the regular season and the Spurs’ role players sometimes step up and provide just as tough a challenge. When Popovich famously kept Duncan, Ginobili, Danny Green and Tony Parker out of a game in Miami in Nov. of 2012, the Heat needed a Ray Allen three in the final minute to pull out the win.

Blogtable: The Kawhi conundrum

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


> The Spurs have done a lot of things right in the last 15 years or so. What should they do, contract-wise, with Kawhi Leonard?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGet it done. Now. Acknowledge that Leonard has a rare bargaining chip (NBA Finals MVP) and move the “future” along. Either max him out now as reward and good will, in the hopes that eventually he’ll enter that “home team discount” realm of other Spurs stars in mid-to-late-career negotiations. Or at least pay him $1 more than the best offer sheet he can sign (max money, four years, lesser raises) as a restricted free agent next offseason. It’s time, and a lot of young NBA talent may be watching.

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Kawhi Leonard (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNothing right now. At this point, there is no reason for Leonard to sign an extension for anything less than the max. He’ll get that kind of offer next summer from somebody. And at this point, there’s no reason for the Spurs to pay out the max ahead of time.  When he gets the max offer, as a restricted free agent, they’ll be able to match it. No panic. No worries.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs should do the Spurs thing and sell Leonard on the benefits of being in a stable organization that remains a championship contender, hoping it will get him to lower his demands. It probably won’t. Maybe Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can apply some pressure. And if nothing works, San Antonio has no choice but to meet the demands. Leonard is the next generation. If the Spurs don’t pay him now, they’ll certainly have to pay him later when an opponent hands Leonard a max offer sheet.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThere’s no need to panic, that’s for sure. The Spurs keep their payroll manageable, so even if another team throws a poison-pill contract at him, they can comfortably match. One way or another, I don’t see Leonard leaving the Spurs. He has the perfect team and town for his personality, and the perfect coach at this stage in his development. Duncan, Parker, Manu … the Spurs found a way to keep them all happy and in one uniform for their entire career. This team gets it done.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally for the Spurs, they sign him now for a fixed amount, rather than a “max” extension, because the max (four years or five years if they make him their Designated Player) will rise with any cap jump next summer, and it could jump quite a bit if the league and NBPA agree on a smoothing procedure. So if Leonard is holding out for the max, it becomes a tough decision, because this team is going to need to reload when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hang ‘em up. Either way, I try to get something done now, so that the situation isn’t hanging over them this summer.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSimple. Do the right thing by The Finals MVP. Kawhi is a franchise pillar for the Spurs. So they should have no problem figuring out the right number to get a deal done. The quintessential Spurs’ Draft find, Leonard’s game seems to have progressed even faster than some inside the machine in San Antonio expected. The Spurs have worked to craft a salary structure that keeps all of their core talent in the fold. And Leonard is certainly a critical piece of that core, perhaps the most critical if you forecast what they’ll be like in the future. So his new contract needs to be commensurate with what his role will be over the next four or five years as the Spurs transition from one era to the next.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Their dynasty has been built on the wisdom of reasonable contracts that work for both the player and the franchise. So far Leonard (like Rajon Rondo during the Celtics’ run of contention) has had the luxury of being their No. 4 player; the Spurs know better than anyone whether he has the temperament to be their Nos. 1 or 2 star someday. I don’t know what they should do; but I do know that the Spurs – better than any other team – have an established record of knowing what needs to be done, and how and when to do it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe easy call would be to max him out. With the new TV deal in place and the requisite rise in the luxury tax figure on the horizon, singing Leonard — the reigning Finals MVP and man Gregg Popovich singled out as the future of the franchise — to a max extension might end up looking like a bargain. There’s just one thing, though, that would keep me from handing out a max deal is that being so cavalier with their cash just isn’t, at the risk of being glib, the quote-unquote Spurs Way. The Spurs stars have traditionally taken somewhat less than market value in order to be part of what has been one of the NBA’s premier franchise over the last few years. From Duncan, Parker and Ginobili on down, the Spurs players have proven their devotion to team over the individual starting with their wallets. Will that trend continue with the next batch of Spurs’ stars? Kawhi Leonard might make an interesting case study.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Leonard will likely be the face of the Spurs for at least the next decade, so I think they should give him what he asks, even if that’s a maximum deal. That would send a message to Kawhi that the organization believes a lot in him, that they’re ready to make him their next superstar once Tim Duncan finishes his legendary career. And if your concern is money, don’t forget the salary cap is supposed to increase a lot in the next couple of season. He’s a potential superstar, probably one of the top 3 two-way player in the NBA: you have to believe in him.

Rodrigo Mendez, NBA Mexico: San Antonio has built a philosophy as good as any franchise: spend a little and make a team without superstars. Now San Antonio needs to make a decision, pay an absurd amount for Leonard or not. I am sure that Leonard isn’t the superstar of the future in the NBA — he’s just a different player — and he can bring 25 point each game in the next 10 years, but I don’t know if also Leonard can give them championships. San Antonio must be true its philosophy with which they were winners.

After jewel of season, Spurs get rings


VIDEO: Spurs receive their championship rings before their season opener

SAN ANTONIO — Even the fifth time around, it never gets old.

Tim Duncan beamed with glee and practically skipped out to midcourt to be greeted by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Manu Ginobili grinned as a roar of approval washed over him. Tony Parker bounced up and down like a newly-inflated ball. Even cantankerous coach Gregg Popovich received his 2014 championship ring and pumped his first as he ran down the line of his assistants.

The Spurs returned to the AT&T Center on Tuesday night to collect their gaudy jewelry, to see the championship banner unveiled at the rafters and then to embark on the next chapter.

“Man, that’s awesome,” Parker told the jubilant crowd. “That’s the best. It’s been an unbelievable year, great memories and now we get a shot at having another one.”

Spurs’ Leonard to miss opener


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses Kawhi Leonard’s importance to the Spurs

The old black-and-silver gang will be back on the AT&T Center court together Tuesday night for the unfurling of the 2014 NBA championship banner and to receive their rings.

But the defending champion Spurs will look noticeably different once the season opener against the in-state rivals from Dallas tips off.

It’s been known for a while that guard Patty Mills (right shoulder surgery) is out until at least January. But the team made it official Monday with a statement that NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (right eye infection) and center Tiago Splitter (strained right calf) would miss Tuesday’s game.

Ah well, as coach Gregg Popovich says, it’s all about being healthy for the playoffs and they’re still six months away.

NBA TV Champions Day to celebrate Spurs


VIDEO: Champions Day for the San Antonio Spurs will take place Oct. 27 on NBA TV

They were hurt. They were bruised. They were wounded. But the San Antonio Spurs turned the agony of their lowest moment of letting the 2013 title slip away turn into a force that drove them to the 2014 NBA championship.

Manu Ginobili: “I remember the looks on our faces. We were devastated.”

Tony Parker: “I never felt so sad in basketball.”

Tim Duncan: “The worst loss ever.”

Those candid comments and more are part of a day-long celebration of Champions Day on NBA TV Monday that will look back at the 2014 Spurs.

The network will premiere three original programs — “Champions Revealed: 2014 San Antonio Spurs“, “Open Court: NBA Champions Edition” and “2014 San Antonio Spurs: Go Spurs Go”along with re-airs of past NBA Finals performances and season reviews from the Spurs’ five title-winning seasons.

“Go Spurs Go” will air at 8 p.m. ET, “Champions Revealed” at 9 ET and “Open Court: Champions Edition” at 10 ET.

In “Champions Revealed”, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich hold a sometimes-funny, often-informative and always-brutally honest conversation about their long journey of discovery about each other that has produced a bond in the locker room and more than a decade of excellence on the court.

Popovich on the beginning of the Duncan Era in San Antonio: “(Tim Duncan) came to training camp and David Robinson watched him play and about the second practice the whole offense changed. David was now in the dunker spot and Timmy was on the block catching the ball and David never even said a word … You know this new kid comes in and all of a sudden David’s not getting all of his touches … I never said, ‘David this is the way it’s going to be.’ We just did what we did and he knew it right off the bat and he loved it. Timmy just grew and grew from there, unbelievable.”

Duncan to Parker: “How many times have we gotten yelled at for something (Ginobili) has done? We’re sitting there on the bench and (Popovich) yells: ‘Did you see what he just did? He’s your teammate. Go talk to him.’ ”

Parker to Ginobili and Popovich: “I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out between you two.”

Popovich: “One day I just asked him: ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I am Manu. This is what I do.’ So I started letting him just do it.”

Duncan on Parker’s arrival as a 19-year-old point guard under the demands of Popovich: “It was brutal. I felt bad. I had never seen anyone get yelled at as much as you.”

Parker: “It made me a better player.”

Popovich: “I’ve got the easiest job in the NBA because you guys allow it to be said the way it should be said.”

During the hour-long show, the highlights from the early days when Duncan and Ginobili both had more hair (and all had less experience together) show the four principal figures growing on the court as All-Star players. From there, they’d grow into a unit that could somehow overcome the hurt of the Game 6 collapse in the 2013 Finals loss to Miami.

Popovich: “It wasn’t the basketball gods. It was in our control and we didn’t get it done.”

They talked openly about reliving that defeat by watching the video on the first day of training camp last season. Manu said that he could see almost from the start the Spurs’ redoubled commitment to playing as a team.

Ginobili:  “I start on the bench so I get to see what’s going on more and there were some plays…where it was like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, wow, or those passes from Tony to a wing to Boris (Diaw) to (Tim) or an extra pass to the corner, it was fun … I said, ‘This is nice. We are playing at a really high level and if we could understand that this is the way to go on a daily basis it can be so special.’ ”

The entire show is like a peek into a private living room where the family members have finally let their guard down in the aftermath of their redemption.

Ginobili: “I felt like something that was stuck inside all of last year had healed.”

Parker: “Perspective…this is my favorite.”

Duncan: “Not bad for a bunch of old guys.”

Amen to that.

Earlier on Monday, NBA TV will re-air season in review shows from the Spurs’ previous four championship seasons starting at 9 am ET, followed by encore airings of Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, beginning at 2 pm ET.

 

Messina adds taste of Italy to Spurs

messina

Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”

Fact is, Messina had been around the Spurs once before. When he abruptly quit as coach of Real Madrid just before the Euroleague playoffs in the spring of 2011, Messina accepted an invitation from the Spurs to come to San Antonio and travel with the team.

After his season in L.A., a return to coach CSKA Moscow, this is more of a commitment as a full member of the coaching staff as the Spurs look for new ways to keep moving ahead in defense of their 2014 NBA championship.

It is a reunion with Manu Ginobili, 13 years after the Argentine star was the Euroleague Finals MVP for Messina’s champion team at Kinder Bologna. It was also a time when Messina first was exposed to a young teen-age prospect named Marco Belinelli.

“It is obviously special to have a chance to come to the NBA after these years and be part of a team with Manu and Marco,” Messina said. “But I know so many of the different Spurs player from their time in Europe. In a way, it is like I am coming home.

“It is very, very special to work with Pop, with this club, not only because it happens to be the champion team, but also the team that for us Europeans is closest to our way of seeing things and doing things. To have this chance to return with Manu at the end of his career, it’s very special. At my age you don’t start thinking about building a career or anything. If something happens, it happens. It doesn’t matter. Now it is only about experiences.”

For Popovich and the Spurs, it is only the next step in their determination to leave no stone unturned anywhere on the planet in order to move ahead in their education in the game. They added Messina to the staff in the same summer that they broke another barrier when they welcomed Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in an American men’s professional league.

“That’s just Pop,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “He’s open and he’s always hungry and searching for new things to discover about the game and different ways to coach it.”

“It was an easier decision now because Ettore has been with us before,” Popovich said. “I gave him a seat on our team plane and he’s gone on road trips with us. He’s traveled with us before.

“We talk a lot, that sort of thing. He’s a class act, a lot classier and suave than I am. He’s a sharp dude and he knows what he’s doing. Having Ettore here is great for our program and fun for me. (He’s) somebody I can bounce things off and same generation kind of thing.”

Messina has watched from a distance as Popovich exercised his basketball world view and assembled his “Foreign Legion” lineup, using the style and many of the passing game principles that have been a staple of the international game.

“We had to play that style in Europe and South America because we don’t have the kind of size, strength and athleticism in the game that exists in the United States,” Messina said. “I am talking about a generalization, of course. We learned that if we were going to win against those kinds of players, we would have to use skills — passing, keeping the ball moving, shooting, so many of the fundamentals. Those are all the things that Pop teaches here with the Spurs. I must say, it was a joy as a coach to watch the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs. Now I am an assistant coach back at the first step, trying to learn everything.”

Messina says his first experience with the Spurs and now his daily training camp routine in San Antonio continues to dispel many myths that Europeans have about the NBA.

“The thought over there is that the Americans don’t work, that it is all about the individual, about just using physical talent,” he said. “Most people over there think that we worked harder. That is not true. There is a great deal of individual work here in the NBA by players trying to get better. There is concentration on player development by the teams. If you watched the USA team (last) month in the World Cup, you know that wasn’t just a group of All-Stars. That was a team. That’s what Pop has put in place here. Everyone talks here about the ‘European style’ that the Spurs play. You know what? We really spend a great deal of time watching film and studying the Spurs and Pop’s offense.”

With Popovich at 65 and Messina 10 years younger, it might not be so far-fetched to think this could be the progression of the reigning champs’ global evolution — the grooming of the first foreign-born head coach.

It is, after all, how the Spurs conquered the basketball world, one dribble, one country at a time.

Joseph gets another chance to prove his point for Spurs


VIDEO: Relive Cory Joseph’s highlights from 2013-14

Cory Joseph spent much of his first two NBA seasons wearing out a path along I-35 in south Texas. He’d been drafted by the Spurs in 2011, but got most of his playing time in the NBA D-League with the Austin Toros.

Last season in the Spurs march to the championship Joseph was part of the band, but stayed mostly in the rhythm section as Patty Mills stepped into the spotlight with his Finals play.

Now with Mills on the shelf through at least the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, the 23-year-old Joseph will enter the season as the clear backup to Tony Parker at point guard.

“Every time I go out on the court, I look at it as an opportunity,” said Joseph, a 23-year-old Texas-ex entering his fourth NBA season. “All I can do is prepare the best I can for when game time comes.”

The truth is Joseph gets the job almost by default. There’s only one other point guard to training camp and, in order to keep the rookie Bryce Cotton, the Spurs would have to cut one of the 15 guaranteed contracts already on the roster.

“He’s done well in that role in the past, so I look forward to him doing that again,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

While he played in 68 games last season — averaging 5.0 points, 1.7 assists and 13.8 minutes per game — Joseph’s time diminished during the playoff run (right as Mills’ star was rising against the Miami Heat in The Finals).

The Spurs feel comfortable with Joseph as the only pure backup point because they also have Manu Ginobili to be the ball handler/director of the offense with the second unit.

In February 2013, when Parker was injured, Joseph became the Spurs’ starting point guard. In his first five starts, averaged 8.8 points and 2.6 assists while shooting 58.6 percent.

“I feel comfortable now on the team and in the offense and the system and I’ll play any role and do whatever they ask of me,” Joseph said. “I’m not looking at it like ‘this is my big chance.’ It’s always your chance every day you come to practice and show that you are capable of doing your job. That’s what you want to do — prove to the coach that he can trust you.”

With his aging core of Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, no coach in the league relies on his bench more than Popovich. He kept so tight a rein on minutes last season that the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to not have a single player average 30 minutes per game. That makes those backup roles even more critical.

Joseph spent the summer working his shot and his overall game, knowing that he’d be needed to do more. The opportunity comes at a time when Joseph — like Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard – is eligible for a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline. If he is not signed to a new deal by then, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

“I have an agent and that’s his job,” Joseph said.

Joseph claims won’t even won’t be the least bit distracted by what could happen.

“I don’t think about that stuff,” he said. “I just play.”

This is his chance.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27



VIDEO: Media Day: Top five teams heading into 2014-15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs in no hurry | Repeat won’t drive Spurs | Garnett back for 20th season | Big things from Kobe | Rondo breaks hands
No. 1: LeBron has the Cavs preaching patience — There was no smoke and flashing lights this time around, no pulse-pounding music and dancing on a stage like in Miami. LeBron James didn’t hold up his fingers and count off championships: “Not one, not two, not three…” The media day theme from James on his return to Cleveland was that everybody is going to have to wait on the whole plan to come together before anyone talks of titles. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com had the lowdown:

“Patience,” said a subdued James when asked about the biggest lesson he learned in South Beach. “You need to be very patient with the process and understand. I think everyone always wants to see the end result and what’s at the end of the tunnel, and don’t quite understand what goes on from the start to the finish and what’s in between that. And I understand that and I know that, so patience is the biggest thing that I’ve learned.”
While the basketball world is already penciling in the Cavs to make a deep playoff run, new coach David Blatt echoed James’ patient approach.
“There are a lot of great names that have come into the organization … but I know from my multiple years of experience in the business that names don’t play, teams do, and teams do need some time to develop, to find their identity, to establish themselves, and to establish what they’re made of,” Blatt said. “Our goals are high. We’re not shying away from that. Does that mean championship today? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s fair.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t make repeat focus of season — Nothing ever changes with the Spurs. Not their roster, not their coach and definitely not their approach to every season. They’ll be defending a championship for the fifth time in franchise history, but coach Gregg Popovich told our Fran Blinebury that trying to repeat for the first time ever won’t be in the forefront of their minds at any time this season:

“We’ll talk about it a little bit,” he said. “You guys will write articles. It’s all the same every year. ‘Why haven’t we repeated?’ Because we haven’t.
“If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on, everything’s cool.
“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in a sense of winning X number of games or this year is our year to win a championship. We’ve never talked about it. We’ve never known what’s gonna happen at the end of the year or said this is what we want to happen.
“All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team that we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice. It’s a building block sort of thing and then we hope that we can be healthy and fresh at playoff time. Those are the only goals we’ve had every single year, including last year and it will be no different this year.”

***

No. 3: Garnett says he’s all in with Nets for his 20th NBA season — When you’ve spent nearly two entire decades laying it all out on the court in what will one day officially become a Hall of Fame career, it’s only natural that one takes time to reflect on the commitment it takes to continue playing the game. But as our John Schuhmann points out from the Nets’ media day, Kevin Garnett says he’s ready to bounce back from a career-low scoring and shooting season to be a starter and a driving force once again in Brooklyn:

“I must admit these last three years I’ve thought about life and where basketball is as far as priority,” Garnett said at the Nets’ media day on Friday. It was the first time he had spoken to the media since before Game 5 in Miami. “So yeah, in the back of your mind you think about it. But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50, I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”
Garnett’s offensive game fell off last season. He averaged a career-low 6.5 points on a career-low 44 percent, rarely playing with his back to the basket, even when he moved to center after Brook Lopez’s season-ending foot injury. Though he had $12 million reasons to return for one more season in Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine him coming back for season No. 21, which only two NBA players — Robert Parish and Kevin Willis — have ever reached.
But Garnett hasn’t reached that decision yet, and there will be no Jeterian farewell tour.
“I like to come in each year and assess it,” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again, which is absurd, or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”
And this is not about proving that last season was a fluke or that he still has gas left in the tank.
“I don’t need to show people anything,” Garnett said. “That’s first off. Secondly, for myself, last year I think everybody had to [sacrifice] their own game and give a little bit for the betterment of [the team], and I did just that.”

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No. 4: Kupchak expects Kobe to come back strong — While the doubters are swarming and standing around with shovels to begin burying Kobe Bryant’s bid to return from Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery, Mitch Kupchak is not one of them. According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers general manager is expecting to see the old Kobe back on the floor this season:

“I think he’s going to have an excellent year,” said Kupchak on Friday at the Lakers’ practice facility.  “I’ve watched throughout the summer … He looks really good. He says he feels great. No ill effects on either injury.”

Bryant averaged just 13.8 points, with 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in his brief stint. The Lakers struggled without him, finishing with the team’s worst record since moving to Los Angeles (27-55).
While the veteran spent all of last offseason recuperating from Achilles surgery, he’s been healthy this summer, steadily preparing his comeback.
“He’s been working every day. I get reports. I’ve seen him personally,” said Kupchak. “I know he’s working and speaking with [Coach] Byron [Scott] on a daily or semi-daily basis.”

“If he walked into the room, or he walked on the court and ran up and down the court, you couldn’t tell he blew out an Achilles tendon or broke a bone in his knee last year,” continued Kupchak. “He looks conditioning-wise, his weight is great.  I think he’s down 10-12 pounds over last year. There’s no limp.”
The Lakers didn’t make any drastic moves to improve over the offseason. Pau Gasol left to join the Chicago Bulls but the team added rookie Julius Randle, veteran Carlos Boozer and re-signed scoring guard/forward Nick Young to a long-term deal.
The team tried to lure stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this summer, but were unsuccessful.

Bryant will have to be the key to whatever success the team has this season.
“I think you’ll see a player, similar to what you saw two years ago,” said Kupchak.  “He’ll do as much as he has to do to put us in the best chance to win.”

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No. 5: Is Rondo’s story of injury a clean break? — Word had barely begun to circulate about Rajon Rondo’s broken hand that occurred from a fall in the shower when the rumors took flight. Adam Kaufman of the Boston Globe says that while the Celtics and Rondo still have some explaining to do, there actually could be some positives to come out of the situation:

For starters, this setback for Rondo presents his team with yet another opportunity to imagine life without its star player without actually losing him. Coach Brad Stevens will get a very close look at how No. 6 overall pick and famed defensive stalwart Marcus Smart runs this squad in a starting role in his natural position, rather than serving as the first “combo-guard” off the bench until someone gets hurt or dealt.
Second, Rondo is righthanded. The passing-wizard can obviously handle the rock with either hand, but he’s dominant with his right and also shoots with that hand. The injury to his left hand may limit his cross-over mobility and stifle some of his creativity, but it should not terribly alter his shot — a shot that isn’t all that great to begin with. Rondo shoots a career 47.5 percent from the field, but was held to just 40.3 percent last season. For what it’s worth, his perimeter game did improve to a career-best 28.9 percent (minimum 50 attempts) from behind the arc in 2013-14.
Third, we can’t ignore the affect this will likely have on the standings. Whether or not you like Rondo as a person or player, the Celtics are a worse team without their elite-level talent when he’s at the top of his game. Less Rondo probably means more losses which, as we know, will lead to another chorus of, “Tank! Tank!” on the way to a season featuring 20-some wins and a return to the lottery.
And, maybe most important, this could save the Celts money in the long-run. Provided (Wyc) Grousbeck and (Danny) Ainge are true to their word and genuinely want to lock Rondo up for the foreseeable future, a second injury will limit his games (he’s already missed 95 over the last two years), potentially hamper his quality of play for the short-term, and shrink the number of suitors interested in his services. As Ainge has acknowledged, there aren’t many teams in the NBA looking for new point guards as it stands, and that was with a perceived healthy Rondo. Which ones would now entertain paying top-dollar for one? Rondo might be basically forced into a lesser contract to stay, keeping his hopes of recruiting a fellow All-Star alive.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hornets Jeff Taylor barred from team activities during domestic abuse investigation…Luol Deng ready to move on past controversy… Kidd says Bucks won’t hire Gary Payton to join coaching staff.