Posts Tagged ‘Gregg Popovich’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 171) … The Future!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What does the future look like for the Indiana Pacers?

The forecast is gloomy, even after a few sips of Rick Fox‘s homemade breakfast smoothie, which he needed to get through Episode 171 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Future.

Everything changed in an instant for the Pacers when their young All-Star Paul George went down with a compound-fracture of his right leg during last week’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas.

George could very well miss the entire 2014-15 season, and then some, recovering from the gruesome injury. And that leaves the Pacers, who also lost Lance Stephenson this summer via free agency, with huge holes to fill in their lineup with LeBron James (Kevin Love) and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose (Pau Gasol) and the Chicago Bulls hunting that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

We also talk about LeBron’s offseason weight-loss routine, Becky Hammon joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, smoothie making and a plenty more on Episode 171 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Future:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Quiet Spurs make big noise with Hammon


VIDEO: Becky Hammon is introduced by the Spurs

Last week, when virtually nobody was looking, point guard Tony Parker signed a three-year contract extension.

That’s usually the way the Spurs do business.

But for a franchise that usually goes out of its way to avoid creating even a ripple in the pool, the Spurs have made loud splashes this summer. The first was hiring longtime European coach Ettore Messina as an assistant coach. That was just a warmup.

The addition of WNBA star Becky Hammon to the coaching staff is nothing less than a cannonball.

Hammon, who is retiring as a player at the end of this season, will become the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Lisa Boyer was a volunteer assistant coach for the Cavaliers under John Lucas during the 2001-02 season, but she did not sit on the bench during games or travel with the team.

Make no mistake. This is big, potentially a game-changer and another milestone for women in sports and as professionals in general. Hammon will have the same duties as the rest of the coaching staff; scouting, writing reports, game-planning and offering her opinions in coaching sessions.

“In some ways it is trailblazing,” Hammon said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “But so many other women have done so many great things. I’m just following in their path.”

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement from the team. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon is a 16-year WNBA veteran and was voted one of the 15 all-time best players in league history. Ironically, an ACL injury that forced her to sit out last season may have opened the door to coaching. While in San Antonio rehabilitating during the offseason, Hammon asked Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and Popovich if she could attend practices and sit in on meetings. A connection was quickly established and both sides were on the road toward making history, though with no intention of grabbing the spotlight.

“Coach Pop made it clear to me I was being hired because of my basketball IQ and my qualifications,” Hammon said. ” ‘It just so happens you’re a woman.’ “

It is, of course, the Spurs’ way to push at the envelope, leap outside the box of conventional thinking. They won their fifth NBA title in June with a roster consisting of 10 international players that came from eight different countries. Messina has spent more than a quarter century as perhaps the top coach in Europe and was widely regarded for years as one who could make the jump across the Atlantic to thrive in the NBA. It took the Spurs to actually make it happen.

Still, it is a quantum leap to make Hammon a woman at the highest level of the men’s game.

“People have always asked me if a woman could play in the NBA,” Hammon said. “I tell them no, because there is a difference. The men are too big, too strong. But when it comes to coaching, game-planning and scheming, there’s no reason that a woman can’t do anything a man can do.”

So could a woman one day become a head coach in the NBA?

“I think anything is possible,” Hammon said.

As Parker’s deal proves, Spurs just keep doing things their way

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive Tony Parker’s top 10 plays from last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Leave it to the Spurs to take all the fun out of free-agent suspense. This franchise is so boring.

Four-time champ and six-time All-Star point guard Tony Parker won’t even make it to free agency next summer. He won’t even play to the players’ strength in the collective bargaining agreement and strong-arm his team into paying him more money over more years. He won’t even explore what other teams might offer him.

There’ll be no premature speculating of where Tony might go. Heck, no speculating at all. What are we, the media, supposed to do with that?

Great going, Tony.

Of course it is great for the San Antonio Spurs. The flawless organization with the executive of the year, the coach of the year, another championship and another young NBA Finals MVP keeps merrily rolling along. Earlier this summer, just weeks after dismantling the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals for the franchise’s fifth championship, the team announced in a two-sentence release that coach Gregg Popovich, had signed a multi-year extension. Popovich’s move followed star Tim Duncan‘s equally exciting decision to opt in with the Spurs — which came with the usual San Antonio fanfare.

And now they’ve done it again.

Parker, who is already playing on a below-market deal that will pay him $12.5 million on the last year of his current deal this season — or right about the amount that Phoenix Suns restricted free-agent point guard Eric Bledsoe seems to find insulting — has signed a three extension that will begin with the 2015-16 season.

Yahoo! Sports reports the deal is worth in the range of $45 million.

Parker, 32, turned in another sensational season last year, yet another quiet MVP-type season (even if his stats don’t shout it) in leading the game’s most artistic offense. He averaged 16.7 ppg, 5.7 apg and 2.3 rpg, but averaged just 29.4 mpg under Popovich’s watchful eye. Popovich has long lamented that his stars might finish their careers with lesser stats than some of their contemporaries simply because of the minutes he won’t play them.

For instance, Parker’s per-36 stats — meaning if he averaged 36 mpg like many in-their-prime starters do — might have looked more like this: 20.4 ppg and 7.0 apg. But that’s not the Spurs way.

The Spurs way is doing what’s best for the team. Parker’s extension virtually guarantees that he will eventually see Duncan, 38, and Manu Ginobili, 36 into retirement. Throughout the years, all three have passed on leaving small-market San Antonio for more lucrative deals elsewhere. Collectively, the Big Three has won four titles since 2003.

“It makes it all worth it,” Parker said following the NBA Finals. “All three, we took, like you said, less money to stay here and to win championships. So it makes it even better to have been able to play my whole career with Timmy and Manu and experiencing those great moments we’re never going to forget our whole life.

“That’s why we play basketball, to win championships and create moments that we’re never going to forget.  So I’ve been very blessed, and I don’t take it for granted. I enjoy every moment, especially with Timmy and Manu.”

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.

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

Win Big in June, Not July!


VIDEO: The Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes last July but it didn’t matter come playoff time

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A year ago this time the Houston Rockets were on the eve of the biggest upset of the summer, stealing Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers and winning the NBA’s free agency sweepstakes by bagging the biggest name on the market.

Roughly 200 miles to the west, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs were busy licking their wounds from an epic collapse in The Finals against Miami, gazing inward instead of at the free agent frenzy that was brewing.

When Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw changed the course of the 2014 Finals last month, it was the triumph of organic growth over the splash and dash of free agency, of the hot-and-now approach over the slow burn that is a player development machine in San Antonio that is the envy of not only the entire NBA but any professional sports franchise around the globe.

The Spurs win big in June and leave July to the Rockets and others who aspire to join them on that elite level of consistent powers around the league, a short list that includes just the Spurs, Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Indiana Pacers over the past four years.

That won’t stop the free agency craziness from kicking into high gear at midnight. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of a robust free agent crop will make sure that the attempt to make a splash trumps the status quo between now and July 10, when the moratorium for free agents to sign new deals ends.

In a copycat league, the one thing that few teams can emulate is the Spurs’ ability to — let’s borrow a phrase from Heat boss Pat Riley – “stay the course.” The Heat are attempting to do so with their core group of James, Bosh, Wade and Udonis Haslem all opting out of their deals to give Riley the ultimate flexibility to keep them together with restructured deals.

“It’s easy to tout the Spurs method and process when you’re sitting on five championships in 15 years and you have Timmy, Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] to work with,” said an assistant general manager of an Eastern Conference team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in recent years. “That’s operating from a position of power that basically no one else in the league can operate from other than maybe Miami. The problem we deal with now is the Draft doesn’t provide the consistent home run to build and pulling off great trades, under this new CBA, are a bit more complicated than they used to be. So you’re almost left with free agency and only free agency as the best way to instantly upgrade your team. It’s not the only way, but it’s often the quickest path to where you’re trying to go.”

Tell that to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose mastery of the cap and free agency is in a stratosphere of its own, given the way he piles up assets, works them and then does it all over again every summer.

Just don’t tell the Portland Trail Blazers, who bounced Howard, James Harden and the Rockets from the playoffs this season with homegrown talents LaMarcus Aldridge, Damien Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and last summer’s free agent bargain Robin Lopez leading the way.

As long there’s a chance that reaching for the stars, and really the superstars, can result in the Heat’s summer haul of 2010, the Spurs’ approach will continue to be the exception and not the norm. It’s rare that the circumstances will present the sort of potential Hall of Fame pot of gold the Spurs tinker with now.

The fantasy basketball nature of the tip-off of free agency, which includes an endless number of scenarios — from the plausible to the utterly and completely far-fetched — fills the appetite of fan bases more interested in dreaming big than recognizing the realities of team building in today’s NBA.

For all of the heavy lifting the Heat did in 2010, their results ended up being 50-50 in four years of championship hunting. And the two teams that whacked them, the Mavericks in 2011 and the Spurs last month, were largely organic outfits that took the mighty Heat apart in those matchups. (And Spurs fans will point to the 2013 Finals and their team being 28 seconds away from winning that series in six games.)

It’s a theoretical gamble, choosing which way to go, that each franchise has to evaluate and weigh on its own.

The Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks have decisions to make this summer about their respective paths. They have quality core groups that could continue to be grown and matured organically, or at least in a subtle fashion that does not include surrendering that cap flexibility on a player that doesn’t guarantee the elevation desired. But they each also have ample cap space that allows them to at least present themselves as players for high-profile free agents like James and Anthony.

A slow-burn approach, as rewarding as it can be when it finally comes together, is a tough sell when there are superstars out there waiting for someone to step up with an offer. From all indications the Suns are going all in on the pursuit of both James and Anthony, with the assets in future drafts, a young core and $20 million in cap space to wheel and deal in whatever way necessary to attract superstars.

With the projected salary cap at an estimated $63.2 million and the luxury tax threshold estimated at roughly $77 million, the Hawks will also enter free agency tonight with about $15 million in cap space to chase a superstar, or a couple of All-Star caliber talents, over the course of the next 10 days.

Whatever they choose, they do so knowing that there is an enormous difference between winning big in July and free agency compared to winning big when it really counts —  in June.

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…)

Duncan comes back for the fun of it


VIDEO: Tim Duncan opts to return

Tim Duncan has said for several years now that he would stop playing basketball when it was no longer fun.

Did you see Duncan in the Game 5 clincher against the Heat? Making buckets, making plays and making sure that he nodded appreciatively at his teammates.

Did you see Duncan after Game 5 and the fifth championship was complete? Standing as the confetti rained down from the rafters, helping Kawhi Leonard adjust his one-size-fits-all cap like a proud big brother, hugging and dancing and laughing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, exchanging that knowing look with coach Gregg Popovich.

It’s still fun.

That’s why there was never really a doubt that the 38-year-old would exercise the contract option and return in the fall for his 18th NBA season. Thoughtful, introspective and deliberate, Duncan knows that these are the kind of experiences that he’ll never be able to duplicate once he takes off that Spurs jersey for the final time and steps outside the locker room.

The sports landscape is filled with stories of the athletes who stayed too long and did damage to their reputations at a time when their skills had faded. That was the thought behind those who suggested that Duncan could and should go out on top.

But it’s easy for us on the outside to say that enough is enough and it’s time for a player of Duncan’s stature to simply walk away from a game that has given him so much pleasure, such sheer joy and satisfaction for the largest part of his life.

If there is a plain and simple goal, it is for Duncan to come back with his teammates and try to do the one thing that has eluded the Spurs in their 15-year span of excellence — go back-to-back. Take one more shot and claim one more Larry O’Brien Trophy next June and the Spurs will slam the door shot on even the last bit of criticism from the nitpickers about their worthiness to be called a dynasty.

However, there is also the matter of just not wanting to leave one last drop of that shared camaraderie in the bottom of the bottle before walking away.

In his wonderful biography on Michael Jordan The Life by Roland Lazenby, the author tells the story of coach Phil Jackson asking each of the Bulls to write down a thought, a memory, a poem, anything about their experience and bring it to the team’s final practice at what they all knew was the end of the road in 1998. After each player stood up and spoke his memory, Jackson gathered all of the slips of paper, put them in a can and lit them on fire with a match.

“They’re ours,” he told the Bulls.

That’s what ties a true team, the shared work and sweat and practices and games and unique bonds that can make a champion. And no matter what successes Duncan — or any of them — can accomplish after their playing careers are through, it will never be this.

If Duncan was concerned with his age and the sharp edges coming off his game, he would have walked away in 2011 when the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by Memphis and Duncan looked tired, spent.

Instead, he rededicated himself to getting back into shape, a different kind of shape. He changed his body, shedding weight and making himself more lithe. Then he returned to a Spurs team where Popovich asked him to change his game, moving out from an existence in the low post and giving up his role as the centerpiece of the offense to Parker.

It was still a challenge, still motivating, still a reason to get up in the morning. Still doable, as the fifth championship attests.

Look at the photos of Duncan all through the Spurs’ march through the playoffs and tell me he was ever going anywhere but back to the locker room in October.

It’s still fun. The only reason that matters.

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

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No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

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No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

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No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

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No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.