Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

Blogtable: What will Team USA look like in 2020?

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: Thoughts on Team USA in 2020? | Do Warriors have a short window to contend? |
Who benefits more from change in scenery: Al Horford or Dwight Howard?


> Look into your crystal ball and tell me what the U.S. Olympic team looks like in 2020? What’s the team’s personality? Who are its key players?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My crystal ball is showing me a Russell Westbrook takeover in Tokyo, not unlike his old pal Kevin Durant‘s superstar turn down in Rio. Westbrook will be perfectly situated at that point, in terms of his chosen franchise and latest enormous contract, so he’ll be hot on the trail of his second gold medal to bookend a championship ring or, like Carmelo Anthony, to make up for the absence of one. I’m seeing five or six returnees from this summer’s squad, from among Kyrie Irving, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, maybe Durant. Then additions such as Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, either Karl-Anthony Towns or Andre Drummond and a 35-year-old LeBron James in the role Team USA impresario Jerry Colangelo had carved out for Kobe Bryant, had he wanted it this year. Kawhi Leonard seems a natural fit given his likely career arc with the Spurs and the presence of Gregg Popovich as the next U.S. coach. Then stir in fresh blood from the likes of Jabari Parker, Victor Oladipo or Brandon Ingram and the national team shouldn’t miss a beat.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Call them Team Bailout: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Bradley Beal and maybe a veteran who wants last hurrah wrapped in the flag named LeBron James. All the stars who took a pass on Rio come back for Team USA and coach Gregg Popovich in Tokyo. Add in a couple of point guards — Chris Paul and John Wall — who were rehabbing injuries and you’ve got your gold medal roster for 2020.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The personality will be business-like. If anyone has forgotten in Tokyo in 2020 that some opponents made life interesting in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the coaches and USA Basketball leaders will be glad to remind them. The ’16 team had the right attitude, but maybe the easy victories on the U.S. tour before heading to Brazil and then the opening games of pool play created a false sense of security. That won’t happen next time. I also think the U.S. will benefit from the unique schedule coming up — World Cup in 2019, Olympics in 2020. The roster will be largely the same for both, helping with cohesion. A lot of the players from Rio will also be playing, but Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard will be added. Maybe others. Three years until the World Cup is more than enough time for a new star or two to emerge for the United States.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The next team will have a fresh new look, starting of course with the coach. LeBron James said how neat it would be to play for Gregg Popovich but I’m not so sure LeBron will be willing to put his aging body on the line by then. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant should give the team a Warriors flavor, with help from newcomers Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Still can’t see another country keeping pace four years from now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: At 31, Kevin Durant will remain the primary alpha dog among the rest. But there could be better offensive cohesion with Gregg Popovich on the bench. I think there were lessons learned this year about the value of complementary players like Paul George and DeAndre Jordan. So, while I see Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis as obvious picks, there will need to be some guys that are willing to do the defensive work.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Olympic team in 2020 will once again be flush with the best homegrown players the NBA has to offer. The Golden State crew of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will take up a quarter of the squad alongside Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and “old heads” LeBron James and Chris Paul. There won’t be any leadership or chemistry issues and the talent level will rival any group to wear the USA across their chests since the original Dream Team. It’ll be all business as the U.S. claims its fourth straight Olympic gold.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The stars in their primes will include Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant at forward, and Stephen Curry plus Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. But the identity figures to be drawn from the potential comeback of LeBron James, who may become – if only for the 2020 Olympics – the starting center for USA Basketball. In that case the next tournament would shape up as an international celebration of LeBron’s career as well as his versatility. It could be an opportunity he cannot refuse.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog With my dirty dozen, it doesn’t matter whether the rest of the world is able to get its act together: Anthony Davis starts at the five, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James (on his international hoops farewell tour) at forward, supplemented by a Splash Brothers backcourt. Then, coming off the bench my second five is Draymond Green, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as my frontcourt, along with a backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. DeMarcus Cousins and Kyrie Irving round out my twelve.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

USA’s Rio Gold Rush | Popovich takes over Team USA | Gasol not ready to end international career | Wall continues making an impact off the court

No. 1: USA’s Rio gold rush With an experienced coaching staff and roster stuffed with NBA All-Stars, the United States Men’s Basketball Team entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as heavy favorites to win the gold medal. And with yesterday’s 96-66 blowout win over Serbia, Team USA did in fact win gold, although the journey may have been bumpier than many expected. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Rio, several lessons were apparent along the way:

This team had some bad defenders, and too many of them were in the starting lineup together until head coach Mike Krzyzewski changed things up before the quarterfinals. On this team and in years past, we’ve learned how important it is to have an Andre Iguodala or a Paul George to complement the guys who can put the ball in the bucket. Kawhi Leonard, you have a 2020 roster spot if you want it.

This team also fell victim to an exhibition schedule that was too easy. That wasn’t necessarily a mistake, because they were only able to play teams that traveled through the U.S. on their way to Rio. But it was clear that the Americans weren’t prepared for a step-up in competition after cruising through the exhibitions and their first two pool play games.

And as much talent as the U.S. has, it’s impossible to make the most of it over the course of five weeks. The national team is made up of stars who aren’t used to playing with one another, and they were playing their first elimination game less than a month after they began training camp.

Other teams don’t train for much longer than that, but almost all of them have more roster continuity than the U.S. does. The U.S. had just two players back from its last Olympic Team, as well as four from the team that won the World Cup of Basketball in 2014. Serbia, meanwhile, returned nine players from the team that lost to the U.S. in ’14.

And that’s concern No. 1 for USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. He knows that it’s always going to be difficult for the U.S. to flow freely offensively and play on a string defensively when they only have three weeks to prepare a brand new roster.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” Colangelo said. “And when you have 10 new people and you only have them for a few weeks, it’s not enough time. For me, I’m glad we’re past this. It’s justification for all that we’ve done. But it also says to me we need to continue with the continuity. We can’t go back again with 10 new players. It’s not going to happen.”

This year, the Americans were fortunate to have the two Olympic vets that they did. Durant put the team on his back in the gold medal game. Carmelo Anthony, who retired from the national team after Sunday’s game as the only player with three Olympic gold medals in Men’s Basketball, turned into a leader for the younger players to rally around.

Those younger guys will be asked to keep coming back. And continuity will become even more important down the line, because the rest of the world is continually getting better. While this tournament saw the final games of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in their national-team uniforms, there is more talent coming up behind them.

The 46 NBA players in these Olympics was an all-time high. Australia took a big step forward, put itself on the second tier of national teams, and has the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft in its pipeline. Serbia isn’t going anywhere, France has good, under-30 players in the backcourt and on the frontline, Croatia and Lithuania have young NBA talent, and it’s just a matter of time (and participation) before Canada breaks though.

The United States’ winning streak in international tournaments, which now stands at 53 games, will come to an end at some point. But this group of 12 didn’t let it happen on its watch.

There were close calls, but they still went 8-0, played their best game with gold on the line, and stood on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. Lessons were learned, but gold was earned.

***

No. 2: Popovich takes over Team USA — After 11 years at the helm and a perfect record in the Olympics, Coach Mike Krzyzewski now hands over Team USA to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will be Team USA’s new man on the sideline. As ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan writes, to truly understand Pop, you have to understand where he comes from and the disappointments that have helped shape him…

Gregg Popovich graduated with a degree in Soviet Studies in 1970 and joined the U.S. Armed Forces basketball team, touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, using his fluent Russian to brief his coach on helpful buzzwords.

His team won the AAU championship in 1972, and when he returned to the U.S., he learned the Olympic basketball trials would be held at the Academy. Jack Herron Jr., who was named to the 1972 U.S. Olympic selection committee, made it his charge to make certain Popovich received an invitation.

Herron, whose father Jack Sr. played for Olympic coach Hank Iba at Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State), had just spent a year as an Air Force basketball assistant and recruiting coordinator. Popovich had earned rave reviews for his overseas performances, but they were neither televised nor publicized.

“It was a fight just to get him there,” says Herron. Back then the Olympic team was selected from a pool of players representing AAU, the NAIA, junior colleges, the Armed Forces, and both the university and college divisions of the NCAA. Players were split into groups of 10 to 12 and assigned a coach. Popovich played for Indiana coach Bobby Knight; one of his teammates was forward Bobby Jones.

Jones remembers that Popovich was in his group but could not recall particulars of his game, even though Popovich led all players with a .577 shooting percentage. What Jones recalls with clarity, though, was how, before the last scrimmage of the trials, Knight informed the group that only two of them had a shot at making the final Olympic squad and the rest should pass them the ball to enhance their chances.

“The two guys were Kevin Joyce and me,” says Jones. “I had never heard a coach be so honest. I don’t know how Gregg and the other players felt about it.”

Herron suspects the subtleties of Popovich’s game were lost among the other candidates who were jacking up shots and looking to put points on the board. “Gregg could have been more showy,” Herron says, “but he played the way Mr. Iba told him to play. It probably hurt him in the end.”

Herron says he attended every single Olympic selection committee meeting and that Popovich was among the top 14-16 players in each of those discussions. But as the committee began to vote on the final roster, members who hadn’t showed up at any of the previous meetings suddenly surfaced. When Herron asked why they were there, he says they told him, “We’re here to get our guys on the team.”

The process, Herron says, quickly dissolved into factions fighting for representation instead of choosing the top performers. When the final roster was announced, Popovich was left off.

“I’ve been aggravated about this for almost 50 years,” Herron says. “Gregg belonged on that team.”

Larry Brown was invited by Iba to attend the tryouts and was suitably impressed by Popovich’s moxie, so much so that he invited him to try out for his ABA team in Denver later that fall (Popovich was among the final cuts).

“Pop was real tough and tenacious, like [Cavs guard Matthew] Dellavedova, although a little more athletic,” Brown says. “But there were so many talented players there.”

***

No. 3: Gasol not ready to end international career In other Olympic basketball action yesterday, Spain defeated Australia, 89-88, to win the bronze medal, behind 31 points from Pau Gasol. And while Gasol will be 40 years old by the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he’s not ready to say he’ll be finished with his international career by then:

Gasol, who will spend this upcoming NBA season in San Antonio and hasn’t committed to playing at Tokyo in 2020, and his teammates celebrated by piling on top of each other near center court. This wasn’t the medal they wanted, but after losing their first two games in Brazil, it beats nothing.

“Unbelievable,” forward Rudy Fernandez said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It is a feeling Gasol wishes could last. He isn’t ready to shed his Espana jersey.

“I’m getting older and at some point I’m not going to be able to play,” said the 36-year-old. “So when that day comes, I’ll accept it. It’ll be hard, but I had an incredible run. I can’t ask for anything else. Everything I gave, everything I lived as a basketball player, it’s a plus. It’s a gift.

“I’m just enjoying the ride.”

***

No. 4: Wall continues making an impact off the court Washington’s John Wall wasn’t able to participate with USA Basketball this summer because of offseason knee surgery, but his rehab from the injury hasn’t kept him from being involved off the court in D.C. As the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner writes, Wall recently gave out backpacks at a local elementary school, his latest attempt to make a difference in his community…

John Wall remembers how as a child he had to strap on the same backpack from elementary age until seventh grade. It’s one of the reasons why Wall showed up in Southeast Washington on a blazing hot afternoon to give away 250 backpacks.

On Saturday at Malcolm X Elementary School, the John Wall Family Foundation hosted its third annual Back to School Block Party. The event featured local organizations that donated back-to-school items, a DJ blasting up-tempo tunes, a bouncy house, face painting and free food. However, the main attraction was Wall, who personally placed backpacks on children and posed for photographs.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to meet my favorite player or an NBA player [when] I was growing up,” Wall said. “But [now] I can see the smiles that I put on these kids’ faces.”

Wall arrived at the event with little fanfare — though the DJ dropped the beat to welcome the guest of honor with “Teach Me How To Dougie.” Wall then walked the perimeter of the parking lot and basketball court to shake hands with every volunteer.

Following his gratitude lap, Wall took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

“I’m excited to be at Malcolm X Elementary school to give back to the community,” Wall said. “Like I told a lot of people before, we’re not forced to do this. I do it because I want to. I do it to be involved and be involved with the kids.”

School Principal Zara Berry-Young said Wall’s foundation reached out to her school because it specifically wanted to help in the Southeast Washington community. Wall echoed this sentiment, saying he picked an area “where people and the kids are going through tough times. . . . It’s kind of easy because it’s kind of over here by where our practice [facility] is going to be. I’m going to be over here a lot and seeing these people.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In an emotional interview following the gold medal game, Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from Team USACatching up with Brazilian hoops icon Oscar SchmidtYao Ming reflects on his Olympic experiencesAllen Iverson picks his top five players of all-time … The Heat and Chris Bosh are reportedly still discussing his returnKobe Bryant today will announce a venture capital fund for investing in technology, media and data companies …

Curry named Players Association MVP

From NBA.com staff reports

The National Basketball Players Association announced their second annual Players Voice Awards on Thursday, with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry being named MVP among a slate that ranged from the standard to the eclectic. The awards, listed below, were voted on solely by NBA players.

      • Best Rookie: Karl-Anthony Towns
      • Comeback Player Of The Year: Paul George
      • Best Off The Bench: Jamal Crawford
      • Best Defender: Kawhi Leonard
      • Toughest To Guard: Stephen Curry
      • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
      • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
      • Best Home-Court Advantage: Golden State Warriors
      • Coach You’d Most Like To Play For: Gregg Popovich
      • Clutch Performer: Stephen Curry
      • Best Social Media Follow: LeBron James
      • Most Influential Veteran: Tim Duncan
      • Global Impact Player: Kobe Bryant
      • Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry
      • Best Teammate, by team:

Blogtable: What is your enduring memory of Tim Duncan?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> Spurs great Tim Duncan retired on Monday after an illustrious 19-year career. What will be your lasting memory about Duncan?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTempted to say his incredible ability to play all those games, log all those minutes and win all those titles in San Antonio without ever committing a personal foul. At least that’s how it looked, given his wide-eyed reaction to every whistle against him. But I’ll play this more straight and go with Duncan’s bank shots. Those backboards that we stare at and through in NBA arenas are there for a reason, and no one in the past 20 years put them to better use. His turnaround jumper off the glass is as much a lasting image and patented weapon for him as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s sky hook, Dominique Wilkins‘ slam-back or Stephen Curry‘s 28-footers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Sheer professionalism, willingness to do anything for the team and an eternal image of that sweet, old school bank shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How much the nickname fit: “The Big Fundamental.” Duncan was so sound in almost every way. Offense. Defense. Attitude. Keeping himself ready to play, consistently reaching the high-70s in games. His grounded personality and understated style of play while others preferred trash talking and antics was the ultimate in dependable production speak for itself.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’m not sure I’ll see another superstar like Tim Duncan in my lifetime, in that he made so many sacrifices: money, ego, etc., for the sake of the franchise. He played for one coach in 19 years and allowed himself to be coached. He also used the glass constantly — nobody does that. My lasting memory is really an invisible memory. He didn’t take a retirement tour, nor did he hold a press conference to say good-bye. He was a ghost. In this era of look-at-me stars, it was so refreshing, so perfect … so Duncan.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are so many memories of Duncan that flood your brain now that we know his playing career is over. He piled up so many specials games that it’s not even reasonable to choose one from the thousands. But the thing that sticks out to me is the way he handled himself, win or lose, on the biggest stage. The anguish on his face after the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in The 2013 Finals and then the pure joy he wore a year later when the Spurs avenged that loss and won what would be the last title of his illustrious career will always resonate with me. For a guy who always did his best to keep his emotions bottled up, it was interesting to see him in both instances during the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. The contrast, from one the all-time greats in any sport, was something to see up close and personal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: When Duncan missed the layup near the end of Game 7 of The 2013 NBA Finals, he was never more sympathetic. The reason that image defines him is because he refused to give into it. He increased his focus, the Spurs followed his lead as always, and one year later they were playing to the highest level of championship basketball that many of us have ever seen. Duncan’s professionalism was unmatched.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogOf course, there are dozens of on-court memories of Duncan that I share with millions of other NBA fans. But as someone who has had the good fortune to spent some time with Timmy, I also have off-court moments that come to mind, and one in particular that I think speaks volumes about the type of person that Duncan is away from the game. About five years back, Duncan had agreed to sit down with me for a one-on-one interview when the Spurs were in New York City. Duncan suggested I come to a Spurs shootaround the morning before a game and spend some time with him following the shootaround. So I showed up and waited and waited, until every single player finished and left to return to the hotel. Finally, the last person to leave was Duncan, who walked out drenched with sweat, hustling to board the last bus back the hotel. Duncan saw me and asked if I would mind postponing our interview until that night at the game. It was at this point I reminded the greatest power-forward of all-time that in the midst of the whirlwind of the NBA season, perhaps he had forgotten that it was Valentine’s Day, and I had long-standing plans to take my wife out to dinner that evening. But it was fine, I said: This was my job, and if Duncan wanted to talk that evening, I would be there. Duncan said no. He grabbed his phone and asked me for my number, and a few days later, Duncan called and did the interview over the phone during some of his personal time off. It was a small gesture, but to me it was demonstrative of exactly many of the personal traits which made Duncan so great: empathy, self-awareness, sacrifice. Also, it made my wife really happy, so there was that.

USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

Morning shootaround — May 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Payton miffed at MVP voters | Lowry’s game goes AWOL in East finals | Why Knicks are set to hire Hornacek

No. 1: Payton upset with voters over Curry’s unanimous MVP  Throughout the Golden State Warriors’ rise to prominence (and a title last season), countless figures from the game’s present and past have had varied opinions on the team’s dominance. After the Warriors’ star, Stephen Curry, won his second straight Kia MVP (and won it unanimously), former All-Star Tracy McGrady said Curry’s award was both a reflection of his greatness and the weakness of the NBA. Another legend of the game, Gary Payton, shares similar feelings about Curry’s MVP and said as much during an interview with both Sports Illustrated Now and Sirius XM radio.

First, here’s what Payton had to say to Sports Illustrated Now about Curry’s MVP:

Hall of Famer Gary Payton doesn’t believe Stephen Curry should have been the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

The former Seattle Supersonics point guard told SI’s Maggie Gray that “it’s about era,” and that he felt Michael Jordan should have been a unanimous decision during his own playing days. “I think all of those guys were unanimous decisions too. It just happened in an era that went his way…I commend him and what he’s accomplished, but you gotta think about who was voting for MJ, Kareem, in their time, why they wouldn’t have given all their votes to those guys.”

Curry received every first-place vote after leading the league in scoring, three-pointers made and steals and driving the Warriors to the most successful regular-season win-loss record in NBA history at 73–9. He has drawn scrutiny from NBA greats including Oscar Robertson.

And, via the Bay Area News Group, Payton says his biggest complaint is with the MVP voters and not Curry:

Gary Payton, the Hall of Fame point guard and Oakland native, said Thursday he has an issue with voters who gave the Warriors’ Stephen Curry the honor of becoming the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

“People have to understand we don’t have an issue with Stephen Curry,” Payton told SiriusXM. “Stephen Curry doesn’t vote for himself. You had 131 people that voted for him. I’ve got an issue with them.”

A vote of NBA players decided the MVP up until the 1980-81 season when balloting was done by a panel of sports writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada.

“We forgot Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds,” Payton told SiriusXM. “You didn’t think he was a unanimous decision? Who else ever did that and scored 100 points in one game? And he didn’t even win it (in 1962). That’s what I’m trying to say.

“You look at Michael Jordan. When they set the record at 72-10 in 1996, he didn’t get all the votes. So you’re trying to tell me these reporters or whoever’s voting that you and them guys back then, they didn’t know that he was a unanimous decision? Don’t blame that on Stephen Curry. Blame that on them reporters.”

Payton told the radio station that the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who finished second and third in the voting, deserved first-place votes.

“If you look at LeBron, what he does for his team, he does everything,” Payton said. “I still think he’s the best all-around basketball player. As we say, Stephen Curry was the best player this year but I’m saying all-around – who gives you assists, who gives you rebounding, who gives you points, who does a lot of things for his team to have it? If you take LeBron off that team, I don’t think Cleveland is a good team like that. If you Curry off of it, uh, right now I don’t know. They probably would win games. They wouldn’t have won 73, but they would win a lot of basketball games.”

Morning shootaround — May 14




NEWS OF THE MORNING
What it takes for Heat | Vogel to Orlando? | Spurs face questions | Mavs eye Howard | Grizzlies talk to Ewing
No. 1: Heat come through when heat was on — Unconventional? Necessary? Desperate? Use your own adjectives. But trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat had no more room to back up and, as our own Lang Whitaker points out, they did what they needed to do to survive and force Game 7 on Sunday:

While starting a rookie at center was largely prompted from attrition, it was a couple of veterans who did the heavy lifting for the Heat, helping them even the series with a 103-91 win. When the Heat were looking at a possible end of their season in Game 7 of their first round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Goran Dragic took control, scoring 25 points. Facing elimination again Friday, Dragic shredded Toronto for a career playoff-high 30 points, and chipped in seven rebounds.

“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic joked. “I wanted to stay here.”

Dragic got significant help from Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points, giving him 110 points in his last four games. While Justise Winslow looked Lilliputian lined up against Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, he finished with 12 points and three rebounds, and more than held his own in the paint.

Miami’s rotation shuffles were mostly due to injuries — Miami center Hassan Whiteside went out during Game 3 with a knee sprain, which made the series “go sideways,” according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat’s smaller group was also a way to give Toronto a fresh look after five games against the same team.

“It’s just unconventional,” said Wade of the smaller lineup. “And sometimes unconventional works… at this time of the series you need something a little different.”

***

No. 2: Magic talk with Vogel — Suddenly confronted with an unexpected coaching vacancy when Scott Skiles quit after one season, the Magic are planning to reach out to former Pacers boss Frank Vogel about taking over the job. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel caught up to Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan, who might as well have been talking about Vogel when describing the traits he’s seeking in a new coach:

On Thursday and again on Friday, Hennigan said the Magic would seek to hire someone who places a high value on the defensive end of the court.

“Sort of the fulcrum of what we’re looking for,” Hennigan said Friday, “is someone who puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor, someone who puts an emphasis on player development and also someone who puts an emphasis on building lasting connections with the players on our roster.”

***

No. 3: Spurs decisions beyond Duncan — The first question to be asked in the seconds after the Spurs were eliminated by the Thunder was whether Tim Duncan had just walked off an NBA court for the final time after a 19-year career. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, the organization that was shockingly upset after a franchise best 67-15 season has plenty of questions that go well beyond their Hall of Fame big man:

Barring trades, the Spurs will bring back at least seven players from a 67-win team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the 35-year-old David West hold player options that, if exercised, would add their names to the list. Those decisions don’t have to be made until July.

The Spurs own a team option on rookie guard Jonathon Simmons, which they are likely to exercise.

Depending on how those answers shake out, the Spurs could create salary-cap space to pursue another maximum-dollar free agent. They have already been linked to OKC star Kevin Durant and Memphis point guard Mike Conley.

West, who famously gave back $12.6 million in Indiana last summer to accept a veteran minimum deal with the Spurs, says he has no regrets about that decision.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said West, who remained non-committal about his future. “I needed this for where I am in my career and where I am as a person. It kept me sane. It kept me in basketball.”

Once the free-agency horn sounds July 1, Boban Marjanovic will become the most interesting internal decision for the Spurs’ front office.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs retain the right to match any offer he receives, and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he can earn next season to $5.6 million.

Competing teams could choose to structure an offer sheet for Marjanovic with a salary spike in the third year. The Spurs would then have to decide whether to swallow that so-called “poison pill” and match.

***

No. 4: Howard could top Mavericks wish list — The Mavericks have not exactly had a great deal of luck in the past landing big name free agents. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that have slipped away. But now the Mavs might be turning their attention back toward Howard this summer, according to Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

At the top of the Mavericks’ wish list this year is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Howard, it would seem, has absolutely everything the Mavericks need from a center.

Plus, Howard constantly draws a double team, which would allow Dirk Nowitzki to hang out on the perimeter and basically enjoy target practice during the twilight of his career.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Atlanta’s Al Horford are the other centers the Mavericks will probably pursue if they can’t land Howard, who is good friends with Mavs forward Chandler Parsons.

The negatives with Howard are many: He wants a long-term contract with an annual salary of around $30 million, he’s a career 56.8 percent shooter from the free-throw line, and, according to his critics, he doesn’t take the game seriously.

***

No. 5: Ewing interviewed by Grizzlies — With general manager Chris Wallace having already been spotted dining out with ex-coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have also spoken with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing about their bench opening, says CBS Sports and Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Ewing, a 53-year-old Hall of Famer, reportedly interviewed for the Memphis job Thursday. He previously talked to the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching job that Dave Joerger filled two days after he was fired by the Grizzlies.

Ewing is a retired player who paid his dues as an assistant yet hasn’t been seriously considered for a head position.

“All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity,” Ewing once told USA Today after being elevated to associate head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats under Steve Clifford.

Ewing started coaching as an assistant for the Washington Wizards in 2002. He spent three years on the Houston Rockets bench. The New York Knicks legend also worked under Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic.

“I know he is an excellent coach, and he has more than paid his dues,” Clifford told USA Today. “If you’re around him every day, you see it. I lean on him for a lot of things, the tough times … He helps me in every imaginable way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th spot on playoff scoring list … Hassan Whiteside says he will not play in Game 7 vs. Toronto … Jerry Sloan talks openly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease … Kevin Durant says beating the Spurs was “not our championship.”… Rockets fans want Kenny Smith as the next coach in Houston … The Spurs will pursue free agent point guard Mike Conley … The Celtics and Danny Ainge ready for this most important draft … LeBron James would have voted for Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder KO Spurs in Game 6 | Carroll, Deng questionable for Game 6 | Warriors’ Green says ankle improvingWho do Magic turn to next?

No. 1: Thunder become Spurs-like in Game 6 clincher  It may be hard to remember now, but the Oklahoma City Thunder hardly looked like they’d give the San Antonio Spurs a series after Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Spurs won that game by 32 points and looked dominant in every way, shape and form. Yet here we are this morning with the Thunder having ousted the Spurs in Game 6 on Thursday night in a fashion that was more Spurs-like than San Antonio could muster, writes Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman:

The Thunder blasted the Spurs 113-99 Thursday night at Chesapeake Arena to win this Western Conference semifinal series that started with a blowout one way and ended with the same the other way.

And what came in between was even more remarkable. The Thunder became the Spurs. The Spurs became the Thunder.

In winning four of the final five games, OKC went San Antonio-style.

Ferocious defense. Superior passing. Spreading the offensive wealth. Big boosts off the bench.

Those are San Antonio calling cards. But by series’ end, the Spurs were hard-pressed to slow the Thunder, San Antonio’s offense had become isolation-heavy with overreliance on its stars and the bench difference was mighty in OKC’s favor, thanks to the superior play of Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

Iso ball? That’s been the knock on the Thunder for years. But after the Game 1 blowout, the Thunder out-assisted the Spurs 92-88, including 12-5 in the first half Thursday.

The Spurs’ best offense was isolation with Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge. They are great players, but not as great one-on-one as Durant or Westbrook. The Spurs’ “beautiful game” of passing went by the wayside.

No Spur other than Leonard, Aldridge or Tim Duncan even scored the first 16 minutes.

Bench? By series’ end, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was trying all kinds of combinations, including 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, ex-Thunder Kevin Martin and 40-year-old Andre Miller, none of whom had played in the series since mopup duty in the Game 1 blowout.

Meanwhile, Billy Donovan shortened his bench and got the same quality play he’s been getting from Waiters and Kanter.

It all was a stunning turnaround from Game 1, when the Thunder seemed outclassed. By series end, the Spurs seemed old and tired. All they had left was their pride.

Pride they had. The Spurs trailed by 26 points after three quarters but didn’t give up. Even cut the lead to 11 late in the game.

But it wasn’t enough. Victory was secure. The transformation was complete.

Last 2 minute report finds 2 more key errors

OKLAHOMA CITY — The NBA Officiating “Last Two Minute Report” turned up two more glaring errors in the final 55 seconds of Game 5 between the Spurs and Thunder on Tuesday night.

Both calls in the in-depth breakdown of the final two minutes went against the Spurs in their 95-91 loss that leaves them down 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinal series.

There had been considerable uproar following Game 2 of the series when the “Last Two Minute Report” found five errors in the final 13.5 seconds.

The key plays from Game 5:

54.7 seconds left: San Antonio’s Danny Green is called for tripping OKC’s Kevin Durant and Durant is sent to the line for two free throws. The review found: “(Steven) Adams (OKC) extends his leg into Green’s (SAS) path, causing him to trip and fall into Durant (OKC).”

8.7 seconds left: Down 92-91, the Spurs wanted to foul OKC’s Russell Westbrook when he drove the right baseline. Kawhi Leonard reached out to wrap up Westbrook, who ran right through the grasp to score a layup and was fouled. He made the free throw to give the Thunder the 95-91 final margin of victory. The review said: “Leonard (SAS) commits a take foul on Westbrook (OKC).”

Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

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: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.