Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

Blogtable: Texas-sized showdown?

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: Midseason surprises? | Texas playoff showdown? | What to do with Austin?



VIDEOThe Spurs won their last game vs. the Rockets, which came in late December

> We’d love to see a good Texas showdown in the first round of the playoffs, so which would be the better one: Spurs vs. Rockets, Spurs vs. Mavs, or Mavs vs. Rockets? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take Spurs vs. Rockets, please, just because of the contrast in cultures, styles, team-building, new Big 3 vs. historic Big 3, you name it. James Harden in perhaps an MVP season against Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverly pestering Tony Parker, Dwight Howard against Tim Duncan and San Antonio’s other bigs – the only downside would be catching all the games on TV and going forward three rounds without one of them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Any combination would make for a dandy series, but I’ll go with Spurs-Rockets. Since the arrival of Dwight Howard last season, Houston is 5-1 against San Antonio. This could be a changing-of-the-guard type series as the Rockets use younger, stronger legs to press an advantage against the aging veterans of the Spurs. But at 38, Tim Duncan has been performing like an ageless All-Star and the Spurs’ pride wouldn’t go down without an epic fight. Bring it on.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No real preference, but I’ll go Mavericks-Rockets. Other people will look forward to a return to the sniping, Chandler Parsons against his old team, Mark Cuban against the Houston front office. I would like the collision of the very good Mavs offense against the very good Rockets defense. That would be a fun watch.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Mavs-Rockets, no doubt. I mean, even though Chandler Parsons has already seen his old team and will again before the playoffs, the temperature goes up a tick in April. Toss Mark Cuban into the mix and it becomes even more toxic. This could be Dirk Nowitzki‘s last good chance to go far in the playoffs, so the Mavericks might feel a little desperation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d happily accept any of the three, but put me down for Rockets-Spurs. San Antonio is always going to be my first choice for any matchup, as long as they keep playing the same style, keep executing at a high level, and keep Boris Diaw around. Houston provides a contrast in style, star talent, and the defense that has had the most regular-season success against the Spurs over the last two years. Before we get there though, I’d like to see the Rockets add one more guy who can create off the dribble. Their offense misses Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Given the intertwined histories of all of these franchises, we couldn’t go wrong with any of these proposed matchups. Still, there’s something about the bad blood that simmers between the Mavericks and Rockets makes that the series I’d love to see. James Harden and Rajon Rondo, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis and Patrick Beverley and, ultimately, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons. All of those matchups, combined with the underlying drama involved, would make for a crazy competitive first-round series. There would be as much (or more) drama in this series as there would be the rest of the postseason combined.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Spurs vs. Mavs would be tremendous. Both teams know how to win championships (now that Dirk Nowitzki has been joined by Rajon Rondo), both coaches are among the NBA’s smartest, and both offenses tend to be efficient and explosive. The Mavs went seven games in the opening round last year with the Spurs, who lost only four additional playoff games on their way to the championship. A rematch would be even more competitive.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There’s a lot of history between each of these teams, and from a schadenfreude/front office perspective, watching Houston and Dallas in the first round might be the most entertaining. But from a basketball perspective, I’d really like to see San Antonio go up against Houston. Even as the Spurs have struggled through injuries and a rigorous first-half schedule, they’ve remained relevant to the postseason picture. Once they’re at full-strength, I’d love to see their pace-and-space attack against Houston’s read-and-react offense. How would San Antonio slow down James Harden? How would Houston defend San Antonio’s ball movement? However it shakes out, it will definitely be must-see TV.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers | Russ goes wild on Warriors | Raptors are no match for Hawks | Kawhi’s comeback sparks Spurs

No. 1:Blatt’s curve ball works wonders for Cavaliers — Give David Blatt credit for recognizing a crisis and figuring out his own way of handling it, so to speak. All the denials in the world won’t make the Cleveland Cavaliers’ issues go away. The only thing that will quiet the current storm surrounding this team is winning. And the Cavaliers, after a 1-7 slide and six straight losses without LeBron James in the lineup, are suddenly on the other side, winners of two straight games after their Los Angeles sweep. They wrapped it up with Friday’s win over the Clippers. But the best move Blatt made came before Thursday’s win over the Lakers, when the coach threw a curve ball of his own into the mix and changed the tenor of things for all involved. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Blatt has acknowledged that he’s continuing to make adjustments and admitted to having room to grow in his first year as an NBA head coach. Part of coaching is about feel and instincts, gauging what the team needs at that moment in time.

The best call Blatt made to get his team in the proper mindset against the Lakers was tricking his team into thinking they had practice the day before.

“(Bowling) didn’t seem to affect too many people’s jump-shots. This man (J.R. Smith) was throwing a six-pound ball around,” Love revealed. “Those events are fun. We were able to go out there and bowl, eat bad food and enjoy ourselves. It had us loose for the game.”

Loose hasn’t been a word affiliated with the Cavaliers of late; tense, or uptight would probably be better descriptors. There is a lot of pressure placed on this organization — from ownership, to management, on down to the players. It has been a tough road thus far.

Over the past month, the Cavaliers have either played a game off a single-day rest or participated in back-to-backs. It’s been that long since they’ve had two days or more off in between games. It’s good to get away sometimes.

Chemistry off the court is just as important as on the court. Or in a bowling alley.

“I was happy,” Kyrie Irving said after registering 22 points. “One thing that’s never seen on camera and I consistently say it, this is the closest team that I’ve been on. We always have fun whether we’re getting ready for a game or a practice or we go bowling, it’s a team activity that we just personally enjoy.

“We enjoy being around one another and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Obviously there’s things we’ve got to fix out there on the court, but relationship- wise, we couldn’t be any better.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving and the Cavs lit up Staples Center two nights in a row

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Start up the J-Smoove sweepstakes | Wade: No boos for LeBron, Heat fansBulls at their best with Butler and Rose | No timetable for Leonard’s return

No. 1: Report: Heat angling for Smith; Rockets may have best shot at him — Shortly after the Detroit Pistons waived forward Josh Smith yesterday, the rumor mill and Twitter speculation started up about where he might land next. (Our Fran Blinebury detailed six possible destinations here.) The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are thought to be the favorites to land Smith due to his connection with various players on each team (Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard) and the free-spending/roster-altering ways of each team’s GM (Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey). ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Miami Heat may also be in the mix after they made a small roster move last night:

The Miami Heat have formally applied to the league office for a Disabled Player Exception in the wake of Josh McRoberts‘ season-ending knee injury in a move they hope will help them land free agent Josh Smith, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com on Monday night that the Heat have launched the application process in hopes of being granted the exception before Smith picks his next team once he clears waivers.

At present, Miami can offer only a $1.4 million veteran minimum contract to Smith, but a DPE after losing McRoberts would be valued at $2.65 million.

Sources say the Houston Rockets, however, remain confident they have the inside track to land Smith even if Miami is granted a DPE this week, given Houston’s clear need at power forward and Smith’s close friendship with Rockets center Dwight Howard.

Sources say the Rockets, with Howard leading their recruiting pitch, believe Smith will ultimately choose Houston over Miami and the Dallas Mavericks, whose recruiting effort is being spearheaded by guard Rajon Rondo — another of Smith’s close friends.

“He’s just as close to Dwight as he is to Rondo,” one source said late Monday, “and Dwight wants him.”

ESPN.com reported earlier Monday that the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers were also in the mix for Smith with Houston, Dallas and Miami. Grantland’s Zach Lowe subsequently reported that the Memphis Grizzlies had also joined the race.

Prior to Monday’s game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed to local reporters that his team was trying to lure Smith to join the newly acquired Rondo as a power forward and small-ball center off the bench. Despite the fact it can offer him only a minimum salary, Dallas will try to sell Smith on the idea that he would assume the role of Brandan Wright.

“Josh is super talented and he fits the profile of the guy we love to bring in here,” Cuban said. “He’s one of those guys that gets a bad rap … and we have a great track record of bringing the truth out about guys like that: Monta [Ellis], Stack [Jerry Stackhouse], Jet [Jason Terry].”

But the Rockets, sources say, are convinced that their status as a title contender — along with Howard’s presence and the minutes they can offer Smith at his preferred position of power forward — will ultimately win out once Smith clears waivers.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team in the league with sufficient salary-cap space to claim Smith before he becomes a free agent Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. But sources said Monday the Sixers have no plans to do so.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Rockets are the clear-cut favorite to pick up Smith and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Rockets admit they have interest in Smith:

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s holiday shopping did not end with last week’s three-team deal.

Following the Detroit Pistons’ stunning decision Monday to release 6-9 forward Josh Smith, the Rockets will make a run at Smith once he clears waivers Wednesday, a person with knowledge of their thinking said.

The Rockets have long sought Smith, 29. They tried to acquire him as a free agent in 2013 but could not work out the sign-and-trade agreement with the Atlanta Hawks that was necessary after signing Dwight Howard.

Smith instead signed a four-year, $54 million deal with the Pistons.

The Rockets have had talks with the Pistons about a trade, but with Howard and James Harden, the Rockets’ highest-paid players, off-limits, there was no way to put together a deal with an exchange of corresponding salaries.

Though the Pistons were unable to deal Smith, the Rockets could have stiff competition to land him if they pursue it. The Mavericks have room in the frontcourt after dealing Brandan Wright. Also, Smith played at Oak Hill Academy with new Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers also are expected to show interest.

The Sacramento Kings often have tried to trade for Smith and also would pursue him as a free agent.

Teams may not talk to Smith or his representatives until he clears waivers Wednesday, but players are permitted to speak to one another. At least one Rocket has his number.

And, lastly, don’t count on the Philadelphia 76ers surprising everyone by landing Smith …


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the future for Josh Smith

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Is overtime pushing Spurs over limit?


VIDEO: Blazers hand Spurts 2nd straight 3OT loss

SAN ANTONIO — The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games in 1951, the United States and Cuba also had official diplomatic relations.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, the shot clock had not yet been invented.

The last time an NBA team played back-to-back triple-overtime games, Tim Duncan had only been in the league for a dozen or so years.

OK, I made the last one up.

But you’ll have to excuse the 38-year-old Duncan if he stays in bed rather than makes it out for opening tip Saturday night in Dallas. Or the entire Spurs roster just pulls the covers over their heads.

In the space of three nights, the Spurs played the equivalent of more than 2½ games, lost them both and also found out that Kawhi Leonard is on the shelf for a couple more with torn ligaments in his right hand. Roughest stretch since those final 28 seconds in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

For the short-handed Blazers, playing without injured starters Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, the 129-119 decision was a testament to their resolve and sheer grit after falling behind by six in each of the first two overtimes and added another chapter to the growing legend of Damian Lillard ( 43 points).

“It turned into one of those games where players have to play and I thought our team did a great job in the first two overtimes of just overcoming the bad starts,” Lillard said. “We saw how they were guarding L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) on the block, really trying to give him a hard time, sending a lot of guys at him. I knew I was the next guy in line to start attacking. I got a few shots to go, got in a rhythm and I just decided to keep attacking.”

For the Spurs, who are always trying to balance rest for a veteran core with the need to compete in the rugged Western Conference, it was a physical blow that they just didn’t need. San Antonio has lost six of its last 11 games, is battling to hang onto the No. 7 spot in the West and now has run up big minutes on two key players. Duncan has played 91 minutes in the two interminable losses to Memphis and Portland and Manu Ginobili has played 71. The Spurs were without Tony Parker (hamstring) and Leonard.

“It’s a different group every night,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “It would almost be better if you had two guys injured and you knew it for three months. It is different every night and it keeps them out of rhythm. We are wearing some guys down. Timmy is a big worry in that respect and so is Manu.”

Duncan scored 23 points and had 16 rebounds in the loss to the Grizzlies came back with 32 and 10 against the Blazers and was still active at both ends, blocking shots deep into the overtimes.

“Unheard of,” Duncan said. “I didn’t think obviously it would get to this point. … We expended a lot of energy. We put everything into it and we played hard.

“In that situation I am not drained. I am running on adrenaline and I am ready to go. I know I will feel it tomorrow.”

Spurs’ Leonard has torn hand ligament

Kawhi Leonard will be sidelined indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his right hand, he told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News.

Leonard will miss his second game in a row and his fourth in the last six outings as the Spurs face the Trail Blazers in San Antonio. He told the Express-News he has to wait for the swelling to subside before considering a return.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported Leonard will miss “a couple games.”

The Spurs are 17-9, good for seventh place in the Western Conference, and in a particularly tough stretch of schedule. After Portland, they next play the Mavericks in the scheduled Dallas debut of Rajon Rondo, Clippers, Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans again, and Wizards.

Leonard is averaging 15.2 points, second on the team behind Tony Parker, and 7.6 rebounds.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

***

No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

***

No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

***

No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO:
Highlights from games played Dec. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets move Kirilenko | Knicks project united front | Rondo, Stephenson get physical | Warriors introduce new arena redesign

No. 1: Nets move Kirilenko — It’s not a member of their core, but the Nets have agreed to a trade that clears a bit of cap space. Forward Andrei Kirilenko goes from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, saving the Nets some cash, and the Nets add forward Brandon Davies and his non-guaranteed contract. As our John Schuhmann writes, it sure looks like neither player may be long for his new team…

Brandon Davies isn’t completely awful, but his contract is non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him and not have to pay him anything. Assuming they do, the trade would save them about $6.6 million in luxury tax payments, in addition to about $2.6 million of Kirilenko’s salary. If they include another player in the deal, they save more.

The deal will also give them a trade exception and an open roster spot. Both of those give them a little more flexibility in making future trades.

The Sixers get a little closer to the salary floor, not that it matters. They probably won’t keep Kirilenko, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, hasn’t made a shot (or been in the Nets’ rotation) all season, and is dealing with a personal issue that has kept him away from the team.

***

No. 2: Knicks project united front — The Knicks have only won four games this season, but that hasn’t kept them from making headlines early on. According to a report yesterday from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, things behind the scenes with the Knicks have been as calamitous as their play on the court has been. Writes Broussard…

The New York Knicks were en route to their fifth straight loss last week against Brooklyn when a frustrated Tim Hardaway Jr. screamed angrily, “Get the rebound!”

Certain his second-year teammate was speaking to him, Carmelo Anthony approached Hardaway on the way down the court and used an expletive to ask Hardaway who in the world he thought he was talking to.

Anthony, according to sources, used another expletive in telling Hardaway he was going to beat him up when they got into the locker room after the game.

While the two players never wound up fighting, the episode was emblematic of the volatile state of the Knicks. Off to their worst start in franchise history at 4-19, the Knicks are a team full of discord, defiance and doubt, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games,” one source said.

In addition to the Knicks’ lack of chemistry, sources say the players believe coach Derek Fisher’s insistence on running the triangle offense is another key reason for New York’s struggles.

After the ESPN report was published, the Knicks players met with the media while on the road in San Antonio and said things were not as bad as they sounded, noting that they had recently held a player’s-only meeting to help get everyone on the same page…

The Knicks started the day tied for the most losses in the league — seemingly ripe conditions for a story to emerge about internal discord. The article said that Anthony had a verbal spat with teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. during a game last week against the Nets. The report also said that Knicks players told Anthony that they were unhappy with his style of play — that he was not playing team basketball — and also that many players were displeased with Coach Derek Fisher’s systems.

Neither Anthony nor Hardaway denied on Wednesday that they had clashed on the court, but both men said the issue was behind them and described a fruitful mentor-student relationship. Anthony, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the team and to perfecting Fisher’s system, including the triangle offense.

As far as hearing criticism from his teammates, Anthony revealed that there was a players-only meeting on Saturday at the team’s practice facility in which various concerns were raised, but he denied it had become particularly contentious.

“Everybody had a platform to speak their piece, and what they felt about what’s going on, and how we can better the situation,” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that, or solely pointing me out to be blamed.”

While reports of relationship issues may be overblown, a 4-20 record doesn’t lie: The Knicks lost big last night to a Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

***

No. 3: Rondo, Stephenson get physical — During last night’s Celtics/Hornets game, with both teams desperate for a win, two of the NBA’s more competitive players found themselves in a battle neither could really win. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson ended up banging into each other more than once, and as Jay King writes, to hear Rondo tell it, there may have been some flopping involved…

About five minutes into the third quarter of a 96-87 Boston Celtics loss, Rondo threw a high elbow that sent Stephenson tumbling to the court. The Charlette Hornets wing stood up and got in Rondo’s face; later in the same possession, after what looked like some jawing, both players were hit with technical fouls.

Asked about what happened, Rondo initially said, “Nothing at all. I said something to him and I didn’t know what I said could get a tech.”

Pressed on the elbow, the Celtics guard obviously implied Stephenson took a dive.

“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game,” Rondo said.

“The game is contact. The game we play is contact. Whatever you saw, I don’t know,” he added. “I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”

Rondo notched his third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, but committed three costly turnovers down the stretch. He also got beaten baseline by Kemba Walker for an and-1 with 3:46 left that pushed Charlotte’s lead to 90-85.

“We did (let an opportunity slip away),” Rondo said. “It started with me. I had some key turnovers in the fourth that I should have been able to take better care of the ball. And Kemba Walker had a backdoor play layup. So we’ve got to do better as a team, as a whole. And it starts with myself.”

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No. 4: Warriors introduce new arena redesign — A few months ago the Golden State Warriors showed off pictures of their planned arena in San Francisco. It was touted as a step forward for the franchise, which currently has the best record in the NBA and has been based in Oakland’s Oracle Arena since 1971. There was one thing people noticed, however, about the new arena drawings: From above, it seemed to look like a toilet. Rather than sit with those criticisms, yesterday the Warriors dropped new sketches of the planned facility that should streamline the exterior of the new space

Gone is much of the rectangular viewing deck that, when coupled with the oval arena, gave the overhead view of the place the appearance of a giant toilet seat with the lid down. The deck has been shaved down to about half its old size, dropped about 13 feet below the roof line and given a sweeping curve.

“We are trying to flush the toilet bowl forever out of people’s consciousness,” said Warriors arena consultant Jesse Blout.

Instead, it looks more like an old Discman CD player, less likely to be the butt of humor.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard hopes to return Saturday for the Houston Rockets … Tom Thibodeau says any talk of trust issues in Chicago is “garbage.” Taj Gibson respectfully disagreesByron Scott is thinking about starting Kobe Bryant at point guard … The Mavericks are considering options regarding adding another big man … ABC is developing a sitcom about a foreign-born NBA player and his translator.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard confident he’ll remain a Spur | Lowry driving Raptors’ early season success | Reports: Lakers granted disabled player exception

No. 1: Leonard doesn’t plan on going anywhere come free agency — From Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (No. 1 overall pick in 2011 Draft) to Denver’s Kenneth Faried (No. 22) and other names in between, several players taken in the first round of the 2011 Draft were locked into contract extensions before the Oct. 31 deadline. One such player who was not inked to a deal was San Antonio Spurs forward (and reigning Finals MVP) Kawhi Leonard. As such, he’ll enter restricted free agency this summer, which is creating a little bit of angst among Spurs nation. However, as Leonard tells Sam Amick of USA Today, there’s little reason to fret he’ll leave San Antonio:

Gregg Popovich‘s wry humor sparked laughter among the media, but he’s as aware as anyone that Leonard’s situation is a somewhat-serious matter. Leonard is the sort of young talent who needs to feel loved, to know that all the talk about how his role is so vital will be backed up on the floor. In that regard, this night was huge.

Leonard, known for his reserved and quiet nature, was more candid than ever afterward. He boldly discussed the difference between talk and action, saying of Popovich’s comment, “It’s better to really walk it instead of just hearing them talk about it.” And in a discussion with USA TODAY Sports, Leonard, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, said he knows his days of playing fourth fiddle to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker eventually will come to an end.

The Spurs have big plans for this summer, among them the idea of replacing Duncan with a free agent such as Marc Gasol if “The Big Fundamental” retires as expected. And with Leonard’s salary cap hold proving so prohibitive had he received the extension he so desired, he’s confident their vision will be realized.

“I was never upset about (the extension),” Leonard said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it.

“I can’t be impatient. It would show on the floor, and I won’t compete if I’m thinking about getting the ball. I’m just going out there to do my role, the same role — defense first and then see how the ball turns out on the offensive end.”

So even with this game taking place in Los Angeles, not far from his Moreno Valley, Calif., hometown and with about 10 family members and friends on hand, Leonard swore his mind didn’t wander to a day where he doesn’t wear the silver and black. He’s all in when it comes to San Antonio, especially if most nights are going to be like this.

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” Leonard said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard stars in the Spurs’ win against the Clippers

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Blurry is making Kawhi Leonard worry


VIDEO: The Pelicans beat the Spurs as Kawhi Leonard misses late

If you can’t see straight, how can anyone expect you to shoot straight?

That’s the excuse of the NBA Finals MVP and why he hasn’t ripped apart NBA defenses quite like he did the Heat last June. Kawhi Leonard is dealing with vision issues and while his ailment will eventually pass, he’s clearly frustrated with his eyesight, something we all take for granted until a speck of dust happens to take up residence under our eyelids.

In the preseason, Leonard dealt with conjunctivitis, which is known as “pink eye.” Evidently the issue has stuck around to follow Leonard into the season and, well, the rim appears fuzzy, like a 1940s movie.

Leonard is shooting 31 percent and averaging 9.5 points. He’s still rebounding (8.0) and defending well, but the inability to aim correctly is driving him nuts. He missed two shots on the final possession of a close loss Saturday to the Pelicans (although he did get a double-double anyway). Leonard told the San Antonio Express-News he’ll try to play through it as best as possible:

“My right eye, the vision’s not all the way back yet. Hopefully I can heal up soon. I’ve just got to keep competing so I can get used to it and get my rhythm going. I can’t wait and sit on the sidelines anymore just wasting games. It might not clear up until summer, so I’m playing now.”

Leonard said he was told by team doctor Ed Rashid that some victims suffer blurred vision for weeks and even a few months. What’s tough is that pink eye can’t be controlled by wearing goggles or doubling up the eye drops. It just needs to run its course.

In the meantime, what makes Leonard a valuable player is his multiple skills. Pink eye would seriously reduce the effectiveness of a scorer like Carmelo Anthony, for example. But Leonard brings defense and rebounding and so he can still command and earn solid playing time without causing the Spurs much, if any, grief.

The Spurs are also dealing with Tiago Splitter’s nerve problem, which would be traced to disk inflammation. For the most part, the Spurs were able to dodge injuries last season, especially important for a team with a veteran core, and that helped push them safely through the postseason. They can only hope that pink eye isn’t an omen of what’s to come.

Report: Spurs, Leonard unlikely to reach extension

HANG TIME BIG CITY — NBA teams have until midnight tonight to reach extensions with players drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Some players, such as Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Denver’s Kenneth Faried, have already agreed to long-term deals with their respective teams. But according to a report this morning, perhaps the most valuable player from the class of 2011 may not reach an agreement in time.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs are unlikely to make a deal before tonight’s deadline:

Sources told ESPN.com this week that Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, despite more serious discussions between the parties in advance of the Halloween buzzer, are unlikely to come to terms during this extension window, setting up the 23-year-old to become a restricted free agent in July.

‎Negotiations, however, do remain alive going into the final day for at least three other prominent 2011 first-rounders: Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson.

Leonard has been billed as the Spurs’ future face of the franchise for some time — long before he emerged as the star of San Antonio’s five-game destruction of the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals — and had his agent, Brian Elfus, in San Antonio this week to negotiate with Spurs officials.

But sources say that San Antonio prefers to wait until the offseason to address Leonard’s future in the name of maintaining maximum financial flexibility.

That strategy does come with an element of risk, since Leonard is sure to attract max offer sheets of varying contract lengths on July 1, his first day as a restricted free agent. But the Spurs would have the right to match any offer Leonard gets next summer in that scenario and would be able to do so with a better feel about how much longer stalwarts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili want to keep playing. If the Spurs were to extend Leonard’s contract now, and then either Duncan or Ginobili — or both — decides to retire, San Antonio’s cap space to replace them would be lessened significantly.

Not coming to an agreement hardly pushes the Spurs into crisis mode — they still retain Leonard’s rights, and next summer, when Leonard becomes a restricted free agent, the Spurs will have the right to match any contract offer he receives. But after Leonard’s performance in the NBA Finals, he seems primed for a breakout season, and it is highly likely he could draw a maximum contract offer from a franchise looking for game-changing building block.

Not coming to an agreement with Leonard would seem to indicate that the Spurs are comfortable letting another franchise set the market for Leonard. And with San Antonio’s big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker getting older, how the Spurs respond to an offer to Leonard will shape their franchise for years to come.