Posts Tagged ‘san antonio spurs’

Spurs’ Anderson picking up his pace

VIDEO: Kyle Anderson led the Spurs with 25 points.

LAS VEGAS – Upholding the San Antonio Spurs’ tradition of veteran leadership, Kyle Anderson pulled his teammates together for a defensive last stand against Brooklyn Thursday. As the Nets worked the ball for a potential game-tying shot, as the seconds ticked off and the tension mounted, it was Anderson lunging out to contest Markel Brown‘s 3-point attempt from out front to preserve the 74-71 outcome.

Anderson, admittedly, is only 21. But he also is the only member of his summer squad with Spurs experience, which gives him seniority. And it showed at the Thomas & Mack Center in this one, as it has all week in Las Vegas and in the Salt Lake City summer games before these.

It is a pivotal offseason for Anderson, the 6-foot-9 small forward who contributions as a rookie were modest (2.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 10.8 minutes, 33 appearances). San Antonio’s roster has been reconfigured around additions such as LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, and a new pecking order likely will emerge among the altered cast of reserves.

For Anderson to have an impact among them, he needed to improve in every way. And that is what he’s been showing, in skill and in assertiveness.

“On that last defensive possession, he’s the one who rallied everybody on the court,” said Becky Hammon, the Spurs assistant serving as head coach here. “He’s the one who’s speaking, he’s the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role. And that’s really what we want to see from him in this setting.”

On a veteran-laden team, no one expected Anderson – the last player picked in the 2014 first round out of UCLA – to play a significant role. But the Spurs have expectations, which explains the hours Anderson has logged since San Antonio was eliminated by the Clippers in the first round.

“He’s put in a ton of work with [shooting coach] Chip Engelland, with [development coach] Chad Forcier during our NBA season,” Hammon said. “He’s been in the gym a lot. He knows our system the best [among summer leaguers], he knows those conversations that coaches have had with him and what’s expected of him, and he has absolutely stepped up and taken control of that.

“We’re happy with what he’s doing right now. We’re going to keep leaning on him a lot.”

Matched up with Brooklyn first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Anderson scored 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting – he’s averaging 22.3 points – and chipped in a couple assists. He grabbed eight rebounds, seven on the defensive end, and had two blocks and one steal, defensive stats that indicate desired progress on that end of the floor, too.

Developing defensively in the offseason, often in a gym alone, isn’t as straight-forward as putting up 200 jump shots or free throws to hone a stroke.

“You can learn a lot defensively by watching tape,” Hammon said. “A lot of it, it’s just footwork and concentration. There are simple things, like angles, little things that maybe you can compensate for your lack of speed or athleticism. There are lots of ways to get better defensively other than doing slides in the gym.”

Said Anderson: “For me, it’s being in an athletic stance. Actually being athletic is the problem with me. I think most guys struggle with where to be. I think I know where to be, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Anderson flashed another skill that caught by surprise anyone familiar with his “Slow-Mo” nickname: Several times he grabbed defensive rebounds and immediately dribbled downcourt. Once, he went end to end, dropping in a little hook shot.

Asked about the play, Anderson laughed.

“Yeah, that’s part of my skill set really,” he said. “Grab a board and being able to start our offense, just like that with the dribble or the advance pass. That’s something I look to do.”

Gregg Popovich would be OK with that in the regular season?

“As long as I don’t turn it over.”

Anderson did sound a little weary from the frequent references to his slowness afoot. This is a game, after all, in which coaches constantly tell players not to rush. Superstars are lauded for their ability to “slow the game down.”

“That’s just a nickname really,” the Spurs forward said. “I don’t play that way on purpose. I guess it’s deceptive.

“There’s not a rule you have to play fast.”

Based on this summer, at least, Anderson figures to get where he’s going.

Morning shootaround — July 16

VIDEO: Karl-Anthony Towns joins The Starters on Wednesday


Bucks take a step toward new arena | Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins | Cavs, Delly not close to deal | Knicks may use less Triangle

No. 1: Bucks take a step toward new arena — Las Vegas and Seattle may have to keep waiting for NBA teams, because the Bucks look to be staying in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin state senate approved public funding for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The $500 million project still has some hurdles to jump, but this was a big step. Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have the story

After two days of backroom talks, state senators struck a bipartisan deal Wednesday and approved $250 million in public subsidies for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The measure passed 21-10 and goes to the Assembly, which like the Senate is controlled by Republicans. No date has been set for an Assembly vote, but for the first time in months, the proposal has momentum.

The plan would preserve Milwaukee’s stake in professional basketball but at a cost to state, city and county residents, who ultimately would pay $400 million, when accounting for interest over 20 years.

“This deal has taken a lot of work, but the Bucks are big bucks for Wisconsin,” said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who voted for the plan. “It’s not been easy. It’s not been pretty. But finally, we’ve all been at the table.”


No. 2: Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins — The Sacramento Kings have had some interesting twists and turns over the last several months. Earlier this offseason, the drama centered around star DeMarcus Cousins and head coach George Karl, who reportedly wanted Cousins traded. The two were both in Las Vegas for Summer League, but haven’t had much of a pow wow. Karl hopes to make peace with Cousins soon, though, as CBS Sports’ Ken Berger writes

What’s real is the ongoing rift between Karl and Cousins, who barely crossed paths this week as the All-Star made his way to Vegas. During one game, Cousins sat courtside with Divac while Karl remained in the corner of the stands where many NBA coaches, scouts and execs watch the action. Afterward, they exchanged a limp handshake and barely a word.

“I think Cuz and I have got to figure out how to come together and how to commit to each other,” Karl said.

All the while, Divac has taken full responsibility for mending the relationship between Karl and Cousins, and is working to get the two men in the same room for an airing of grievances before training camp.

“I want to talk to Cuz,” Karl said. “But the situation, because of how it got, I think we’ve got to be patient to get to that point. … I trust Vlade. I don’t know when it will be or how it will be, but I think [the meeting with Cousins] will happen.”


No. 3: Cavs, Delly not close to dealMatthew Dellavedova started in The Finals and made huge plays down the stretch of each of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ two wins. The Cavs already have re-signed four of the six free agents from last year’s rotation, but J.R. Smith seems to be on the outside looking in, and there’s a difference between what Dellavedova (a restricted free agent) is looking for and what his team would be willing to pay. In a roundup of news around the league, Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix breaks down the Delly situation …

Not much movement between the Cavaliers and Matthew Dellavedova on a new contract. A restricted free agent, Dellavedova is seeking a multiyear deal starting at $4 million per season, per a source, and the Cavs have balked, largely due to the enormous luxury tax implications that come with that type of contract. The market has largely dried up—Jeremy Lin’s deal with Charlotte closed a potential door—so it will be interesting to see how long this stalemate continues. Paging LeBron James.


No. 4: Knicks may use less Triangle — The Knicks had a multitude of issues last season and their defense was worse than their offense. But it didn’t help that there was a steep learning curve in regard to Phil Jackson‘s and Derek Fisher‘s Triangle offense, which produced the wrong kind of shots. No team shot a greater percentage of its shots from mid-range than the Knicks (36 percent), and that was with Carmelo Anthony (who took 46 percent of his shots from mid-range) missing half the season. The Knicks have upgraded Anthony’s supporting cast, and may be changing up the offense as well, as Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal writes

The Knicks haven’t scrapped the triangle, which is still their base offense, even here in summer-league games. But from last year to now, there’s been a considerable difference concerning how and when the players rely on the system to score.

It could be argued, though, that the best indication of this shift took place in a war room rather than on the hardwood.

New York’s decision to take not one, but two first-rounders—power forward Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant—who specialize in the pick-and-roll was telling. Given that pick-and-roll sets have traditionally been limited in the triangle offense, the draft selections suggested the Knicks were more prepared to begin building around their talent instead of letting their system fully dictate what sorts of players are on the roster.

“The offense is going to be designed around the guys that we have,” Fisher said after the team drafted Porzingis and Grant. “The screen and roll is going to be a part of what we do, but it’s not necessarily going to become something we rely on to get good shots at all times.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mikhail Prokhorov may be buying the remaining shares of the NetsMatt Bonner is back in (silver and) blackDoug McDermott needs a fresh start after a rough rookie seasonJohn Henson could have a bigger role with the Bucks this season … and Dion Waiters thinks the Thunder are championship material.

ICYMI: Pierre Jackson and J.P. Tokoto hooked up for a monster alley-oop in the Sixers’ Summer League loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday:

VIDEO: Jackson to Tokoto

Morning shootaround — July 11

VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings


No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.


No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”


No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…


No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Duncan, James set to re-sign

VIDEO: Digging in on the Cavs’ offseason moves

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two best free agents of 2015 (and given good health, the two best bargains of the coming season) didn’t reach agreements with their teams until Thursday, the ninth day of free agency and the first day when deals could be officially signed.

Of course, we knew all along that Tim Duncan and LeBron James were going back to San Antonio and Cleveland, respectively. But we were waiting on the terms of Duncan’s deal and for James to break his silence and/or get back from his vacation.

According to our David Aldridge, Duncan will be back with the Spurs for just $5 million this season, meaning that his former back-up, Aron Baynes, will be getting more money from the Detroit Pistons. It also means that the Spurs have additional flexibility under the salary cap after they sign Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge (to a max contract starting at $19.7 million), with cap holds for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on the books. They could have about $2.2 million to offer a new back-up center.

James, meanwhile, is taking the maximum allowed from the Cavs, as expected.

He can opt out again next season and sign a more lucrative deal for 2016-17. And it would make sense for him to become a free agent again in 2017 (for the fourth straight summer) to really get paid after that, when the salary cap reaches its peak and when the Cavs have his full Bird rights.

The Cavs have new deals in place with James, Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert, as well as with the returning Mo Williams. They’ve yet to reach agreements with restricted free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith seems to be hanging in the wind at this point.

Cleveland also has yet to find a deal for Brendan Haywood‘s non-guaranteed, $10.5 million deal for next season.

Morning shootaround — July 9

VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan isn’t going anywhere, Lob City fans

How will DeAndre’s decision affect Mavs? | Report: Matthews sticking with Dallas | Davis officially re-ups with Pelicans | Report: Pistons to keep Anthony | Report: Spurs trade for McCallum


No. 1: How will DeAndre’s decision affect Mavs? — If you were in an NBA cave yesterday, you missed out on the wild, day-long saga free-agent center DeAndre Jordan put everyone through after having a change of heart about his agreed-upon deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Ultimately, after a wooing process that included Jordan’s Los Angeles Clippers teammates Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and others, he did renege on his agreement and returned to Lob City. While that’s all well and good for the Clippers, what does this do to the Mavericks? Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News analyzes it and does not paint a pretty picture:

Even if you have no love for owner Mark Cuban or his team, you have to admit it’s cruel and unusual the way they lost DeAndre Jordan.

The Mavericks are left to wonder what the heck happened and how they can recover from the franchise-shaking blow of losing a 26-year-old rising star center who was one of the most sought-after free agents this summer.

This could be an event that will rank with Roy Tarpley’s drug suspension as the darkest days in franchise history.

It could impact everybody from coach Rick Carlisle to franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and all in between.

In the short term, the Mavericks have to find somebody to play center and the options are limited. The Indiana Pacers could be willing to listen to trade offers for 7-2 Roy Hibbert, but they already had a tentative deal sending Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers. And Hibbert is coming off a lackluster 2014-15 season.

The option exists to make a run at Amar’e Stoudemire, too. The Mavericks suddenly have about $20 million more than they expected to have to fill out their roster.

Players like Washington’s Kevin Seraphin are still on the board. He’s a five-year veteran who is 6-9 and 260 pounds but averaged just 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game this season. Seraphin, 25, is not considered a strong rebounder.

Clearly, the Mavericks are not going to find anybody on the open market that can rival Jordan.

What they also must wonder now is whether or not the upcoming season can be salvaged without a dip into the lottery, which would be a bitter pill to owner Mark Cuban and a dangerous move since the Mavericks’ 2016 first-round draft pick will go to Boston in the Rajon Rondo deal unless it is among the top seven in the lottery.

Last week after getting the original commitment from Jordan, Cuban said that if the Mavericks had lost out on Jordan, they would have been forced to consider the unsavory prospect of tanking a season – “have our David Robinson season,” Cuban called it. It would take a major dive into the lottery, finishing with at least the fourth-worst record in the league, to guarantee the Mavericks wouldn’t lose their pick.

Moreover, the Mavericks could be faced with massive roster turnover again next summer when Chandler Parsons and Dirk both can opt out of the final years of their contracts.

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Blogtable: Toughest (and easiest) division?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League

VIDEODallas is one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Southwest Division

> Provided all the agreed-to free-agent deals happen, which division (as of today) looks toughest and easiest to traverse to the top in 2015-16? And give me a reason or two why you’re picking each one.

Steve Aschburner, You don’t want to go wandering into that Southwest Division, the NBA’s equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It’s nasty down there, full of rough-looking characters on playoff-tested teams. And they’re not just bad, they’re big, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan elbowing in alongside Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. If it’s a stroll through the park you want, you head to the Atlantic, where Toronto was the only team above .500 last season and might have taken a step back in losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Everyone else in that district is flawed as well, not ready for prime time, with Brooklyn headed down, Boston and Philadelphia still learning and New York pursuing mediocrity as an upgrade from last season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Texas Triangle for being a potential danger to travelers. Toss in Memphis and New Orleans and the Southwest is clearly the roughest, toughest neighborhood in the league. All five teams made the playoffs last season and they’ve only gotten better. I’ll give you five reasons why the Atlantic is the weakest division — Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors and Sixers.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Toughest: Southwest, and it’s probably not even close. New Orleans won 45 games in 2014-15 and still finished last. Now imagine the division with the Spurs and Mavericks coming off their summers. Easiest: Northwest. Even with the Jazz on track to push past .500, with the demise of the Trail Blazers, it’s still OKC and everyone else.

Shaun Powell, Seeing as how the league is ready to devalue divisions, the rankings really don’t matter much anymore. But, as you will: The Southwest (Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizz, Pelicans) will lap the field in terms of toughness. You could make an argument for every team making the playoffs, even the Pelicans. Just look at the stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, etc. It’s a division just steep with talent. The Atlantic will be the weakest if only because they’ll be dragged down by the Knicks and Sixers. In that division, only the Raptors are built to last into spring, and they lack the necessary franchise player to go deep.

John Schuhmann, The Southwest Division was already the best in the league (0.637 winning percentage last season), added LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, should have a healthier Rockets team, and has Anthony Davis getting better every year. The Celtics, Knicks and Raptors all made some improvements, but the Atlantic Division will remain the worst in the league, with at least three (and maybe four) teams under 0.500. The second best team (Boston) is still without a real impact player.

Sekou Smith, The Southwest is going to be a torture chamber. And I’ll give you five reasons, starting with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. All five should be playoff-caliber teams. All five have spent the summer either improving or at least fortifying themselves through the Draft and free agency. They will batter each other in the division and make life miserable for any team that has to pull a Southwest Division swing. The easiest division? I prefer terms like least treacherous. The Northwest and Atlantic both look like they’ll have several teams trying to recover from the offseason (Draft, free agency, trades, etc.), which will keep those divisions from being as strong top-to-bottom.

Ian Thomsen, The Atlantic remains the NBA’s weakling, in spite of its immense markets: its four big American franchises are rebuilding, while the Raptors have won no more than a single playoff series in 20 years. The powerhouse is the Southwest, which looks capable of producing five playoff teams for a second straight year — and possibly 50-plus wins across the board, pending the continued development of Anthony Davis. Any one of its teams would dominate the Atlantic.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog Well, the Southwest is now the Southbest. As if it wasn’t already tough enough, now you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in San Antonio, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in Dallas, and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies in Memphis. Poor New Orleans has to satisfy themselves with “just” having Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division is still the Atlantis. While the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets all search for a path to relevance, the Raptors should be on top for a few years to come.

Morning shootaround — July 7

VIDEO: What do the Cleveland Cavaliers have planned next in the offseason?

Okafor solid in Summer League debut | Continuity keeps Spurs chugging along | Parsons wants Jordan to be top-flight NBA center | Report: NBPA may fund health insurance for ex-players


No. 1: Okafor impresses overall in Summer League debut — The Philadelphia 76ers endured another awful season with the payoff coming in mid-June in the form of an NBA Draft lottery pick. That pick became Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, taken No. 3 overall, and in a rare turn of events of late for the Sixers, he is a rookie healthy enough to suit up for Summer League. Our Scott Howard-Cooper was on hand for Okafor’s debut in the Utah Summer League and says that after some early jitters, Okafor looked more than solid

His first game as a pro, his first five-on-five game since winning the national championship on April 6, his first time playing since the Philadelphia 76ers picked him third on June 25, but normal. The best possible outcome for Okafor and Philadelphia, in other words.

The Sixers desperately need the typical when 2015-16 arrives, the inside muscle with the ball that makes Okafor the ideal complement alongside the defensive presence of Nerlens Noel as an interchangeable power forward-center combination, no matter what happens with Joel Embiid and his uncertain recovery from a foot injury. The offense from anywhere, really, after they finished No. 29 in scoring, one-tenth of a point ahead of the Knicks for last. If Okafor can just be Okafor — and a lot of teams think the post game that abused defenses in the one-and-done at Duke will translate immediately because of that advanced skill level, along with being 6-11 and 270 pounds at 19 years old — Philly instantly moves forward.

Monday night inside EnergySolutions Arena, in the first game of the Utah Jazz Summer League, Okafor got the obligatory hit of nerves just before tipoff. And then he had a very slow start, making just three of 11 shots, mostly from close range, in the opening half. It was early July, so no big deal.

Then came the second half and the taking control inside and the seven baskets in 11 attempts, until he finished with 20 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in a 74-71 loss to the Spurs. Okafor was being Okafor.

“I’ve been saying it for a week or so now, with every possession he’s going to just grow and grow,” said Billy Lange, the Philly assistant coach who is running the bench here. “We’ve been preparing him for — everybody’s going to come in and try to make a name for themselves against him. He wants to win and he wants to please. He’s a great kid, his heart is so pure that he’s probably pressing himself a little bit. But once he settled into the third quarter and we’re drawing plays up for him and he’s getting the ball in spots he probably hasn’t seen in a long time … I thought he did really, really well. And he pushed through. He played (29) minutes in this altitude and, I thought, competed pretty hard.”

That was the other thing. Actually, that was the bigger thing: After being knocked by some front offices for a lack of ideal conditioning last season, Okafor played his first organized game in exactly three months, played it at 4,300 feet, and not only lasted the 29 minutes but with his best moments in the second half.

VIDEO: Jahlil Okafor scores 20 points in his Summer League debut

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Ginobili confirms he will play in 2015-16

VIDEO: Manu Ginobili’s 2014-15 season highlights staff reports

From the start, the offseason couldn’t have gone better for the San Antonio Spurs. On the first night of free agency, they came to an agreement with star forward/former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard on a five-year deal. Days later, they reached an agreement with 3-point shooter/perimeter defender Danny Green to stay in the Alamo City on a four-year deal. Shortly after that came word from franchise superstar and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan that he would return for the 2015-16 season.

Then, of course, came the Independence Day weekend in which they got an agreement with the crown jewel of their offseason — former Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

So, how could they top those moves? How about getting word that a long-held fan favorite, franchise legend and potential Hall of Famer will be back in the mix.

The Spurs got exactly that when Manu Ginobili tweeted today that he will be back with the Spurs for the 2015-16 season


Morning shootaround — July 5

VIDEO: Kevin Durant on Summer League and the move by LaMarcus Aldridge


Durant foreshadows own free agency? | Spurs can thank LaTim for LaMarcus | Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) | Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) | Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo

No. 1: Durant foreshadows own free agency?Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City All-Star and 2014 MVP whose 2014-15 season largely was lost to foot injuries, showed up in Orlando on Saturday to catch the Thunder’s entry in that city’s Pro Summer League. He took the time to talk with reporters about his offseason, his rehab after two surgeries on his right foot and his thoughts on OKC and its ambitions for the coming season. But a lot of folks will zero in on his comments about LaMarcus Aldridge agreeing to a deal with San Antonio – Aldridge was the big free-agent catch of 2015, with Durant slated for that role next summer –and project 12 months out. Here are pertinent quotes, as provided by our own Fran Blinebury:

“You could kinda tell once this whole thing started that he was trying to go somewhere else,” Durant said. “In those decisions, man, you got to respect the guy for making the decision that was right for him. I know a lot of fans are probably upset in Portland at the decision. But at this point in your life and your career you’ve got to focus on you. I said this last year when Mr. (LeBron) James made his decision, it’s pretty cool to see a guy really do what he wants to do and not worry about what everybody else thinks.

Of course, it will be his decision next summer, when Durant becomes a free agent that will put him in the center of the storm.

“I haven’t thought about it, though I hear it all the time,” he said. “I’m really just focusing on rehab. I can’t get there unless I take care of today. That’s how I look at it. Even though I hear from every side thinking past to next summer. But I’m not even trying to focus on that. I’m excited about our team, our new coaches and just trying to get back right.

There is lots more in there, though, don’t hesitate to click on through for the no-longer-so-Thin Man’s thoughts on the Western Conference and his eagerness to get going again in games that matter.


No. 2: Spurs can thank “LaTim” for LaMarcus — Following in the massive footsteps of Tim Duncan as the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant and beloved big man didn’t scare off Aldridge. One reason: He won’t be “following” right away, instead playing alongside the Hall of Famer-to-be. An orderly transition was one of the things, in fact, that sold the four-time Portland All-Star on his stunning team-change back to his native Texas. That’s how veteran columnist Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News sees it, at least, and he wrote about that and what looks to be the Spurs’ ability to retool without rebuilding:

That is why Saturday’s news felt as if the Spurs had won a sixth title. They hit the reset button. With only one losing season since 1989, the Spurs reached a remarkable and unparalleled position for a franchise that has been successful for so long. The downturn still remains so far in the future that there is no timeline for it.

But this doesn’t happen if Duncan, once a free agent himself, had chosen Orlando in 2000. This doesn’t happen if Duncan had refused to change his role years later, or opted for the couch instead of taekwondo, or wasn’t as effective at age 39.

This also doesn’t happen now, this month, if Duncan wanted his rightful salary.

Duncan instead remained who he has been. Not coincidentally, that’s the kind of person Aldridge said he grew up idolizing.

[Coach Gregg] Popovich reportedly sold as much to Aldridge during their Friday meal. From ESPN’s Marc Stein in a tweet that same day: “Sources say pitch LaMarcus Aldridge got from Pop today about playing with Duncan AND taking over when Timmy’s gone resonated strongly.”

There are several layers to this, and one is basketball. Duncan makes everyone better, and he will make Aldridge better next season, too.

Duncan’s influence on Aldridge will also be felt in the locker room. Duncan can be quiet, and Aldridge took that further in Portland. Reports suggest he could be distant and insecure.

Duncan, always a nurturing leader, can fix that. His nature has always set a tone among teammates. He expects a certain professional behavior, and he gets it. Aldridge should be drawn to this.

Meanwhile, a veteran NBA personnel man provided the Express-News with an informal scouting report on Aldridge in San Antonio. Here’s a snippet:

On Aldridge’s reliance on the outside shot:

“When you have guys who are so good at something, you have to play to your strengths. Like Tim with the elbow jump shot, or Dirk [Nowitzki] with the pick and pop — that’s a shot you want them to take. That might go against what the new NBA trends are. But sometimes those concepts…it’s easier to find guys who get inside for layups or shoot 3s. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than to find a go-to, game-changer offensively who has a gift for putting the ball in the hole regardless of what defense you throw at them. Like Tony [Parker]; [as an opponent] you can say we’ll live with his jump shot, but if he’s making them he can kill you. (Aldridge) gives them more offensive firepower.

“Obviously his bread and butter is the jump shot. Being an offensive guy, I think if you get a good look in our league…do you wish it was a 3? Yes. Do you wish it was a layup? Yes. But if it’s an open look you know your guy can make, those are good, quality shots. I know Houston takes it to an extreme (with avoiding mid-range shots). But it’s easier to find a guy like Corey Brewer than it is a James Harden. So I think the Spurs got an offensive game-changer, without a doubt. They’re going to mesh his strengths to what the team is, which is one of the best passing teams in the league. Now you have to make a decision when him and Tim are on the floor, him and Boris [Diaw]. Those combinations are going to be lethal.”


No. 3: Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) — One tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his new team celebrates, his old team scrambles. Another tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his old team celebrates, his new team … shrugs? That was the dynamic in play this weekend involving DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert. First, we’ll look at Jordan through the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers, the teams that signed and lost him, respectively. Beat man Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News wrote about Jordan and his big-man game that should continue to blossom with the Mavericks:

When he was a raw NBA rookie, his one season at Texas A&M still a fresh memory, DeAndre Jordan was an unknown commodity.

Scouts wondered if he really had NBA skills beyond simply being 6-11 and 250 pounds.

Coaches wondered if he had the want-to.

Fans and critics wondered if he was another Erick Dampier.

As a rookie, Jordan had trouble getting on the court. He played behind Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was looking very much like the second-round draft pick (35th overall) that he was.

He was an offensively challenged, can’t-shoot-free-throws project on a team that went 19-63.

This is one of the NBA’s best examples of why it’s dangerous to draw knee-jerk conclusions about young players.
Six years after the conclusion of that first season, Jordan is joining the Mavericks as the major piece of the organization’s new, young core, an $80-million cornerstone who qualifies as the most lucrative free-agent signee in the team’s history.

“We see him as the future of the franchise,” owner Mark Cuban said.

The Mavericks believe Jordan, who turns 27 on July 21, has untapped potential on the offensive end of the court. His defense and rebounding are not open to debate. He’s as good as anybody in the league in those areas.
Is his offense ready to take off, too?

Coach Rick Carlisle and Cuban believe it will. And that makes sense from the Mavericks’ perspective.

The league is going toward interchangeable players who can guard multiple positions. One area that is in decline is low-post scoring. When nobody else is doing it, that’s when Cuban and Co. try to pounce on an asset that makes the Mavericks unique.

Only Houston, with Dwight Howard, and perhaps Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have what would be considered strong offensive forces in the paint. San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who agreed to terms with the Spurs on Saturday, and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, are more hybrid big men that can take their game outside the paint.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are hopeful they can find someone – uh, JaVale McGee? – to beef up a front line that suddenly looks awfully nekkid without Jordan. Until they do, and perhaps for some time after, folks might want to blame somebody for this blow to the Clippers’ title dreams. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register pointed directly at point guard Chris Paul:

Never in his 10-year NBA career – not even in the disastrous deciding moments of Game 5 against Oklahoma City in 2014, not even in horrifically blowing Game 6 and then the series to Houston in May – has Paul looked as bad as he does right now.

One of the most gifted point guards in the league just had his worst turnover as a pro.

Jordan is officially leaving the Clippers for Dallas as a free agent, and, by all indications, the player who has led the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons, assisted mightily in Jordan’s franchise-stunting decision.

No one is saying that on the record, of course, but no one really has to say it on the record. The record speaks for itself.

Jordan is known to revere Doc Rivers and cherish his relationship with Blake Griffin. The Clippers were a team famously building toward something bigger, with an owner puffing money and optimism into a franchise that traditionally has had neither.

It is common knowledge that Paul and Jordan didn’t always get along, that Paul’s on-court edginess and demeanor agitated Jordan. Paul also reportedly thought Jordan was entirely too lax in addressing his free-throw deficiencies.

“Things aren’t good there,” a source told Fox Sports in May, referring to the Paul-Jordan dynamic. “(Jordan) might leave,” the source also was quoted as saying…

The concept of players struggling to coexist is only as old as the games themselves. Paul is hardly the first star to alienate a teammate, Kobe Bryant being another convenient example of someone who has left those around him begging for less.

Funny, though, how a teammate like Bryant, one who has won five championships, might be tolerated a little easier than a teammate like Paul, who never has advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.


No. 4: Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) — There was a different, nearly opposite vibe swirling about Hibbert’s trade – for a future second-round pick — from the Pacers to the Lakers. Back home in Indiana, the move was celebrated as a huge step forward in basketball boss Larry Bird‘s vision to have the Pacers playing faster; now both Hibbert and veteran power forward David West (who opted out) both are gone. Shedding Hibbert’s $15.5 million salary for the coming season, along with what might have become a brooding, distracting situation if the two-time All-Star wound up anchored to the bench, also suggested a going-away party without an invitation for the honored guest. As for Hibbert’s impact on the Lakers, no one was touting his arrival as the latest entry in the franchise’s famous timeline of great centers (Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal). First, here’s Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, rather harshly, on the Pacers’ side of this swap:

From something ugly, something beautiful is growing. You know the ugly. Paul George‘s gruesome broken leg, nearly a year ago, which triggered the Indiana Pacers’ slide out of the 2015 NBA playoffs, which led to …

Something beautiful growing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers have done so much right, and gotten a little luck as well, and the result is pretty much every single thing falling their way since George fell so horribly, horribly wrong.

The departure of fraudulent center Roy Hibbert is the latest, greatest thing to happen to this team, the cherry on top of a sundae that will see the Pacers contend not just for a playoff spot next season, but for a top-four seed that would give them homecourt advantage in the postseason.

Hibbert is going to the Lakers, which takes his $15.5 million off Indiana’s books. What will the Pacers get for Hibbert, and what will they do with the leftover money? As of this writing I don’t know, and I don’t care. Get a backup power forward, a third-string guard, a lump of used ankle tape. Whatever.

Hibbert leaving is addition by subtraction, only it’s better than that. It’s multiplication by subtraction. Hibbert wasn’t going to play much this season, he wasn’t going to be happy about it, and he was going to prevent the Pacers from replacing his salary with one or — more likely — two or three players who can fill the team’s depth. A veteran point guard off the bench. Another power forward to spell George.

This, meanwhile, was the lukewarm coverage generated from the Los Angeles side, as chronicled by L.A. Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan:

They didn’t miss out only on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over the Lakers.

The Lakers netted Hibbert for a future second-round draft pick, giving them a post player with legitimate NBA experience, though he was coming off a poor season.

Hibbert, 28, is a good shot-blocker but an erratic scorer and a below-average rebounder for being 7 feet 2. His days in Indiana were numbered when team President Larry Bird all but guaranteed he would play a lesser role next season.

Hibbert has enjoyed some solid seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2014 and 2012. He had one of the more unique lines in recent years, compiling 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots for a triple-double against New Orleans in 2012.

He is not an accurate shooter from the field outside and made only 44.6% of his attempts last season, very low for a center, while averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Hibbert will be in the last season of his contract and eligible for free agency in a year. He joins a threadbare Lakers frontcourt that had Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only post players with NBA experience.

The addition of Hibbert, who has a trade kicker that increases his actual cap number to $17.8 million, leaves the Lakers with less than $5 million to spend on a dwindling free-agent market.

It’s hard to detract the focus from an unsettling pattern, the 16-time NBA champions unable to sign anybody of worth to upgrade their team in recent off-seasons.


No. 5: Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo — The Toronto Raptors lost stalwart big man Amir Johnson this summer to the Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. But even without that lost, they’ve been a little thin up front over the last few seasons and have reportedly found some help in the form of former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

The journey has been little short of amazing — the Democratic Republic of Congo to Yemen to Spain to the United States Pacific northwest for a one-night coming out party.

Then Sacramento for less than 24 hours, to Charlotte to the unemployment line and now Bismack Biyombo finds himself in Toronto with another chance to prove his NBA worth.

The six-foot-nine Biyombo, cut adrift by the Charlotte Hornets last month because they feared he had reached his potential, will join the Raptors as a placeholder backup centre, a defensive presence and offensive nightmare who gives Toronto a shot-blocking rim-protecting presence to try to nurture.

Biyombo has agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth about $6 million (U.S.), a relatively low-cost, low-risk backup for Jonas Valanciunas.

According to league sources, Biyombo’s signing will have no impact on Toronto’s ability to sign other free agents with salary cap room. Biyombo’s deal will fit into what is known as the “mini-mid level” cap exception. Toronto still has something in the neighbourhood of $8 million to spend on a much-needed power forward and a backup point guard.

But in Biyombo, general manager Masai Ujiri has plugged one small hole in the roster, providing coach Dwane Casey with a solid defender who has exponentially more athleticism and potential than either Amir Johnson or Chuck Hayes, who manned that position a year ago.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Either there is a need in Cleveland for former Indiana forward David West or there isn’t, depending on which analysis — this one or that one — you prefer. … Here is a breakdown of the teams that still have salary-cap space to use on the players left in NBA free agency. … The Washington Wizards have gone about their offseason maneuvers with one eye on the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. … Might Lou Williams be a sign-and-trade possibility for the Miami Heat? … No less an authority than Patrick Ewing says Charlotte’s lottery pick Frank Kaminsky has gone from a “deer in the headlights” to potentially a deer to fear – for the Hornets, of course. … Aldridge is gone and now so is Portland assistant coach Kim Hughes for rankling the Blazers organization with some off-hand remarks. … Whether it says “Welcome!” or not, the New York Knicks got the floor mat treatment from the NBA’s free-agent A-listers, according to the New York Post.

Aldridge move just another master class by ever-evolving Spurs

VIDEO: David Aldridge on why LaMarcus Aldridge picked Spurs

This was hardly a roman candle that came out of nowhere on the Fourth of July.  It was a carefully managed, brilliantly-executed plan.

Think of all the things the Spurs have been able to accomplish over the past two decades:

— 18 straight trips to the playoffs.

— 16 consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins.

— 5 NBA championships.

Now this might be the slickest trick of them all.

LaMarcus Aldridge jumps from the Trail Blazers to the Spurs.

While so-called glamour franchises in New York and Los Angeles  keep floundering in their bids to reclaim relevance, little ol’ San Antonio finds a way to keep barreling down the tracks like a locomotive toward championship No. 6.  And maybe 7 and 8.

Just more than 12 months after their last celebratory river parade with an aging roster, the Spurs have made the transition to the next stage of the franchise with a move that was both brash and bold, but also a long time coming.

For even as general manager R.C. Buford and his staff kept juggling a roster built around the aging core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to annually compete for championships, they were always looking ahead to this day when the future merged with the present.

“My complete faith and trust in R.C. is never going to change, because of the track record he has,” head coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “He’s always thinking not just for the next year and the next two years, but the next three years, the next seven years, that type of thing.”

By making all of the necessary moves — trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta for a handful of beans, letting Aron Baynes go to Detroit, Marco Belinelli to Sacramento — Buford has set up the Spurs not only for next season but perhaps the next decade.

For so many years, the Spurs and their fans have proudly worn the label of a franchise that builds championships rather than buys them.  They were the ones that defiantly took down — and ultimately broke up — the Monied Mercenary Miami Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But the game of pro basketball is a business and the business is about making the most proficient, often the shrewdest, moves to stay on top of the competition.

Of course, the Spurs will be right back among the teams at the head of the Western Conference class in 2015-16 with a front line of Duncan, Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.  With this nifty Texas two-step, the Spurs, who lost in the first round of this year’s playoffs, are suddenly 2-1 oddsmakers favorites to win the West, ahead of champion Golden State and Oklahoma City, and 4-1 to win it all, behind only LeBron and Cleveland.

Let’s not forget that with literally billions of dollars being thrown around in the free agent market in less than a week, Buford locked up Aldridge for four years (player option after third) at $80 million.  It’s a number that will look positively pedestrian net summer when the salaries shoot through the clouds with the influx of new TV money.  It almost looks that way now when you consider that Orlando will pay Tobias Harris $64 million over the same time frame.  Go ahead, compare Aldridge and Harris.

But just as important, with Aldridge at 29 and Duncan at 39, the Spurs will be in the thick of the contending pack for the foreseeable future.  That had to be the decision-making difference for Aldridge after he heard pitches from Portland, L.A. Phoenix, Houston and Miami.  Whenever the ageless Duncan finally decides to hang up his spurs, Aldridge has a 24-year-old running mate in Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, to keep churning ahead with perennial chances to add to the banner collection.

Don’t think that’s a tough trick to pull off without hitting bottom and suffering the bruises and indignity of suddenly finding out how life feels in the draft lottery?  Just ask the Lakers and Knicks.

As carefully and strategically as Popovich has managed the minutes of his veterans over the years to keep them fresh, Buford maneuvered and managed the salary cap with the flexibility of tiny gymnast to make this day possible.  It was never just a year-to-year reach for one more playoff run, but a decade-long plan to transition to the future.  All the while the Spurs were stacking up Larry O’Brien Trophys, they were keeping an eye on this critical summer when 10 contracts were timed to come off the books at the same time.

“We put the team together with that in mind,” Popovich said.

Sometimes the best-laid plans work out perfectly.