Posts Tagged ‘Spurs’

Old Man River Walk keeps rolling

Well, the cat had at least a paw out of the bag when Tim Duncan was a member of the Spurs entourage that traveled to L.A. to make a free agent pitch to L.A.

But while San Antonio is still awaiting word from LaMarcus Aldridge if he’ll float their championship hopes for another River Walk parade next June, the walking legend Duncan confirmed that he will be back for his 19th NBA season with the Spurs in 2015-16.

There is still the matter of working out the details of a contract, but these are the Spurs we’re talking about and that won’t be a problem. The free agency period had barely begun on Wednesday when a new five-year, $90-million deal for Kawhi Leonard was announced. Then Danny Green passed up a chance to get bigger bucks on the open market by signing a four-year, $45-million contract to stay with “the family.” And Duncan has been playing below market value for years.

The 39-year-old Duncan is coming off a season where he started 77 games, averaging 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 blocked shots in 28.9 minutes per game. Then he bumped those numbers up in the playoffs.

Duncan has always said he’ll keep playing as long as he’s healthy and having fun. Put Aldridge in the Spurs lineup and that could be a while.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 205) Featuring Pete Philo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kristaps Porzingis knows all of the names that came before him, all of the international big men who were supposed to be game changers that didn’t live up to the hype.

The ghost of Darko Milicic, and others, lingers for a youngster like the Porzingis, the Latvian 7-footer the New York Knicks selected with the fourth pick in last week’s NBA Draft.

But Porzingis insists he’s different. He’s prepared to break the mold and is ready to embrace the pressure of playing on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.

The question is does he have the chops to live up to his own words? 

And that’s a question guys like Pete Philo, the Indiana Pacers’ director of international scouting, get paid to figure out for their respective teams. Their work digging up the details on players most of us have never seen play in the flesh, can be the difference between success and failure for a guy like Porzingis.

Step 1 of the NBA’s summer hoops Holy Trinity is the Draft, which was handled last week with plenty of surprises, including Porzingis.

Step 2 is the Free Agent Fever (on NBA TV and NBA.com starting today and going strong until all of the big names agree to deals) going on right now.

Step 3, Summer League action in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas kicks off life fireworks on July 4.

We’ve got you covered on all three steps of the process on Episode 205 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Pete Philo. He joins us to talk Draft, the work that goes on behind the scenes and what that spawns in free agency, summer league ball and beyond.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

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


VIDEO: Does Kristaps Porzingis have what it takes to snap the international big man jinx? Knicks fans certainly hope so, as does Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain trust

Morning shootaround — June 29


VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

***

No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.

***

No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of TwinCities.com provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”

***

No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Spurs: Is this the end of beginning or beginning of end?


VIDEO: Discussing the Spurs-Clippers series

This is where the Spurs put themselves. Game 7, on the road, against a team that is younger and faster, surging in confidence.

They can blame an uninspired effort on Thursday night in Game 6 and coach Gregg Popovich certainly did, calling them soft and their performance embarrassing.

The truth is the Spurs are in this fix because of other nights when they couldn’t get it done. March 17 and a desultory loss to the lowly Knicks. April 15, the final night of the regular season and a letdown in New Orleans.

Win either one of those games and the Spurs aren’t in this fix, defending champions not only trying to save themselves from elimination in the first round, but also from facing a playoff minefield that only gets tougher to navigate from here.

The Spurs could have been the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference rather than an unlikely No. 6 seed having to deal with the spritely legs and hungry hearts of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the 56-win Clippers.

Maybe past is prologue and the Spurs can take a page out of the 20th anniversary book of the 1995 Rockets, who climbed from the No. 6 seed to win the most unlikely championship in NBA history, taking down the Spurs ancestors along the way.

Hakeem Olajuwon said even he didn’t quite believe that, after a season of turmoil and injury and disappointment, the Rockets could go all the way until they somehow managed to escape a first-round battle with at 60-win Utah team. It gave them life. It gave them hope that anything is possible.

However a win tonight just gives the Spurs another hurdle, a hurried flight to Houston to open the conference semifinals on Monday night and the immediacy of another hill to climb.

It’s either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end that we’re watching with this amazing run of Spurs excellence that has won five titles since 1999. They either rise up and make more history or it could be the dynasty crumbling. For while 39-year-old Tim Duncan continues to defy the aging process to crank out performances that are stunning and does not seem like a man heading to retirement, Tony Parker is hobbled by an ailing Achilles tendon and Manu Ginobili appears broken down, worn out and on his last legs. Watch them closely tonight. It could be the last time the Spurs Big Three is on the court together. A loss tonight and the reconstruction process really begins.

If the Spurs don’t beat the Clippers and advance, it will be a loud and sudden fall for a team that just 10 months ago had elevated the game to a different level, practically playing with a musical score as a background, in taking apart and taking down the celebrated Miami Heat and chasing LeBron James back to Cleveland.

Now here they are standing in a hole they dug for themselves, and it’s just the start.

Morning shootaround — April 25




VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kawhi shines for Spurs | Small Wizards big hit | New Rose blooming | Pelicans pick up pieces | Hack-a-Shaq to get review

No. 1: Leonard makes another statement for the Spurs — On the night he was presented with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Trophy, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard added to his growing legend by proving that he is more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the Clippers, who watched him bury jumpers, throw down lob dunks and do virtually anything he pleased in carrying his team past L.A. 100-73 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News had the blow-by-blow:

“He’s like Deion Sanders,Doc Rivers said. “You’re trying to find where the hell in the backfield he is.”
The answer Friday: Everywhere.

Rivers wasn’t sure if Leonard’s 32 points — on 13-for-18 shooting — spoke volumes Friday, but conceded they might have.

“I think he was trying to tell all the voters he’s a player, not just a defensive player,” Rivers said.

With Leonard playing Pied Piper, the Spurs unleashed the kind of fury that seemed like a nightly occurrence last spring, en route to torching Miami in the most lopsided Finals in NBA history.

They shot 51.6 percent, a high for the series, and hit 41.7 percent from 3-point range. That was a marked improvement from Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles, when the Spurs made only 18 of 58 from long range.

“I don’t know about effort and execution,” Rivers said. “I know we got our butt kicked.”

Afterward, Gregg Popovich was quick to put the blowout in perspective.

“We just had a heck of a night,” Popovich said, “and it was just one night.”

***

No. 2: Wizards go big by getting small — Back in the the 1970s, Steve Martin had a hit comedy album called “Let’s Get Small.” Is Wizards coach Randy Wittman ready to hit the charts with an updated version? Is it possible that Wittman had this planned all through the second half of the regular season, when the Wizards played rope-a-dope with the rest of the league and just reeled everyone in? A team that looked barely mediocre over the last 2 1/2 months has looked stunning in building a 3-0 lead on the Raptors and the Wiz have done it by going to a small lineup that makes the most of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter, according to our own John Schuhmann:

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.
This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who’s been here before.
Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

“That’s why we brought him here,” Wittman said, “for these kind of situations.”

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach’s decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

“He’s just growing up, right before your eyes,” Pierce said of Porter. “What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs.”

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.
But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

“We finally tweaked some things we’ve been saying we want to do all year,” Pierce said. “It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters.”

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

***

No. 3:  That’s not the same old Rose leading the Bulls — Forget everything that long-time basketball playwright William Shakespeare ever told you. The same old Derrick Rose by any name is not the sweet young thing that won the 2011 MVP and used to fly recklessly around the court for the Bulls. The new Rose, in a reflective mood, tells our Steve Aschburner that he’s smarter and better now:

“It’s over,” he said. “That player that you saw, that reckless player is smarter now.”
Rose laughed.

“If I didn’t grow in this game, I’d be mad at myself,” he said. “Just trying to take the shots that they’re giving me, trying to adjust while I’m playing.

“I love this player. This player’s better. Smarter. More effective. I think I’m not rushing anything while I’m out there. Letting the game come to me. The only thing I’ve got to handle is my turnovers, but in crucial situations I think they haven’t cost us. Every game I have it on my mind to try to keep the turnovers down, but playing the game of basketball, it’s not a perfect game.”

Breaking into stages his repeated and occasionally aborted comebacks from multiple knee surgeries, Rose has managed to keep them reasonable and, so far this time, achievable. With his play through three games against the Bucks — he’s averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 assists, 10-of-22 on 3-point attempts and a mighty 120/96 split in offensive and defensive ratings — Rose unofficially has reached the “pinch me” stage for the Bulls and their fans.

Many of them never thought they’d see again the day they could enjoy, free of worry, Rose’s romps through the lane and violent bursts in changing direction. To them, Rose’s comments were meant to be reassuring, offering up a player who might not drop jaws quite like the 22-year-old who took home the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy but one who is better equipped to stick around and lead the Bulls where they all want to go.

***

No. 4: Pelicans must grow from painful lesson — The shock and pain of watching the ugly game video from the stunning Game 3 loss is past. The hurt of seeing Stephen Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer out of the left corner has numbed them. The knowledge that a chance to throw a real scare into the Warriors has slipped through their fingers has sunk in. Now comes the heavy lifting for the Pelicans, says our Fran Blinebury. Turning the agonizing lesson into fuel for the future fire:

On one hand, just making the rally to get into the playoffs should have been the accomplishment for a nascent roster to grow on. But to win a game when they had their hands around the best-record-in-the-league Warriors’ necks for most of the night would have been a shouting-from-the-rooftops cry that their day was coming fast.

“You have to take ownership of it,” said coach Monty Williams said. “You can’t sugarcoat it. We’re all feeling like dirt right now, so obviously you want to build them up, but there is nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. It can be a growth moment for us. It’s just tough. To have the game, and to lose it that way, there is no way to fix it right away. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”

The Pelicans gave Curry not one, but two chances to tie the game in the final six seconds of regulation. They gave up 10 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. They didn’t smartly foul Marreese Speights when he pulled in the critical rebound and before he got the ball back to Curry in the left corner. They watched a Warriors team show that the only way to really close out a game is to keep hammering and hammering away at it until there is not a single tick left on the clock.

For all the game situations and different looks and predicaments that can be encountered over the long 82-game regular season schedule, they are not the kind of lessons that can be learned in December and January or even March and April. It takes the finality of the playoffs — win or go home — to be the stern, painful, enduring teacher.

***

No. 5:Poor free-throw shooters of the world can celebrate — Let rim benders rejoice. No more long, tedious hours in the gym wasted on improving one of the most fundamental parts of your craft. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Tim McMahon of the ESPNDallas.com that there will be serious discussion about the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule in various league meetings this spring:

Silver, who replaced the retired David Stern as commissioner in February 2014, acknowledged that the discussion is “in part” about weighing the value of entertainment and strategy.

It’s been a talking point during the playoffs, with the San Antonio Spurs sending the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to the foul line 17 times in a playoff victory earlier this week.

“I really don’t know. I think we’re clearly going to look at it, and even though I have D.J. [Jordan], I still go back and forth on it,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters before Friday night’s Game 3 against the Spurs. “I was put on the committee to look at what’s good for the league, not our team, and it’s still a tough one for me even though it’s obvious for everyone. Every ref, every game it starts, he [Jordan] looks over at me and says, ‘You guys have to stop this.’”

Rivers’ conflicted opinion of the strategy mirrored Silver’s.

“It’s a tough one for me. I go back and forth on it because I look at the other side as if you make it, they won’t do it,” Rivers said.

“That’s too simple, I think, and I think fans watching it, I don’t think it’s that enjoyable to watch and we’re all waiting for the game where a team has one [poor free throw shooter] on each team and the coaches go back and forth and do it. The game is going to last forever, No. 1, and it would be ugly to watch, so that’s my answer.”

Silver reiterated his awareness and responsibility of the balance between protecting how the game is played and creating a compelling product.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the game,” Silver said. “I used to run something called NBA Entertainment, but I always remind myself in my job now as commissioner and managing the league office, it’s the game above all. So I think we have to [determine] what makes the most sense for the game.

“That’s why I’m sensitive about guys being able to make their free throws, and I also find that sometimes it’s a fascinating strategy,” Silver said. “We’re very conservative when it comes to changing the rules of the game. That’s why changing the rules of the game requires more than the majority of the owners; it requires a super majority. So we’ve got to be very careful, but it is something that we’re looking at closely.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Down 3-0 to the Rockets, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle comes out swinging at the referees…After a career playoff high 26 rebounds, there are no more questions about Dwight Howard’s health…Kyle Lowry’s struggles continue as Raptors go down 3-0…By the way, league office says OT might not have been necessary.  Stephen Curry was also fouled on that clutch game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation Game 3… Count the Celtics as being surprised that the situation between Rajon Rondo and the Mavericks blew up so badly…Kawhi Leonard will remain a Spur next season and could help recruit LaMarcus Aldridge to join him in San Antonio.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Emotional Budenholzer praises Pop after Coach of the Year win


VIDEO: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thanks Gregg Popovich for taking a chance on him

ATLANTA — He did everything he could to keep his emotions from getting the best of him.

Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is notorious for wanting to do any and everything he can to avoid the spotlight. Guiding his team to a franchise-record 60 wins and the top spot in the Eastern Conference is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

With the eyes of the basketball world on him Tuesday afternoon, Budenholzer stepped to the podium to accept the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season, and from the minute he leaned into the microphone he had to fight back the tears. With praise for all of his mentors — most notably his own father, Vince Budenholzer, a legendary high school coach in Arizona, and San Antonio Spurs coach and his longtime boss and friend, Gregg Popovich — Budenholzer had to fight back the tears when speaking about what both men have meant to him throughout a lifetime immersed in the game that he loves.

He thanked his father for instilling in him a passion for the game that Popovich helped him hone as a longtime assistant, first as an intern with the Golden State Warriors and for 18 years after that with the Spurs.

“It seems only appropriate to finish with the real Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich,” Budenholzer said as he wrapped up his acceptance speech at Philips Arena. “This award has a permanent spot on his desk in San Antonio. He just takes it out every couple of years and shares it around with the rest of us. I might be able to sneak back into his office and put it back down.”

Appropriately enough, it was Popovich, at the urging of the Hawks after they found out Budenholzer had beaten out Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd for the top spot this season, who called and informed his former protegé that he’d won the award. Boston’s Brad Stevens was fourth and Popovich fifth.


VIDEO: Popovich explains how he told Budenholzer about the award

“There are some things better kept between Pop and myself,” a smiling Budenholzer said later how Popovich broke the news. “And I’ll go so far as to say … He was nice, really nice, and he assured me that he was not pulling my leg.”

Budenholzer’s surprising resuscitation of the Hawks’ brand after just two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. A perfect January and a 19-0 stretch overall led to four All-Stars, Budenholzer and his staff coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New York in February. The Hawks’ 60-win season and dominance all season led to Budenholzer posing for pictures with Pop’s trophy.

From a 38-win team and No. 8 seed in the playoffs after his first campaign to their current status as the No. 1 seed is not something anyone forecasted this team in the summer as they were reeling from the drama caused by derogatory comments in emails from part-owner Bruce Levenson and insensitive comments from general manager Danny Ferry that led to Ferry’s indefinite leave of absence.

“There is a certain degree of satisfaction that adds to it,” Budenholzer said. “We feel like this is a group that they believe in what they are doing and we obviously believe in them as players. And we’re trying to build something together. A lot of us were put together, but there were some pretty important people that we joined in Jeff Teague and Al Horford and Kyle Korver and even John (Jenkins). This group has really come together and it does mean something extra.”

Budenholzer praised Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who introduced him Tuesday, ownership and the entire organization for giving him the opportunity. He’s stayed in contact with Ferry, who was not in attendance, and did not shy away from handing out credit where he felt it was deserved.

“He’s been incredibly supportive of me from Day 1,” Budenholzer said of Ferry. “He’s very happy for me and continues to be. So it was good. But it’s been a tough year for everybody and hopefully, everybody has handled it to the best of all of our abilities.”

On a team with balanced scoring and devoid of one individual superstar to garner MVP mention or first-team All-NBA mention, the one individual award the Hawks had the best chance of winning was Coach of the Year.

Horford called it an honor extremely well-deserved, knowing his coach would want nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance that comes along with NBA postseason awards.

“He is the type of person that is all about the team,” Horford said. “So he is not going to want to take any credit for it. But it’s because of him. He really deserves that award, so I’m very, very happy for him. I just think that the whole mindset of working as a team. That goes a long way. One through 15 all the guys here believe in what we’re doing and what he’s preaching.”

Budenholzer’s approach — each man as responsible as the next for not only his own individual improvement, but also the collective improvement of the entire group — is what resonates with his players.

He showed up with the sparkling credentials, but he didn’t get a free pass, particularly from the veterans. Sure, they saw the tremendous gains in player development from veteran guys like Teague, Korver, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll as well as youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala. Still, there was a connection that had to be made in order for the Hawks to take that next step as a group. And Budenholzer and his staff clearly put in all the necessary work to make that happen, following that Pop/Spurs blueprint as best they could.

“I’ve played for a lot of coaches, so I’ve seen plenty of situations and it wasn’t an instant thing,” Elton Brand said. “We didn’t get the head coach from San Antonio who won all the championships with the Spurs. It still took time. What’s his system about? Do we have the personnel to get it done? We had all the usual questions. And then we had a little success, started winning, made the playoffs and it takes off from there. But he still had to work for it. He had to earn the trust, just like any coach, even one from that background and that Spurs family tree. He didn’t just walk in the door and it was instant. He had to come in and earn everyone’s respect and show us his character. He did that, and that’s what makes this even more special.”

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 197) Changing The Game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Russell Westbrook‘s exploits on the basketball court this season have wowed us all.

The fury, focus and fearlessness he has displayed is truly awe-inspiring.

But is the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar playing an outdated style for today’s NBA? For all of his hard work, Westbrook will likely find himself on the outside looking in when the MVP votes are tallied — giving way to either Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors or former teammate James Harden of the Houston Rockets, or both — due to conditions beyond his control.

The iso-era of the NBA is over, having been replaced by a universal embrace of a pace and space game that lends itself to teamwork as much as it does individual star power. The San Antonio Spurs used the system to perfection last season to dethrone LeBron James and the Miami Heat in The Finals. And the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks have used it to rise to the top of the standings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

The game is changing before our very eyes … but is one of the league’s most mercurial talents paying attention? We debate and discuss that and so much more on Episode 197 of the Hang Time Podcast: Changing The Game.

While Rick Fox is “on set” for one of his many potentially award-winning roles, the rest of the crew dives in on the playoff possibilities, the business of ballots that come with the end of the regular season and a vigorous debate about the shape-shifting of the game of basketball from the NBA all the way down to the grassroots level (the good and the bad changes).

You get it all and more on Episode 197 of The Hang Time Podcast … Changing The Game …

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook just doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about the way he plays the game

Morning Shootaround — March 7



VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s NBA action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hawks close the door | Harden strikes back | Parker sparks Spurs | Mavs slide continues | Shaw eyes Magic

No. 1: Hawks clinch series over Cavaliers — Is there anybody left that still thinks the Hawks are not for real? Is there anybody out there that thinks an Eastern Conference finals showdown between Atlanta and Cleveland wouldn’t be a classic showdown? DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore suffocated LeBron James all night long and the Hawks wrapped up the season series over the Cavs 3-1 with a victory that stretched their latest winning streak to six games. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the details:

Carroll and Kent Bazemore harassed and frustrated James much of the night. The two defenders got plenty of weakside help on James. The Cavaliers star even exchanged words with Schroder as his frustration built.

“We just played Hawks defense,” Carroll said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates because they were meeting him at the rim. They were helping me out. Like I said before, I just want to be a gnat. When you are outside in the summer and you just can’t get that gnat away from you, that’s all I wanted to be tonight.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the team approach to limiting James.

“It always starts with taking individual pride, but it takes five guys, the whole team, working together and doing everything in unison,” Budenholzer said. “I think at the point of the ball, DeMarre and Kent were very good and the weakside was active and aware, and we were able to try to get out to shooters because he’s such a great passer and he sees the court so well. I think it’s like anything. It takes a group effort. It’s great to be tested and challenged like we were tonight.”

***

No. 2: Harden takes out frustrations on Pistons — Even for a guy who is leading the NBA in scoring and is considered a frontrunner for the Kia MVP award, it was a tough week for James Harden. After he kicked Lebron James, Harden was suspended for one game in Atlanta and then was fouled on what the league office admitted was a missed call in the final seconds of another loss to Memphis. So Harden was ready to bounce back and did it with his third triple-double of the season against the Pistons. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tells how good it felt for The Beard:

“Yeah, it’s all about having fun, especially when … you just lose two in a row, two tough games and you have get a win,” Harden said. “We go out there, have fun, execute and play together.”

There was a good deal of that to go around, from Terrence Jones returning from a first-half scare when he hobbled off with a strained right rip to score 11 of his 17 points in the second half to Joey Dorsey coming off the bench to snare 10 much-needed rebounds. Rookie KJ McDaniels even knocked down a shot for the first time since joining the Rockets, saying, “It felt really good; a big relief.”

Harden especially seemed to need the release. He began the game as if in a mad rush to leave the one-game suspension and last-minute missed call behind him, getting six turnovers and missing a handful of layups in the first half. Once he settled down, however, he seemed to control any part of the game he chose.

By the time Harden found Corey Brewer on a cut for a layup, he had 12 assists for his fourth game in the past five with at least 10, and the Rockets began clearing their bench with a 22-point lead.

“He’s going to find you when you’re open,” said Brewer, who made 7-for-12 shots for his 15 points off the bench. “Everybody is going to (defend) him and leave guys open and he’s making the right pass. We just have to make the right shots because we’re so wide open.”

Harden’s triple-double was his third of the season, the most for a Rockets player since Clyde Drexler had three in the 1996-97 season. Though the Rockets led by as much as 24 and never trailed by more than one point, the Rockets needed Harden to dominate when Pistons big men Andre Drummond (who had 21 rebounds) and Greg Monroe (who had 19 points) took over inside in the second half.

***

No. 3: Parker continues his comeback — The Spurs have been waiting months for Tony Parker to regain his form and provide the kind of offensive spark they’ll need to defend their NBA championship in the playoffs. Lately the shots have started to fall. Then Friday night there was his signature spin move on the fastbreak. Parker isn’t ready to jump the gun and say all of his troubles are in the past just yet. But according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, it certainly looked like old times in a win over the Nuggets:

His teammates call the signature sequence “circle to the square.”

Tony Parker will be out on the break. He will make a 360-degree spin move to separate from his defender (“the circle”) then lay the ball off the middle of the backboard (“the square”).

His Spurs teammates have been waiting for Parker to break out that geometry lesson for quite some time.

Midway through a tougher-than-expected 120-111 victory over Denver on Friday at the AT&T Center, Parker at last obliged.

After Parker spun past Will Barton en route to his best scoring night in more than two months, guard Danny Green made the declaration Spurs fans have been pining to hear.

“Yep,” Green said, “he’s back.”

There are others in the Spurs’ locker room who would call rumors of Parker’s resurrection premature.

One of them is Parker.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” the 32-year-old point guard said. “Every time I think I’m back, I get something else wrong.”

Still, Parker was a catalyst for the Spurs’ fourth consecutive victory Friday, which equaled their second-longest streak of the season.

He busted out his entire arsenal on his way to 24 points and seven assists — teardrops, rim runs, jumpers, all of it.

***

No. 4: Mavericks out of class against Warriors — They were a couple of weeks late to be part of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary celebration. But the Mavericks certainly looked like the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” in back-to-back national TV losses at Portland and Golden State. Dirk Nowitzki tells Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that all teams go through slumps. But seven losses in their last nine games, the playoff picture is starting to look daunting for Dallas:

The Warriors are the best team in the Western Conference for a reason and they showed their strength throughout with a balanced attack and strong defense anchored by Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. The Mavericks were shooting under 35 percent through three quarters, after which they were down 82-64. It didn’t get much better in the fourth.

The Mavericks? They look lost right now and it’s clear they need to regroup.

“I’ve been in this league 17 years,” Nowitzki said. “Even in our great years, the championship year, it’s not all smiles. There were some times we went through some rough stretches. I remember we went 2-7 over one time in the championship year. You just got to stick with it. You never know what can happen in a month or month and a half.

One thing for sure is if we want to make a run at this, we got to get healthy. That’s obvious.”

In their banged-up state, the Mavericks were rolled on back-to-back nights by Portland and Golden State.

“You never want to lose like that twice on national TV,” Nowitzki said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s not good. I can’t say anything great about these two losses. We got to get some of our mojo back.”

The Warriors now have won six in a row against the Mavericks dating to last season. The last time Golden State had six consecutive wins against the Mavericks was from Dec. 26, 1996 to Dec. 16, 1997.

***

No. 5: Shaw would like to coach Magic — It’s only been a matter of days since Brian Shaw was dumped by the Nuggets. But the veteran who played part of his NBA career in Orlando reportedly would like a chance to resumer his coaching career with the Magic, according to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

A person close to Shaw told the Orlando Sentinel that the former Magic guard would “absolutely” be “very interested” if or when the job opens.
Shaw, 48, is coming off a bitter breakup with the Denver Nuggets, fired in just his second season as head coach on Tuesday.

He had replaced venerable George Karl, landing his first opportunity after years as an assistant. But he and the underachieving Nuggets didn’t mesh. They lost 19 of 21 in one stretch this season, and a Denver columnist wrote that players lacked professionalism and essentially quit on Shaw.

Shaw played three seasons with the Magic (1994-95 and 1996-97) before retiring after the 2002-03 season.

He served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.

The Magic fired Jacque Vaughn on Feb. 5 after he coached for two-plus seasons. Vaughn’s lead assistant, James Borrego, took over as interim coach.

General Manager Rob Hennigan said that Borrego could be considered a candidate to be hired on a permanent basis.

The Magic are 5-6 under Borrego.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hassan Whiteside had a conversation with Erik Spoelstra, then a good seat on the bench to watch the Heat in a near-miss against the Wizards…Cavs coach David Blatt isn’t happy that his main man LeBron James has been taking so many hits lately…The Clippers will honor long-time play-by-play man and one of the all-time greats Ralph Lawler on Monday night at Staples Center…Michael Beasley says he’s playing “with desperation” in what he sees as his last NBA chance…Mickey Arison imagines John Lennon singing in Miami at a Heat game.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Popovich swears July’s the limit

SAN ANTONIO — Over the years nobody has been more of an advocate of getting his players their proper rest during the long, grueling 82-game schedule than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He’s stuck to his guns. He’s been fined for his beliefs and his actions.

But with NBA commissioner Adam Silver saying he’s open to any and all suggestions on how to cut down on back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights scenarios in the future, one place Popovich says he’ll draw the line is playing deep into summertime.

“I think the season’s long enough,” Popovich said Wednesday night before the Spurs played the Kings. “I will not come to work in July. If there’s a game in July, count me out.”

There are gourmet meals to eat, fine wines to drink and only so many days and nights in the dwindling off-season to enjoy the good life. So the three-time coach of the year maintains that even if a future Spurs team is back in The Finals after the Fourth of July, the players will have to figure out a way to get it done without him.

“Count me out,” Pop said. “Life’s too short.”