Posts Tagged ‘Spurs’

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs – Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.


VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.


VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.


VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year


VIDEO: Clippers’ Crawford wins 2014 KIA Sixth Man of the Year Award

When everybody else is floating on a raft sipping from an umbrella drink in the dog days of the offseason, they’re the ones you can usually find sweating it out in the confines of a hot gym.

They are those role players with the rough edges, sharp teeth that can come off the bench to leave a mark on a game. So our next stop in the Summer Dreaming series looking ahead at award winners for the 2014-15 season is our top five choices for Sixth Man of the Year.

Send us your picks.

Taj Gibson, Bulls — The big man coming off the Bulls bench felt snubbed when he finished as runner-up to two-time winner Jamal Crawford last season and that’s likely to drive him even harder this time around. All good news for coach Tom Thibodeau, who’ll have a stuffed starting lineup with the return of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol. Gibson has always been a defensive force and now he’s coming out of his offensive shell, averaging 13 points per game last season to go along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Seems he’s had a change in mindset or an upgrade in confidence and is willing and able to take his game straight at opponents. He’s never going to be a big scorer, but that’s not what Chicago needs him from. Gibson brings a blue-collar attitude, a nose for the ball and the kind of toughness that only becomes more valuable in the playoffs. Joakim Noah gets all the attention for his physicality, but Gibson backs down from nobody.

Vince Carter, Grizzlies — Back in those turn-of-the-millennium days when the high flier was placing his elbow on the rim in jaw-dropping fashion to win the slam dunk contest at the 2000 All-Star Weekend, how many thought Carter would still be relevant, let alone still excelling nearly a decade and half later? But at 37, he can still attack the basket and finish when necessary and can fill it up from behind the 3-point line in his transition from starter to sixth man. Now he’s in Memphis, where it seems the Grizzlies have been searching in the woods for eons to find the right perimeter shooter to balance an inside-oriented attack that depends too heavily on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Carter steps into the role filled by Mike Miller last season and will likely do it better. In a summer when the change of addresses by the high profile likes of LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love are getting all the attention, this is a below-the-radar move that could vault the Grizzlies back into the thick of the fight in the rugged Western Conference.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — In what was supposed to be a bounce-back attempt, things did not start out well for Evans last season. But as injuries took their toll on the Pelicans roster, he slowly became comfortable and grew into their most potent weapon not named Anthony Davis. He stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 14 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, and had plenty of nights when he stepped up to carry the full load while playing a variety of positions. Assuming that a healthy Jrue Holiday returns to be the starter at the point and needs the ball in his hands, Evans is best suited to coming off the bench again and leading the charge with the second unit. Last season New Orleans’ best five lineups all had Evans on the court, playing either at shooting guard or small forward. When he gets it going, he can be unstoppable doing a lot of different things and, if he can add a dash of defense and consistency to his game, could become a younger version of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili.

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – The man himself, who has probably only won this award once in his 12 NBA seasons because he’s established such a high bar and delivered with such consistency that we — and the voters — tend to take him for granted. Frankly, he should already have retired the trophy. After having his body break down and force him to ponder retirement in 2013, Ginobili bounced back last season to remain fit and delivered his most inspired play during the Spurs’ run to the championship. Yes, his numbers are down significantly from 2007-08, the only time he was recognized as Sixth Man of the Year. But that’s only because coach Gregg Popovich has cut down significantly on his minutes to preserve his health, prolong his career and keep the window open for more years of title contending by his veteran team. At 37, Ginobili is always just one misstep away from an injury that could sit him down and take away his explosiveness. But as long as that body holds up, he’ll be the straw that stirs the margarita in San Antonio and the stick by which all current sixth men in the league are measured.

Dion Waiters, Cavaliers — It’s been a rocky start to the third-year guard’s NBA career. The questions about his relationship with Kyrie Irving. The questions about whether he could be moving on to another team. With a touch that runs hot and cold like the water in a cheap apartment building, he’s hardly a high-percentage shooter. But Waiters has the talent and the explosiveness to take his career to the next level, and now that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland it looks like he’s going to get the chance. The presence of James as mentor could have a calming effect and get Waiters to focus on the big picture rather than find reasons to be upset. With a starting lineup that includes James, Irving and Love, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities to come off the bench and show that he gets it. He’s shown that he can make clutch plays with the ball in his hands. If Waiters understands and plays the team game, everybody wins.

Playoff loss now motivation for Blazers


VIDEO: Spurs dismiss Blazers in five games to reach West finals

This was months ago, and yesterday.

The Trail Blazers still feel it from May, still talk about that moment in San Antonio, what it was like to walk off the court the final time and what it will mean when they walk back on the court the next time. New season, same memories.

Portland is forgetting nothing from the playoff exit, and not just because the black-and-blue mark the Spurs left won’t allow it. More like because the Trail Blazers don’t want to. Keeping it close is the whole idea.

That won’t take much doing — it is close. Months later, they’re still talking about how the emotional high from the successful regular season and the rush of a 4-2 win over the Rockets in the first round despite not having home-court advantage gave way to feeling like roadkill after the 4-1 elimination at the hands of the Spurs. Months later, they’re still wanting to feel it for many more months, from training camp and into the new schedule.

“Our entire team enjoyed having a taste of success, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs and winning in the first round,” coach Terry Stotts said. “The fact that San Antonio not only beat us, but how they beat us and how they won the championship I think gave us the motivation to know that there’s a lot for us still to achieve and what we have to do to achieve it.”

How they beat us.

Game 1: Spurs 116, Trail Blazers 92. Twenty-four points.

Game 2: Spurs 114, Trail Blazers 97. Seventeen points.

Game 3: Spurs 118, Trail Blazers 103. Fifteen points.

Game 4: Trail Blazers: 103, Spurs 92. Avoiding the sweep, avoiding being eliminated at home.

Game 5: Spurs 104, Trail Blazers 82. Twenty-two points.

“We took some big losses,” said Meyers Leonard, a reserve center. “I think that we could have been much closer. But it was our first time, so I think we just have to realize we are that good of a team. We can compete with those teams. I think that’s what’s going to stick with us. We know that we’re more than capable. But they came out and came at us right away and we were kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ Now we just have to realize that we are at that level and we have to maintain that level or teams that have been there and done that will put us away.”

That the Spurs proved to be the team of the entire season and not just that series makes the Blazers look better in retrospect … but not feel better. Not when the gulf was that large and the memory that strong.

So 1-4 becomes motivation for the weight-lifting sessions the rest of the summer, the extra time in the film room in training camp, and then for real. Opening night, Oct. 29, is at home against the Thunder, an immediate test. But so is the entire first leg of the schedule, a gauntlet of the Thunder, Kings on the road, Warriors, Cavaliers, Mavericks, and Clippers on the road.

Even if the Trail Blazers have enough to worry about in October and November without reaching back to May, they will probably be keeping the end of 2013-14 close. That’s the plan right now. That’s the feeling right now, and maybe for a while.

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?


VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ‘em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

Quiet Spurs make big noise with Hammon


VIDEO: Becky Hammon is introduced by the Spurs

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

That’s usually the way the Spurs do business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think anything is possible,” Hammon said.

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

Popovich doesn’t see end of Spurs’ road


VIDEO: Despite an “exit interview” after the latest NBA title win, Popovich is going nowhere

Remember during the playoffs when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that on the day Tim Duncan finally walks out the door on his NBA career, he’ll be 10 minutes behind him?

Maybe it’s time for us to start envisioning the 38-year-old Big Fundamental rolling on past 40. Or 42. Or…

That’s because Popovich seems to be making no plans to leave soon, agreeing to a multiyear extension to continue as head coach of the team he’s led to 967 wins and five NBA championships since taking over on the bench 18 games into the 1996-97 season.

With all the uncertainty and turmoil that has kept the waters churning through the free agency period this summer, the Spurs have simply kept rowing their boat straight ahead.

Where’s LeBron James going? Who knows? What’s Carmelo Anthony thinking? What does it matter?

In San Antonio, there are ties — and professional goals — that bind.

The confetti was practically still falling from the rafters of the AT&T Center when Duncan announced that he was picking up the option on his contract and returning for 2014-15. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also under contract through the end of next season. The Spurs wasted no time in signing free agents Patty Mills and Boris Diaw to new deals. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is eligible for an extension, but nobody at all is worried that it won’t get done.

Popovich has often joked that his wagon is hitched tightly to Duncan’s. But during The Finals, Pop said that he wanted to continue and didn’t see any reason to stop.

One reason Popovich would stop, maybe, is his age — 65. But he’s often said that once you’ve had a couple of bottles of wine and taken a few weeks off, there’s nothing else to do except plan for the next training camp and the next season.

The other reason, of course, is that things won’t be quite so easy once Duncan really does hang it up.

But there is also that part of Popovich that will enjoy the challenge. Following right behind Duncan would be too easy.

Seeing the franchise make the transition into the next era behind Leonard and whatever new faces come in will be too much for a career teacher to resist.

The Spurs way is not cutting corners, not skipping steps. There will come a time when Popovich walks out the door, but not until he knows the organization he helped mold into a model franchise knows where it’s going.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.