The smart money may be on Chris Paul re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, but the smarter move for him may be ditching the bright lights of Los Angeles for the riverwalk in San Antonio.
After six years as a Clipper, Paul has won just three playoff series and is coming off of back-to-back first round exits. His primary running mates, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, are good at many things, but not as good at playing basketball as they are at getting hurt and missing free throws.
Unless Doc Rivers can somehow make Carmelo Anthony come walking through that door, the Spurs could make a lot of sense for CP3.
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Kobe Bryant stood in the bowels of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Despite shooting just 5-for-16 from the field, Bryant managed 18 points and helped the Los Angeles Lakers to their first victory of the regular season.
It was November 6, 2015. Bryant hadn’t played in a regular season game since January of that year and was only a shell of himself. Still, seeing him back on the floor was special. And despite his team beginning the regular season 1-4, it was obvious that Bryant was happy to be back.
In Brooklyn that night, he held his tongue and, even when asked directly, didn’t reveal that he had begun playing what ended up being his final season. That announcement would come a few weeks later.
What transpired from there was a year-long love-fest paid to one of the greatest players to ever do it. Bryant was celebrated. He was loved. He’d long grown accustomed to the bright lights and the attention.
Tim Duncan, on the other hand, never had.
In the most San Antonio Spurs way possible, while Bryant basked in the glory and went on a year-long retirement tour, it was somewhat ironic that the mighty Duncan, via an email sent out during the offseason, announced his retirement quietly and meekly.
It was a representation of the way the Spurs do business.
In Los Angeles, whether it’s the Lakers or Clippers, the lights shine quite brightly. As it relates to Chris Paul, in today’s sports culture, great players are overlooked and diminished unless they can deliver championships. When their teams fall short, we often point the finger at the superstar for not being able to “elevate” his team without fairly calling attention to the fact that, for the second tier of franchises, the NBA is as competitive as its ever been. With Bryant and Duncan dominating the league and the rise of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, for players like Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant, winning was an uphill climb and an almost impossible endeavor. While some of the blame should be attributable to the superstar when he fails to perform well, we have gotten into the habit of excusing the failures of front offices for not surrounding their teams with the pieces required to compete in such a talented league.
Unless a franchise strikes it rich with free agency, the key to winning in the NBA always has been and always will be about maximizing opportunities to get meaningful returns on investments. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant don’t often switch teams. Hitting home runs as it relates to acquiring NBA talent may be a fast track to contention, but it’s also a seldom occurrence. The way that franchises win are by drafting well and augmenting their mainstays with the right pieces.
The Spurs have made a habit of doing just that.
In the first year after Duncan’s retirement, the Spurs managed to win 61 games and were a Kawhi Leonard injury away from giving the Warriors a competitive series. Of all of the players on their roster, only LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol were highly coveted free agent acquisitions. Discovering the diamond in the rough—Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Leonard, to name a few—has been the way of the Spurs.
Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Jonathon Simmons—these are among the few of the talents that the Spurs have maximized and ridden toward the top of the league.
What in the world could Gregg Popovich do with an all-world, trans-generational player like Chris Paul at his disposal?
Tim Duncan would probably serve as a good example. The same can’t be said of Doc Rivers, and it’s quite fair to ask whether or not the Clippers have already peaked.
Rather than ask how far the franchise would have gotten with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and no Chris Paul, the question more often posed is why Paul can’t get two fairly flawed players past the likes of teams that are both more talented and more versatile.
That’s more than unfair—it’s simply foolish.
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With Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick among the free agents that the Clippers have this summer, for them, offering Paul the five-year, $205 million contract for which he will be eligible is a no-brainer. For Paul, turning down that kind of payday would be quite difficult. As it stands, the Spurs don’t have the requisite cap space to offer Paul anything approaching a maximum contract (which, for any team other than the Clippers, would be around $150 million over four years).
For them, having the opportunity to sell Paul on the Spurs would require things to break favorably. The path to offering Paul a maximum offer would be simplest if Gasol opts out of the $16 million option he has for next season. Him doing so would be a curious, though. His skills are clearly deteriorating and he will be 37 years old by the time next season begins. Whether or not Gasol retires, though, the Spurs would almost certainly have to resolve the future of Ginobili and then determine whether Danny Green and Tony Parker (the duo have a combined salary of $25 million next season) are worth keeping around.
With some favorable young players and draft picks, though, executing a sign-and-trade for Paul shouldn’t be considered outside the realm of possibility. Neither should the thought of the Spurs convincing a third team to absorb Gasol’s contract (assuming he opts in) and/or otherwise taking Green or Parker back in what would amount to a salary dump.
In any event, in much the same way that the data tells you that the Warriors are the safe bet to best the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the safe money would also be on Paul re-signing with the Clippers on the aforementioned maximum $205 million contract offer. Still, the last time we heard about the Spurs being interested in a highly-coveted free agent, they walked away with LaMarcus Aldridge.
Heading into this season, many predicted the demise of the Clippers if they failed to show significant progress during these playoffs. After another injury to Blake Griffin and a first round exit for the second consecutive season, at the very least, Paul should be open minded about his other suitors.
And if the Spurs found a way to clear the requisite cap space, there’s no doubt that Popovich could offer him something that he’s been missing for quite some time—a capable front office that would succeed at surrounding him with the pieces he needs to compete with the other super teams in the NBA.
Because after six years in Los Angeles, it’s fair to say that this has been what has been missing for him.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN