Nine months after engineering the Golden State Warriors’ first playoff appearance and series victory since 2007, General Manager Bob Myers sat down with Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan in the midst of another solid season. In part two of a two-part interview, Myers discusses the Warriors’ acquisition of Andre Iguodala, the extension of Andrew Bogut and the team’s approach with its core going forward. For part one, click here.
With Andrew Bogut’s three-year, $36 million extension, I believe that until Kobe Bryant’s extension, he was the only non-rookie extension under the new CBA. Why did that work for him and for you? For a lot of people, it doesn’t work because you can get more years as a free agent.
Myers: I think you said it right, in this day and age in a new CBA, a player that’s playing well likely will opt to wait because they can add years. Had he waited until this summer, he can get a five-year deal. The way that we structured it in the extension, all we have to give are those three years. From the player’s side, a lot of players don’t want to come to the table and discuss the extension because they’re forfeiting money in the future. But Andrew understood that this is a place he wanted to be, and he obviously wanted to get a fair deal. I felt like we offered a fair deal, obviously he did too because he accepted it. But to find veteran extension opportunities, sometimes you need circumstances where a player is willing to possibly forgo an extra year of money for the security of getting a deal then instead of playing a year out. If they’re playing on teams that are willing to commit and not make the player play out that extra year, and willing to commit to him early, there are always variables that play into it. Some financial, some situational; injury plays into it to some extent, age plays into it, whether that player feels like he can get another deal, happiness, how happy is the player in that market, on that team with his coach and his front office. A lot of things have to line up and that’s why I think you see few of those types of deals.
Going to the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade, at what point did the thought of opening up the cap space over last summer kind of come into focus for you guys? [Note: In July 2013, Golden State acquired Iguodala via a sign-and-trade. Golden State acquired Iguodala from Denver and signed him to a four-year, $48 million contract. To open up the cap space to sign Iguodala, the trade included offloading $24 million in salaries attached to Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins in addition to 2014 and 2017 first-round draft picks to the Utah Jazz.]
Myers: Our ownership is an incredible ownership with Joe [Lacob]. He’s always thinking aggressively as far as how to upgrade talent and how to move the team. Like any team, we look at the free agent pool and what players we felt like were able to help us and identified him as one of them. Now, I will also say that realistically we felt like it was an extreme long shot to get a guy like that, but after meeting with him in Los Angeles and seeing his desire to be a part of a group trying to build, that really motivated us. What started as a seed from our side in the situation, we felt like this would be a great guy to add to our roster, was cemented when we met with him and he echoed the same sentiments. From that point on, it was full steam ahead to try to find a way to do it. Even after that, though, my personal belief was that it remained a long shot. Just because we wanted to do it and he wanted to do it, that was nice and made us feel good about it, but you’d still put low odds on it – less than five percent. We had to find multiple trading partners taking a lot of money; it had to fit what they were trying to do. It really came down to the last 30 minutes, where his agent had said to us, ‘Look I’ll let you guys try and try and try, but you have a deadline now.’ He was very fair about it. So that really came down to the wire, and fortunately for us the league is comprised of 29 other teams and if you’re really motivated to do a deal, you can usually find a partner – sometimes you can’t and thankfully we did. I think it fit what Utah was looking to do, and it all lined up. All of the things that had to happen for it to happen, made it seem very unlikely. We’re just glad it came to fruition.
How much trepidation was there about surrendering those picks and also now the flexibility, not being able to trade the 2015 and 2016 pick? [Note: The NBA’s Ted Stepien rule prevents a team from trading its first-round pick two years in a row. Because the Warriors dealt their 2014 and 2017 picks to the Jazz to facilitate the Iguodala sign-and-trade, they are unable to trade their 2015 and 2016 picks.]
Myers: We wanted to build upon what we had established as far as some level of success in the organization. We thought it might be difficult to keep two core guys in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry at the numbers we would have liked to have kept them at. They were paid well and they deserved to be paid well. We were looking at a situation where if we wanted to maintain and keep the same team, we’d be heavy into the luxury tax. So it wasn’t just adding Iguodala, it was adding Iguodala along with clearing up a lot of salary on our books that really made us believe the deal was worth it from our side. If somebody wanted to compartmentalize the deal, you’d say one pick was for Iguodala and one pick was to get off $24 million. Would we do that in a bubble? Yeah, we felt like that was worth it, because it wasn’t just two first-round picks for Iguodala. We would have been looking at a team, should we not have done anything and stood pat, likely the same team coming back at the five starter spots, but also without Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, who were huge in regards to our success last year. That likely would have set us back and we didn’t really want to take a step back after having some success for an organization that hadn’t had any in so long. We wanted to try to not just maintain, but take a small step forward. That was the motivation behind the deal and moving the picks. You never know how things could have worked out, you never know in any deal. Our thought at the time when we did it and constructed it was that it was worth it.
With David Lee being 30, Andrew Bogut being 28, Andre Iguodala being 29 and Steph Curry now being is his prime, is there a feeling that these next two years or so are really the organization’s best window to win, at least in the short-term?
Myers: Actually, really no. We feel like we’ve still got players, more than two and three years where we think our core can play at a high level. We think continuity — although maybe some physical tools diminish with age — and your mind improves. Like look at a team like the Spurs and some of these teams that are a little older, even the HEAT to some degree, have some veterans that have been in the league a long time on their team and have experienced success. You look at some of the Celtics teams before they decided to go in a different direction. Continuity and playing together can overcome athletic ability, speed and quickness, and things like that. We feel like we’ve got a healthy window here to evaluate this team, and we’re going to give it a shot to see how it goes. I think it was perceived to be a win-now type move, where internally we more perceived it as this makes us better; we think it’s worth it for all of the reasons aforementioned. It wasn’t a situation where we feel like we’re playing Texas Hold ‘Em, where we put all of our chips on the table. We feel like as an organization, we’ve made a bet and put some chips on the table and we felt like we had a good hand. But we also have a stack of chips that we haven’t played. We don’t feel like this trade or the acquisition of Iguodala makes us limited and this is it for the next two, three years–if it doesn’t happen then we’re nowhere. We don’t have that mindset in our front office and ownership side.
Obviously trades can always be made, there’s no such thing as someone being untradeable in the NBA. With Andrew’s extension and Andre having a 15 percent trade kicker, it’s going to be relatively difficult to make further moves, but I assume this core going forward is one that you’re very comfortable with?
Myers: Yeah, we’re comfortable. I read today that the starters are 21-7 and I don’t know how much stock to put into something like that. I guess it’s better than 7-21, but we do feel like it can be a competitive group heading into the future. We feel like it hasn’t hit its ceiling or even close to it, we hope, both for this year and beyond. We are comfortable with it. We have time to see how it develops. You have to sometimes be patient as you progress as an organization. We are not thinking that if we don’t win a championship this year, it’s a failed season; we don’t have that dialogue, we don’t believe in that mentality. We obviously want to compete and compete at the highest level. We feel like we’re going to give this core and these players a healthy amount of time to see if it works. We also believe that we maintain now and believe in the future a healthy amount of assets on our roster. We’re very attractive, we have a lot of talent. It allows you to have flexibility should you want to make moves. I think you’re right, we’re going to give this a good go and believe this team can compete with some of the best teams.
Did you know that these starters, this five-man unit would be as good as they’ve been?
Myers: No we didn’t. Realistically you do your best, but you don’t know. You’re putting it together; there are so many different factors that equate to success. It’s not always about putting the best five individual players together. Sometimes you have to see a guy like Iguodala that has to be less aggressive for our team to be a better team. Is that the right thing? We’re figuring that out. What roles should each player take within our team to make us the most successful as a team? It’s always a work in progress. I don’t think a sample size of 28 games is enough to really make any concrete conclusions from.
NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio
Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.
Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.
Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.
Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.
It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.
The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.
And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.
Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.
As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.
Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.
While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.
Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.
White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.
Trick now for Lonnie Walker is to stay aggressive even after DeRozan comes back. "He doesn’t lack for anyone repeating that to him," Pop said. "There are like nine coaches, and we are all saying the same thing to him. We are trying to make it a habit – take no prisoners."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 13, 2021
Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.
The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.
Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.
Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.
Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.
And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.
Will The Pacers’ Change In Style Pay Off?
With deals and changes abound, the Indiana Pacers’ wild rebuild marks them as a franchise on the rise.
After coming off four consecutive first-round exits under head coach Nate McMillan, the Indiana Pacers decided it was time to make a change. Instead of dismantling or retooling a core that had been acquired mostly by opportunistic deals, general manager Kevin Pritchard went in a different direction and, early into the season, it seems like it has paid off.
Under Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers have dramatically transformed their style of play. Many of the mid-range jumpers they took last season have turned into shots at the rim or three-pointers instead. There are a lot more dribble hand-offs, staggered screens and an overall sense of purpose in every action on offense. The offense has operated like a well-oiled machine, largely with Domantas Sabonis acting as the main engine.
This has led to Sabonis’ play and potential being unlocked. Ultimately, Sabonis is well on his way to another All-Star appearance, averaging career highs in points (21.7 PPG), rebounds (12.8 RPG) and assists (5.8 APG). While his usage is similar to last season’s, the way he’s being utilized is very different. With McMillan, Sabonis was mostly used as a post-up big who also scored a lot as a roll-man. Bjorkgren is giving him those same touches but he has also a lot more free reign to operate and make decisions.
Sabonis is now attacking teams in semi-transition after defensive rebounds. Basically, all the offensive actions are run through him, which have accentuated his passing ability. His range has also improved, and he’s turned his 20-foot jumpers into three-point attempts. Moreover, it’s a huge part of the reason why the Pacers rank 11th in offensive rating (111.3). Sabonis is a walking mismatch who can play almost any role in an offense and Bjorkgren has let him roam free.
Better, Malcolm Brogdon is also playing at an All-Star level. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game, both career highs. Brogdon’s shooting 43.3 percent from three and is another player who’s benefitted from Bjorkgren’s offense. Brogdon’s ability to shoot threes while dribbling off screens and the ability to attack out of dribble hand-offs has allowed for the Pacers’ offense to be far less predictable than in the past.
Myles Turner is probably in the lead for Defensive Player of the Year so far. He’s averaging an insane 4.2 blocks per game, practically shutting down the paint for opposing offenses. Turner has been relegated to a mostly spot-up role in the offense, but those mid-range jumpers from last season have become three-pointers to this point. While he has struggled to hit three’s so far, his shot quality is considerably better. However, his value comes on the defensive end, where he is anchoring the 9th best team in defensive rating at 107.8. Opponents are shooting just 54.4 percent in the restricted area when Turner is in. Although his recent hand fracture will surely complicate proceedings there and the Pacers will miss him sorely.
The Indiana bench has also provided some good minutes. Doug McDermott is effective not only with his jumper but with his underrated cutting ability. Justin Holiday has been solid and is shooting 43.1 percent from three. His brother, Aaron Holiday, has had his ups and downs but built himself into a solid rotation player. Naturally, TJ McConnell has been his usual pesky-self.
There’s still plenty of room for upside as the Pacers have dealt with injuries to some key guys. TJ Warren, last season’s bubble breakout star, is out indefinitely after having foot surgery. Jeremy Lamb tore his ACL last season, is close to returning but hasn’t played a single minute this season. The Pacers’ newest addition, Caris LeVert, will be out indefinitely after a small mass was found on his kidney. All three are proven guys who can really help Indiana take the next step.
Sadly, it gets more difficult with Turner’s injury too.
Interestingly enough, many of the players have seemingly gone out of their way to not only express their appreciation for Bjorkgren’s coaching – while also knowing the difference compared to years past. Brogdon, Sabonis and McDermott have all seemingly made it clear that this style of play is preferable to last year under McMillan.
“In seasons past, the offense didn’t call for me to do those certain things,” Turner said “But coach has a lot of confidence in me… I’ve just had the chance to show it this season.”
Questions about the Turner-Sabonis pairing now seem to have gone away. It’s no secret that Turner oft mentioned in trade rumors the entire offseason in large part due to his perceived fit with Sabonis. Bjorkgren has found a way to maximize both player’s skillsets while also keeping them happy with their roles. Bigger, Pacers’ lineups with Sabonis and Turner have a 2.5 net rating.
The improved play of the Indiana stars is something that can be attributed to Bjorkgren’s shift in their style of play. It’s what Pritchard was hoping for when he made the coaching change. The Pacers made a calculated gamble when they fired a proven coach with this roster in Nate McMillan and now the Pacers are 8-5 with room to grow. If Sabonis and Brogdon can continue this level of play as guys come back healthy, the Pacers will be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.
Myles Turner Making A Difference With Defense
The Indiana Pacers have always been a good defensive team, but Myles Turner is on a mission this season to take them to an elite level. Chad Smith takes a closer look at the impact Turner has had as the anchor of Indiana’s defense.
This week has been a roller coaster ride for the Indiana Pacers, who are returning home after splitting a four-game West Coast trip. It was supposed to be five games but their matchup with the Phoenix Suns was postponed due to contract tracing within the Suns organization. On their day off between games, Indiana traded away All-Star guard Victor Oladipo as part of a four-team blockbuster that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.
What they got in return seemed too good to be true, until it was. Acquiring a young and talented player like Caris LeVert, whom they originally drafted and subsequently traded to Brooklyn, took many people by surprise. With Oladipo not planning to return next season, it was a brilliant move by Indiana, especially when you consider LeVert’s upside and his team-friendly contract. On top of that, the Pacers also received a 2024 second-round pick (via Cleveland), a 2023 second-round pick (via Houston) and $2.6 million from the Nets.
Unfortunately, the Pacers’ medical staff discovered what the team described as “a small mass” on LeVert’s left kidney while undergoing a routine physical. The good news for LeVert is that this was found and he can begin whatever treatment is necessary for him to return to playing basketball at some point. For now, though, the Pacers will employ the “next man up” philosophy. The team has already lost TJ Warren indefinitely and have been without Jeremy Lamb all season. Now Myles Turner may soon join them on the sidelines.
Myles missed his first game of the season on Sunday due to an injury on his right hand. He met with team doctors on Monday and early reports are that he has a slight fracture in his right hand and will be re-evaluated in the coming days.
In that game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the absence of Turner was glaring. Even without Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams, the Clippers shot 55 percent from the floor and 49 percent from behind the arc. Nearly half of their 129 points came in the paint as they destroyed the Pacers by 33 points, in a game that wasn’t even that close. Indiana had just two blocks in the game and even those came in garbage time.
When Nate Bjorkgren was named the Pacers’ new head coach back in October, many around the league wondered what that meant for Turner. Would the experiment next to Domantas Sabonis come to an end? Were his days as a Pacer now numbered? A rumored sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics for Gordon Hayward never came to fruition, but that ended up working out well for both Myles and the Pacers organization.
When the Pacers selected Turner with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the opinions on him were split. While many saw the raw, unlocked potential that he possessed, others were skeptical of his lack of lateral movement and, of all things, the way that he ran up and down the court.
Draft evaluators were concerned that his awkward running style would lead to long-term effects on his knees. In a breakdown by Draft Express, they noted that “His awkward running style might not change anytime soon. He noticeably lumbers getting up and down the floor, and only made five field goals all season in transition situations.” That was in reference to his Freshman season at Texas, where Turner averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting 46 percent from the field.
Fast forward to 2021, where Turner is having arguably the best season of his career. While he is scoring at the same level, he has improved several other facets of his game. He is shooting the ball with more confidence, attacking the basket more off the dribble and even hitting the offensive glass. While his three-point shooting is down largely due to more attempts, his work in the paint has him shooting a career-high 63 percent from inside the arc.
Obviously, the blocks are what really pops out, as he leads the league at 4.2 per game. That is staggering when you consider the next best is Rudy Gobert at 2.7 per game, while Chris Boucher is the only other player averaging at least two per game. By comparison, when Turner led the league in blocks during the 2018-19 season his average was 2.7 per game. Entering Sunday’s slate of games, Turner was actually averaging more blocks per game than six teams.
Myles Turner: Swat team captain 🚫 pic.twitter.com/As9SFTUP3g
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 17, 2021
Following a game earlier this season, Turner elaborated on his goals for the year: “It’s definitely been a goal for myself to start the season off strong on the defensive end. I’ve gotten the respect as a shot-blocker in this league. I know it’s something that I do. But I’m trying to take that to the next step.”
“I’ve already proven that you can lead the league in blocks and not make an All-Defensive team or not be Defensive Player of the Year. So it’s time to do more and assert myself more on that end.”
Turner has had four games this season with at least five blocks, including two games where he stuffed the opponent eight times. His defensive prowess is much more than just blocking shots though; he’s averaging a career-high 1.5 steals per game so far and has had seven games in which he recorded at least two steals.
Indiana’s offense will continue to run through Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, who are both playing at an All-Star level this season. But, as much attention as those two have gotten, it’s the defense that has really shaped this Pacers team.
The loss of assistant coach and defensive guru Dan Burke was a concern before the season began. The truth is the Pacers are much more aggressive on defense now, playing further up on the perimeter. This is the same scheme that Bjorkgren and Nick Nurse incorporated with the Toronto Raptors. Ibaka played that role last year and this season it’s been Boucher, who currently ranks third in the league in blocks behind Turner and Gobert.
With Sabonis often guarding the opponent’s biggest/strongest player, Turner is left to defend more on the perimeter. This is a real challenge given his disadvantage against smaller, quicker wing players. To his credit though, Turner has stayed in front of them. And that is what makes his shot-blocking even more impressive; every game and on multiple possessions, Turner is essentially guarding two players by himself for seconds at a time.
Since Turner’s rookie season, only three players have blocked more shots than he has. He ranks 15th in the league in deflections and is top-five in terms of defensive field goal percentage at the rim. Indiana’s defensive rating is a 107.7 when he is on the court and a 111.3 when he is on the bench. These are the signs of a truly elite defensive player.
And, with Turner as their defensive anchor, the Pacers have a scary three-headed monster that could ultimately be a nightmare for the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season.