The Spurs painful Splitter

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Watching the Spurs this season, it is painfully obvious they need an infusion of youth. Well, not the last couple weeks, when Manu Ginobili has apparently found a fountain of the stuff. But for most of the season the Spurs have just looked old and slow.

They could use a guy like Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian the Spurs drafted in 2007, who is probably the best center in Europe right now. A guy who could energize the Spurs front line the way Tim Duncan did alongside David Robinson many moons ago. A guy the Spurs still have the rights to. The guy with the opt-out clause for this summer in his contract with Tau Ceramica (of the Spanish league).

It’s perfect — except San Antonio can’t afford him. Mike Monroe breaks it down.

Up to now, the Spurs had been limited to offering the 6-foot-11 center $970,000 for the first year of his rookie scale contract. Now (in his third year), they can offer a lot more, but they are still bound by collective bargaining agreement rules. Just as they have no cap room to offer big money to free agents from other teams this summer, they are limited to cap exceptions as they try to lure Splitter.

The most they can offer: The mid-level cap exception, expected to be around $5 million.

Trouble is, even that amount likely won’t pry him out of Spain. That’s because the prospect of an NBA lockout that could wipe out the entire 2011-12 season is enough to make any player making mega-Euros think twice about bolting for the NBA. Splitter’s (existing) deal reportedly is worth more than $5 million.

And now you see not only the bind the Spurs face, but so do a number of teams who have players stashed in Europe — if said player is any good, what is their motivation to come to the NBA right now? Splitter is making more in Europe and there is no lockout on the horizon. In fact, he could opt out and just go to Real Madrid, who has interest and can offer much more bank. Minnesota can only offer Ricky Rubio rookie scale, he can make much more than that overseas.

Then there’s the reverse problem. What if this summer a European team comes knocking on an NBA free agent’s door — not the LeBron James of the world, but a mid-level guy — doesn’t he have to seriously consider an offer? More money and no lockout, that has to be tempting.

There are about eight million kinds of trade speculation that can happen here — the Spurs trade the rights to Splitter to a team with cap space, the Timberwolves trade Rubio’s rights. But the problem remains. Right now, in certain situations, European leagues can and are competing with the NBA for talent. And some players are going to choose Europe.

And leave teams like the Spurs high and dry.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.