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.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?