Manu Ginobili: the under-the-radar 2010 prize?

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ginobili_game.jpgEveryone knows who the big targets this summer will be: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire (provided he opts out), Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gay, in roughly that order. Cap space has been cleared, articles have been written, baseball caps have been analyzed. 

I understand all of that completely. Here’s what I don’t get. Last weekend, Manu Ginobili put up a combined 75 points in wins against two of the best three teams in basketball. A week earlier, Ginobili scored a combined 58 points in wins against Cleveland and Boston. Manu’s missed one game in the past couple of months. That was the game the Spurs lost to the Nets. He’s got the 2nd-best PER among shooting guards this season, and the 9th-best PER of any player in the league. And it’s not like this is a fluke year for him — Manu’s had a PER mark of 22 or higher in his last six seasons. On top of all that, if you believe in the “proven winner” thing, Manu Ginobili is definitely a proven winner. 
Here’s the kicker. Manu Ginobili is a free agent in 2010, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much speculation surrounding him as there should be. He does want to be a Spur, and the Spurs will likely want him back very badly. That being said, there are a lot of teams with a lot of cap room out there, and not all of them are going to get their #1 target. 
Ginobili’s age makes him a less attractive free agent than the other big names who will be available, but he’s played 70 or more games in five of his eight NBA seasons, and last season was the first time Ginobili missed more than 20 games. What’s more, Ginobili has a package of skills that should age extremely well. Ginobili is an underrated athlete, but he relies more on change of direction and misdirection than explosiveness to get to the basket. He’s also a dead-eye shooter and very solid playmaker, two skills that guards retain as they get older. 
I’m of the opinion that it’s better to take a risk on a player who might get old before his contract expires than it is to pay a young player who hasn’t proven himself yet like a superstar. If a player gives you three effective years and gets old before his contract runs out, there are two benefits. First of all, the importance of getting a good season out of a veteran player who you know will make an impact can’t be overstated. As bad as Kevin Garnett’s contract looks now, do you really think the Celtics regret making that deal? At all? 
Besides, washed-up veterans have huge expiring contracts, which make them much easier to move. Teams will gladly give up talent for a contract that’s a year or two away from expiring, and contenders will often take well-compensated veterans who off the hands of the team that overpaid them — see Charlotte and Washington getting out from under the Stephen Jackson and Antawn Jamison contracts this season by trading them to contenders who needed a short-term boost. 
On the other hand, giving a long-term deal to a young player and counting on him to take his game to the next level while making huge money can prove disastrous. Ben Gordon has a player option worth 13.2 million dollars for the 2013/14 season. Andris Biedrins has the option to make 9 million dollars in the 2013/14 season. The Bulls owe Luol Deng 14.25 million dollars in 2013/14. It’s a bird in the hand/two birds in a bush thing. There are no hard-and-fast rules in free agency, but if you think you’re highly likely to get two or three good years from a veteran signed to a five-year deal, that’s better than giving a five-year deal to someone who might go out and underperform for all five seasons of the contract. 
Ginobili’s statistical resume is beyond reproach. He’s won on every level, both as a superstar in international play and as a complementary player on the Spurs. He doesn’t need to be the superstar, and was even willing to come off the bench in San Antonio. I don’t have a crystal ball, and anything could happen over the course of Manu’s next contract. I just get the feeling that Manu Ginobili is going to quietly make the team that signs him very happy while the rest of the league goes for broke chasing marquee names. 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.