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. 

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.