San Antonio Spurs: That looked like the end of an era, but can one big move revive it?

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NBA_Parker.jpgPhoenix’s defense is getting a lot of attention — everyone from Gregg Popovich on down is saying it’s better, even if the stats don’t really say the same thing.

Whatever. That’s not why the Suns swept the Spurs aside in four games. The sweep happened because the Spurs were not the same defensive team they were even three years ago.

Those Spurs teams were physical, they slowed the Suns down, and they hampered the Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire pick and roll. The Spurs were a great defensive team that beat the Suns offense in a battle of strengths.

Not anymore. Tim Duncan has gone from the best pick-and-roll defending big in the game to pretty average. And Nash eats pretty average up and spits it out. The Spurs rotations were slow to the arc, the Suns got up court fast, found the mismatch and exploited it. That didn’t used to happen, but it does now. The Spurs are not a bad defensive team, but they are no longer elite.

The Spurs dynasty era looked over.

It leaves their General Manager RC Buford with a big question: Do you tweak the existing roster and think with some good role players this team has one more run in it, or do you go for the big move?

The Spurs have some good young pieces — DeJuan Blair and George Hill — at affordable salaries. But Duncan, recently-re-signed Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson combine to make almost $59 million by themselves. The Spurs have seven guys under contract next year and are already bumping up against the luxury tax.

Buford made the “win with this core” move last year by bringing in Jefferson, which didn’t work as he hoped. With the salary restrictions, the tweaks for next year would not be big, it would mean counting on an aging core to play better.

But a big move would come at a big price. The Spurs are not going to move the iconic Duncan, they just re-signed Manu and nobody is giving anything of value for Jefferson.

That leaves Tony Parker in a sign and trade. He is in the last year of a deal paying him $13 million, and he will be just 28. Still a top-flight point guard so a team may trade for him to get a good year then free up salary as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement comes in. That is the kind of name that could get you a big name free agent — Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and others.

The Spurs dynasty looked done in the last four games. To win another title with Duncan will mean breaking up the band, moving one of he big three.

Will the Spurs really do that? Going to be an interesting summer.

Rumor: Paul George told former Pacers teammates he wanted to join the Lakers

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Paul George to the Lakers is a capital-T thing.

George is from Southern California, and he keeps indicating his dissatisfaction with the Pacers. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Even Lakers president Magic Johnson is talking about George.

Where do rumors like this originate?

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

A SoCal native, he’s been talking about playing for his hometown team, the Lakers, for a long time. He’s never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers’ locker room, according to former teammates. He wants to wear the purple and gold.

Did George say he dreamed of playing for the Lakers growing up? Did he say it’d be cool to join his boyhood favorite team if the situation presented itself? Or did he say he wanted to get the heck out of Indiana to join the Lakers as soon as possible?

There are so many ways his comments to teammates could get misconstrued as they get passed down in the game of telephone.

But the Lakers threat – to whatever degree it’s real – looms, and it’ll impact how the Pacers handle their offseason.

Jazz call deactivating Jeff Withey, who was accused of domestic violence, ‘strategic basketball-related decision’

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Jazz Center Jeff Withey was accused of domestic violence in a police report filed by his ex-fiancée.

Withey played a small role in Utah’s first two playoff games, but once the accusation over an alleged 2016 incident became public, he hasn’t seen the court. Withey received a DNP-CD in Game 3 against the Clippers, and the Jazz deactivated the center for Game 4 last night.

Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News:

The team called it a “strategic basketball-related decision.”

Withey was always going to see a reduced role with Rudy Gobert returning from injury.

Though Gobert didn’t play in Game 3, the Jazz had two injured players – Gobert and Alec Burks on the inactive list – so Withey was active but never played. But Withey was active for Game 1, which Gobert started healthy before injuring his knee 11 seconds in.

Therefore, deactivating Withey in Game 4 for Joel Bolomboy, a little-used second-round rookie who has yet to play in the postseason, is a curious choice for basketball reasons. It’s almost as if that wasn’t the reason.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.