Popovich says don't leave Spurs out of title mix

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gpopovich.jpgThe Spurs won 50 games last season, something you barely noticed because it’s expected of them, and they should be better this season. Tony Parker should be healthy, George Hill’s game should take another stride forward, Tiago Splitter will be a boost.

Yet you do not hear “San Antonio Spurs, Western Conference contenders.” In part because it’s hard to put any name but “Los Angeles Lakers” in that sentence, but in part because people are looking past the Spurs.

In a conversation with reporters today, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says the Spurs should be in that conversation. Here are some tweets from Jeff McDonald, San Antonio News Express Spurs reporter.

More Pop on offseason: “We think they have the potential to be fantastic – and fantastic means have an opportunity to win a championship.”

Pop worked out RJ individually this summer: “His dedication and development are going to be one of the most important things for our success

Pop on Tim Duncan’s shape: “I think he’s even slimmer than he was last year. He’s serious about this.”

Pop on Splitter: “He’s a really, solid player who’s going to have a great NBA career, but he’s not going to lead us in scoring.”

I am high on Tiago Splitter, but with this roster he should not be leading them in scoring, or anywhere close. Around 7 points a game, 8 or more rebounds, solid defense and just some smart play and he’ll be an upgrade for them as a guy they can stick along side Tim Duncan on the front line.

And Popovich is right, Richard Jefferson will be a key. But winning a championship… well he kind of have to say that right now, doesn’t he? Doesn’t mean we have to believe it either. But they will be good, and overlooked.

Quinn Cook signing two-year contract with Hawks

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The Hawks began last season with just two point guards, one fewer than most teams – especially notable because neither starter Dennis Schroder nor backup Malcolm Delaney was experienced for his role.

Schroder and Delaney return, but Atlanta is adding another option – Quinn Cook.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Cook is a borderline NBA player. He might not make the regular-season roster. He also might supplant Delaney for a rotation spot.

A 24-year-old who has spent most of the last two years in the D-League (also getting stints with the Mavericks and Pelicans), Cook is a good outside shooter. He’s also steady, if unspectacular, in his lead-guard duties.

This is a solid flier at a position the Hawks could use depth.

Knicks sign Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Jamel Artis

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The Knicks signing Nigel Hayes leaked first.

But New York didn’t stop there.

Knicks release:

The New York Knickerbockers announced today that the team has signed forwards Jamel Artis and Nigel Hayes and guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

Like Hayes, Artis (Pittsburgh) and Rathan-Mayes (Florida State) went undrafted this year – making them eligible to be waived and assigned to the Knicks’ minor-league affiliate. That’s likely all three’s fate.

But first, each will have an opportunity to make the regular-season roster. The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one roster spot for someone on a standard contract. Chasson Randle (unguaranteed) is the incumbent choice, but these three could supplant him.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.