Stick a fork in them: Detroit Pistons

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What. A. Trainwreck.

That the Pistons managed to stave off elimination until Friday night when the Pacers win finally put them in the ground is a strange fact in and of itself. You’re tempted to give them a modicum of credit for being in the picture this long. But to do so would be to ignore their salary, their play, and the disastrous off-court shenanigans bandied about like a soap opera. The Pistons didn’t slump to the finish. They were dragged there by the momentum of their own faceplant at full-speed.

It began as one of those seasons where you want to believe. After all, the lottery squad the year before was formed in the face of so many injuries, you had to believe there was no way they would repeat that performance. But alas, though the injuries were better, the results were not. On top of Charlie Villanueva continuing to embody the worst parts of his game and very little of the good, Ben Gordon posted career lows in points, assists, and steals. And the bottoming out was not due to the logjam at guard for the Pistons. His per-36 numbers were equally bad. It’s mind-boggling but true, Gordon is 27, and should be entering his prime. But for whatever reason, it’s not working.

That “whatever the reason” could very well be the coach. If you ask most of the veterans on the Pistons, they’d probably say the same. Rip Hamilton was at the head of what was termed a “player’s mutiny” by the media in a mass sleep-in as Hamilton could neither get time on the floor nor a buy-out he’d agree to (versus a buyout, or even a reasonable one, both of which were available). The veterans did little to hide their disdain for head coach John Kuester in front of reporters or behind the curtain. Kuester’s continued employment remains perplexing to the degree it’s largely attributed to the drawn-out sale process that has dragged through three of the four annual seasons with no end in sight.

But through all of these disasters, there were some bright spots. Particularly Austin Daye and Greg Monroe. Daye showed an efficient combination of wing abilities and Monroe showed everything you want to see out of a young center. Touch, tenacity, improvement, and rebounds. Rodney Stuckey remains a polarizing figure they’ll have to unwind, but maybe under new leadership, he can get back on track. (“Back on track” is an interesting phrase since he led the team in points, assists, and PER. Things are complicated on this team, have we mentioned that?”)

This season has been a forgettable one for the Pistons, but unlikely a lot of teams, there’s some hope there. Perhaps a true youth movement is in order, once ownership is worked out. But for this year, stick a fork in them. They’re done.

Oh, and Chris Wilcox played pretty well, surprisingly.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.