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What the Spurs should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the San Antonio Spurs. You can also read up on the LakersTimberwolves and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

Last Season: Best team in the NBA until the last night of the season. Signature wins over every contending team. A renaissance year from Manu Ginobili, a return to good for Tony Parker, a quiet vintage year from Tim Duncan. Yes, it was a wonderful year for the Spurs. Right up until the playoffs started. Then it threw itself into the trash can, vomited, and fell asleep in its own wretch. The Spurs were a regular season beast that wilted in the playoffs. It was like the bizarro Spurs. There were signs, though, of the impending collapse. The Spurs’ defense wasn’t their strength, it was their offense that saw them through. And just as San Antonio showed so many teams in their prime, it’s defense that does in those regular season behemoths. The Spurs fell to Memphis in a flurry of interior scoring from Randolph and Gasol, and with Manu Ginobili not at full strength, they couldn’t overcome. Embarrassing, dispiriting, and ominous. So yeah, didn’t exactly end on a high note.

Changes since we last saw the Spurs: The only substantial change for the Spurs came on draft night. For years, George Hill has been the heir apparent to Tony Parker, filling it at point guard and running as shooting guard in a pinch. But the Spurs saw an opportunity and traded Hill to Indiana for the pick that netted them Kawhi Leonard. Other than that, it’s been Tony Parker and Ginobili playing in summer overseas competition and Tim Duncan receding into whatever statue-like state he spends his summers. The Spurs are in a relatively stable condition in terms of the cap, though that’s not a good thing after how their season ended. The extension they granted Richard Jefferson seems particularly concerning.

When the lockout ends, the Spurs need to…  Get back their identity. The Spurs won championships with defense, consistent but plodding offense, discipline, and rebounding. They have drifted too far towards what I refer to as “Matt Bonner Land.” Bonner’s an awesome guy. He’s also a huge defensive liability who can’t rebound and is only on the floor for this excellent three-point shooting. The Spurs need fewer Matt Bonners and more Fabricio Obertos (only healthy). Their focus needs to turn away from offense and back to defense. The offense will be there with the big three plus the supporting cast. But scheming for defense, even if it’s difficult given the specific talent on roster.

DeJuan Blair is facing a must-improve season. He’s a great offensive rebounder and can finish around the basket. He also gets overwhelmed on defense and has little idea of where to fit in on offense. He’s a sledgehammer in a scalpel kit. Richard Jefferson found his role last season, nailing corner threes and working as an auxiliary offensive option. If he were to, you know, not have an absolutely wretched postseason, he might be worth the money he’s owed.

The bigger question for the Spurs may be answering the question of whether they’re through or not. Tony Parker denied saying that the window was closed, but all of the Big Three have been honest and upfront about the short timespan they have left. If making another run is imperative, the Spurs need a makeover, immediately. Otherwise, they’ll just be treading water when the lockout ends, going through the motions.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.