San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship Parade

What the Spurs should do when the lockout ends…


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.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.