DeJuan Blair, James Anderson

Spurs decline third-year option on James Anderson

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Although the final public analysis of any NBA roster move is usually distilled to a few lines of explanation, every single decision that an NBA front office makes is a complicated one. Salary, fit, production, potential, age, redundancy, personality, character, experience, flexibility — all of these factors — and more — come into play, and it’s up to general managers around the league to make sense of lengthy lists of criteria in the name of making the best moves possible.

San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has been “making the best moves possible” for over a decade. San Antonio’s enduring success isn’t merely a product of lucking out with Tim Duncan; it’s taken careful, deliberate work to build competitive teams worthy of San Antonio’s transcendent star, and further, more difficult work to keep the Spurs near the top of the Western Conference as Duncan has begun transitioning from star to nebula.

Buford had once hoped that Oklahoma State product James Anderson would be a useful part of that transition as a dynamic wing scorer, and he used the Spurs’ highest draft pick of the Duncan Era to select Anderson with the 20th overall pick in the 2010 draft. But Anderson’s projected rise seemed to fizzle out early; Anderson struggled to even make it onto the court in his rookie season, and couldn’t offer much on-court justification for the influx of playing time he saw earlier this year. All of that played into a decision that, on first glance, may seem a bit hasty: The Spurs have opted to decline their third-year option on Anderson, despite the fact that the once-promising scorer would only cost San Antonio $1.5 million to retain for the 2012-2013 season.

There are plenty of reasons why releasing Anderson actually makes some sense for the Spurs, despite his minimal price tag. But the most persuasive of which — and the factor that stands out amongst all others that Buford was forced to consider — is the emergence of third-year forward Danny Green. Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News walks us through the logic:

So why not hold onto Anderson and see what’s there? Sure, Anderson wasn’t making shots, and he looked at times as if the game was too fast for him. But he was scheduled to earn only $1.5 million next year. Given the promise the Spurs had originally seen in him, and given that he hasn’t had much time to show that yet, didn’t it make sense to wait?

Those are the thoughts that made the Spurs hesitate…Still, the Spurs couldn’t get past what they had — too many wings. But it wasn’t Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Richard Jefferson or Gary Neal who changed the roster dynamics. It was Green.

If he had not emerged, those on staff say, they would have picked up Anderson’s option without thinking.

There are no guarantees the pecking order stays this way. Green could falter as the rest of the season progresses, and Anderson could rise. Wednesday night showed why the latter is still possible. The Spurs told Anderson they were not picking up his option just before the game against Atlanta, and he responded without sulking. They wonder if he will be better for this, as Green was after Cleveland cut him. Maybe it’s what Anderson needed to hear.

…But the Spurs aren’t betting on that. They are betting on a more complete player who they don’t have to wait on, and someone who will also be a free agent this summer. Green.

It’s a roster spot. It’s a guaranteed contract. It’s Danny Green, and Gary Neal, and Kawhi Leonard. But most of all, it’s a move that the Spurs have the luxury of actually thinking about; it could certainly be argued that that San Antonio is giving up on Anderson a bit too early by declining his third-year option, but the Spurs have put themselves in a position to evaluate Anderson’s future more fully thanks to their finds in the NBA’s bargain bin. Neal and Green truly came out of nowhere, and while both deserve praise for their ability to capitalize on a valuable opportunity with the Spurs, Buford and Gregg Popovich have earned their reputation by helping discarded role players in their vein consistently find their way up through San Antonio’s woodwork.

They just haven’t quite made it work with Anderson, and maybe never will. A declined option doesn’t necessarily mark the end of Anderson’s time in San Antonio, but considering the statement of the move and the dynamics that caused it, the Spurs seem to have the luxury of moving on.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.