Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker

Five reasons these are not last year’s Spurs, they are contenders

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Last season, the Spurs won 61 games, went into the playoffs as the top seed thought of as contenders, then got unceremoniously bounced in the first round because they could not handle the big, athletic front line of the Memphis Grizzlies.

This season, the Spurs are again entering the playoffs as the top seed and are talked about as contenders. They again face a first-round opponent with a big front line — the Utah Jazz — and some think the same thing will happen again.

The Spurs may not make the NBA finals, but they are real contenders this year. Here are five reasons this year is different than last.

1) Manu Ginobili is healthy. Ginobili is what turns the Spurs offense from “good” to “best in the NBA” and he was out last season but is back healthy this season. (The entire city of San Antonio just knocked on wood.) What makes him so dangerous is that can take whatever the defense gives — he can knock down threes, drive the lane (left or right), is solid from the midrange, plays well in transition and… you get the point. He also shoots well in the clutch. This is the guy that makes the Spurs special and he is back this year.

2) Tony Parker is playing the best ball of his career. He should be in the MVP discussion this year. Not saying he should win it (that’s LeBron James) but Parker should be in the conversation. Parker leads the Spurs in scoring (18.3 points per game, a number he stepped up when Ginobili was out) and is also at a career high in assists — when he is on the floor he assists on 40 percent of his teammates baskets. Parker gets an offense based on cuts and off-ball movement going, he is at the heart of their rapid ball movement side to side. He simply is better this season than last.

3) San Antonio depth and athleticism — this is a team. This was the knock on them since 2004 — they were old and no longer athletic enough to play with the elite teams in the league. But that’s not the case anymore, they have rookie Kawhi Leonard, they bring in youth with DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Gary Neal, plus Tiago Splitter has taken a step forward and given them a solid big man to put in the middle. Combine that with a shooter like Matt Bonner (plus they have Stephen Jackson now) and they can throw a lot of different matchups at you. The amazing part is how little drop off there is in execution from the first to second unit.

The turning point for the Spurs may have come at the end of January this season when the starters were getting smoked by Dallas and when the bench made a comeback Popovich rode them all the way through into the overtime. And lost. But since then this team has rallied as a unit and the depth has been part of that.

4) Tim Duncan found the fountain of youth down by the Riverwalk. Tim Duncan never has been bad, but he had seemed to take a step back in recent years from great to solid. He was always fundamentally sound, but he seemed older and a step slow. Since the All-Star break he has seemed a threat again. Maybe that is him getting better looks thanks to the Spurs fantastic ball movement, but whatever it is it is working. And if Duncan is on the Spurs are on.

5) These Jazz are not those Grizzlies. This Utah team is playing well and we’ve all fallen in love around the NBA blogosphere with their big lineup of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors together. No doubt, that lineup is good — but it is not as good as the level the Grizzlies were playing at last year. Zach Randolph was probably the best single player in the first round last year, he was a force of nature. I like Jefferson, but his ceiling is not that high. These Jazz also don’t defend like those Grizzlies did.

It is possible the Spurs will see the Grizzlies again in the second round. And that would be a fun matchup. But the Grizzlies are going to find out these Spurs are a lot better now than those ones they knocked off last year. These Spurs are legitimate contenders.

Every 8-24 will be Kobe Bryant Day

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd as he is taken out of the game after scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles announced today, August 24, 2016 would be Kobe Bryant Day – presumably because he wore Nos. 8 and 24 with the Lakers, not because 8-24 feels like a common shooting night for him.

But that press release understated the honor.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Kobe had a great career, and he’s beloved in Los Angeles. Honoring him with a day is a nice gesture.

But as the luster of his retirement tour dims, this will seem overreaching if it’s not just forgotten. The latter is far more likely, but when it’s remembered, Kobe Bryant Day will mostly lead to questions: Why not an annual Magic Johnson Day? Why not an annual Sandy Koufax Day? Why not an annual…

Report: Raptors signing E.J. Singler

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 29:  E.J. Singler #25 of the Oregon Ducks drives in the second half against Chane Behanan #21 of the Louisville Cardinals during the Midwest Region Semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Ready for another Singler in the NBA?

Thunder forward Kyle Singler‘s brother, E.J. Singler, is headed to the Raptors.

Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic:

Toronto as 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. Singler will join Fred VanVleet, Jarrod Uthoff, Yanick Moreira and Drew Crawford in a crowded race for the 15th spot.

VanVleet has a leg up, because third-string point guard Delon Wright will miss the start of the season. I also like Uthoff more as a long-term prospect in a vacuum than the other players.

Singler’s advantage? His experience. He’s older than his four competitors, including VanVleet and and Uthoff, who went undrafted out of Wichita State and Iowa this year.

Singler went undrafted out of Oregon in 2013. He has since played overseas and in the D-League, including with the Raptors’ affiliate last season. The 6-foot-6 forward has a nice shooting stroke, but his subpar athleticism limits him all around.

I expect Singler to get a partial guarantee designed to entice to stay in the D-League, where the Raptors 905 still hold his rights, rather than go overseas if he doesn’t make Toronto’s regular-season roster. But first, he’ll have a chance to earn an NBA roster spot in what appears to be a fairly open race.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (video)

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It’s been a while since we featured a Brandon Armstrong video, but they’re always fun – this ode to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson no exception.

Jamal Crawford reportedly faced death threats over losses while gambling with Michael Jordan

1 Feb 2001:  Jamal Crawford #1 of the Chicago Bulls watches the action during the game against the Seattle SuperSonics at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. The Sonics defeated the Bulls 97-91.  NOTE TO USER: It is expressly understood that the only rights Allsport are offering to license in this Photograph are one-time, non-exclusive editorial rights. No advertising or commercial uses of any kind may be made of Allsport photos. User acknowledges that it is aware that Allsport is an editorial sports agency and that NO RELEASES OF ANY TYPE ARE OBTAINED from the subjects contained in the photographs.Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule Jr.  /Allsport
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Michael Jordan helped propel Jamal Crawford‘s NBA career – one that has already lasted 16 seasons and resulted in more than $120 million in earnings and three Sixth Man of the Year awards.

Jordan also fostered an environment where Crawford could’ve derailed it.

Crawford was drafted for the Bulls in 2000, when Jordan was contemplating a comeback he’d eventually make with the Wizards. In preparation, Jordan frequently invited Crawford to play pickup basketball with him.

Mike Wise of The Undefeated:

In between Crawford’s first and second year in the league, after the pickup games at Hoops the Gym, many of Jordan’s friends and associates would go next door to his contemporary American restaurant, One Sixtyblue. After hours, games of chance were set up – Vegas-style card tables, a separate corner for shooting dice.

Two participants, on condition of anonymity, recounted one particular night when Jordan and Antoine Walker were among the card players and Crawford and Ray Allen were among the players shooting dice.

Over what is believed to be a two-day span, he said, he lost in the neighborhood of $100,000. A person with intimate knowledge of the game claims Crawford lost several hundred thousand and Allen lost even more. And that, days after the dice game, a call was placed to Goodwin, Crawford’s agent, to inform him that Crawford had not yet squared his debt with one professional gambler.

“OK,” Goodwin said, according to the person with intimate knowledge of the game. “What does he owe? Jamal is good for it.”

“No, you don’t understand,” the go-between said. “If he doesn’t pay now, these guys will kill Jamal.”

“Kill Jamal?!! He’s an NBA player. He gets paid as soon as the season starts. Give me the dude’s number.”

The person with knowledge of the game said Goodwin called the man Crawford owed money, set up a payment plan and resolved the issue without incident.

Crawford swore he didn’t lose that kind of money, and said he never heard the story about his life being threatened. But he doesn’t deny he got in way over his head, which led to a particularly humiliating moment.

The life of an NBA player remains more wild than we’ll ever know.