The Extra Pass: The Spurs and time

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the San Antonio Spurs. 

You don’t have to scrounge for reasons for why the San Antonio Spurs have such great success. A quick point of the finger to Tim Duncan works just fine; an additional point to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili works even better. There probably can’t be enough praise heaped on head coach Gregg Popovich, and attributing credit to the top of the organization won’t warrant many complaints. The Spurs are a world-class organization with all-world players. It can be that simple.

Maybe it’s so simple that it’s easy to look past. Every year the Spurs get older, and every year the concerns about time pop up and we forget everything else. Every compliment includes a caveat — the Spurs are great, but they’re old. Fact is, time is undefeated, and we tend to side with the champion over the challenger in that regard. In the eyes of many, the Spurs are up against it more and more every year.

But when the Spurs inevitably tear through the league like they always do, we say that they’re defying time. We praise their ability to fight time. Every year we do this and act surprised.

It makes me think that we’re looking at it the wrong way. The Spurs aren’t fighting against time. They’re using it.

Forfeiting Time

It starts by giving it up. Manu Ginobili has done it for years, coming off the bench and taking less minutes while not shying away from recuperation time from the bumps and bruises his reckless style of play welcomes. Tim Duncan, meanwhile, has played less than 30 a minutes a night for the last three years. It’s not that Duncan can’t play that much anymore — his playoff average usually hovers around 36 minutes a game — it’s all about pacing. Duncan is playing some of the best basketball of his career and putting up career per-36 numbers, but no team better understands how long an 82 game season is than the Spurs. They are always the tortoise.

That said, thinking that the Spurs sit their stars simply for the sake of rest is a classic mistake. Monday night’s trip to Chicago was a perfect example. Could some combination of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Stephen Jackson could have played? Probably, but suiting up those guys for tired or rusty minutes in the middle of an 82-game season serves no real purpose. Popovich went with none of the four, and the Spurs reserves got a ton of minutes they don’t usually receive. That move paid off, as the shorthanded Spurs beat the Bulls easily, 103-89.

And what’s the result? Another banked experience for guys who might not get many shots at it. When the day comes for Kawhi Leonard to be the Spurs’ top scorer, he has 26 points against the league’s best wing defenders to draw on. That confidence gleaned is more important than anything Parker, Duncan or Ginobili could have done. No coach puts their team in more no-lose, low-risk situations during the regular season than Popovich.

Organizational patience

You would think a front office with an aging core would be in a huge rush to win in their championship window, but the Spurs have gone the opposite route.  Tiago Splitter was drafted way back in 2007, playing overseas for three years of Tim Duncan’s prime before coming over. Nando de Colo was drafted in 2009 and is a rookie this season. George Hill was a mature, useful player at both guard spots for the Spurs, and he was swapped for a raw 19-year-old rookie in Kawhi Leonard last season.

Is it a coincidence that the biggest moves the Spurs have made have been for a center and a small forward?  By waiting on Splitter and developing Leonard into a killer corner scorer, the Spurs might be better than ever. After all, it’s the Spurs — not the Lakers or the Heat or any of the other “super teams” — that have the most effective starting lineup in all of basketball. The Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter lineup has a 106.9 offensive rating and an 87.1 defensive rating. The window is as open as it ever was.

The system

Most of San Antonio’s offense revolves around motion. Guys move with a purpose. There are very few plays for individuals, which eliminates turn taking and bad shots off the dribble. The next time you hear about a player under Popovich complaining about not getting enough shots will be the first time. If you cut hard, you’ll get it. If you screen hard, you’ll get it.

The Spurs may have been missing their stars in Chicago, but their biggest star was undoubtedly the system. The reserves executed in the halfcourt flawlessly, running everything with the same crispness the starters would. Popovich demands his players to follow a lot of rules on both ends, but he doesn’t dumb things down or limit the possibilities. He trusts his players to make the right decisions because they’re his players. Again, that comes with time.

And that’s really the point. We like to consider time as the one great enemy to the mighty Spurs empire, but no other team has used it to their advantage quite like the Spurs have.

Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas will not need hip surgery, according to Danny Ainge

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With Boston watching the foundation crumble in Cleveland, the Celtics need to keep their own house in order — and healthy — to have a shot to dethrone LeBron James and reach the NBA Finals.

One step along that road, having a healthy Isaiah Thomas. Back in May, Thomas visited a specialist about his right hip injury, which he first suffered in March then aggravated in the playoffs, ending his run early. Surgery was on the table as an option.

It’s off now, Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.

Hip surgery has been ruled out for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said….

“Isaiah is making good progress,” Ainge said. “He’s out on the court; he’s shooting. He’s full-speed ahead on the stationary bike and working in the swimming pool. He’s progressing nicely.”

This is good news for Boston. This is also good news for Thomas, who is heading into a contract year.

Thomas had a career year last season, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game, while shooting 37.9 percent from three. Thomas made his first All-NBA team last season (second team), as well as being an All-Star for the second time.

Thomas’ name has popped up in trade rumors for Kyrie Irving, but that deal incredibly unlikely. First off, the Celtics would have to send Thomas, Jae Crowder, and a young player such as Jaylen Brown (or Jason Tatum) to the Cavaliers in a trade, and that price is too steep. More importantly, why would Ainge and the Celtics want to help the Cavaliers stay elite? Fans will speculate online, but no way Ainge would send out a lot of quality to help the Cavs.

Derrick Rose wanted to play where the games mattered, found Cleveland

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Derrick Rose was the point guard standing when the music stopped this summer. It seemed to catch him off guard.

There had been rumblings for a while that he didn’t understand how teams valued him — or didn’t — in a modern NBA, but this summer made it clear. Rose and his agent B.J. Armstrong tried, but the market dried up. The San Antonio Spurs decided to re-sign Patty Mills. The LA Clippers decided to stick with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. The Milwaukee Bucks flirted and then passed. The Sacramento Kings signed George Hill. The Minnesota Timberwolves (and Rose’s old coach Tom Thibodeau) went and got Jeff Teague. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. The Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball. The Pelicans re-signed Jrue Holiday then picked up Rajon Rondo.

Rose looked left out in the cold. He ultimately agreed to play for Cleveland and with LeBron James… and then the Kyrie Irving trade request story broke.

Rose is about to get what he wanted — games that matter on a team that matters, so he can re-establish his value, Armstrong told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“A one-year deal on a bad team to try and put up numbers — we did not want to entertain that way of thinking,” agent B.J. Armstrong, a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, told ESPN on Tuesday. “Getting up every day to go to the gym to just try and put up numbers — that’s not who he is. He didn’t want to chase anything this summer other than, ‘Hey, let’s get around a group of guys who are like-minded, who are pursuing winning and be a part of that.'”

Rose is going to get a chance to prove he can still play meaningful quality minutes on a team hunting a title next season. Rose could well be the starting point guard (depending on who the Cavaliers get back in an Irving trade).

Rose put up solid numbers last season with the Knicks — 18 points and 4.4 assists per game — and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard. He can still get to the rim. However, he also still can’t space the floor as a shooter (21.7 percent from three last season), he’s not an efficient scorer, and most importantly he’s still a defensive liability (the Knicks were 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively last season when Rose was on the court).

How Rose looks in Cleveland will be interesting, but he is going to get his chance to prove himself on a big stage in the bright lights. Play well and you never know what the next summer will hold, although expect that to be a tighter market for everyone except the elite players (LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and the other clear max guys). Rose could find next summer rough, too, but play well and it gets a little easier.

Reports: Carmelo Anthony for Kyrie Irving trade highly unlikely, ‘Melo wants to be Rocket

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It’s been a favorite pitch of fans on Twitter and the rest of the Web the past few days: The Knicks send Carmelo Anthony and a first-round pick or two to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. That way Anthony ends up in a place he said he would go, the Cavaliers get talent to help them remain contenders, and the Knicks get an elite point guard to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. Everyone is happy.

Except it’s not going to happen.

At least not anytime soon.

There are a few reasons, but at the top of the list is Anthony doesn’t want to go to Cleveland, he is focused on Houston (even if the deals to go there are nowhere near done, despite the rumors around the web). There have been multiple reports on this, and I heard the same thing, but Ian Begley at ESPN has the clearest explanation.

Carmelo Anthony’s top destination in any trade, per league sources, is the Houston Rockets. Nothing really has changed since ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported more than a week ago that Anthony still expected the Knicks to carry out their previous plan to trade him to Houston…

All of (the speculation about Anthony going to Cleveland) is, of course, meaningless until one of two things happen:

1. The Knicks decide to include Porzingis in a deal for Irving (unlikely).

2. Anthony decides to move on from the possibility of being traded to Houston and strongly considers playing for a Cavs team without Irving. As of late Tuesday, he wasn’t prepared to do that.

There is zero chance the Knicks will put Kristaps Porzingis in the trade for Irving… well, this is the Knicks, so zero might be too low a number. But it should be zero. Nobody expects this to happen, and if it did Knicks fans would/should revolt.

Even if Anthony relents, this trade does not fit what the Cavaliers want in a deal — they are prioritizing getting a young stud player as part of any trade package. The Knicks don’t have that (outside Porzingis, and they can’t trade Tim Hardaway Jr. until Dec. 15, if anyone thinks of him as a young stud). Anthony to the Knicks makes them older, slower, and probably worse defensively. The Knicks would need to get a third team involved to make a deal that works, which would mean giving up assets (a first-round draft pick, most likely) to make that third team happy.

Anthony could eventually reconsider. Maybe. However, he’s got two years left on his contract and can read all the same tea leaves that Irving can — LeBron James does not seem fully committed to a future in Cleveland. Anything can happen, no decision has been made, but LeBron could well leave Cleveland again. Does Anthony want to be a Cavalier in 2018-19 season without LeBron? No.

Also, if you’re Cleveland, does trading for Anthony make you a bigger threat to the Warriors? A trade straight up for Anthony does not get you younger and more athletic. For one, how does a forward combination of Kevin Love, LeBron, and Carmelo Anthony work? Can you blend that with Derrick Rose at the point? Offensively, Anthony can take Irving’s place as an isolation scorer, just from different areas of the floor that will force Love to adjust. However, defensively… that could be a mess. Even with LeBron and Tristan Thompson, it will be a mess with three negative defenders on the court at the start (and likely finish) of games. You could bring Love off the bench and start J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert at the two, but this creates its own set of problems. It’s an awkward rotational fit.

There are a lot of reasons but do not expect an Anthony for Irving trade to go down. This trade is ultimately going to be more complicated than that.

Report: Detroit Pistons become latest team with jersey ad deal, link up with Flagstar Bank

Darren Rovell on Twitter.
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Those new Nike NBA jerseys will have a little more flair and style than the Adidas ones — and I like that teams now can choose what color to wear at home, rather than be forced to don white.

Those jerseys also will have ads on them for a lot of teams.

Detroit is going to be one of them, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN. They will announce a deal Wednesday with Flagstar Bank.

When the season starts and people start to see the ads on jerseys during games… there will be a national shrug.

Sure, some curmudgeon will write a complaining newspaper column about how this is just greed, and that will get him spots on talk shows and networks to spout his “get off my lawn” rant. Fans, however, will shrug. It’s a small patch on the shoulder. In person at games, nobody will notice. On television, you will be able to see it when a guy takes a free throw and they do a close up of him, but you’ll have to look for it. Younger fans, and rational fans, will move along.

If the owners make a few more dollars — half of which goes to the players — then fine. It’s not a big deal. Will people also complain about the Nike swoosh on the other shoulder? Of course not. Of the ad deals, 25 percent goes to the team, 25 percent is shared with other owners in a revenue pool (that has numerous other sources), and 50 goes to the players through contracts (it is part of the “basketball related income” that helps set the salary cap number).

It’s progress. Times are changing, and a rose-colored glasses view of the past will not change that, in sports or anywhere else.