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.

Pat Riley raves about Dwyane Wade, but avoids all contract talk

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is under contract with the Chicago Bulls, meaning other NBA clubs cannot openly talk about possibly signing him until he is a free agent. As such, Miami Heat President Pat Riley was cautious Friday when asked about Wade’s future.

Wade spent his first 13 seasons in Miami before leaving in the summer of 2016 and going to the Bulls, his hometown team. But Chicago appears in full rebuilding mode after trading All-Star forward Jimmy Butler – someone Wade was close with – to Minnesota this offseason. And since Wade is in the last year of a deal that will pay him nearly $24 million this season, buyout speculation has been rampant for months.

If Wade gets a buyout, he’d be free to join any team.

“I feel great about our relationship that we had over the 13 years,” Riley said. “And anything that happens from a personnel standpoint down the road, or any opportunities that are there, we’re always going to approach that. But right now he’s under contract. He’s under contract with Chicago and I wish him the very best.”

Some Heat players, including longtime close friend Udonis Haslem, have made clear that if Wade becomes a free agent they would definitely want him to consider a return.

“He knows how I feel,” Haslem said this month.

Riley – and every other NBA executive – has to be much more guarded. But Riley made no secret of the affinity he still has for Wade, even raving about his wife, actress Gabrielle Union.

“She was stunning at the Emmys,” Riley said. “And to see him sitting in the seat next to her at the Emmys, I said `Man, we both have come a long way.”‘

The Bulls hold their media day Monday, with camp opening Tuesday. Wade spent at least part of this week in Miami, where he kept his home, and worked out at least once at the University of Miami .

Bulls President John Paxson told CSN Chicago on Thursday he and general manager Gar Forman sat down with Wade when the season ended, and plan to do so again when he returns to Chicago in the coming days.

“We were honest with him. We told him, that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Paxson said. “At that time we were not shopping Jimmy. But we also said all along that if a deal would come along that would allow us to rebuild, we’d have to look at it. We’ve said that to everybody. So with that said, Dwyane’s under contract. He has been a professional through and through. We want to talk to him when he comes in town, and we will.”

Wade is Miami’s franchise leader in several categories, starred on all three of the Heat championship teams and has kept close ties with several people within the organization since his departure. He was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals.

“Probably one of the greatest series that any player has ever had in a Finals,” Riley said.

Report: Noah Vonleh likely to miss first couple weeks of Trail Blazers’ regular season

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The Trail Blazers basically have four starters penciled in: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless and Jusuf Nurkic.

The fifth – likely a power forward, though potentially a small forward if Harkless shifts down – won’t be Noah Vonleh.

Jason Quick of CSN Northwest:

Trail Blazers’ forward Noah Vonleh has suffered a right shoulder strain that will keep him out of training camp and likely the first two weeks of the regular season, CSN has learned.

Vonleh started half Portland’s games, both regular season and playoffs last season, though the low-minute role was somewhat ceremonial. The Trail Blazers really seem to want to get the 22-year-old Vonleh going.

He’s up for a contract extension, and while that always seemed unlikely, this puts a major damper on that possibility. Portland will most likely evaluate him further before proceeding in restricted free agency next summer.

In the meantime, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Caleb Swanigan or Evan Turner could start. It all depends how the Trail Blazers want to balance their starting lineup and their rotation. At least they have plenty of options.

Stephen Curry says Warriors can “send a statement” by not going to White House

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It’s been a simmering topic all offseason: Will the Golden State Warriors — a team with a coach and several players who have publicly criticized President Donald Trump — make the traditional champions visit to the White House?

The first question is will they be invited? As of this point, that has not happened, according to the team.

However, this is something the Warriors plan to discuss and vote on as a team, coach Steve Kerr said. Stephen Curry was clear he plans to vote “no.”

Curry was more clear ESPN’s The Jump with Rachel Nichols.

“Obviously, you don’t wanna rush to a decision on understanding the magnitude of what this means. We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to appreciate what it means to be American, and stand for something. So whatever your opinion is on either side, that’s what we wanna take advantage of this opportunity…

(Nichols asks if the statement would be not going): Yeah, for me, that’s gonna be my vote when we meet with the team. But it is a collective, it’s not just me, it’s not just KD, it’s about the whole team and what we were able to accomplish as a team, and the opportunity that has historically been afforded to championship teams. So we’ll have that conversation obviously, and we’ll do it as a group, and we’ll have one voice.

Some sports figures did not attend the traditional White House event in the past when Barack Obama was president (even if Tom Brady wants to deny that’s why he bailed), but teams have not skipped it.

There is a philosophical question here: If one opposes the president’s policies/actions, do you make more of a statement by skipping the event or going and saying something while there? What the Warriors know (having done these before) is this is just a feel-good photo-op event designed to make the president look good (whichever president). It’s a pure PR event, like the president welcoming the girl who sold the most Girl Scout cookies or something similar.  The president shakes hands and makes a couple of jokes, the team gives him a jersey with his name on it, and photos are taken. It’s not a place for serious discussion and statements, traditionally. The Warriors can either upend tradition by saying something while there, or they can just decide not to play the game.

It sounds like they are leaning toward the latter.

Which begs the question, will the Warriors even get an invite?

Report: Gerald Green to sign with Milwaukee for training camp (at least)

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How good is the hot chocolate at the BMO Harris Bradley Center?

I ask because it appears Gerald Green is going to be playing in Milwaukee, at least for training camp, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent swingman Gerald Green has agreed on a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, league sources told The Vertical.

Green will sign a non-guaranteed deal for training camp and is expected to compete for a regular-season roster spot. Milwaukee has looked to add depth at the wing positions, bringing Green and veteran guard Brandon Rush to camp.

The Bucks have 14 guaranteed contracts, so it is Rush vs. Green for that final roster spot. Green played solidly last season in Boston despite inconsistent minutes, but was not brought back as the Celtics revamped their roster. Green shot 35.1 percent from three last season, can play decent defense, and is a good veteran presence on a team with young players.

As for why I asked about the hot chocolate…