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.

Warriors break record by paying $3.5 million for draft rights to Jordan Bell

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The Thunder paid the Hawks $3 million for the draft rights to No. 31 pick Tibor Pleiss in 2010. Last year, the Nets paid $3 million just to move up 13 spots in the second round to get Isaiah Whitehead.

The Warriors surpassed that amount, previously the record for spending on a draft pick, to buy the No. 38 pick from the Bulls and get Jordan Bell last night.

Marcus Thompson of The Mercury News:

Golden State also bought the No. 38 pick last year to get a player I rated as first-round caliber, Patrick McCaw, whose rights cost “just” $2.4 million. McCaw had a promising rookie year and even contributed in the NBA Finals.

Bell – whose draft rights drew the maximum-allowable $3.5 million – could achieve similar success. I rated him No. 31 but in the same tier as other first-round-caliber prospects. He’s a versatile defender, capable of protecting the rim and switching onto guards. He’s obviously not nearly the same level, but Bell is in the Draymond Green mold defensively. Bell’s offense doesn’t come close to Green’s, though. Bell could fill a role sooner than later when Golden State needs a defensive-minded sub.

The Warriors have generated massive revenue during their dominant run the last few years. Now, they’re putting some of that money back into the on-court product. Success breeds success – especially when the owners don’t just pocket the profits.

Markelle Fultz was ‘"Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name)’

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The 76ers drafted Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall, placing a ton of attention on the point guard.

He parlayed that attention into a sponsored Instagram post, but he – or whomever posted on his behalf – never changed the stock text the company sent.

Rodger Sherman of The Ringer:

Fultz deleted and reposted, but this was probably a blessing in disguise. If it weren’t for the funny initial oversight, the advertisement never would have gotten so much traction.

Danny Ainge: Josh Jackson canceled Celtics workout while Brad Stevens and I flew there

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The Celtics were the first playoff team to win the lottery, which brought a complication: Some draft prospects and their agents wanted to avoid Boston, which has a deep roster and fewer avenues to immediate playing time.

Lonzo Ball wouldn’t work out for the Celtics, and neither would Josh Jackson. Ball was straightforward all along on his intent to work out for only the Lakers, who ultimately drafted him No. 2.

With Jackson – who was drafted No. 4 by the Suns after Boston traded down and took Jayson Tatum No. 3 – it was more convoluted.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, via CSN New England:

Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote that that was difference, but that’s not the case.

They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew – just Brad and I and Mike Zarren flew cross-country.

So there was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. In spite of that, we’ve watched Josh for two years, and we’re fans. He’s a terrific kid and a good player. So we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it.

Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we’ve seen in the past. You remember last year, Kris Dunn didn’t want to come here. We didn’t hold it against him. We felt like we were just taking the player that we wanted.

And I think the same thing this time. I don’t think we were trying to penalize Josh too much, but we didn’t get to see him or talk to him face-to-face.

I was mad. We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.

There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.

At first glance, this sounds sloppily rude by Jackson and/or his agent, B.J. Armstrong. And maybe it was.

But perhaps there’s more to it? The best professional athletes enter the workforce in conditions unlike anyone else in this country, forced to join whichever single company in their chosen field picks them – the worst companies receiving priority in selection. Players should feel no obligation to help companies in this cartel gather information. Rather, players’ priority should be getting to the company they find most desirable.

Jackson canceling a workout as the Celtics flew to California almost certainly turned them off more than never scheduling the workout in the first place would have. This might have been smart in the long run by Jackson if he didn’t want to go to Boston.

It stinks Ainge, Zarren and Brad Stevens had to deal with it. But it also stinks Jackson has no realistic choice but to participate in a system so unfair to labor.

Still, Ainge responded correctly – trying not to hold the sudden schedule change against Jackson. The Celtics will be better off with the better prospect, whether that’s Jackson or Tatum. If they drafted Jackson, he’d likely get over it. Evaluating Jackson only on what he’d bring to the team is easier said than done, and I’m not sure how well Ainge actually did that. But at least trying to keep that mindset was the right approach.

Jimmy Butler’s trainer calls Bulls GM Gar Forman a liar, less moral than drug dealers

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The Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves last night, reuniting the star wing with Tom Thibodeau.

Butler apparently took it well. Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Butler’s agent showed perspective. Bernard Lee:

Butler’s trainer, on the other hand, took a completely different tone. Travelle Gaines‏:

I don’t like the implication that drug dealers are immoral.

Otherwise, is Gaines right about Bulls general manager Gar Forman? I don’t know what Forman told Butler.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I do know Forman probably shouldn’t have allowed himself to be drug into public a back-and-forth with Gaines, especially coming across as scolding the trainer. There’s little to be gained there – much like the trade itself.