Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan

Spurs have changed a lot since 2011 loss to Grizzlies

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When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and in that time, the Spurs had been one of the NBA’s slowest teams, ranking between 20th and 28th in pace each season. San Antonio had also never finished with a higher-ranked offense than defense.

But that changed in 2010-11. The Spurs ranked 14th in pace, 2nd in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Mannix:

The changes that Popovich emphasized in training camp (cross-court passing, more look-aheads, quicker shots) have been fully embraced. “They’re pushing the ball better than any team in the league,” says a Western Conference scout. “They’re unselfish, and the ball moves fluidly. It’s like they were built to play like this.”

Except the Spurs weren’t really built to play like that.

Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, George Hill and Matt Bonner all played major roles on a Spurs team that had ranked 20th in pace the year before, and San Antonio simply asked that same group to play faster. Because of their willingness to adjust, those four handled an increased tempo fine for a while, but they weren’t equipped to master it in the long run.

In the first round of the 2011 playoffs, Popovich’s strategy finally crumbled, as the eighth-seeded Grizzlies upset the Spurs in six games.

But in the wake of that loss, San Antonio didn’t relent in its commitment to becoming a faster team.

The Spurs showed their up-tempo bona fides today during a 105-83 win over the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Though the pace of the game wasn’t particular fast, San Antonio excelled by pushing the tempo at opportune moments and getting back defensively after a transition attack – doing so in ways the 2011 team wasn’t capable of.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are still the backbone of the franchise, but the surrounding pieces have made the difference.

In 2011, the Spurs had already signed the relatively athletic Tiago Splitter three years after drafting him and plucked Danny Green, an active defender, from the D-League. But Green and Splitter weren’t prepared to contribute in the playoffs that year.

In classic San Antonio fashion, the organization developed those two into starters. Green has already played more against the Grizzlies in the conference finals than he did in the first round in 2011, and Splitter is on pace to pass his 2011 mark in Game 3. Green scored 16 points on 3-of-6 3-point shooting, and Splitter played strong defense on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside.

Even Boris Diaw, how many pounds he weighs above his listed total, made his bones with Steve Nash’s fastbreaking Suns.

But the Spurs’ most meaningful change since 2011 has been Kawhi Leonard.

The Spurs traded for Leonard on draft night 2011, and the athletic forward quickly became a starter in a league that was increasingly featuring elite athletes. Leonard, who scored 18 points today, can quickly leak out for an easy layup, but he also defends in the open court, too.

That’s where San Antonio’s continued adaptation has really made a difference. The Spurs continue to get faster – 14th to 8th to 6th in pace the last three seasons – but after back-to-back years of ranking 11th in defense, they ranked third this season. San Antonio temporarily compromised its defense values in the name of pace, but the tradeoff is no longer necessary with this roster.

Popovich and the Spurs have continued to learn from the lesson Memphis handed them two years ago, and more than ever, they look like a team with that has earned a graduate degree from the School of Fastbreak.

“We’re trying to have pace,” Popovich said during his second-half sideline interview when asked about the key to his team’s success today.

Not long before, the Grizzlies were trying to have pause.

Fewer than two minutes into the game, Lionel Hollins called timeout as San Antonio raced to a 7-2 lead. These aren’t the same Spurs as the ones Hollins, Randolph, Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen beat in 2011.

Back then, San Antonio was chasing a new identity. The Spurs have found it and mastered it, and now the Grizzlies are doing all the chasing. So far, they can’t keep up.

CJ McCollum, Bismack Biyombo to headline 2017 NBA Africa Game this summer

Portland Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum pumps his fist during the final moments of their 127-123 overtime win over the Boston Celtics in an NBA basketball game in Boston Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The NBA is going back to Africa.

The league and the National Basketball Players Association announced Saturday that NBA Africa Game 2017 will be held on Aug. 5 in Johannesburg. It’s the second time the NBA is playing on that continent, after a sold-out event there in 2015.

Among the players planning to take part so far are Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo, Portland’s CJ McCollum and Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay.

The game will have a Team Africa vs. Team World format and will support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says going back to South Africa “is part of the league’s continued commitment to bring the authentic NBA experience to fans around the world.”

Report: Nuggets received $2.85 million from Trail Blazers in Mason Plumlee-Jusuf Nurkic trade

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee is congratulated after making a basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Denver. Plumlee was appearing in his first game for the Nuggets since being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers for center Jusuf Nurkic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic and the Grizzlies’ first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a second-rounder — a deal that didn’t appear to provide Denver enough value.

But it seems we omitted a key piece of the Nuggets’ return.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Teams rarely trade that much in a single transaction. They’re capped at both receiving and sending out $3.5 million this season.

But this is the advantage of an owner willing to spend. Paul Allen is allowing Portland to assemble a more-talented roster.

Denver still got the best player right now in the trade, and Plumlee will upgrade the bench and maybe even fit OK starting with Nikola Jokic. But it’s hard to overlook owner Stan Kroenke’s cash influx.

Rumor: Kings reignite trade talks for DeMarcus Cousins; Cousins agent denies

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JANUARY 23: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on while playing the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on January 23, 2017 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Sacramento won the game 109-104. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Sacramento Kings may be looking to move center Boogie Cousins. Stop me if you’ve heard this rumor before.

According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kings management has reportedly engaged in talks during All-Star Weekend to move the talented, fiery center.

If moved, Boogie would be the biggest player dealt thus far this season.

Via Twitter:

It didn’t take long for Cousin’s agent to try and kill those rumors.

That Cousin’s agent denies it doesn’t make it false, however, this move would be a huge change of directions for the Kings organization.

It may also be one they may need to consider. The Kings have said they would offer Cousins the “designated player” max extension (likely around at $213 million over five seasons), and Cousins has said he would sign it. If the Kings really wanted to make him happy, they could do a Russell Westbrook style renegotiation of his contract for the coming season, then have the extension kick in after that (Boogie would sign that, too). However, do that and they have no cap space to bring in players around Cousins, they stay the same team they are right now for years.

The Kings have been reluctant at times to even engage in discussions with teams, in part because owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to move the big man knowing they will go a decade before getting a player that talented on the roster again. The Kings were frustrated when former coach George Karl was insistent on moving him, and they dismissed interest from both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But there’s also been recent talks around Boogie and the Phoenix Suns, and the situation from an outside-of-California view seems to be ripe for a split.

Cousins, for as good as he’s been, has not shown he’s enough to take the team into the playoffs. Kings management, meanwhile, has been an absolute disaster during his time there and has not done much to compliment him. The relationship seems to have soured, even as owner Ranadive has backed Cousins.

Whatever the outcome, if Cousins gets traded by the Feb. 23 deadline it will go down as one of the biggest mid-season moves this season. It’s going to be hard for Sacramento to move on from a franchise player like Boogie, but perhaps it’s time to look for a different path. For Cousins, a breath of fresh air and a little help might put his career in a new perspective as well.

Report: 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor because they were close to Trail Blazers trade

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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. The Thunder defeated the 76ers 103-97. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor for two games last week, openly acknowledging they were discussing trading him. Then, they played him in their final game before the All-Star break.

That prompted speculation that no deal fell through, but that Philadelphia was bluffing being close in order to drum up interest.

But maybe there actually was a near-trade.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

On the surface, this makes sense. We know the Trail Blazers were interested in a cost-controlled center, because they traded for Jusuf Nurkic.

But that trade also makes Portland perfect cover if the 76ers are just trying to deflect from a gambit gone wrong. Not only were the Trail Blazers plausible trade partners, they already made their deal. So, there will be no questions about revisiting discussions.