Kawhi Leonard becoming the LeBron stopper the Spurs knew they’d need


In 2011, a 22-year-old Derrick Rose became the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. Dwight Howard, then just 25, finished second in the voting. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the championship.

The NBA can be a reactionary league, and some teams set out that offseason searching for the next Rose, Howard or Nowitzki or a player who could stop one of those three. A point guard, center and power forward.

The Spurs didn’t become the NBA’s top team in the last 15 years by being reactionary, though, and they eyed a different type of player, one who could help them in 2012, 2013 and beyond – not 2011, a season that had already ended. That meant they needed someone to guard LeBron James and Kevin Durant, small forwards.

So, the Spurs shopped George Hill, a player they had developed into a borderline starter/Sixth Man of the Year candidate. To a degree, San Antonio got lucky Kawhi Leonard – ranked No. 6 on ESPN’s big board – fell all the way to the No. 15 pick in the 2011 draft, where the Pacers picked and were willing to trade for Hill.

The Spurs’ calculation was dead on. LeBron and Durant finished 1-2 in MVP voting and led their team to a combined three Finals in the two years since San Antonio drafted Leonard. Meanwhile, Leonard has developed into one of the NBA’s best defenders of those two.

That ability was on full display during the Spurs’ 113-77 Game 3 win over the Heat last night. In addition to posting 14 points and 12 rebounds, Leonard became the youngest player since at least 1985 to get four steals in a Finals game and helped hold LeBron to 7-of-21 shooting and, for the first time since 2009, no free throws .

LeBron has never averaged fewer points per game in a series than the 16.7 he’s scoring in these Finals, and his series field-goal percentage (38.9) is his lowest in the last five years. Of course, Leonard doesn’t deserve all the credit, but he’s the primary piece of San Antonio’s defense of LeBron.

Leonard showed this type of defensive potential against Durant in the Western Conference Finals last year, but ultimately, Leonard was still a rookie and wasn’t ready for the matchup. That was a key reason the Thunder beat the Spurs to reach the Finals.

But Leonard, even though he’s four years younger than any other starter in this series, sure looks ready now. Especially impressively, Leonard has grabbed two, eight and three offensive rebounds in the Finals. He’s not just guarding LeBron, he has enough energy to make all the hustle plays on offense, too.

Leonard is at the perfect crossroads, young enough to play hard for major minutes and savvy enough to play well on the biggest stage – just as the Spurs envisioned two years ago.

Kevin Love on back slide: ‘I don’t know what the hell that was’ (video)

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In the Cavaliers’ win over the Bucks last night and his first game back from injury, Kevin Love fell while shooting then very oddly slid up court on his back.

Rob Perez:

Love, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t know what the hell that was,” Love told a private group of reporters while being shown the video at his locker. “I was just having fun.”

When I saw that, I was having fun, too.

Potential top-three pick, Texas C Mo Bamba, declares for NBA draft

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Slovenian point guard Luca Doncic and Arizona center DeAndre Ayton are considered frontrunners to go 1-2 in the upcoming NBA draft.

No. 3 is more up for grabs – with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Texas’ Mo Bamba, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. in the mix.

Bamba is committing to the competition.

Texas release:

University of Texas freshman forward Mohamed Bamba has declared himself eligible for the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft and will not return to school, the University announced Tuesday.

Bamba – 7-foot with a 7-foot-9 wingspan – is an elite rim-protector. He’s also fluid enough to stifle opponents on the perimeter. He brings an awesome defensive package. Considering his size, he rebounds and finishes predictably well.

But his offense his otherwise raw. He attempts a fair number of jumpers, including 3-pointers, which suggests a capability. But he shoots poorly on those attempts and has displayed minimal court vision as a passer.

He’ll also turn 20 in May, making him the oldest of the top 2018 draft prospects. Mamba will carry some physical advantages to the NBA, but how much was he dominating college opponents because he’s more physically advanced?

Bamba carries risk, but an NBA team will almost certainly bet on him sooner than later in the draft.

Former Mavericks marketing manager: Mark Cuban oversaw business side, still doesn’t get it

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Sports Illustrated detailed a predatory environment – including sexual harassment and domestic violence – in the Mavericks’ business office.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban denied much interaction with the business side, expressed outrage this occurred and vowed to fix the problems.

Melissa Weishaupt, whom Sports Illustrated cited anonymously in its initial article, says Cuban hasn’t responded appropriately.

Weishaupt in Sports Illustrated:

I’m using my name because I’m still not sure the Mavericks get it. Since the story broke, owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly claimed he oversaw only the basketball side of that franchise, not the business side.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. You own 100% of the team, Mark. The buck stops with you. When I worked on the Mavs’ business side, all marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.

I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call!

Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

This problematic culture exists throughout the world. It would hardly be a shock if it still exists within the Mavericks, even after a spotlight was shined on them. In fact, there are indications it does.

If Cuban is sincere in his desire to provide better conditions for the women working for him, he should listen to people like Weishaupt. He can defend himself if he disagrees with her claims, but he also shouldn’t act as if he automatically knows all the solutions to these problems.

Report: Pistons interested in hiring Chauncey Billups to work with Arn Tellem in front office

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Update: Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the Pistons from eventually hiring Billups. They could claim they weren’t interested while Van Gundy held the presidency then became interested in Billups later.

But such a sharp statement seems unlikely if the Pistons planned to go that route. They’d probably leave the door open wider than this.


Pistons owner Tom Gores made it sound as if president-coach Stan Van Gundy would lose his front-office title.

The rumored replacement? Former agent Arn Tellem, who’s an executive on the Pistons’ business side.

Tellem could also have new help – like Chauncey Billups.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

That would certainly turn heads in Detroit, where Billups is still beloved after playing for the Pistons and leading them to the 2004 championship. His reputation remains sterling there, because he was traded before the major downturn of that era.

For a team struggling to fill its new arena, Billups could make a splash (just like the Blake Griffin trade was designed to).

But if Billups and Tellem aren’t ready to build a winning team, the good feelings would be short-lived. Detroit-area fans have proven they support good teams and not otherwise.

To Billups’ credit, he has worked to position himself for a front-office job. He was a very smart player and good communicator, and he has always eyed an executive, rather than coaching, role. The Cavaliers nearly hired him last year. He and Tellem might be up for the task.

It’s a substantial one. The Pistons’ roster is expensive for the next couple years, and Detroit is down a first-round pick from the Griffin trade. The top two players, Griffin and Drummond, don’t fit seamlessly.

The Pistons could easily make the playoffs next season, especially if Reggie Jackson is healthier than this year. But greater success will be hard to come by no matter who takes over.