Game 6 was not Gregg Popovich’s best night

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Gregg Popovich is the best coach in basketball right now. One of the best of all time. He has four rings and built a culture in San Antonio that has them in NBA Finals 14 years apart and with consistent 50+ win seasons in between.

But he is not perfect.

He made a couple decisions down the stretch of Game 6 that were head scratchers and now he will be coaching a Game 7 in part because of them.

One was sitting Tim Duncan on some plays late — Boris Diaw was in to provide size with mobility to switch pick-and-rolls on the perimeter. Duncan at his age plays back on those more and Popovich wants to press the shooters.

With the Spurs up 3 and: 19 seconds left Popovich made that trade and while Diaw chased LeBron to challenge a three nobody was in the paint to try and keep Chris Bosh off the offensive glass. Bosh grabbed the rebound, found Ray Allen who drained a three that sent the game to overtime.

It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but if you’re not going to foul there before the shot to give up two free throws but protect the lead — Popovich said after the game “we don’t” do that, and statistically it’s pretty much a toss up with letting them shoot — then you have to have some rebounders on the floor. Such as Duncan. Miami is smart and well coached — they will take their first shot with time on the clock to allow for a rebound and a second chance in case of a miss, which is what happened.

Duncan sat a couple late plays late, both times Bosh got key offensive rebounds. Manu Ginobili defended Popovich in his post-game press conference.

“It’s one of the many things I’ll be thinking (about),” Ginobili said postgame. “We got a great coaching staff, great coach. If he did those subs, I’m very sure he thought about it and had many great reasons to do it. He wanted size on the defensive end.”

The other question was with Ginobili himself — after a brilliant Game 5 Ginobili was a mess again in Game 6 — he had 8 turnovers (almost as many turnovers as points, 9) and was a -21. He was struggling. But Popovich stuck with him for nearly 35 minutes. Earlier in the series when Ginobili struggled Popovich limited his minutes, but not Tuesday night.

With 8.8 seconds left in overtime Ginobili was in and the Spurs were down 1 point — score and they can win the title. Miami missed, Kawhi Leonard grabbed the rebound and Ginobili pushed the ball up — Popovich didn’t call timeout to get Parker in there for one last offensive play, he let Ginobili try to go coast to coast. What you got were a couple no-calls — Ginobili traveled but then was fouled by Ray Allen, both the kinds of plays where refs swallow their whistles late. Parker, the Spurs offensive catalyst, watched from the bench as the Spurs missed a great shot at a ring.

Popovich is still the best coach in basketball. Without question. And it’s not his fault Tim Duncan went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime or that Danny Green went cold or a host of other things. This loss certainly isn’t all on him.

But Tuesday night was not his best night.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

russell westbrook blake griffin
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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?

Report: Gordon Hayward will meet first with Heat in free agency, then Jazz, then Celtics

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Gordon Hayward is arguably the biggest available prize in free agency, and his dance card for the first couple of days in July is filling up.

Miami and Pat Riley will bat lead off in a series of meetings, reports ESPN.

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

For the record, there are rumors it’s Miami Saturday, Boston Sunday, Utah Monday, then he will take some time to make a decision. I’m not sure the order matters that much.

Hayward is an All-Star level player at a position of need for a lot of teams out on the wing. He averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, can put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker for himself and others, plus can defend everything from stretch fours to point guards (he’s not a lock-down defender, but he is good). Hayward is the kind of versatile player teams need to compete in a modern NBA. He’s an elite wing player who is about to get paid like one.

The question is by whom? Around the league teams are convinced it will be one of those three, but which one depends on who you talk to. The Jazz seem confident they can retain him, where others seem confident he’s got one foot out the door. Only Hayward truly knows, and he’s wise to not speak on it and take the meetings. (If he takes his time deciding that could impact the chase for Blake Griffin, Miami and Boston reportedly have interest if they don’t land Gordon, but that can’t be Gordon’s concern. He has to do what’s right for him in his own time.)