Spurs coach Popovich believes Warriors are ‘for real’

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When San Antonio made their run to the Finals last year, they swept the depleted Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and did the same to a very good Grizzlies team in the Western Conference Finals.

The only team to give the Spurs any modicum of postseason trouble besides the eventual champion Heat was the Golden State Warriors, who were able to cause enough problems to push that second round series to six games.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe that was a fluke, either. Speaking after beating a Warriors team playing without Stephen Curry by just two points on Friday, the tenured leader of basketball men gave his opponent the highest of praise.

From Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Well they’re for real,” Popovich said of the Warriors. “They’re really good offensively, (and) obviously they’re very talented. They’ve got an inside and outside game, and they’re really capable of scoring. If that was just it, then you’d call them a dangerous team where on any given night they can do you in. But they’re beyond that, because (Warriors coach) Mark (Jackson) has done a hell of a job in giving them a mentality, an aggressive, physical mentality defensively.

“He’s been demanding in that regard, and fortunately he’s got a group of character guys who want to do it right and get to the next level, and that’s what it takes. He initiated that last year. That takes them from a dangerous team to a solid, competitive team that can play with anybody. That’s who they are. Now it’s just a matter of being persistent and consistent about that, and reducing mistakes and understanding that it’s a long season. They’re definitely on the right path.”

Popovich has a history of being brutally honest, and isn’t ever in the business of giving out compliments when they’re not deserved.

Considering the success of the Spurs under Popovich as the league’s model franchise over the past 17 seasons, Golden State fans should be extremely optimistic about the future given his positive assessment.

Hawks hire Travis Schlenk as general manager

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The Hawks picked Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk as their next general manager. All that was left was negotiating terms.

That’s done.

Hawks:

The Atlanta Hawks today announced the hiring of Travis Schlenk as General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He will start leading Hawks basketball operations on June 1.

Schlenk worked his way up the latter and helped the Warriors become the envy of every other NBA team. He deserves this opportunity.

But the job won’t be easy.

The Hawks are stuck between two directions. On one side, they have veterans Paul Millsap (a 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whom the owner has basically promised a huge contract) and Dwight Howard (who sounds unhappy). On the other side, they have a youth movement featuring Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Tim Hardaway Jr., who bridges the age groups, is about to enter a potentially tricky restricted free agency.

Keeping the core together offers the upside of a playoff-series victory or two annually, modest outcomes for the cost. But a fragile Atlanta fan base might not tolerate a rebuild.

Schlenk works for owner Tony Ressler, and Ressler sounds committed to maintaining the status quo by keeping Millsap. It’s now Schlenk’s job to execute that vision or convince his boss to approve a different direction.

Potential none-and-done first-rounder Hamidou Diallo returning to Kentucky

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The more I’ve looked into the 2017 NBA draft, the less impressed I’ve become. There are a few bright spots in the first round relative to an average draft – No. 2, 5ish-10ish, 17ish-22ish – but I’m not convinced this is the generationally strong draft it has been touted as.

In the absence of prospects who offer secure promise, why not turn to upside? Hamidou Diallo offered plenty and was increasingly viewed as a first-rounder.

Yet, he’ll return to Kentucky for his freshman season.

Diallo:

A highly ranked recruit, Diallo began last school year at a prep school then enrolled at Kentucky for the spring semester. He practiced with the Wildcats, but never played.

Then, he went to the combine and posted excellent measurables: 6-foot-5, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 44.5-inch vertical and strong agility and sprint scores. Just 18, Diallo might have been the second-youngest player drafted this year (behind only Ike Anigbogu).

It wouldn’t have taken long – likely somewhere in the middle of the first round – for a team to bite on all that potential.

Instead, Diallo returns to Kentucky and must now show his ability to actually produce in basketball games. If he does, there’s no limit on how high he goes in the 2018 NBA draft. If he doesn’t, he’ll regret missing the opportunity to get drafted before his game got picked apart.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.