Tony Parker’s injury highlights Spurs’ unique depth

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Two years ago, the Charlotte Bobcats – on their way to the worst record in NBA history – waived Boris Diaw. He was out of shape and out of favor. Less than a month from turning 30, he appeared to have a short future in the league.

Saturday, he led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring during a closeout game of the Western Conference Finals.

Diaw scored 26 points – his most since Charlotte and most in a playoff game in eight seasons – in the Spurs’ 112-107 Game 6 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return to the Finals – to face the Miami Heat once again – but the Spurs’ big three has gotten this far due to teammates like Diaw, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard (can we call him a role player anymore?).

Parker (ankle injury) left the game at halftime with San Antonio down seven. But Joseph stepped up with a couple big plays, and Mills proved steady enough down the stretch.

I repeat: Cory Joseph and Patty Mills proved instrumental, at the pivotal point guard position no less, in a closeout conference finals game. The only reason that doesn’t sound crazy is because it’s the Spurs.

This was San Antonio’s progressive philosophy paying off. All season, Gregg Popovich trusted his role players, starting them and sticking with them in crunch time. He used 30 starting lineups, and he limited everyone to fewer than 30 minutes per game. No other team promotes depth to that extent.

And quite possibly, no other team would have won like the Spurs did Saturday.

Make no mistake: The Spurs are better with Parker. They’ll almost surely need him in the Finals, forcing the action against Mario Chalmers. But they sure made Parker look expendable in the final 29 minutes against Oklahoma City.

It seems no matter who San Antonio plugs into its system, it works – though, that’s obviously because the the Spurs are selective about who they plug into their system.

They saw more in Diaw than the Charlotte did, and they were proven correct. Matt Bonner once again started, pulling Serge Ibaka from the paint and throwing Oklahoma City’s defense off balance. But the Spurs really took off when Diaw – a better player – took Bonner’s stretch-four spot. Diaw can draw defenders outside, but he can also batter players in the post when the opponent goes small. All the while, he makes impressive passes and keeps the ball moving.

Leonard (17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) had another energetic and effective game, but he really belongs mentioned with the Spurs’ big three at this point. Heck, he’s better than at least one of them, though he takes a backseat in perception.

Not that the big three has fallen off a cliff (at least as long as they’re healthy).

Ginobili made a huge 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in regulation, and Duncan (19 points and 15 rebounds) scored seven of San Antonio’s overtime points.

Yet, the Spurs only put those two in position to make the big shots thanks to their heralded role players. And those role players were only ready to meet the moment thanks to San Antonio empowering them all season.

Of course, the Spurs were afforded this luxury by the sustained excellence of their big three. San Antonio always knew, whatever its role players did, it could fall back on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

The Spurs want to be deep. They also had a setup conducive to being deep.

But when Popovich smelled blood in Game 6 – the best opportunity either team has had all series to win on the road – he didn’t hesitate. Duncan, Leonard, Green, Ginobili and Diaw each played series-high minutes during regulation alone. Duncan played this much overall (39:01) just three times all season.

The Thunder closed ranks, too – but out of necessity.

It took more than 34 minutes for an Oklahoma City player other than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson to score. Those four finished with 102 of the Thunder’s 107 points.

Oklahoma City got here and wanted to win. San Antonio has been prepping for this level all season.

Teams want to rely on their star players in the postseason. They often can.

But when a Tony Parker goes down, very few teams can overcome that on the road in a tight series.

There has never been a team like these Spurs.

Yet, these Spurs are like so many Spurs teams before them – back in the Finals

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili led them here. Diaw, Joseph, Mills and Leonard are following not too far behind.

With Allen Crabbe in Brooklyn, what do the Blazers do now?

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Allen Crabbe is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, this time for good.

The Portland Trail Blazers a traded Crabbe to the team that signed him to a massive four-year, $75 million restricted free agent deal in the summer of 2016. In exchange for Crabbe’s services, the Trail Blazers received Andrew Nicholson, a struggling young big man who the Blazers will reportedly waive using the stretch provision.

The move gets Portland closer to the tax line, shaving off and estimated $43 million off of their luxury tax bill. That’s the primary motivation for this trade of a young, talented 3-point shooter and it sort of begs the question: Just what are the Blazers doing?

To understand the Crabbe trade in context, you have to go back to last summer. Portland was in the hunt for several big name players, including Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and Chandler Parsons.

Portland, never a big free agent destination, missed out on all three, instead having to panic at the last second. The Nets extended a huge offer sheet to Crabbe on July 7, the same day that Portland agreed to a similarly huge contract with Evan Turner.

With their free agent targets gone, Portland had to do the next best thing: retain talent.

After signing Turner, the Blazers matched Crabbe a few days later. They also signed contracts with Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless, and extended C.J. McCollum. Between Turner, Leonard, Harkless, and McCollum the Blazers have committed $62 million to just four players in 2017-18. That’s after wiping Crabbe’s $19 million off the books.

There’s little doubt President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has been trying to find trade suitors for Crabbe once he got past the RFA trade moratorium. Likewise, the team seems to have soured on Leonard, coming off of a shoulder injury and who told NBC Sports last season that he didn’t feel fully healthy until the end of winter.

The team was massively disappointing compared to their magical run in 2015-16. Still, there hasn’t been reason to panic in Oregon given that Olshey’s plan with this team since last summer was to swap their assets for a powerful starting lineup.

That plan began to flounder when Crabbe didn’t play up to expectations and when Leonard and Harkless didn’t show continued growth on expectations from seasons past.

Crabbe is an excellent 3-point shooter, but he is also thought of as a potentially great defender. In 2016-17 he looked lost at times on defense, especially when it came to defending top-level players or when he was in weak side situations off the ball. His value plateaued.

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That’s to state nothing of the rest of the team’s performance, specifically by Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu was vastly important to Portland’s bottom-feeding defense, but he became a liability as a 3-point shooter, allowing teams to help off of the pick-and-roll involving Lillard and McCollum. Turner, never a good fit on paper, didn’t really figure out how to play with the team until he returned from injury later in the season. Rumors around Portland have been that Turner has been favored over Crabbe to remain with the team because of the ball-handling relief he could bring to Lillard and McCollum. Jusuf Nurkic came at the deadline, and was a savior for the team until he fractured his leg late in the year.

Portland’s first cause for concern came during June’s draft. Olshey, flush with three first round draft picks, a burgeoning guard in Crabbe, and several players with deflated trade value, could not find a suitable deal. Olshey had to settle, trading two of his first round picks to move up and take Gonzaga’s Zach Collins as Leonard’s replacement.

That move signaled that Portland’s assets weren’t as valuable as Olshey was hoping they would be. Part of that is due to the performance of the players involved, and part was due to the lower standing of Portland’s draft picks. There’s also something to be said about the NBA’s cap not expanding to the level teams projected, making the salaries of Turner, Crabbe, Leonard, and Harkless less palatable.

This is how we end up with a talented but flawed young player like Crabbe getting moved for a salary dump.

No doubt Olshey’s expectation when he matched — which was the right thing to do, by the way — was to use him and his picks in a future deal to return a third or fourth piece to the starting lineup for Portland. But the tone has swung, and now many are suggesting it was commendable that Olshey did not have to include a first round pick in order to offload Crabbe. That is really a head-scratching way to look at things, and a huge swing in expected value.

Portland is in a tough position given that none of their recommended moves from last year seem to have gone their way. Still, Olshey has been a good GM for the Blazers. He spun wheat into gold by trading for Robin Lopez, and grabbed Nurkic, a potential franchise building block center when he’s healthy for a non-championship caliber big man in Mason Plumlee. He locked down Aminu on a descending salary deal. He has done quite a bit.

Portland still has the ability to be a trade partner in deals including Carmelo Anthony, which could net them usable players or potential future assets. But what is getting harder to understand is how Portland is going to get any better outside of the roster they have now given salary considerations, team fit, and ceiling.

Drastic internal development or relenting on either Turner or the Lillard-McCollum backcourt pairing are likely the only two realistic ways the Blazers will be able to make a dent next year. Or perhaps fans in Portland can hope that Olshey will be able to work his magic yet again and turn one of their role players into a playoff spot.

The 2017-18 season has been weird enough as it is. Portland can head south of their competition or finagle their way to the postseason. At this point, neither would surprise me.

Adam Silver says NBA expansion ‘inevitable’ with Seattle to be considered (VIDEO)

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SEATTLE, Wash. — Seattle is a basketball town without a team, but for how much longer? NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t have an answer quite yet, but knows that Seattle will be on the short list when it comes time to expand.

Thanks to current NBA players, the history of the Seattle SuperSonics, and a vibrant high school and AAU culture, Seattle is one of the best metro areas for the sport in the United States. The constant, gray drizzle also helps keep folks inside the gym during the winter months.

There has been some talk about trying to get a team back to Washington as soon as possible, with a group led by Chris Hansen for a SoDo arena project that would put a building at the end of downtown, near CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field.

Concurrently, two groups have been vying for the opportunity to renovate the old KeyArena. A bidder was selected last month and they will move forward toward a memorandum of understanding with a proposal before the end of 2017.

This is a simple rundown of where we stand in 2017 of getting an NBA team back in Seattle. The arena proposals and politics surrounding them are incredibly complex, but the feeling here in Seattle is that the KeyArena consideration — which will focus on the NHL and entertainment — will win out over the SoDo proposal, likely putting away the idea of adding an NBA team for some time.

Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said in a recent interview with Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum over at The Players’ Tribune that Seattle will still be considered for NBA expansion in the future.

Silver was reluctant to put a specific timeline on potential expansion for the NBA or Seattle, but said it was inevitable.

Via The Players’ Tribune:

I think it’s just a question of when the right time is to seriously start thinking about expansion. Think about the state we’re in the league right now where [it is] amazing to me that, coming off of these Finals, you have some fans saying, “There’s only one good team in the league”

And I’m thinking, well, if people really believe that even though we have 450 of the best players in the world, and 450 players can only form one really good team, probably doesn’t make sense to expand in terms of dilution of talent.

Now I don’t really believe that, and I think these things correct themselves. And I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises, that’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.

There does seem to be a sense of disappointment in the city of Seattle for the current proposals. Even if the NBA comes to expansion in the next five years, it would still need to have a landing spot that would be available to host in the fashion NBA teams expect to give to their fans.

The SoDo proposal is a privately funded arena project that wedges yet another arena in downtown, which is causing a conflict with the Port of Seattle. However, Key Arena is situated in one of the most densely populated and trafficked areas in Seattle. Adding 41 games of an NBA team would be an unmitigated disaster given the congestion problems, public transportation usage, and the city’s lack of a consequential light rail system.

Most believe that renovating Key Arena would not make it nice enough to attract an NBA team in the future, so if the NBA wants to come to Seattle they will need someone like Hansen to go after a separate project in the future.

As Silver said, the NBA isn’t ready to think about expansion at this time. Unfortunately, neither is the city of Seattle.

Stephen Curry, Warriors finalize $201 million, 5-year deal

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry has finalized his new contract, signing his $201 million, five-year deal after he reached agreement when the free agency period began July 1.

His contract initially was the richest ever, until James Harden topped it with a $228 million extension from the Houston Rockets.

NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant also signed his new contract worth approximately $53 million over the next two years.

On Tuesday, NBA champion Golden State announced its other signings of returning free agents.

Starting center Zaza Pachulia has a $3.5 million, one-year contract. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, received a three-year contract with $48 million guaranteed; fellow key reserve Shaun Livingston is getting $24 million and three years, and David West earned a one-year deal for the veteran minimum $2.3 million.

More AP NBA: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Arron Afflalo signs one year deal with Orlando Magic

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Take one more NBA veteran off the free agent board.

According to report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Arron Afflalo has signed a one-year deal with the Orlando Magic. Afflalo’s deal with the Magic is $2.1 million according to Wojnarowski, which is the veteran’s minimum for a player with his experience.

Afflalo, 31, previously played for the Magic from 2012 to 2014 before being traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Via Twitter:

Afflalo played for the Sacramento Kings last season averaging 8.4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.