2014 NBA Finals - Practice Day And Media Availability

Off day wrap up from San Antonio: Tim Duncan wants to be a point guard

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SAN ANTONIO — Emptying out my notebook like people are emptying out kegs at River Walk bars….

• Tim Duncan has joked before he wants to be a point guard, and he was asked again by a reporter on Saturday if Gregg Popovich should let him.

“I’ve been arguing that point for years now and I’m going to get your name and card, and I’ll get you in a room with him,” Duncan joked.

Popovich played along.

“You see him bring it up once in a while.  He brings it up with three more dribbles than he needs to, he should throw it ahead to anybody in the same color uniform.  But he’ll get three more dribbles in, just to practice in case I do it, which I’m really going to do.”

Tony Parker does not exactly worry about his job security, and probably doesn’t have to after Duncan’s five turnovers in Game 1.

“Are we still talking about that?  I can’t believe they brought it up in the NBA Finals (laughter),” Parker joked. “It’s been a joke that Timmy thinks he’s a great quarterback, that he can be a good passer.  I disagree with that.  I want to keep my spot.”

• Popovich was asked about the three-point shot and how it has changed the game, and as you can expect with Pop he was honest and blunt:

“I hate it. To me it’s not basketball but you gotta use it. If you don’t use it, you’re in big trouble. But you sort of feel like it’s cheating. You know, like two points, that’s what you get when you make a basket. Now you get three, so you gotta deal with it. I don’t think I don’t think there’s anybody who is not dealing with it.”

• There’s been a lot of talk online and on sports talk radio about LeBron James’ comment to ESPN Friday that he’s the easiest target in sports. You can debate amongst yourselves whether that is true or not, but Shane Battier had interesting thoughts about what’s different about LeBron James’ celebrity.

“He is the first (basketball) mega-star of the twitter generation. So the world was introduced to LeBron when he was in high school as a 14-year-old, there isn’t a fact or a wrinkle or a blemish about him that the general populace doesn’t know about already. Everybody feels they know him and so everyone feels they can critique him because they’ve known him for so long. That’s not something Jordan ever had to go through, or Bird or Magic. I blame it on the information age, and it’s a sign of the times….

“LeBron is complicit in it. You accept everything that goes along with being King James, then you are complicit. Blood is on his hands, too. But he understands that and he deals with it.”

• If you’re still trying to make a conspiracy theory out of the air conditioning situation in Game 1 — and if so you need to take the tin foil hat off and seek help — I will throw you tis bone.

• We’ve written at PBT a couple of times about Boris Diaw has been a game-changer for the Spurs in this series. Here is what Chris Bosh said about the problems Diaw presents:

“He’s a crafty player, man, he’s difficult. You never know what he’s going to do. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot it, you don’t know if he is going to drive it, pass it, shoot it again, you don’t know what he’s going to do. I think his ability to do everything in that point forward position makes it difficult. He’s another one of those guys, we’re really going to have to lock in on him, and really do a number on him individually to slow him down. Because when he’s driving and kicking to guys and getting you confused, then you don’t rotate, now he’s hitting threes — he’s one of those players that confuses the hell out of you.”

• Eric Spoelstra also addressed the Boris Diaw problem.

“He’s multi dimensional, puts the ball on the floor, great vision,” the Heat coach said. “You could see with the passes that he made the other night. So we have to do what we do, but do it better, do it with a little bit more thought tendencies, and so forth.”

• Shane Battier talked about how the scouting reports he gets on players he will guard: “I get basic splits — right/left, drives, dribble jumpers vs. spot jumpers, left shoulder vs. right shoulder in the post, basic tendencies.”

So how is that different from what he got when he first entered the league?

“When I first started scouting reports consisted of ‘ya, that guy likes to go left’ and that’s it. ‘Great driver’ and it was like come on, give me a little bit more than that. Now you can tell how good a guy is driving vs. shooting, how good a guy is going left vs. going right, how often he goes left vs. right. You understand what a guy is and what he’s not.”

• Battier was asked to give something off a scouting report of a current player (not in the Finals) and chose Carmelo Anthony.

“You make Carmelo Anthony go right. When he’s on the left block make him go right. He does not want to go right. His percentages go down, his foul drawing goes down, if he goes left it is not good for the defender.”

• Spoelstra gave a shout out to Greg Oden:

“Greg Oden is one of the biggest success stories in this league, and unfortunately people are only judging him by the fact of how many minutes he plays. Two years ago people were saying he would never play the game again and he’s available every night.”

Spoelstra is right. Where most guys would have quit and lived comfortably the rest of their lives off their first contract. He worked hard to get back, to get on the Heat. Maybe he wasn’t everything Miami hoped, but that Oden is here, in the Finals, is a massive accomplishment.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.

Pelicans shut down Tyreke Evans until after All-Star break

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on November 6, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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the Pelicans have dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries so far this season to nearly every key payer on their roster. Tyreke Evans has missed the last five games with a lingering knee issue, and the team says he’s going to sit out their final four games before the All-Star break, as a precaution to make sure he’s healthy for the second half of the season.

From the Pelicans’ official site:

“We’re probably going to hold him out until after the All-Star break,” Alvin Gentry said during pregame at Quicken Loans Arena. “That gives him a situation where he has almost two weeks where he can rehab it and hopefully get it back. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break and we’ll be able to play him for the rest of the stretch (of the schedule).”

Evans initially missed the Jan. 2 game at Dallas due to the injury, then was sidelined again Jan. 18 at Memphis. Against Houston, he only played 16 minutes before being taken out of the game, suffering from the same issue.

“I think it’s just rest,” Gentry said of what it may take for Evans to get past the injury. “It’s one of those situations with tendinitis, where you rest and it feels better. That’s better than having him play two games, then sit out one (and have his status in flux). This may help him be able to play the last part of the season, without sitting out.”

Despite being 18-31, the Pelicans are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Their resting of Evans could be read two ways—it could be gearing up to make a push for the playoffs, as much of a long shot as that may be; or it could be the first in a series of instances of shutting down or resting key players to try to position themselves for a lottery pick, effectively hitting the reset button after a season as ravaged by injuries as the one they’ve had.

Bulls say Jimmy Butler has knee strain, no timetable for return

<> during the second half at TD Garden on December 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bulls 105-100.
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Exhale, Bulls fans. Jimmy Butler‘s left knee injury isn’t as serious as it looked. The injury, which Butler suffered just before halftime of Friday night’s Bulls loss in Denver, looked bad at the time, and Butler had to be carted off the court. But on Saturday, the Bulls announced that an MRI revealed no tear in the knee, just a strain, and he’ll go back to Chicago to get treatment.

An MRI performed today on Bulls forward Jimmy Butler’s left knee confirmed that he sustained a knee strain in the second quarter of last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets.  The timeline for his return to play will be determined by further evaluation in Chicago and his response to treatment.

Butler will not play tonight in Minnesota. Beyond that, it’s unclear. But the fact that it’s just a strain and not anything more serious indicates that he won’t be out long.

Report: NBA considering expanding rosters for greater D-League integration

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04:  A detail of the NBA Players Association logo with the slogan " THe Players' Union FIghting for You" is seen on Theo Ratliff of the Los Angeles Lakers as Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association, speaks at a press conference after NBA labor negotiations at The Westin Times Square on October 4, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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The NBA Development League is in a weird place right now. It’s growing as more teams are placing importance on it and adding single-affiliate franchises, but it’s still not a true minor league. Players don’t make very much money unless they’re already signed to NBA deals, and teams have to have an open roster spot or waive someone they have currently signed to call someone up. Unless you’re sure you’re going to get called up at some point, it’s smarter for fringe players to sign overseas to make more money than go to the D-League.

The NBA is trying to do something about that. According to a new report, the league is interested in potentially expanding NBA teams’ rosters as part of the next CBA to allow for greater integration between the NBA and the D-League, and allow teams to have a couple of so-called “two-way” roster spots.

From Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

The NBA likes the idea of expanding rosters from the current limit of 15 to as many as 17 as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the additional spots designated for two-way contracts that will mean more money for some players and more control of select prospects for the parent clubs.

While it will be one of several major issues on the table as the league and the players’ union eventually ramp up negotiations on the new CBA that could end as soon as the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, if either side opts out by Dec. 15, the concept of a contract that would cover the minor leagues as well as the majors is a pressing topic for the hopeful D-League. And since the NBA runs the executive side of the D-League as well as most of the basketball operations for the minor-league clubs, the D-League and the NBA usually speak as one.

The proposal would mean as many as 60 new jobs for players, if rosters do increase by two and depending how many of the 30 NBA teams utilize both spots. That, in turn, would mean a deeper talent pool for the D-League as it grows from 19 teams this season to 22 in 2016-17 and possibly more in what is projected to be the first season of the new CBA. And that would mean more prospects for the NBA to develop without paying major-league salaries.

According to the report, players signed into these two-way roster spots could make as much as $100,000 to play in the D-League (player salaries currently max out around $25,000), which could incentivize players to stay home and play in the D-League rather than pursue overseas opportunities.

The plan is still early enough in the discussion stage that one of the most bottom-line elements — money — has not been settled. According to insiders, though, the thinking is to set the minor-league portion of the dual contract in the neighborhood of $100,000 a season, give or take $25,000.

That would only be for hopefuls with two-way contracts, not all D-League players with salaries that currently peak at $25,000 if they have no NBA deal. Salaries of players sent down with NBA contracts, usually rookies or second-year prospects, would not be altered. But even with a small number of players in the minors impacted, officials figure the chance to make a minimum of $100,000, while showcasing themselves in front of NBA scouts and executives most every game, while getting to be relatively close to home, will convince 60 players to accept a deal in the minors in North America rather than opt for more money overseas.

If the player with a two-way deal gets promoted, he will make the pro-rated minimum of NBA money. If he is sent back down, it will be with the cushion of $100,000 as the floor for the season, not the $25,000, $19,000 and even $13,000 (based on current numbers) others are making in the minors. There is also the possibility those tiers could increase with the next CBA as well.

Obviously, this isn’t going to happen until the next CBA is announced, if then. But it makes total sense, especially as the NBA gets closer to having true one-to-one affiliation. Right now, there are 19 D-League teams, each affiliated with an NBA team—10 as single-affiliates and nine under hybrid ownership models. Next year, the Bulls, Hornets and Nets are set to have their own D-League teams as well. It’s not hard to imagine that within the next few years, all 30 teams will have their own affiliates. And when that happens, there will need to be a mechanism in place for them to call players up and send them down that’s more in line with a true minor-league system like the one Major League Baseball employs. Even if that involves paying D-Leaguers more money and paying for two extra roster spots, it’s worth the trade-off in the long term if more top basketball talent stays in America rather than going overseas.