Let’s give a golf clap to Flip Saunders for handling Love trade well

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Flip Saunders couldn’t win.

You simply cannot trade a superstar, an elite talent and get equal value back.

Kevin Love is an elite talent (if you don’t see that it speaks to your hoops IQ) and he was forcing a trade — Love wasn’t coming back and everyone around the league knew it. That wasn’t Saunders’ fault — it was all the previous GM David Kahn who screwed up picks to put players around Love (drafting Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry and Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins) then insulting Love by not giving him a five-year max rookie contract extension — but Saunders could not repair the relationship. It was too far gone.

By the time of the playoffs and Finals this summer Love’s agent was working hard to get his client out of Minnesota and to a destination of his choosing, using he hammer of where he would and would not re-sign after this current deal is up. That started the build up.

By the time of the draft in June there a buzz and the feeling of pressure — the naive on twitter and some talking heads said, “Saunders needs to trade Love right now, the market is never going to get better.” But teams were low-balling Minnesota, thinking there really was pressure and they wanted to get the deal done sooner rather than later.

So Saunders walked away. He was patient. He knew the low-ball offers would always be there, he could wait for better.

In any negotiation, the guy with the power is the guy more willing to walk away from the table. Saunders was that guy. He took a page out of Masai Ujiri’s book when he had the same situation with Carmelo Anthony in Denver — be patient, let a trade market really develop, wait for someone to give you something you really want.

Better offers did come in, slowly. Chicago came in with Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and future picks, but that was not enough. The Celtics had a nice package of potential picks and young players, but Minnesota wasn’t ready to go that route.

Then the Warriors came in with a tempting offer but Saunders held out for their most prized rookie contract — Klay Thompson. Golden State wouldn’t do it. A team who has great former shooting guards in key decision making positions — consultant/owner Jerry West and coach Steve Kerr — did not want to give up on Thompson and pairing him with Curry. So Saunders waited.

Eventually, Cleveland threw Andrew Wiggins in a package. Most likely because LeBron James told them to — part of the reason he returned to Cleveland is he and his guys have a lot more power in the organization there. Once Cleveland got LeBron back they became a win-now team and Love fits that better than the developing Wiggins. Credit LeBron for being a smart GM here.

Now the Wiggins for Love deal is set, it just can’t be executed until Aug. 23.

But that worked for Saunders. If not an outright win, it was as close to it as he would get.

Saunders got what he needed — a potential elite player back. We don’t know how good Wiggins is going to turn out to ultimately be — he is incredibly talented but has a long ways to go — but Saunders got a young player who at the very least will be part of the future core of this team. If not it’s leader and cornerstone. And he got a guy on a rookie deal that he can control for a while (Wiggins will eventually sign some kind of rookie contract extension in Minnesota and likely be there at least seven years, maybe more).

Saunders also got Anthony Bennett, a former No. 1 pick who will never live up to that billing but showed at Las Vegas Summer League this year he can become a solid rotation big in the NBA. And he got a future first round pick.

Combine that with the potential of Zach LaVine (athletic but a lot farther to go in terms of game feel than Wiggins), plus the still young Ricky Rubio and others you might have something to build on in Minnesota. Saunders will look to move players of some value for assets now — J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and others — and start to build for the future. In the deep West there is no reason for them to get vets and try to get the eight seed, rebuild the right way. It’s about player development in Minnesota.

But the key part of rebuilding is getting the cornerstone piece, and Saunders got that.

Saunders couldn’t win, but he played this all about as well as one can. He deserves a nice golf clap for that.

Gregg Popovich makes it official: No Kawhi Leonard for Game 4

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This was expected. It still sucks to hear.

Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 4 vs. the Warriors Monday night.

Leonard has sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and sat out Game 6 of that series (a San Antonio win), then returned for Game 1 against the Warriors. He re-injured his ankle twice in that game — once stepping on David Lee‘s foot, once when Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper and took away his landing space. Leonard left that game with his team up 23 points, but the Warriors rallied back to win Game 1 and have controlled the series ever since. Leonard has not returned to the series.

San Antonio will play with pride on Monday night, but it may not be enough. You can bet the Warriors were reminded all day about taking their foot off the gas after what happened with Cleveland Sunday.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.

Celtics’ Guerschon Yabusele has foot surgery, expected to be ready for training camp

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When the Boston Celtics head to training camp next fall, all eyes will be on Markelle Fultz whoever the Celtics take with the No. 1 pick. He will be the guy expected, in a few years, to lead the Celtics to the top of the mountain in the East (assuming LeBron James ever leaves that space).

But they will have another high first round pick coming in: Guerschon Yabusele, a 6’8” power forward out of France. The Celtics drafted him No. 16 a year ago, then had him go get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Yabusele is having foot surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp, reports Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

Guerschon Yabusele, a 2016 first-round pick of the Boston Celtics, underwent surgery recently to remove bone spurs from the top of both feet and will not participate in summer league, according to a league source.

Yabusele, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, spent much of his first professional season stashed in China. He came stateside in March and latched on with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate.

For a team that lacks rebounding, Yabusele could be a fit in Boston. He has the build of an old-school power forward, but he has a face-up game on offense, a quicker first step than people think, and he can shoot the three.

The Celtics also have Ante Zizic, last year’s No. 23 pick, who played last season in Turkey. The Celtics are a deep team, will they have a roster space for Yabusele or Zizic next season? Or will at least one of them play another year overseas, stashed away and waiting for their chance? There are a lot of questions about the Celtics’ plans this summer, that is just one of them.

Could Game 4 Monday be Manu Ginobili’s last in the NBA? He hasn’t decided.

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If the San Antonio Spurs fall to the Golden State Warriors Monday night, their season comes to an end. A frustrating one because of the “what might have been?” questions if Kawhi Leonard had not rolled his ankle.

It also could be the last time we see Manu Ginobili play.

The Argentinian with the clever passing and high IQ game will turn 40 before next season starts and has hinted at this being his last year. He’s also not thinking about that right now and told the San Antonio Express-News he has yet to make a decision on his future.

“I’m going to go game by game,” Ginobili said. “We’ll see if (Monday) is the last one of the season. We hope that it’s not, and that we have a few more. Once it’s over, then I’ll start wondering what the future brings.”

Of course he said that, what else would he have said?

The question for athletes at his point in their careers becomes this: Do I want to still put in the extra work it takes to get my body ready to play at this level? Listen to the greats that left the game recently — Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett — and that’s the common theme. They were ready to move on, they didn’t want to be working out at 7 a.m. all summer long and avoiding trips to In-n-Out (or Whataburger for Duncan) because they had to prepare for another long grind of a season.

Does Ginobili want to put in the work? It didn’t sound like it over the course of the season, but who knows. He made $14 million this season, that’s a lot of motivation to come back.

If he does leave, he will be missed. There hasn’t been anyone quite like him in the game.