SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15:  Boris Diaw #33 and Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate against the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Boris Diaw turns around career with Spurs, but don’t call him rejuvenated

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boris Diaw was playing some of the worst basketball of his career in 2012 – when he was playing at all. Not even the Charlotte Bobcats, en route to the worst record in NBA history (7-59), deemed him worthy of minutes every game. Diaw looked out of shape and lethargic. As his production and conditioning worsened, the Bobcats finally, mercifully bought him out.

Two years later, Diaw was in the running for NBA Finals MVP with the Spurs.

Did San Antonio rejuvenate him?

“No!” Diaw snaps before breaking into a laugh.

“If I was rejuvenated,” Diaw says, “that means I got old at some point.”

Diaw certainly hasn’t looked over the hill with the Spurs, whom he signed with after his 2012 buyout. He has played in more wins (204) than anyone the last four years. His combination of points (1,270), rebounds (617) and assists (420) as a reserve in that span is unmatched.

And he has helped the Spurs to a 34-6 start and nine straight wins this season heading into their matchup with the Cavaliers tonight.

“He’s a really smart basketball player, probably one of the most intelligent players in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Draft buzz in 2003 called Diaw a 6-foot-9 point guard. Now, the Spurs list him as a 6-foot-8 center-forward. He has also played both wing positions during a 13-year that also included stops with the Hawks and Suns.

He has shown amazing athleticism. Yet, his weight – listed at 250 pounds – is a common concern.

And as he put it, “I’m at the same time very easy to coach and at the same time very hard to coach.”

Diaw was difficult to coach in Charlotte, where then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas ripped his effort and commitment. He was also difficult to coach in Atlanta, where he told isolation-favoring coach Mike Woodson he couldn’t play for him.

The common theme: Both coaches wanted Diaw to score more.

“I’m not that,” Diaw said. “I need teammates and good teammates. I need a system where the ball is moving, where it’s team basketball.”

Diaw said he has long recognized how much his team’s style affects him, but he can’t always control it. He fit with the Hawks, who drafted him No. 21 in 2003, until they fired Terry Stotts for Woodson. He clicked for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns, but then they replaced him with Terry Porter and traded him to Charlotte. There, Diaw meshed with Larry Brown before the Bobcats fired him and hired Silas.

So, Diaw knew what he wanted when he became a free agent in the spring of 2012: a team that shared the ball, was headed to the postseason and could become a long-term fit.

The Spurs just weren’t certain they wanted him.

Though Popovich declined to look back on Diaw’s Charlotte-to-San Antonio transition – “When did he play for Charlotte? Twenty years ago or something?” Popovich said. “It’s 2016” – Tony Parker remembers it well. The Spurs point guard, who grew up with Diaw in France, recalls Popovich and San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford asking about Diaw.

“Charlotte was saying stuff about him,” Parker said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been playing with him with the national team. There’s no way Boris is like that.'”

Parker’s message to Popovich and Buford: “We have to do it. He’s going to be perfect.”

In many ways, Diaw has been.

He appears to get along well with Popovich, and the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement suits him to a T. Diaw also  provides them with a versatility that creates mismatches.

Start with Diaw’s scoring ability.

Put a smaller player on him, and Diaw will post him up. Put a bigger player on him, and Diaw will take him to the perimeter. Guard him too closely there, and Diaw will drive to the basket. Too loosely, and he’ll shoot 3-pointers.

Diaw is the only player shooting 60% on both post-ups and drives (minimum 10 attempts of each). Here’s the field-goal percentages of all 90 qualifying players, Diaw represented by a black dot and everyone else gray:

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Player Team Post-ups Drives
Boris Diaw SAS 61% 63%
Kevin Durant OKC 63% 58%
Nikola Vucevic ORL 53% 61%
Blake Griffin LAC 43% 66%
Charlie Villanueva DAL 60% 49%
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 55% 52%
Andrew Nicholson ORL 50% 56%
Arron Afflalo NYK 59% 47%
Kawhi Leonard SAS 53% 52%
Chris Paul LAC 50% 55%
Shabazz Muhammad MIN 55% 50%
Kelly Olynyk BOS 57% 47%
Paul Millsap ATL 53% 49%
Jabari Parker MIL 53% 48%
Evan Turner BOS 46% 54%
Thaddeus Young BKN 50% 49%
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 47% 52%
Nikola Mirotic CHI 45% 54%
Carmelo Anthony NYK 45% 54%
Dwyane Wade MIA 45% 53%
Greg Monroe MIL 43% 55%
Shaun Livingston GSW 56% 42%
Mirza Teletovic PHX 44% 53%
Harrison Barnes GSW 52% 44%
Luol Deng MIA 44% 52%
Derrick Williams NYK 46% 50%
Marcus Morris DET 50% 45%
DeMar DeRozan TOR 43% 52%
Andrew Wiggins MIN 46% 48%
LeBron James CLE 43% 51%
Amir Johnson BOS 53% 40%
Brook Lopez BKN 48% 45%
Al Horford ATL 48% 44%
Russell Westbrook OKC 42% 49%
Danilo Gallinari DEN 53% 39%
David West SAS 51% 40%
Chris Bosh MIA 39% 51%
Lance Thomas NYK 50% 40%
Rudy Gay SAC 53% 37%
Kenneth Faried DEN 53% 37%
Zach Randolph MEM 43% 46%
DeMarcus Cousins SAC 44% 44%
Jared Sullinger BOS 42% 46%
Deron Williams DAL 39% 48%
Ryan Anderson NOP 47% 39%
Ersan Ilyasova DET 40% 46%
Mason Plumlee POR 53% 33%
James Harden HOU 38% 48%
Rodney Hood UTA 40% 46%
Josh Smith LAC 44% 42%
David Lee BOS 43% 43%
Joe Johnson BKN 40% 44%
Kyle Lowry TOR 38% 46%
Khris Middleton MIL 41% 43%
Pau Gasol CHI 40% 43%
Marvin Williams CHA 60% 23%
Jeff Green MEM 43% 40%
Jon Leuer PHX 40% 43%
Wesley Matthews DAL 35% 47%
Spencer Hawes CHA 41% 42%
Luis Scola TOR 45% 38%
Klay Thompson GSW 40% 42%
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 41% 40%
Kobe Bryant LAL 35% 45%
Jimmy Butler CHI 34% 46%
LaMarcus Aldridge SAS 47% 33%
Nerlens Noel PHI 39% 41%
Anthony Davis NOP 34% 46%
Nicolas Batum CHA 41% 36%
Derrick Favors UTA 45% 30%
Gordon Hayward UTA 31% 44%
Markieff Morris PHX 32% 42%
Gerald Henderson POR 33% 41%
Kevin Love CLE 53% 21%
Andre Drummond DET 41% 33%
Tobias Harris ORL 32% 40%
Stanley Johnson DET 36% 34%
Kristaps Porzingis NYK 39% 31%
Kevin Martin MIN 27% 42%
Terrence Jones HOU 42% 27%
Draymond Green GSW 28% 41%
Aaron Gordon ORL 25% 43%
Michael Carter-Williams MIL 21% 46%
Julius Randle LAL 30% 38%
PJ Tucker PHX 26% 40%
Marcus Smart BOS 30% 36%
Paul George IND 20% 46%
Frank Kaminsky CHA 33% 30%
Noah Vonleh POR 15% 38%
Metta World Peace LAL 8% 30%

The only other player in Diaw’s class is Kevin Durant.

Diaw’s 3-point shooting has also jumped to 38% after dipping last year. He’s shooting 37% from beyond the arc with the Spurs, more than enough to force defenses to account for him.

And scoring just scratches the surface of what Diaw brings to the table.

Whether he’s spotting up on the perimeter, driving to the hoop or posting up, Diaw is looking to pass. Thought he pre-draft evaluations were overblown, Diaw often resembles a point guard in a power forward’s body.

Diaw is a solid position defender. He helps on the glass, too.

All this adds up to a prime playoff contributor. Opponents will have a difficult time finding a weakness to exploit. Meanwhile, Diaw will create mismatches.

The Spurs – with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Parker – have the talent to compete with anyone. Diaw help them turn the style of any game to their favor.

That’s why Parker, who has played only for San Antonio and never even entered free agency, is so glad the Spurs listened to his recommendation. It’s telling that, when trying to clear cap space for Aldridge, San Antonio traded Tiago Splitter rather than Diaw.

Unlike most post-buyout free agents, Diaw wasn’t looking for just a few-month destination to finish the season in 2012. He wanted to find a long-term home, and it appears he has.

“Hopefully,” Parker said, “we can finish our careers together.”

PBT Extra free agency preview: Thin point guard class adds to Mike Conley’s leverage

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When we broke out the top five point guards on the market, we noted that there is an All-Star level player in Mike Conley and then the talent pool drops off quickly.

But there are some interesting players on the market — what teams will want Jeremy Lin and how much are they willing to pay him? Can the Mavericks keep Deron Williams? Will teams pay much for Rajon Rondo, or did they see him hunting stats last season in Sacramento and still have doubts?

I talk about all this in this latest PBT Extra.

There’s not a lot of great talent (which is why after the market settles, expect trade rumors for ones like Ricky Rubio to surface again) but there are some interesting questions and fits in this group.

 

Kevin Durant’s longtime friend: ‘Decision is 90 percent made’ to re-sign with Thunder

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Kevin Durant #35 (R) of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates with Russell Westbrook #0 during the final moments of game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Thunder defeated the Warriors 108-102. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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There’s a widespread belief Kevin Durant will re-sign with the Thunder on a 1+1 contract.

Here’s more evidence he’ll return to Oklahoma City.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

barring an incredible sales job, several friends and business colleagues close to the 2014 NBA MVP expect him to return to Oklahoma City for at least another year.

“His decision is 90 percent made. It would take an amazing sales pitch to change it,” said one of Durant’s longtime friends.

Durant leaving would be as stunning as James’ departure to Miami and subsequent return to Cleveland.

Durant leaving would be as stunning as two things that happened? That’s an oddly perfect simile .

It’s easy to project your values onto Durant. His highest-upside financial route is a one-year contract with the Thunder then re-signing in 2017. People like the idea of him staying with Russell Westbrook at least one more year and trying to build on their success together. And it’s easy to get on board with the hedge of a one-year deal protecting Durant if Westbrook leaves in 2017.

But Durant might view things differently.

He’s the one who’d take the risk of getting hurt and making less money. He’s the one who’d have to deal with the pressure of a contract year and free agency again. He’s the one who’d have to soothe the occasional tension that comes with playing with Westbrook.

Maybe Durant’s friends and business associates have a good read on what Durant wants. Or maybe they’re projecting their own ideals.

I’m not as convinced his return to Oklahoma City is such a certainty. Meetings can always change his mind, and we don’t even know the starting point of his thinking.

The Thunder should still be favored to sign Durant, but 90% seems too high to me.

Report: Hassan Whiteside focused on Heat and Mavericks in free agency

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat takes a shot against JaVale McGee #11 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at American Airlines Center on February 3, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Mavericks reportedly plan to offer Hassan Whiteside a max contract as soon as free agency officially begins.

He hopes to pick his next team soon after.

You can see where this is headed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Clearly, free agency has already begun. Teams flaunt the NBA’s tampering rules all the time. I have no problem with that other than when the league selectively enforces the rules and sometimes punishes teams.

Anyway, if the Mavericks secure a commitment from Whiteside, they could use it to pitch Mike Conley. Adding both would be a major coup for Dallas.

It’s getting harder to see Miami interrupting the first step of the plan. The Heat don’t meet with Kevin Durant — their reported top offseason priority – – until Sunday. They also have to figure out how to pay Dwyane Wade. And they’d need cap space to re-sign Whiteside and can’t offer him a fifth year (though they can offer higher raises).

If Miami asks Whiteside to hang tight while it handles other business, will he listen? Or will he just lock in with the Mavericks?

Report: Clippers invite Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan to Kevin Durant meeting

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 26:  (L-R) Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan attend The CP3 Foundation's Celebrity Server Dinner presented by Apollo Jets at Mastro's Steakhouse on October 26, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for CP3 Foundation)
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The Clippers’ primary plan reportedly involves convincing Kevin Durant to take less than a max contract to play with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

If they’re willing to move one of their big three — the only way to clear enough cap space to offer Durant a max salary — suggesting the idea to Durant will be awkward. And not just because Doc Rivers indicated the Clippers would keep their core together.

Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi of ESPN:

To demonstrate their commitment to keeping Griffin, Jordan and Paul, as Doc Rivers said publicly after the season, sources said the Clippers invited all three players to attend their meeting with Durant.

Paul’s potential absence wouldn’t do much. Griffin would almost certainly be the player traded. Paul is a bigger part of the Clippers’ appeal.

But this makes it easier for Rivers in the likely event Durant signs elsewhere. The Clippers will still have their big three, and the trio can feel united (especially important with Paul and Griffin headed toward 2017 free agency).

This also helps leave the door open for Durant signing with the Clippers if he hits free agency in 2017.