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Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Devin Harris’ brother dies in car crash

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Just awful news for Devin Harris.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News

The brother of Mavericks’ guard Devin Harris died Thursday afternoon after an early-morning crash on Central Expressway, officials said.

According to police, at about 1:40 a.m. Thursday morning Bruce Harris, 38, and a 36-year-old male passenger were in their disabled vehicle in the north bound lane of Central Expressway just south of Walnut Hill. A 23-year-old male driver of an Acura sedan and a 23-year-old male passenger were traveling north bound on Central Expressway and struck the back of the disabled vehicle. The impact caused the gas tank of the disabled vehicle to rupture and catch fire. All occupants were transported to Presbyterian Hospital.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban details his two lottery-reform ideas

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NBA lottery reform passed 28-1-1 with the Thunder opposing and Mavericks abstaining.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasn’t against changing the system. He just had his own ideas of how to do it.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Cuban pitched other members of the league’s board of governors on a system in which the draft is abolished, with teams getting a pool of money to sign rookies based on their records.

“The team with the worst record gets the most money and the team with the best record gets the least money,” Cuban said. “It’s like a free agency. It makes it a lot harder to tank because you don’t know if you get the best players if you’re horrible all the time. “Nobody liked that at all, not a single person.”

Cuban’s other idea was to lock the team with the worst record into a draft slot — either third or fourth — to force teams to compete to avoid being at the bottom. That idea never got discussed in the board of directors meeting.

“Now all of the sudden, if it’s close at the end, you’re going to see teams play as hard as they can because if they end up with the worst record, they don’t get the best pick,” Cuban said, explaining the logic of his idea.”You basically eliminate them from getting the best player. Everybody else would just be the way it is now.

“Adam didn’t like that. That never got to the board of directors, but that one was my favorite. I brought up [the other proposal], but after that one got shot down, I didn’t bring up the other one. When I got no response on the one, I just dropped the other because it was obvious that what they had proposed was going to pass.”

Strange tactic to introduce the most radical plan first and then not propose a more moderate solution because the first idea gained no traction. It’s almost as if Cuban just wants to be a contrarian

Neither of Cuban’s plans would completely solve the issue, because both still incentivize losing.

In the first, worse teams would still get more money to spend on rookies. There’s also stronger incentive to tank when an established successful franchise is positioned to do so for a single year. Rookies won’t be scared off by an injury-plagued season that devolved into a horrific record. Armed with money to spend and banked credibility, those teams can swoop far down then vault right up.

It’s also important to remember the NBA isn’t simply 30 teams competing against each other. It’s also a single business competing against other forms of entertainment. It’s bad financially for the league to have markets that feel hopeless, even if they’re poorly managed. Giving bad teams a little extra money to spend on rookies might not be enough for them to land young players who instill hope.

In the second idea, teams would still jockey to be second-worst vs. third-worst, third-worst vs. fourth-worst, etc. – just as they do now. Bad teams would have to be more careful, but there’d still be plenty of late-season games where a team is clearly better off losing – the same games that create a perception problem now.

Are either of these plans better than the current system? Maybe. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey believes there’s still time to implement reform better than the just-passed measure.

I’m convinced the league will let several years play out under the new system before even considering an alternative – Cuban’s or otherwise.

GM Bob Myers: Steve Kerr can coach Warriors ‘as long as he wants’

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Rick Carlisle coached 13 seasons, including seven in Dallas, when the Mavericks stated he could coach them as long as he wanted.

Steve Kerr needed just three seasons with the Warriors.

Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Kerr has done an amazing job in Golden State, implementing a pace-setting offense predicated on movement and fine-tuning a quality defense.

It helps to have great players like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and eventually Kevin Durant. But Kerr has maximized them. He has also played a prominent role in establishing a productive culture throughout the entire organization.

Of course, health is the big catch. Kerr has missed significant time the last two years due to complications from back surgery. He’s looking forward to a long career, but those headaches and pains aren’t far in the rearview mirror.

Kerr clearly knows how to win with this super team, not necessarily as easy of a task as it appears. He has more than earned the right to stay on the bench for the Warriors’ next iteration, whenever that comes.

Hotshot coaches can fade quickly, but Kerr has established an unprecedented amount of goodwill so quickly. Hopefully, he stays healthy enough to take up Myers on his pledge.

Report: NBA not headed toward 1-16 playoff seeding

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league would continue look at 1-16 playoff seeding.

Ken Berger of Bleacher Report:

Silver is well-intentioned on this issue, and open-minded, too—as he is on most agenda items that could, in theory, make the league better. But despite his willingness to discuss postseason reformatting, multiple people familiar with league discussions say it’s not anywhere near the top of the agenda.

After its analysis of the issue in ’15, the league concluded that, for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t sensible to change the playoff format. The two key factors, according to league sources, were 1) travel; and 2) a belief among league officials that conference imbalance was a temporary trend that would correct itself, as it typically has in the past.

For playoff qualification to truly be fair, teams would have to play a balanced schedule. As is, teams play teams in their own conference 52 times and teams from the other conference 30 times.

More 10 p.m. starts on the East Coast and 4 p.m. starts on the West Coast would hurt TV ratings.

Plus, as relative conference strength exists now and has existed for several years, 1-16 playoff seeding would make it harder for bigger Eastern Conference markets and easier for smaller Western Conference markets to qualify for the postseason.

Quality of competition matters, and there would be value in the NBA building a playoff field of its 16 best teams. But follow the money. There isn’t nearly enough urgency with this issue to overcome the direct financial setbacks reform would cause.