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Three questions the San Antonio Spurs must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 61-21, advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where Kawhi Leonard rolled an ankle (thank you Zaza Pachulia) and they got swept by the Warriors.

I know what you did last summer: They kept the status quo going. The Spurs re-signed Patty Mills (probably overpaying, but they had to with Tony Parker injured to start the season). Pau Gasol opted out and re-signed, again for maybe more than the market would have given him. The Spurs brought back Manu Ginobili. They signed Rudy Gay, who is coming off an Achilles injury. The losses were solid bench players Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons.

THREE QUESTIONS THE SPURS MUST ANSWER

1) Is Kawhi Leonard healthy, and can he stay that way? We saw in the playoffs last season what happens to this team when Leonard goes down, and it’s not pretty. Leonard is a top five NBA player who is both the focal point of the Spurs offense and the best perimeter defender in the NBA (that’s not just my opinion, the NBA GMs voted him that). The Spurs ask a lot of Leonard and he answered last season with an MVP-level performance.

That’s why it raised a few eyebrows that Leonard is sitting out the preseason to rest his right quadriceps tendinopathy (an inflammation of the tendon just above the kneecap in the thigh), especially after Gregg Popovich said it was something he battled last season. Is Leonard going to miss time at the start of this season because of it? Will it require him getting more rest days during the season?

We know what the Spurs are going to do — defend well, move the ball, not beat themselves. San Antonio is going to have a hard time getting near that 61 win total of a year ago in a loaded West, but without the full Kawhi Leonard treatment they could slide a little further down the board. Nobody is betting on the Spurs to collapse, but did the Rockets and Thunder pass them by?

2) Is playing big the antidote to a league going small? It seems like the entire NBA is going smaller, trying to emulate the Warriors and their death lineup. Cleveland will be starting Kevin Love at the five this season. Houston will play fast and small.

“Golden State is an anomaly, with the group of players they have,” Popovich said last preseason. “And they’re a monster. Definitely the toughest team in the league to guard. But the rest of us poor fools, 29 of us, are kind of a hybrid. Everybody tries to be flexible. Not team is going to be all big or all small. Every game, teams play small for a while, they play big for a while. That’s the way it is. That’s the truth.”

The Spurs zigged when the league zagged — they are a big team that starts Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge up front and have real size in their defenders such as Leonard or Danny Green. This is not an accident. The Spurs have some versatility, but they want a lineup that can give small lineups trouble and push them around a little. It worked last regular season, and we didn’t get a real chance to see how it would have worked against the Warriors in the playoffs. But as those big men age and get a little slower, will going big still work as well.

3) Can the Spurs bench again be the NBA’s best? Or, to put that another way, what guy we don’t recall them drafting is going to come out of nowhere and impress us this season?

Once again last season the Spurs bench was the best in the NBA, outscoring teams by 8.9 points per 100 possessions over the course of the season. That is a key reason they win 55+ games every season — their bench comes in and executes at a high level, extending leads.

This season that bench will be a little thinner without Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons, two guys who brought real athleticism off the bench. Still they have the legend that is Manu Ginoboili, Rudy Gay (who is playing in the preseason but may be slowed for a bit coming off an Achilles injury), plus guys like Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, and now Joffrey Lauvergne. For the Spurs to keep on winning like we expect, Popovich needs to work his magic and turn these guys into one of the league’s most formidable benches. Again.

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.

Report: Suns talk to Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro about coaching job

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Mike Budenholzer is out (and may be thinking New York). Suns’ interim coach Jay Triano and former Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale are still in the mix.

The Suns also have reached out to Jason Kidd — who was let go by the Bucks mid-season — and former Bulls and Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

This is still early in a lengthy search process, there is a long way to go before anyone gets offered this job.

Kidd now lives in Phoenix. He’s considered a smart coach but one who falls in and out of love with players fast, pushes hard for the players he wants (and against those he doesn’t), and didn’t utilize the talent on the Bucks to its best advantage. The Suns have to ask if he is the right guy for a rebuild. He can coach, he’s going to get another chance, but do the Suns want to give it to him?

Mentioning Del Negro will lead to howls from the Suns’ fanbase, but to be fair he gets a bit of a bad rap as a coach. Del Negro won 53.3 percent of his games as a coach, and no team he coached ever finished below .500. He’s had some success developing players, starting with Derrick Rose. All that said, there are reasons Suns’ fans are right to howl: simplistic offenses, a heavy reliance on pick-and-roll sets, and remember he broke the confidence of DeAndre Jordan (Doc Rivers had to build it back up).

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season and are looking to replace him. The new coach will have a very good young scorer in Devin Booker on the roster and after that a lot of young question marks. This is a development job where the Suns need to hire a guy who can put in a system, then bring in more talent and stay out of the new coach’s way. We’ll see if the Suns can do that.

Hours after game-winning tip, restaurant told Giannis Antetokounmpo he had to wait

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was the toast of Milwaukee Sunday night: With the game on the line after a Boston comeback, he tipped in a missed Malcolm Brogdon lay-up that proved to be the game winner. (Jayson Tatum was in good position for Boston, he tried to move Antetokounmpo out of his rebounding spot, it just didn’t matter.)

Well, you would have thought Antetokounmpo was the toast of the town, but when he went to BelAir Cantina (a chainlet of Mexican restaurants in the area) he was told he had to wait. And wait. To the point he eventually left.

As you might imagine, the 6’11” Antetokounmpo walking into a restaurant a couple hours after tying up the series with the Celtics drew fast attention on social media. So did the fact he couldn’t get service.

First, good on Antetokounmpo for not pulling the “do you know who I am?” line. He was reportedly unassuming and just left after a while. No hard feelings, his girlfriend later tweeted this out.

As for BelAir Cantina, I kinda get it — I worked my way through college as a waiter and bartender. The restaurant got slammed, everyone working there was in the weeds, and things fall through the cracks. It happens.

But when the 6’11” toast of the town walks in, he cannot slip through the cracks. Cannot. Rather than social media posts about him not getting served and walking out, there would have been pictures all over of him eating the lamb barbacoa or whatever. It’s good for business. If you give the man a little special treatment after the game, nobody is going to complain (except the people who were going to complain about everything anyway… in that sense working in a restaurant was good preparation for me to use Twitter someday).

 

 

Kevin Durant apparently likes Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook (photo)

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Last summer Kevin Durant tweeted and deleted that the Thunder’s surrounding cast around him and Russell Westbrook was lacking when he played for Oklahoma City. Those tweets – another criticized Thunder coach Billy Donovan – appeared to be intended to come from a burner account, but Durant said he actually meant to send them from his own account.

Now, he apparently liked an Instagram comment with the opposite message about Westbrook. (I say apparently, because I can’t verify the authenticity of these screenshots, but they at least pass the initial smell test.)

“Like” is Instagram’s word. Maybe Durant uses the function for a different purpose – to note a comment, rather than endorse it.

Perhaps, Durant misread the conversation. The comment he liked rejected the notion that the Thunder were “subpar,” but it criticized Westbrook for them not living up to their ability. Perhaps, Durant focused on the comment sticking up for Oklahoma City overall and missed the part about Westbrook being the shortcoming. Skimming that conversation, it’s a plausible mistake.

Maybe Durant just actually hit the like button. It’s easy enough to do.

Or maybe Durant and Westbrook haven’t really gotten less hostile toward each other. Maybe Durant meant to like this from a burner account.

Those nefarious possibilities are the scintillating ones.

After getting crushed for those tweets last summer and repeatedly downplaying his feud with Westbrook, the Warriors star clearly wanted to move on from these storylines. But all those questions have suddenly reemerged. Perhaps for legitimate reasons, perhaps for benign ones. But we won’t know more about Durant’s intent until he answers to this.