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Report: Spurs ‘giving off signals’ they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard yet

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Last summer, LaMarcus Aldridge told Gregg Popovich he wasn’t happy and wanted to be traded out of San Antonio. The result was a “come to Jesus” meeting between the two.

“I was very candid with him. I told him, ‘you get me a talent like Kevin Durant and I’ll drive you to the airport. I’ll pack your bags, I’ll drive you there, I’ll get you on the plane and I’ll get you seated,’” Popovich said with a smile. “And he laughed at that. But short of that, I’m your best buddy, because you’re here for another year and you’re not going nowhere. Because we’re not going to get, for you, talent-wise what we would want. So let’s figure this thing out.”

They did figure it out. Popovich and Aldridge talked fit and offensive style, with the coach coming to the realization he needed to adapt, too. The result is Aldridge having an All-NBA level season.

But you think because Kawhi Leonard — a more talented player entering his prime — is not on the sidelines for the playoffs Popovich and R.C. Buford are going to trade him?

Things are not good right now between Leonard and the Spurs, there is no communication going on and there is a standoff. Leonard is with his people working out in New York, the Spurs are trying to win a game against the Warriors in the playoffs. However, trading Leonard is another level. The Spurs aren’t there yet, as Marc Stein of the New York Times reported in his weekly newsletter.

One well-placed insider who has closely monitored this situation told me recently that the Spurs continue to give off signals behind the scenes that they won’t trade Leonard.

Will the Spurs get there?

Yes, Popovich sat down with Aldridge last summer and hashed things out, but this case feels different, as Tim Bontemps points out at the Washington Post.

The most important difference, though, is that Popovich met with Aldridge and was able to hash out everything last summer, laying the foundation for a bounceback all-star season. There is a reason that Popovich repeatedly refers to Leonard as “Leonard and his group,” a reference to a group now led by agent Mitch Frankel and Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.

It is unclear if Leonard and Popovich can even have that same kind of meeting, or if things between Leonard’s camp and the Spurs have grown so fractious that it’s past that point. Even if Leonard and Popovich can have such a meeting, could it create the same result?

Without that happening, it seems impossible to think this ends any other way than with Leonard being traded this summer. Just like Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins before him, the supermax has become a zero-sum game for teams. If they are willing to offer it to a player, they do, and the player signs it (see: James Harden and John Wall). If they are not, they don’t, and the player gets traded (see: Butler and Cousins).

That is the ultimate test in this case, the designated player max extension — which would ultimately lock Leonard in for six years at around a total of $219 million.

Come July 1 (or soon after), do the Spurs feel confident enough in their relationship with Leonard and the health of his quadriceps tendon to put the offer on the table? If so, he will sign it.

If not, then a trade becomes a legitimate discussion. And there are 29 teams that would be interested — the Spurs would get a quality package of players/picks in return.

But the Spurs are not there yet.

Did Gregg Popovich take dig at Kawhi Leonard with LaMarcus Aldridge praise?

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Kawhi Leonard, reportedly cleared medically by the Spurs, is away from the team while rehabbing and will reportedly miss the rest of the season.

LaMarcus Aldridge, on the other hand, had 34 points and 12 rebounds in San Antonio’s Game 2 loss to the Warriors last night – his 22nd 20-10 game of the season.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:

LaMarcus has been a monster all year long. He’s led our team on both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darn thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.

It’s impossible to read that quote without thinking about Leonard. That’s not necessarily fair to Popovich or Leonard, but that’s how it comes across.

Given the way the Spurs have talked about Leonard, I’m unconvinced they deserve the benefit of the doubt, anyway.

Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson lead Warriors to a 2-0 series lead on Spurs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry watched another lopsided win from the bench in sheer delight, wearing a sport coat and big smile.

The steady hands of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson certainly have made the two-time MVP’s absence far less daunting for the defending champions so far in these playoffs.

Durant sparked a decisive third-quarter run on the way to 32 points, Thompson added 31 points and five assists in another superb playoff performance and the Golden State Warriors rallied in the second half to beat the San Antonio Spurs 116-101 on Monday night for a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.

As Curry remains out likely for the entire series nursing a sprained left knee, the Warriors used all the offensive power they had to take both home games in the best-of-seven series.

“No one can make up Steph’s contributions individually,” Thompson said. “That’s got to be done as a team and even then it’s hard with the way he can shoot the ball.”

Thompson has found his touch after missing two weeks in March with a broken right thumb.

He followed up his brilliant 11-for-13 shooting day in a 113-92 Game 1 rout Saturday by hitting 12 of 20 shots. Durant also had six rebounds and six assists for the Warriors, who went without key backup big man David West down the stretch after he sprained his left ankle early in the fourth.

Coach Steve Kerr stuck with JaVale McGee as his starting center and the 7-footer contributed 10 points and seven rebounds as the well-rounded defending champions again showed off their remarkable depth.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 34 for the Spurs despite facing double-teams and Rudy Gay moved into the starting lineup and scored 12 points.

Game 3 is Thursday as the series shifts to San Antonio.

Thompson managed just three shots in the first quarter and began 1 for 5. He pounded the basketball down with two hands, frustrated, midway through the second quarter. Then he found his groove.

“He hit some tough shots off one leg and you know had some opportunity bounces,” Aldridge said. “That’s why they are who they are. They made tough shots. KD made tough shots.”

A baseline 3 with 55.9 seconds left before halftime was his first of the night and got Golden State within 49-45 before the Spurs took a 53-47 lead at intermission.

Draymond Green began 0 for 5 before his first basket on the opening possession of the fourth quarter and Durant missed his five 3-point tries in the first half then finally hit from deep early in the third.

The Warriors opened the third on a 19-5 run to take charge but this time the Spurs didn’t go away.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went with Gay in the starting lineup for Kyle Anderson in an effort to generate more scoring – and his team still struggled to make shots.

Popovich said before the game that Golden State in Game 1 played “the most stifling defense we faced all year long. That was the best defensive 48 minutes that we have competed against all year long.”

Kerr knew Popovich would have his team better prepared.

And the Spurs showed higher intensity on both ends through the first half, working to keep the ball out of Durant’s hands or contest shots while jumping in passing lanes to force mistakes.

Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, started a second straight game and had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Warriors beat the Spurs for the 10th time in 11 games covering the regular season and playoffs.

San Antonio struggled from the floor for the second straight game, finishing 35 for 85 (41.2 percent). In Game 1, the Spurs shot 40 just percent while going 9 for 22 from deep and got outrebounded 51-30.

 

Switch flipped: Warriors rout Spurs in Game 1

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Who is vulnerable, exactly?

Tell me again how the Warriors would struggle to flip the switch in the playoffs.

From the opening tip Saturday Golden State played with energy on defense, moved the ball on offense, and exploited their considerable athleticism advantage over San Antonio. The Warriors shed the disinterested, coasting skin they had worn for weeks and came out playing with the passion — and playing with the flair, having fun — we have come to expect from them.

The end result was a 113-92 Warriors win that was never really in doubt by the middle of the first quarter.

“At the end of the season, I think we were thinking too far down the line and worrying about the playoffs when we should have been worrying about today,” Kevin Durant said in his postgame interview about the Warriors flipping the switch. “Today we worried about the present, came out with a good game plan and executed it.”

The Warriors need to guard against the return of complacency game-to-game — especially if they have a couple of easy wins in a series in a row — but for one day that question was put to rest.

The Warriors now lead the series 1-0, and while Gregg Popovich will make adjustments, it’s hard to imagine what he could do with the players at his disposal that would change the outcome of this series with the way the Warriors have dialed in. The Warriors are just vastly more athletic and it allows them to create matchups and opportunities that work for them.

Nothing highlighted that athleticism gap early like the play of JaVale McGee. The Warriors started McGee at center and guarding LaMarcus Aldridge and he was a force — at one point in the first quarter it was McGee 9, Spurs 8 (the Warriors had 15). In the first half, MeGee had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting plus a couple of blocked shots inside.

Klay Thompson finished with 27 points and hit 5-of-6 from three, Durant had 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, Draymond Green finished with 12 points and 11 assists, and McGee ended the game with 15 points.

Most importantly, the Warriors were engaged defensively from the start, holding the Spurs to 40 percent shooting for the game (although the Spurs did go 9-of-22 from three).

From the opening tip, Golden State was executing smart plays. The Warriors used the Spurs switching defense against them, forcing a smaller guy — Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills — on Kevin Durant, and while the Spurs smalls pressured KD just shot over the top of them on his way to 16 first-half points on 10 shots.

Spurs came out more physical and aggressive in the second half, but it didn’t matter. As the game wore on, the Warriors looked more and more comfortable. They looked more and more like their vintage self.

San Antonio’s offense all season used at its core LaMarcus Aldridge working out of the post, where he can score two on a fadeaway over anyone. But he doesn’t have a lot of shooting around him to space the floor, so he might hit a cutter on the pass, but the Spurs come away with two. Then the Warriors drain a three. The math just doesn’t work for the Spurs, and they have no answer for Durant.

If the Warriors stay engaged and defending at this level, the math is going to end this series quickly for the Spurs.

Golden State looks vulnerable. Can Spurs do anything about it?

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Steve Kerr has been frustrated in recent weeks with his team’s effort. Very frustrated. Walk into the shower, throw a bunch of bats on the floor and call them “lollygaggers” frustrated.

Golden State coasted the last month of the season, much of it without Stephen Curry, and went 7-10 in their final stretch of games. However, the Warriors problems go deeper than a lack of focus and being without Curry — Shaun Livingston has been banged up and not right, Andre Iguodala’s efficiency has dropped this season, and Draymond Green is still shooting just a tick above 30 percent from three. To name just a few things.

The Warriors look vulnerable.

But can the Spurs do anything about it?

Probably not. San Antonio (without Kawhi Leonard, it would be a surprise if he came back now) doesn’t have the athletes. We saw it last year when these teams met in the playoffs and Leonard went down after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper, at that point the Warriors ran away with the series. The Spurs are not going to beat themselves, they will defend well and make smart plays, the Warriors are going to have to earn it — but Golden State should take the series fairly quickly.

Should. That’s the key, as Kerr said Friday (via Mark Medina of the Mercury News).

“They’re going to bring out the best in us or they’re going to completely expose us,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “One way or another, that’s probably a good thing for us.”

It’s probably going to be the former — expect the Warriors to flip the switch.

Here are the things you’ll see Saturday at 3 ET (on ABC) if the sleeping Warriors have awakened.

• Defensive energy and focus. This is what the Warriors have lacked mostly over the past six weeks — since March 1 the Warriors have allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the NBA. Not terrible by some standards, but last season the Warriors allowed just 101 points per 100, best in the NBA. In February of this season, when the Warriors focused for a while, they allowed just 102.3.

The defensive change needs to start from the team’s leaders — Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Durant played fantastic defense in the Finals last season, and remember on Christmas Day he did it again against the Cavaliers (leading to some around the team to try and promote him for the All-Defensive team). Then he seemed to check out on that end. He needs to bring his focus back, create some turnovers with his length, and protect the rim a little.

Green has been good but not dominant this season defensively, but that brings us to our next point…

• Draymond Green needs to take charge of this series. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One ties into our first bullet point above — he is the emotional leader of the Warriors. If they are going to snap out of their malaise, it starts with him. If he brings the defensive effort, others will follow.

More than that, Green has vital roles in this series.

Defensively, he will be matched on LaMarcus Aldridge for key stretches — and with Leonard out the San Antonio offense runs through Aldridge (and occasionally Pau Gasol). While Aldridge can shoot fadeaways or little hooks over the top of Green, historically he has struggled to do that efficiently against Green’s physical defense. It also just isn’t going to be one-on-one because the Spurs don’t have enough shooting to space the floor out and scare the Warriors if Aldridge passes out. If Green (and Zaza Pachulia, and David West) can make Aldridge work for his buckets, it becomes difficult for the Spurs to score enough.

On offense, the Warriors need playmaking Green to return and take on a bigger role. He needs to grab rebounds and push the tempo in transition, in the half court they need him to roll down the lane with the ball then kick-out to the open shooters. He’s more than capable of this, we’ve just seen less of it this season.

• Kevin Durant needs to lead — and that’s as much defense as offense. Last season during the Finals Durant was a defensive force, that won him Finals MVP as much as his offense. That continued through the first part of this season up through the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers — he was playing so well some around Golden State tried to push him for Defensive Player of the Year (or at least a spot on the All-Defensive team). However, after that Durant seemed to coast a little on defense. He wasn’t the same. The Warriors need the earlier Durant back.

On offense, he’s going to get all the touches and shots he wants, Durant just needs to be efficient and a playmaker.

• Other scorers step up besides Durant. KD is going to get his, and Klay Thompson will knock down threes and put up numbers as well, but when the Warriors are clicking the ball moves, guys are cutting, and the role players get clean looks and join in the scoring.

Will a fresh and rested Andre Iguodala get some buckets on hard cuts to the rim? Will David West knock down some midrange jumpers? Can Quinn Cook continue to impress? Will the center by committee group of Pachulia/JaVale McGee/Kevon Looney/Jordan Bell pitch in buckets?

The Warriors will need them because the Spurs can still defend and will make life challenging for Golden State’s big three.