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Associated Press

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.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala has knack for big playoff performances

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Andre Iguodala knocked down another clutch 3-pointer and let out some rare emotion, triumphantly reaching his arms out wide as he ran back to the defensive end. The Golden State swingman had thrown down a spectacular alley-oop dunk only 31 seconds earlier, and he was feeling it as the clocked ticked away on a second straight lopsided playoff win.

There’s something about Iguodala in the postseason. He paces himself through the regular season to be fresh and ready – and sometimes dominant – on the big stage for the defending NBA champions.

“Everyone gets hyped when Andre gets hyped because that’s a rare occurrence,” teammate Klay Thompson said. “You might see it on the golf course.”

It’s just what the short-handed Warriors were hoping to see.

Iguodala is back in the starting lineup for Golden State’s first-round series against the Spurs, filling in for Stephen Curry as the two-time MVP recovers from a sprained left knee. That’s how versatile Iguodala is: the 6-foot-6 swingman can be inserted in place of a point guard. The Warriors will go for a 3-0 lead Thursday when the best-of-seven series shifts to San Antonio.

At 34, Iguodala knows how to take care of himself over the long grind of an NBA season, all to be prepared to do whatever is asked of him in the playoffs.

“For us to be able to throw Andre out there really 1 through 4 both offensively and defensively, it’s an incredibly valuable weapon,” coach Steve Kerr said.

That’s when he has been at his brilliant best for the Warriors – and they are getting their money’s worth from a major investment last summer.

Many feared he might leave, but Iguodala received a $48 million, three-year contract to stay put and chase another championship. Even if he could have landed a bigger role elsewhere.

“Well, we met with him and we gave him our pitch and lots of money so we were hoping he wasn’t going to leave,” Kerr said. “I didn’t anticipate him leaving because he knows this is a great situation for him and we rewarded him for everything he’s done and for what we think he can do for us. I think this year was a good example of that. A lot of people were grumbling about he’s not shooting the ball well or whatever. … It’s the incredible defense, amazing awareness, intelligence, leadership.”

Iguodala keeps it simple, whether he’s in the lineup or coming off the bench: “Just try to do whatever it takes to help the team get over the hump and get a win.”

In 2015, Kerr moved Iguodala into the starting lineup, and he became Finals MVP as the franchise captured its first championship in 40 years.

Golden State is hoping for the same this spring. Iguodala had only started seven times before Game 1 of the playoffs Saturday, when he had seven rebounds, four assists and three points.

That’s after he missed four of the final five regular season games with a sore left knee.

“He’s definitely got to pace himself, the man’s played so much hoops in the last 15 years,” Thompson said. “Andre is a gamer. He is going to step up in the biggest moments, and right now it’s the playoffs. We have all the trust in the world for him, that’s why he’s a Finals MVP.”

On Monday, Iguodala finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting with four 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block.

And he can guard anybody.

“His hands are so good. That’s the small thing that people don’t realize, he’s got great hands when he gets steals,” Kevin Durant said. “So guys are just thinking about that when they’re trying to score on him. As a scorer you’ve got to think about something other than getting to your spots or getting into your rhythm and it throws you off just a little bit. And that’s all you need to guard the best player, just for them to think just a tiny bit and Dre does that.”

Iguodala was part of the Warriors group that traveled to the Hamptons to persuade Durant to join a super team in July 2016.

“I always knew what Andre could do,” Durant said. “I played two USA teams with him, so I kind of knew his value. He’s not one of those guys that’s going to go out and say, `Here, Dre, give us 30 points.’ He’s one of those who can do just about everything good – he can shoot, he can pass, he can dribble, he can defend, he can rebound, he can do all those things really good. It’s not like he wants to do one thing more than the other.”

 

Tuesday’s best highlight: Man doesn’t spill beer after Jayson Tatum crashes into him

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In the second quarter of the Raptors blowout of the Wizards Tuesday night, play had to stop for a while (and the Toronto announcing team almost held a wake) because multiple beers were spilled courtside. It took a lot of towels and people to clean up the mess and let play resume.

Not in Boston, where one fan courtside showed impressive control and ability to hold on to his beer when Jayson Tatum crashed into him.

Well played sir. Well played.

The beer karma seemed to pay off for Boston — that and their superior play — as the Celtics are up 2-0 on the Bucks now.

 

76ers, Mavericks to play two preseason games in China

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki‘s 21st NBA season will include a trip in China.

His Dallas Mavericks will play a pair of preseason games against the Philadelphia 76ers there, 10 years after Nowitzki played for Germany in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He will become the first player in NBA history to play 21 seasons with the same franchise.

The league announced Tuesday that the Mavericks and 76ers will meet Oct. 5 in Shanghai and then Oct. 8 in Shenzhen.

The 76ers, who are back in the playoffs this season, have a large international fan base. They are led by Joel Embiid, a native of Cameroon, and Australian rookie Ben Simmons.

Dallas and Philadelphia both will be playing in China for the first time. The games will be the NBA’s 25th and 26th in China, which is passionate about basketball and will host the 2019 Basketball World Cup.

Raptors set records, exorcise demons in Game 2 rout of Wizards

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Maybe the pessimistic Toronto fan base is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe the sports talking heads that watch NBA basketball on Christmas and during the playoffs expect a meltdown.

But the Toronto Raptors have started to believe in themselves.

Toronto set records and exorcised demons in Game 2 against Washington Tuesday night. Here are just a few highlights:

• They set the franchise playoff record for most points in the first quarter (44), the first half (76), and the game (130).

• They set the franchise playoff record for most threes made in a half with 11 (on 22 shots).

DeMar DeRozan looked completely comfortable in the postseason spotlight with a career playoff high 37 points on the night.

• When John Wall led a Wizards comeback to cut what had been a 23-point deficit to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors got back to executing and defending and quickly put the game out of reach again.

• Most importantly the Toronto Raptors had never been up 2-0 in a playoff series.

They are now after a 130-119 rout of the Wizards Tuesday night in Toronto.

Game 3 is in Washington on Friday night — the Wizards better bring a real sense of urgency to that game.

Because they didn’t on Tuesday night. This game was effectively over in the first quarter.

From the opening tip it was all Toronto, racing out to a 14-4 lead, hitting threes, with OG Anunoby getting seven fast points. And the run just kept going and going and going, soon it was 34-13 Toronto. They are getting shots at the rim and if the Wizards defense collapsed they kicked it out for an open three. The Wizards had no defensive answers.

On the other end, the Wizards stuck primarily with a Wall/Marcin Gortat pick and roll, which the Raptors defended well with two players so they could stay home on shooters. Energized by their offense, the Raptors were making defensive plays, Kyle Lowry in particular. The Wizards were the opposite. The Raptors just kept getting open threes.

Meanwhile, DeRozan just got to his spots on the floor, attacked, and tore the Wizards up.

“He’s grown a lot (in reading the game),” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Two years ago, I don’t know what he would have done, but he did an excellent job of reading what the defense was doing to him and making them pay.”

Washington made it a little interesting, cutting the lead to 10 after three quarters behind John Wall’s 22 points, but the Raptors had answers to every Wizards push.

For the Wizards, there are a lot of questions to answer going home to effectively a must-win situation.

How can a team down 0-1 in a series come out flat, without any sense of urgency in Game 2? How can they find some urgency before Game 3?

How can they get Bradley Beal going? He has averaged just 14 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting through two games, and hitting just 27.3 from three.

“The Raptors are doing a job with him, they’re being physical,” Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks said of Beal.”He’s missed some open shots, he hasn’t been able to get into the lane and to the free throw line…. We need him. We’re going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better. He will.”

How can Washington get Marcin Gortat going?

However, by far the biggest issue is Washington’s defense, which has allowed an average of 122 points per game through the first two in this series. The Wizards’ lazy defensive habits from the regular season have come home to roost in this series — the Raptors are moving the ball, cutting off the ball, penetrating into the paint then kicking out to wide-open shooters and the Wizards are being caught flat-footed on all of it.

Ty Lawson, signed just before the playoffs after having been in the Chinese league this season, played his first game for the Wizards and provided a little spark (especially with Wall in foul trouble at points). He had 14 points on 10 shots with eight assists. But Lawson was never a great defender, and he literally just joined this team — he has no defensive chemistry with his teammates. He’s not a long-term answer.

Washington has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. The other team had better show up Friday or this series is all but over.