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Kawhi Leonard injury an all-time "what if?"

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Eight days ago, we didn’t know whether Kawhi Leonard – who injured his ankle when Zaza Pachulia slid under his jumper – would play again this postseason.

But as a frustrated Gregg Popovich ranted about Pachulia’s dirtiness, I suspect the Spurs coach knew. I think Popovich knew, after years of anticipating a playoff matchup with the high-octane Warriors, Leonard’s injury had robbed San Antonio of a competitive conference finals – and maybe a championship.

The Spurs led Game 1 by 23 when Leonard got hurt. He never returned, and San Antonio blew its opening-game lead then lost Games 2-4 by 36, 12 and 14. None of the final three games were competitive down the stretch.

In all, the Spurs outscored Golden State by 21 in Leonard’s 23 minutes and got outscored by 85 otherwise.

The Warriors advance to their third straight NBA Finals. San Antonio is left wondering, what if?

Popovich’s Spurs have beaten nearly every highly touted team to come along during his reign as coach – the Chris Webber/Vlade Divac/Mike Bibby/Peja Stojakovic Kings, Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Goin’ To Work Pistons, Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni Suns, LeBron James Cavaliers, Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks, Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook Thunder, LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh Heat.

But these Warriors escaped San Antonio. The Spurs beat Golden State in the 2013 second round, but that wasn’t the same team. Those Warriors hadn’t started Draymond Green, signed Andre Iguodala or hired Steve Kerr – three people integral to Golden State’s identity. And of course, the Warriors hadn’t signed Kevin Durant, who turned this year’s squad into possible the greatest super team of all time.

At the same time, San Antonio was loading up. The Spurs were the second-best regular-season team over the last three years behind Golden State, but the teams didn’t meet in the playoffs.

Despite having the NBA’s third-best net rating, San Antonio had to face the Clippers (NBA’s second-best net rating) in the 2015 first round thanks to conference imbalance and a since-changed seeding system for division winners. The Clippers won a hard-fought seven-game series.

In 2016, the Spurs had an even higher net rating than Golden State, which went 73-9. But they ran into the Thunder, whose athleticism buzz-sawed them and nearly toppled the Warriors.

This year was San Antonio’s chance.

The Spurs showed an ability to adjust to spread attacks while topping the Rockets in the second round. In its next-level challenge, San Antonio – behind Leonard’s 26 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds and three assists – dominated early.

But as soon as Leonard went down, the entire series turned.

The Spurs outscored Golden State by 42 points per 48 minutes with Leonard and got outscored by 24 points per 48 minutes without him – one of the greatest disparities in a playoff series this era.

Here are all the series where a team performed at least 60 points better per 48 minutes with a certain player on the court rather than off since 2001, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference records go (requiring more than 10 minutes played, as to eliminate extreme garbage-time examples):

  • Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player off
  • Right: Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player on
  • Center: Difference

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Raw totals:

Player On Off
Chauncey Billups (2002 MIN 0, DAL 3) 0 in 134 min. -32 in 10 min.
Draymond Green (2015 GSW 4, NOP 0) +77 in 166 min. -45 in 31 min.
Gilbert Arenas (2005 WAS 4, CHI 2) +31 in 276 min. -20 in 12 min.
Pascal Siakam (2017 TOR 0, CLE 4) +14 in 10 min. -75 in 182 min.
Kobe Bryant (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +66 in 119 min. -22 in 26 min.
Kevin Garnett (2004 MIN 4, DEN 1) +58 in 206 min. -38 in 34 min.
Luke Jackson (2007 TOR 2, BRK 4) +14 in 11 min. -46 in 277 min.
LeBron James (2007 CLE 4, WAS 0) +47 in 182 min. -12 in 11 min.
Allen Iverson (2001 PHI 1, LAL 4) -25 in 239 min. -9 in 6 min.
Kawhi Leonard (2017 SAS 0, GSW 4) +21 in 24 min. -85 in 168 min.
Shawn Marion (2003 PHO 2, SAS 4) -17 in 283 min. -15 in 10 min.
Tariq Abdul-Wahad (2003 DAL 2, SAS 4) +19 in 16 min. -49 in 272 min.
Russell Westbrook (2017 OKC 1, HOU 4) +15 in 195 min. -58 in 46 min.
Shaquille O’Neal (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +55 in 131 min. -11 in 13 min.
Chris Webber (2001 SAC 3, PHO 1) +59 in 169 min. -21 in 23 min.
Tim Duncan (2001 SAS 4, DAL 1) +89 in 202 min. -31 in 38 min.
Kirk Hinrich (2016 ATL 0, CLE 4) +11 in 12 min. -61 in 180 min.
Thomas Gardner (2009 ATL 0, CLE 4) +12 in 16 min. -84 in 177 min.

This list is essentially divided into three groups:

  • Bench-warmers who played a few good minutes while their team got torched throughout the series. Pascal Siakam, Luke Jackson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Kirk Hinrich and Thomas Gardner fit this category.
  • Stars who dominated while on the court and saw their teams torched when they sat. For example, in the massive leader in this stat, the Timberwolves played the Mavericks even in the 2002 first round with Chauncey Billups on the court. But Minnesota got outscored by 32 in the 10 minutes Billups sat the entire series and got swept. (Billups was starting for an injured Terrell Brandon, so Robert Pack got pressed into duty behind Billups.)
  • Kawhi Leonard. Every other star played a high majority of his teams’ minutes, essentially as much as he could handle. Then, his team just hoped to hang on in the star’s brief breathers. Leonard was stuck on the bench nearly the entire series, watching the the Spurs look helpless after he led them to a commanding advantage.

To be fair, San Antonio wouldn’t have necessarily won with Leonard.

Golden State was better than the Spurs throughout the season, and the lopsided start was a small sample. Simple regression to the mean could have tilted the series.

Also, the Warriors are at their best with Draymond Green at center, and they used that lineup just 11 seconds before Leonard’s injury. In 59 minutes with Green at center in the series, Golden State posted offensive/defensive/net ratings of 123.9/90.3/+33.5. If they needed to lean on those lineups more to beat a Leonard-led Spurs, they could have.

Yet, I can’t stop wondering what would have happened if Leonard stayed healthy.

The question towers over the last great playoff-injury fascination – whether the Cavaliers would have won the 2015 Finals if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were healthy.

I contend no. The Warriors were better than Cleveland overall each of the last two years, and they were a stylistic problem for the Cavs – especially Love and especially in 2015. The Cavaliers winning in 2016 adds doubt, but Stephen Curry was hobbled and Draymond Green got suspended for a game. A hungrier and more available 2015 Golden State team was more primed to win than the 2016 edition that lost to Cleveland.

Perhaps, a 2017 Finals rubber match will inform my opinion how Love’s and Irving’s injuries affected the 2015 NBA championship. For now, I’m sticking with the Warriors winning anyway.

But with Leonard’s injury in this year’s conference finals, I just don’t have a feel for whether the Spurs would have prevailed.

And that’s the most frustrating part.

Death threats may prompt Thunder’s Enes Kanter to become US citizen

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Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter said Monday he routinely received death threats for criticizing the government of his native Turkey, and he may seek an expedited process toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania over the weekend, with border police there saying they did so because Turkish authorities canceled his passport. Kanter eventually was allowed to leave for London and then New York, after he said officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others intervened on his behalf.

Kanter held a news conference in New York on Monday and said he was the target of two more death threats earlier in the day.

“This is definitely crazy right now,” he said.

Kanter has long been a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler on multiple occasions. Kanter contends, among other things, that a failed coup attempt last year was actually staged by the Erdogan-led government.

“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”

Kanter makes no secret of his support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan. Kanter said that when he was detained in Romania, he feared he would be sent back to Turkey.

Kanter said he has not spoken with his parents and other relatives in Turkey in more than a year.

“There’s no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy,” Kanter said. “Right now, even if I tried to communicate with my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, they would probably right now listen on their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me they’ll put them in a jail. And the jails are not fun, of course.”

Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport – a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.

Romanian Border Police Spokesman Fabian Badila told The Associated Press that Kanter arrived Saturday at about 1 p.m. from Frankfurt at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Airport, traveling on a Turkish passport.

“My colleagues discovered … that the passport had been canceled by Turkish authorities, and legally he is not allowed to enter Romania,” Badila said.

Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.

“I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

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Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)

Romanian minister defends keeping Thunder’s Enes Kanter at airport

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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) Romania’s foreign minister says his country had no choice in detaining Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter in the capital’s airport.

Teodor Melescanu said Romania could not “proceed otherwise” in comments made to news.ro. He declined to comment further.

Kanter was detained at Henri Coanda Airport on Saturday before departing to the United States via London.

The basketballer, who is Turkish, said in a video Saturday on his Twitter account that the Turkish embassy canceled his passport and that he’d been detained for several hours at a Romanian airport.

Kanter said he believed he was held because of his political views. He has been a critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter supports Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan.

Melescanu spoke Sunday from the summit of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, taking place in Istanbul.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter was held in, now released from, Romanian airport after Turkish government revoked passport

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Let’s start with a little background: Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter is a native of Turkey, and he is also a supporter of the Gülen movement in that country. That movement has been in opposition to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man who recently won a disputed election in that country that gives him sweeping, almost dictatorial powers (and he has a long history of human rights abuses, so that power is a bad combination). Kanter has never been shy about expressing his political views. It was Gulen that Erdogan blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Kanter has been disavowed by his own family because of his political beliefs.

Kanter tweeted out a video Saturday morning from a Romanian airport, where he was being held because his Turkish passport had been canceled.

Kanter had optimistic he will be able to return to the United States and the Thunder are involved in getting him back, reports the Oklahoman.

Kanter, who turned 25 on Saturday, is on a global tour for his Enes Kanter Foundation….

The Turkish government, Fetic said, has been known to report citizens’ passports as stolen or missing in order to have them confiscated in foreign countries. Fetic’s understanding is that Kanter’s passport had been reported as missing or stolen.

“They can try to create a process where they can extradite you back to Turkey,” Fetic said.

If sent to Turkey he would almost certainly be arrested. Which is why everyone is working to get him to the United States.

Enes, for his part, seems to be in good spirits.

UPDATED: According to the New York Times, Kanter was allowed to leave on a flight to London. From there he likely can return to the United States.