Baseline to Baseline recaps: Tom Thibodeau is good but still learning

2 Comments

What you missed while listening to Josh Groban sing the tweets of Kanye West

The Celtics and Spurs were our Game of the Night.

Nets 96, Bulls 94: Tom Thibodeau has turned the Chicago Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the league. He has them winning despite injuries to key players. He has proved he is more than ready to be an NBA coach.

But he is still doing some things that leave you scratching your head — like benching Carlos Boozer the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Does that seem wise? Sure, Boozer had a bad night defensively. Yes, the Bulls made a run from down 13 to get back in it with Boozer on the bench. But when you need a late basket he has to be on the court, not Kurt Thomas coming in with :49 seconds left, the team down two. You can be sure the benching of Boozer is not a dead issue.

The other thing Thibodeau cannot do is make Kyle Korver a defender — the Nets went right at him on a late 8-0 run that stemmed the Bulls fourth quarter momentum. Whoever Korver was guarding would come out and set the high pick for Devin Harris, then Harris would go right at Korver. Thibodeau had to take Korver off the floor and play Ronnie Brewer.

With the game on the line it was a driving layup by Sasha Vujacic on a broken play that won it for the Nets. Vujacic was always better when he got more minutes — he needs to get in a rhythm with the game — and he is doing that in New Jersey.

One other note: This was Derrick Favors first NBA start, but he got into early foul trouble and played just nine minutes.

Sixers 109, Wizards 97: This game featured a quick, smart, awesome young point guard who lit up the arena — Jrue Holiday. Why, who did you think I was talking about? Holiday knocked down 10-of-14 shots for 26 points, plus had nine assists. And the Wizards still don’t have a road win.

Raptors 120, Cavaliers 105: How hard is Byron Scott searching for anything that works? He started recently signed Alonzo Gee. Toronto came into this game the worst three-point shooting team in the league (31.9 percent) yet they were 9 of 18 Wednesday. Welcome to the Cavs defense.

Sign of the times: As happens when you lose eight in a row, the fans were booing the Cavaliers all night. Well, until they scored 100 points and that meant a free chalupa for everyone in attendance, then the arena erupted.

Magic 97, Bucks 87: Dwight Howard dominated the play inside with 28 points and 13 rebounds. The Bucks need Andrew Bogut to win the battle inside for the team to be competitive, but that is a tall order (literally) against Howard.

Warriors 110, Hornets 103: Chris Paul was brilliant — 24 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers — but as a whole the Hornets turned the ball over 18 times. That proved to just be too many empty possessions against the hot-shooting Warriors.

Bobcats 108, Timberwolves 105 (OT): Charlotte picks up a win on a night Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson sit out. Charlotte played well when the game was close late, then Tyrus Thomas had five points and D.J. Augustin had four in the overtime.

Blazers 103, Rockets 100: Portland just has Houston’s number lately. LaMarcus Aldridge’s 10 fourth quarter points sparked a rally from 13 down to get Portland the win. Kevin Martin dropped 45 and was just ridiculous.

Hawks 110, Jazz 87: Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were able to get the shots they wanted with little resistance, which is why Johnson had 28, Crawford 26 and hey were a combined 9 of 14 from three. The Jazz have been a pretty average defensive team this season, and there are nights that really comes back to bite them.

Lakers 99, Suns 95: The Lakers are now 5-1 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. The Suns acquired Marcin Gortat to join with Robin Lopez and protect the rim on defense, but they really don’t know what to do with two big men on offense. The bigs set picks for Nash then serve no real purpose. Not a pretty win for the Lakers but a win.

Clippers 106, Nuggets 93: Neither bench did much, this was about the Clipper starters out playing he Nugget starters. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin form a crazy athletic front line and they combined for 36 points, 38 rebounds and seven blocked shots (Jordan had six of those). Denver is such a different, inconsistent team on the road (they are 15-3 at home but on the road you get good games and ugly ones). That’s not the Carmelo Anthony saga, they just don’t play like a unit some nights.

Another report Spurs will not trade Kawhi Leonard within West

Getty Images
2 Comments

The people around Kawhi Leonard made it clear (through leaks to the media, not by talking to the Spurs at first): Leonard wants out of San Antonio, and he wants to go to Los Angeles. Specifically, the Lakers.

Almost as quickly, the Spurs leaked that they were not going to trade Leonard to the Lakers or any team in the West.

Sam Amick of the USA Today echoed that sentiment in his discussion of LeBron James‘ offseason options on Saturday.

But in the days that followed, the Spurs wasted no time in sending this message all around the NBA: The only Western Conference team he might be playing for is theirs.

Fellow West teams have been told, in essence, to get lost – none moreso than the Lakers, according to ESPN. As it stands, the Spurs are determined to either fix the situation or trade Leonard to an Eastern Conference team.

Leonard has leverage here: He can tell teams he will not re-sign with them and will leave as a free agent. That will scare off most teams who don’t want to put in

Would it scare off Boston or Philadelphia? The rumor is no. Those teams have real interest in Leonard, and both have the assets to get a deal done and make the bet that a year in their cultures, with their coaches and top players, a year contending, and with their fans and city would win Leonard over. Just like Oklahoma City made that bet with Paul George. Also, whoever trades for Leonard will be able to offer a five-year, $188 million contract, while as a free agent the max will be four years, $137 million. For a guy who just missed almost an entire season with an injury, that guarantee can matter.

Boston could go all in on an offer — Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, the Kings first-round pick next season (top one protected) and the Clippers first round pick next year (lottery protected). Philadelphia could put together an offer of Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, and Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick (the first year high schoolers likely re-enter the NBA draft, making it a deep one).

The question is would those team put in all those assets on a bet they would win Leonard over?

The other big looming question, when the offers start to come in will a rational Spurs front office reconsider and look at a trade from the Lakes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, a future first, and the contract of Luol Deng to balance out the numbers. Would they consider it superior because they like Ingram? (That trade may require a third team to take on Deng’s contract, and the Lakers might need to throw in Lonzo Ball or some other sweetener to get a team to take on Deng’s $36 million remaining.)

Expect the Spurs to take their time with this, try to win Leonard back over, then consider all their options. They are in no rush, in fact, they’d love to create a bidding war for Leonard. Any offer from Boston and Philadelphia on the table in July will be on the table in September when training camps open. The Lakers, however, may be in a very different space.

It’s going to be a very interesting next few weeks.

After full season in Europe, Luka Doncic not expected to play in Summer League

Getty Images
5 Comments

Deandre Ayton played 35 games for Arizona last season. Marvin Bagley III played 33 games last season for Duke. Jarnen Jackson Jr. played 35 for Michigan State. None of them played past March.

Luka Doncic played 61 games for Real Madrid — at a higher level than NCAA basketball — and the season ended two days before the NBA Draft. Plus in Europe, the practices are often far more strenuous than the games (many teams keep doing two-a-days through the season).

Not surprisingly after that long a season Dallas is not going to ask Doncic to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

This was expected in most quarters no matter who drafted Doncic. Rest and recovery matter more than getting him into the glorified pickup games of Summer League.

Doncic will be ready to go when the season starts, and he will be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year.

Former Spur Bruce Bowen rips Kawhi Leonard for asking out after injury

Getty Images
6 Comments

For years, players have bought into “the Spurs way” not just on the court but off — it was always about what’s best for the team first. That meant Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and others taking discounts from the max salary they could have earned at points to help the team keep the roster to do that. Sacrifice was part of the game.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that former Spurs are closing ranks around Gregg Popovich and the franchise in the wake of Kawhi Leonard pushing his way out the door following missing most of last season with a leg injury.  It was the treatment of that leg injury — Leonard did not trust the Spurs’ doctors and got a second opinion that saw things differently — which started the rift, although the advice from Leonard’s uncle/advisor and agent also play a role in widening the gap.

On SiriusXM NBA Radio this week (h/t ESPN) former Spur Bruce Bowen ripped into Leonard for complaining about his treatment.

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Bowen added, “there’s nothing but excuses going on.”

The backlash to Leonard is to be expected, particularly from those in San Antonio (not so much from people in Los Angeles, where Leonard is trying to force himself to). The injury treatment started the rift, but Leonard is putting his desires in front of those of the team and franchise — and that’s his right, he’s far from the first player to do that. It’s just not something we have seen from San Antonio. The Spurs have long sought out not only guys who could play on the court but guys who fit a mold personality wise and would put the team first. On the court Leonard had done that, going back to when he won Finals MVP. Now, off it, he has had a change of heart, for whatever reason (or reasons).

Bowen is more outspoken than most, but this will be the sentiment out of San Antonio if Leonard leaves.

That is not going to change the reality on the ground, however.

Michael Porter Jr.’s status for Summer League, next season unclear

Getty Images
7 Comments

Blake Griffin. Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons. Most recently, Harry Giles.

NBA teams are not afraid to sit an injured player throughout his rookie year, not if they think there’s a payoff on the other side.

Thursday night during the NBA Draft concerns about Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back (among other things) had the guy considered a potential top pick a year ago sliding down the board to Denver at No. 14. That’s potentially a steal for the Nuggets, but even at the press conference immediately after the pick Nuggets’ president of basketball operations Tim Connelly sounded very cautious.

A day later, speaking to Marc Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN, both Porter Jr. and the Nuggets’ owner/president were suggesting he is out for Summer League and could have a redshirt year next season.

Porter Jr. said the day before the draft that it was possible he could miss summer league action through injury…

Nuggets president Josh Kroenke told The Undefeated he was uncertain about whether Porter Jr. would play in summer league or during the 2018-19 season.

According to reports, Porter Jr. was showing a slight limp at his introductory press conference with the Nuggets Friday.

The Nuggets are right to be cautious here and think long-term. It would be a shock to see Porter Jr. at Summer League in July. Could he lace up his shoes and play at some point next season? Maybe. Depends on his rehab and how he progresses, but the Nuggets have zero fear of letting him sit out a season. This is a team that just missed the playoffs last season and is expected to take a step forward this time around without Porter — they don’t need him to be good, they have Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and the rest.

Porter needs to get healthy, and that very well may mean sitting out a season. Then when he does play accept a role and go from there.