Spurs face big challenge to hang on without Ginobili

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So far this season, the San Antonio Spurs are 12.4 points per 48 minutes better with Manu Ginobili on the court than off it.

He is going to be off it now for the next five or six weeks after fracturing a bone in his left hand — his shooting hand.

Ginobili is the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game and was the team’s most efficient scorer shooting 59.2 percent overall and 51.9 percent from three. He was the guy creating a lot of the offense for his teammates. His PER of 31.5 was MVP level (second best in the league this young season behind only LeBron James).

The only good news for San Antonio is that it is early in the season — he should be back at full strength in the playoffs. Remember he tried to play through a fractured elbow last season in the playoffs and the Spurs were swept by Memphis. He had a broken nose in the playoffs the year before that, he missed the playoffs in 2009 due to stress fracture in his ankle, and in 2008 he tried to play through an ankle injury but wasn’t near himself. In each of those years the Spurs were eliminated earlier than expected.

The hard part may be making the playoffs at all. As Zach Lowe notes at Sports Illustrated, the Spurs are just entering a tough part of their schedule and in a stacked Western Conference they need to be close to .500 through this stretch.

He could miss as many as six weeks, and if that’s the case, Ginobili’s absence could stretch into San Antonio’s nine-game rodeo road trip in February. As is, the Spurs have 17 games over the next 27 days, a stretch that includes six back-to-backs; road games at Memphis, Oklahoma City, Miami, Orlando, Houston and Dallas; and a brutal six-games-in-eight days set that starts Wednesday against Golden State. The Spurs have played just one back-to-back so far, and they lost the second game to Houston so badly that coach Gregg Popovich threw in the towel early and sat Tim Duncan the entire second half.

San Antonio is not going to be able to make up for all the production lost with Ginobili out, the challenge is making up enough, points out Timothy Varner at the fantastic Spurs blog 48minutesofhell.com.

In the past, the Spurs have always dealt with an injury to one of their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili by getting a burst of great production from one or both of the others. I’m not sure they can do that this season. There is great risk in demanding too much of Duncan or Parker in the early weeks of this season’s condensed schedule. Duncan, in particular, would not withstand heavy minutes on short rest. This is not to say Duncan is an automatic injury—it’s more of a comment about his ability to play well on limited rest and what it would mean for his body in advance of the postseason.

The Spurs need DeJaun Blair and other role players to step up, they need to find a way to tread water and stay in the playoff hunt without Ginobili around. With him healthy in the playoffs they are a threat, but they have to get there first.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.