Thunder-Spurs Game 6: Spurs know what to do, but it may not matter

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It’s not that the Spurs don’t know what they have to do to win — this is a smart, veteran team with the best coach in the land. Intellectually, they know what they need to do.

But there comes a point where athleticism trumps that plan, and for three games in a row now the Thunder have had that advantage. It’s not that simple — the Thunder also have executed well enough, got their role players to step up and used the long arms of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka to disrupt what the Spurs are doing. But the more athletic team is winning this series because of their advantage.

San Antonio will figure out how to deal with it Wednesday night, on the road, or they will be golfing on Thursday. Well, except for Gregg Popovich, he’ll go back to drinking fine wine.

Popovich has to come up with a scheme — and the Spurs have to execute — a game plan that gets Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into the paint breaking down the Thunder defense. Ever since the Thunder started trapping the ball handler off the pick in Game 3 (and not letting them reuse that pick) the Spurs have struggled to score efficiently enough to win. San Antonio hasn’t made the Thunder pay with the pick-and-pop, their ball movement has been stagnated, and then it becomes a matter of isolations.

Part of that is Duncan himself — he cannot hesitate to shoot on the pick-and-pop. Same is true for the Spurs role players, who seem to hesitate before taking their jumpers against the Thunder, and that give’s OKC’s long athletes time to recover.

And with all that the Spurs still score. They put 103 points (104 points per 100 possessions pace) in Game 5. That would be the seventh best in the NBA last season, but is 4.5 points per 100 worse than what they did in the regular season.

The Spurs have to score and score big because they cannot stop the Thunder. San Antonio can play better defense on the pick-and-roll, they can slow the Thunder, but they have nobody who can stop Kevin Durant, they are not able to shut off Russell Westbrook. With Ibaka knocking down midrange jumpers and James Harden doing his thing the Spurs are not going to clamp down on the Thunder like they did the Clippers.

If San Antonio is going to push this to a Game 7 they will do it with their offense.

I just don’t know if they can because we’ve seen such growth from the Thunder these playoffs. They make their mistakes, but their ball movement is better, their effort level consistently higher — they are playing like we expect a veteran contender to do. They have been amazing.

And at home, in front of that crowd, they will be incredibly difficult to beat.

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.