San Antonio Spurs: Time is not on their side. No it isn’t.

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For a stretch of 20 games, 10 of those in the playoffs, no team has played a more pure, more beautiful brand of basketball in recent years than San Antonio.

It was Hall of Fame talent being selfless — Tony Parker would get in the lane and score or kick to the corner three, Tim Duncan would take whatever the defense gave him, a 18-foot jumper or a jump hook over the left shoulder in the post. Manu Ginobili carved teams up, guys filled their roles, the ball moved in a way that would make Norman Dale from Hoosiers proud.

But in the Western Conference finals, youth was served.

The Spurs didn’t lose because they were old. But the Thunder won because they started playing well enough as a team and because they used they youth and athleticism cut off Parker’s penetration and blow up that beautiful Spurs offense. And there was nothing Gregg Popovich or anyone could do about it.

It’s hard because this year felt like the Spurs last run at it. It felt like the true end of the era.

They may bring everyone back, but that will not be enough anymore. Health alone will not be enough. The Spurs needed everything to go just right to have a shot this season — and they got it. The breaks went their way. Last year it was clear how much they missed Ginobili, this year he was there. Parker was healthy and playing maybe the best ball of his career. Duncan was moving like it was 10 years ago. Young role players like Kawhi Leonard stepped up. Stephen Jackson was nailing threes.

And it wasn’t enough. The obstacle was too big — OKC was making San Antonio work hard for good looks while seemingly getting the shots they wanted at will off things like a beautiful pin-down play.

And the Thunder are not going anywhere for years. Plus there’s the up-and-coming Clippers and other rising young teams in the West.

These Spurs will not admit this was their last best shot, but they did admit after starting this series up 2-0 they could taste ring No. 5. They got close.

But it was not enough. And it may be as close as they ever get again. Tim Duncan has said if he returns it will only be for a couple years (as a Spur, nowhere else). It’s hard to see their core being this healthy, this rested and this good again after the grind of an 82-game season.

The Spurs gave us something special to watch this postseason. They were magical. And hopefully that is how we remember them.

Because time is not on their side if they want to do this again.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

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Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.