Popovich says Kawhi Leonard could be face of Spurs

12 Comments

Right now, Tim Duncan is deservedly the face of the Spurs. One of the greatest power forwards ever to play the game. And when you think of him you tend to think of the speedy Tony Parker and the crafty Manu Ginobili as well.

But in a few years it could be Kawhi Leonard. At least Gregg Popovich thinks so.

The best read on the Internet today is a Popovich Q&A at Spurs.com, which Matt already discussed here at PBT (Pops not a big fan of Stephen Jackson’s music, let’s say).

In there he also talked about Leonard heading into his sophomore season.

“I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he’s coachable, he’s just like a sponge. When you consider he’s only had one year of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he’s going to be something else.”

Being on a team with veterans like Duncan helps — those guys provide a road map and help young players through the learning curves of the NBA.

On a team that doesn’t give rookies a lot of run, Leonard got 24 minutes a game, earned his way into the starting lineup, gave them 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds a game (numbers that went up in the playoffs) and with a PER of 16.1. All that with plenty of room to grow (like a midrange game) and while showing real defensive chops.

His second season is going to be interesting.

By the way, Popovich also had some love for Patty Mills, the backup guard who stood out for Australia in the London Olympics.

I didn’t need to see his Olympic performance to know what he can bring, it’s just that he came to us so late last year it was really hard to incorporate him into what we were doing. But he’s an aggressive, fiery, offensive player. He can shoot the three and really score, and that’s what he looks to do when he comes in the game. So he’ll be a game-changer in that sense, at the offensive end. And defensively he’s kind of like a pest—he’s not very big but he’s really a game. He’s got great courage and he gets into people, trying to really bother them and get them off their game. So his competitiveness and offensive skills are what we’re looking forward to mostly.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
5 Comments

DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.

Report: ‘At the direction of his attorney,’ 76ers G Markelle Fultz to stop playing and practicing, see specialist

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
7 Comments

Markelle Fultz said his shooting problems were due to injury, and just a couple weeks ago, he insisted he was generally healthy.

But something is clearly amiss.

The 76ers guard finally appears to be acknowledging it.

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

Should we read into Brothers – usually identified as Fultz’s agent – being referred to as Fultz’s attorney? That sounds ominous.

There has been back-and-forth between Fultz’s and the 76ers about who deserves blame for his struggles.

J.R. Smith: Cavaliers are tanking

Jason Miller/Getty Images
4 Comments

J.R. Smith said he wants the Cavaliers to trade him.

But that was right after they told Smith he’d be shut down. He has been playing regularly lately.

Still, Smith isn’t pleased with Cleveland.

J.R. Smith, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”

And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.

“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.

If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.

But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.

Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.