In impressive sweep, Spurs lay out path for future Grizzlies success

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That was impressive, San Antonio.

A sweep was just not something anyone saw coming (even those of us who picked the Spurs in the series). Tony Parker was again playing like the guy everyone wanted to put in the MVP conversation mid-season. All series long he would turn the corner off the pick and do whatever he wanted — drive into the lane and score, drive and dish to open shooters, pull up for a jumper, hit Tim Duncan rolling down the lane. He did it all and seemed to always make the right decision. Memphis had no answer for him (37 points in the closeout game) and that was ultimately the difference.

But in the ashes of this playoff loss for Memphis is a roadmap via San Antonio on the next steps to take so they can take the next steps.

And the most obvious thing is getting shooters.

It is hard to defend San Antonio because everyone on the floor can hurt you. Yes, Parker is lightning quick off the pick but you pay a big price if you help off Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard or Gary Neal or Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner or Manu Ginobili or… you get the idea. They all share the ball and they all knock down the shot.

Like San Antonio, Memphis wants to work their offense inside out but San Antonio did a masterful job all series of making life difficult for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Their big men fronted the post and help came before an entry pass was ever made — because the Spurs could completely ignore Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince without paying a price. It is why Quincy Pondexter got a lot of burn as the series went on — Lionel Hollins needed shooters and Pondexter was the best he had.

Memphis needs some wing players who can knock down threes and midrange jump shots, guys willing to share the rock.

(If you are about to say that is Rudy Gay, you’re wrong. The Grizzlies with Gay don’t get past the Clippers — he would take 20 or more possessions a game and turn them into isolation sets and he shot just 40.8 percent with Memphis this year and 31 percent from three. San Antonio would have cut off his driving lanes and encouraged him to shoot jumpers all day, then get the rebound off his miss. Memphis became much better with him out and Mike Conley stepping up, plus the offense often going through Gasol at the elbow.)

San Antonio also showed that the next step for Memphis is about commitment to the plan. You don’t Rudy Gay dominating the ball to win games, you need team play like the Grizzlies are really starting to do.

“And the second goal (for the Spurs this season) was to play together and trust each other,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “We’re not a one-on-one team, we can’t give the ball to one guy and say ‘go score.’ We do it as a group.”

You can clearly win that way. But what you can’t do is break it up and put it back together — San Antonio won in part because they have kept their core together for so long. That familiarity is an advantage.

The Spurs are relentless and do not vary from their system of strategies. San Antonio didn’t look for mismatches to exploit; it looked for a hole in the Grizzlies defense (that Randolph couldn’t show out on Tony Parker and stay in front of him off picks) and exploit it relentlessly. Memphis does some of that with their grit and grind style under Hollins, but the Spurs are the masters.

And while the Grizzlies were the better defensive team in the regular season, the Spurs showed that solving matchups is key in the playoffs.

“It was their defense not only on Zach but on Marc, on our pick and roll game, they did an outstanding job of taking away our pick-and-roll game, they did an outstanding job of taking Mike (Conley) away from the lane,” Hollins said after the game. “They forced him into turnovers sometimes by playing big on him and he couldn’t make a pass that he normally makes.”

San Antonio defensively could take away the Grizzlies preferred options, but Memphis could not do the same in return.

The Grizzlies are not that far off — they won 56 games and reached the franchise’s first ever conference finals. That is something to be proud of and build on. This is a good team headed in the right direction.

And if they need a roadmap to get where they want San Antonio left one behind.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.