Kawhi Leonard becomes youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic

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SAN ANTONIO — Back in 1999, Tim Duncan had just turned 23 a couple months before when he led the Spurs to the first of their five titles, and he was given the Finals MVP.

Kawhi Leonard was a 7-year-old boy at the time.

“I don’t think I watched the Finals when I was 7 years old,” Leonard said. “Probably just busy playing kid games, running around.”

Sunday night — after a 22 point, 10 rebound performance that was his third straight game of at least 20 points — that now 22-year-old boy became the youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson in 1980. Leonard was a key reason the Spurs are now NBA champs.

Leonard is in just his third year in the league has seen his game evolve to a point he is a key cog on a championship team, and he said Duncan was a big part of that.

“Just coming here and seeing him prepare every day and having that drive and will to want to win at the age he is and after winning all the championships he’s won before I got here just motivated me to go even harder because I’m young, and I couldn’t really do it every day,” Leonard said. “Just seeing him at that age just inspired me.”

Duncan was more honest.

“He came in here after a lockout season, worked hard with us during that summer, and I can’t say that I saw the player that I saw tonight at that point…” Duncan said. “He’s not worried about just doing the little things. He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing. I’m honored to be on this team right now because he’s going to be great for years to come, and I’m going to hold on as long as I can.”

It didn’t look that way after two games. Leonard, focused more on defense (he had to guard LeBron James). He scored 9 points in each of those games on a combined 6-of-16 shooting, plus had 4 total rebounds. The series was tied 1-1 and the Heat looked the better team.

Popovich knew he needed more out of Leonard and sat down to talk with him.

“We have conversations throughout the year. They’re mostly one way, because Kawhi’s a really quiet young man…” Popovich said. “So I just talked to him about not being in that deferment or that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man. You’re part of the engine that makes us go. And it starts with his defense and his rebounding, and he’s starting to feel his oats offensively, obviously, because I have not called a play for him the whole playoff. I do not call his number. Everything he did was just out of the motion and out of offense, and he’s learned it well.

“In the future, obviously, we’ll use him a lot more on an individual basis. But it’s not really our style, and he appreciates that.”

“It’s like he just played free,” Dwyane Wade said. “You could tell after the first two games, it seemed like his teammates went to him and said just play basketball. He not only took what the defense gave him, he took what he wanted at times as well.”

That is mature play for a guy just 22.

A guy that is the future face of the Spurs once the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili era ends.

That transition really started in these Finals, where Leonard showed on a team with Hall of Famers he was the MVP.

Report: Marvin Bagley ‘near-lock’ to Kings at No. 2 in draft

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The Suns will almost certainly take DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall in Thursday’s NBA draft.

The mystery begins with the Kings at No. 2.

They’ve been linked to Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr. and now, most strongly, Marvin Bagley.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

I wouldn’t like that pick. Bagley is a high-end prospect, but I’d take Doncic (and prefer a few others to Bagley).

Bagley is a phenomenal finisher and rebounder due to his athleticism and exertion. He runs the floor hard and is quick off his feet, repeatedly.

But he is a huge liability as a rim protector, making him a tough fit as a defensive center. His just lacks the awareness, length and strength to defend the paint well. He can improve his awareness and maybe his strength to acceptable levels, but there is such a long way to go.

I also don’t trust his jump shot or defensive awareness on the perimeter enough for him to play power forward offensively or defensively.

Of all the top prospects, Bagley might be the trickiest to build around. And the Kings don’t have the greatest track record of roster building, even in the rare times they get a lottery pick right.

Report: Wizards willing to trade No. 15 pick if team takes on bad contract with it

Associated Press
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The Washington Wizards had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season — a lot to pay for the No. 8 seed and an unceremonious first-round playoff exit.

One way or another expect changes to the Wizards’ roster going into next season. Big names could be on the move. Even before that, the Wizards have signaled they will trade the No. 15 pick in Thursday’s draft if teams will take on one of the Wizards’ oversized expiring contracts, reports our old friend Ben Standig working for thesportscapitol.com.

The Wizards are open to trading down from the 15th overall pick in Thursday’s draft if another team takes on one of Washington’s expiring contracts. That’s the message relayed from the Wizards to other NBA teams, a league source tells The Sports Capitol.

The Wizards have five players with expiring contracts, including starters Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. Gortat’s $13.56 million salary for the 2018-19 season dwarfs the other expiring deals. The hefty figure counts among the reasons why the 34-year-old center is considered a likely trade piece.

This plan is unlikely to work unless the team in question actually wanted one of those players anyway. It is worth the shot.

That said, expect a lot of trades and movement on draft night — that is the buzz around the league. After DeAndre Ayton going No. 1 there is not really a consensus, and some teams have fallen in love with players and are willing to trade up and get them. Teams starting with Sacramento at No. 2 are fielding serious offers for their picks, and a few may jump at them.

The problem is the guys teams love will be off the board by No. 15, which means the Wizards may be making a pick. Which is not a bad thing, they have traded their picks away for years and they could use the injection of youth. Still, they will look to trade this pick too if it helps lessen the burden on their payroll.

Report: Cavaliers flying blind into draft because LeBron doesn’t know what he’s going to do

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The first day we’re going to get a hint of LeBron James‘ plan this summer is June 29 — that’s the date he has to opt into, or out of, the $35.6 million on his contract for next season.

Opt-in and that means either he’s staying with the Cavaliers or there has been an arrangement made to trade him (likely to Houston). Opt- out and he becomes a free agent on July 1 — he could re-sign with the Cavaliers, or he could sign anywhere else for next season.

What LeBron is doing could impact what the Cavaliers do at the NBA draft, keep the No. 8 pick and draft for the future or try to trade it (probably packaged with Kevin Love or another player) to get LeBron more help now.

But LeBron isn’t going to let the Cavaliers know because he himself doesn’t know, reports Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

According to sources, the Cavs’ front office and James’ camp have been in contact over the phone and in person, though there has been no meeting with James present, nor has there been any real dialogue as far as James’ future is concerned.

Because the superstar himself doesn’t know.

The Cavs have been signaling (strongly, in some cases) that they’re looking to upgrade their team from the group that was swept out of the Finals this month, whether James stays or goes.

If LeBron is staying, then the Cavaliers should consider trading that pick to a team eager to land someone still on the board (if Michael Porter Jr. is still available there likely would be plenty of solid offers). However, if he’s going they should use that pick to start the rebuild (and Porter would be a good step that direction).

In reality, the Cavaliers have to act as if LeBron is gone. That was the sense one got being around the team through the playoffs and Finals, that this relationship had run its course. The Cavaliers should draft the best player they can with that pick, unless some team comes through with a killer offer for the slot (and Love plus the No. 8 is not going to land Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs are not moving that fast to trade anyway). Then, if and when LeBron leaves, start looking at possible trades for Love, Kyle Korver, and every other veteran on the roster. Start the rebuild.

Still, new GM Koby Altman is flying blind on draft night, and LeBron’s not going to help the team out.

 

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

Associated Press
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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.