Jerry West is the trusted voice of experience in the NBA — he’s a Top 50 player, a former coach, the GM that built the Showtime Lakers, drafted Kobe Bryant, and a guy who since he came in as consultant and owner in Golden State has seen that team take off. (He did a better job in Memphis than he gets credit for, but he was not exactly perfect there.)
West has seen it all — and he thinks Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is as good as anyone he’s ever seen.
West was on ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd show Tuesday, part of his interview transcribed by Dan McCarney on the Express-News’ Spurs blog.
“I’ve never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich. He does less than more. But having said that, when he gets less, he develops it into something really good. They have a great development program down there.
“For a coach coming into this league, if they don’t hire people who are really competent, to take these young kids who haven’t made it somewhere but have talent and build a system they can prosper in, but more importantly to get these kids shoot the ball. When they got Kawhi Leonard, he was not a shooter. It tells you the significance of what they’ve done internally to improve their team.”
The point about system and development is huge. In a league where you are drafting 19 and 20 year olds, the ability of a staff to develop talent means a lot, it’s how you sustain success. Remove the Heat’s one-off building method out of the equation and look at the NBA’s Final Four — the Spurs, Pacers and Thunder all have drafted well and developed well. They have found talented guys not in the top handful in the draft and developed them well. They’ve built wisely. It’s the model for every small and mid-market team.
But nobody may every do it as well as Popovich.
[MORE: Popovich pokes fun at LeBron, Heat during Spurs’ championship parade]
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.
Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.
Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:
“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”
Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.
But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.
He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.
If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.
The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.
Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green
Get Up on ESPN:
I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.
I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.
Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.
And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.
Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.
If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.
So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.
His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?
"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.
He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.
Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.
Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.
LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:
Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.
Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.
The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.
Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.
Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.
Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.
This was the risk.
We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.
That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.