From Gregg Popovich down, Spurs relying on patience

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SAN ANTONIO – Spurs guard Patty Mills – who injured his shoulder in the offseason and was expected to return in 2015 – was quietly cleared two days ago.

“I’m not going to let him play,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Huh?

“I’m going to hold him off as long as I can,” Popovich said. “There will be a point where he won’t allow me to do that anymore, and that’s fine. But for right now, I’m winning the battle. At some point, I’ll lose it.”

Popovich doesn’t lose these battles very often.

The Spurs coach has instilled a culture of patience that he hopes will carry his team through this relatively difficult stretch, including a 114-106 loss to the Thunder today.

San Antonio 18-12, on pace for more than 49 wins. Most teams would be thrilled with that record.

But the Spurs have never won so few of their first 29 games since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997. They’ve lost seven of 10, a rare skid at  any point in the era. In this loaded Western Conference, that has them just seventh in standings.

Not that Popovich checks those.

“Never have before. Might as well not now,” Popovich said. “If I look at them, they don’t change. It’s kind of like a referee’s call. You can moan and groan, but it doesn’t change. I can stare at the standings, and we still have, whatever, 11 losses. It doesn’t turn into nine if I look at it for a while. So, I don’t pay any attention to it.”

(To be fair, Popovich is not immune from moaning and groaning to referees. Far from it.)

Of course, Popovich’s most famous method of patience is resting his key players – Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili especially – during entire games. He’s concerned Duncan (whose 32.2 minutes per game entering today are his most in six seasons) and Ginobili (whose 25.5 are his most in four) are playing too much.

“I have to try to take care of that over time, so that we can be as energetic and fresh as we can possibly be,” Popovich said. “And we haven’t even made the playoffs yet. Aren’t we like eighth or ninth or seventh or whatever we are? I don’t know. It’s not like we’re automatically in. We have to play well enough to get in. There’s a lot of good teams out here.”

He’s not concerned about San Antonio’s defense, either. The Spurs rank fifth in points allowed per possession, down from third each of the last two seasons.

“When we get all the players back, then I’ll think about it,” Popovich said.

And that’s the one area – injuries – Popovich doesn’t always keep calm.

“I worry about it every day, really,” Popovich said.

But he overcomes that inclination.

Popovich is sitting Mills as long as possible, waiting for the guard to take more contact in practice.

Kawhi Leonard, who injured his hand, is another story. That’s not patience on Pop’s part. It’s reality.

“He can’t move his hand,” Popovich said. “He can’t catch and dribble and all that kind of stuff.”

In a similar vein, San Antonio’s Christmas opponent, the Thunder, were without Kevin Durant.

“He could not go if he wanted to go,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said.

Obviously, injuries have kept both teams from their traditional perches atop or near the top of the Western Conference. But Popovich won’t ask Santa Claus for healthier players – or anything else.

“Ever since we’ve drafted Timmy, I’ve asked for nothing,” Popovich said. “Anytime anything bad happens like injuries, I say, well, the scales are just evening is all they’re doing. We’ve had enough luck that anybody should ever ask for anything else is not fair. So, we never feel badly about anything bad that happens to us, because we were able to get Timmy. That’s the truth. Nothing will ever balance that.”

So, Popovich will patiently wait for his team to get healthy, for its defense to play better, for its record to improve.

Mills in particular likes that approach.

“The environment that you’re in, to have that peace of mind to know not to rush, make sure you look after yourself,” Mills said. “I think is the best thing.”

For himself and for the Spurs.

Pistons buy out Markieff Morris, who’s reportedly most likely to join Lakers

Potential Lakers target and former Pistons forward Markieff Morris
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The Pistons are dismantling.

They traded Andre Drummond and bought out Reggie Jackson. Now, they’ve bought out Markieff Morris.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons and Markieff Morris have reached an agreement to buy out the veteran forward’s contract. The Pistons have requested waivers on Morris.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Morris was owed $940,113 beyond the waiver period and had a $3.36 million player option for next season. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declined the option as part of his exit or will receive some of that money.

Morris wouldn’t really move the needle for the Lakers. They already have more big forwards than they know what to do with – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. There’s no obvious fit for Los Angeles’ open roster spot, and Morris is talented. But it’s hard to see him making much of a difference there.

Heat retiring Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 in weekend-long celebration

Dwyane Wade
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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade says that whenever he would hear the national anthem play before Miami home games, he would take a moment and look to the rafters.

“I always imagined my jersey being up there,” Wade said.

He will no longer have to imagine the sight. After this weekend, it’ll be there for good.

Wade will become the fifth Heat player to get his number retired by the team, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Bosh. A three-day celebration of Wade’s time in Miami starts on Friday, a weekend highlighted by his No. 3 formally going to the rafters on Saturday night when the Heat play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade spent 16 seasons in the NBA, 14+ of those with the Heat. He was one of two players to be part of all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem, whose No. 40 will almost certainly be retired by the team one day, is the other.

It was never a question of whether Wade’s jersey was going to be retired by the Heat, only a question of when. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals and is probably going to keep most, if not all, of those records for a very long time. Consider: He scored 21,556 regular-season points with the Heat, and Alonzo Mourning is second with 9.459.

Earlier this season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers – like Wade, a Chicago native who went on to play at Marquette – said he believes Wade doesn’t get enough credit for what he did as a player, especially in the NBA Finals.

“He’s been underrated his whole life,” Rivers said. “He didn’t get recruited very highly. Took Marquette to a Final Four. He still didn’t go as high as he should have in the draft and then he took the Miami Heat to NBA championships. That’s just who he is.”

Wade was the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, was selected to 13 All-Star Games in his 16 seasons, was an All-Star MVP in 2010 and won an Olympic gold medal.

“Every time I look up to the rafters and see your (hash)3 hanging there, I’ll think of the impact you had not only on this organization, this city and this league, but on my life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wrote in an open letter to Wade that will be part of the team’s game-night giveaway program for fans on Saturday.

The weekend also includes a night of tribute speeches on Friday and a showing of a documentary about Wade on Sunday.

Report: NBA executives believe 76ers more likely to trade Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
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The 76ers have spent years building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Supporting players come and go. Embiid and Simmons remain, even amid a sometimes-awkward fit.

But chatter has increased about Philadelphia trading one of its top two stars.

So, would Embiid or Simmons be the one to go?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

There is no consensus, but league execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved — health being the determining factor in building around Simmons.

When a team is looking to trade one of two players, people frequently predict the less-valuable player will get dealt. It’s not logical. Other teams also know about Embiid’s health concerns. That’ll lower Philadelphia’s return.

I wonder whether these executives know something or are just conveying how they’d handle the situation.

The latter doesn’t mean much. The 76ers have their own view and, less than a year ago, owner Josh Harris called Embiid “our most important player. He’s clearly our future.”

Perhaps, Philadelphia’s stance has changed. Trying to line up trade trade proposals, the 76ers might have tipped their hand.

The mere possibility of that scenario makes this worth watching.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.