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.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley calls for NBA to put more politics into sports

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley
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Americans are increasingly inviting progressive politics into sports. Football players kneeling the national anthem are no longer an easy target. Even President Donald Trump has softened his tone on Colin Kaepernick.

So, some Republicans are pushing for MORE politics – their politics – in sports (sometimes under the guise of less politics in sports).

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, like Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, has criticized the NBA for its relationship with China. It’s grandstanding while the United States itself has a trade deal with China.

Now, Hawley is objecting to the NBA’s pre-approved list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys.

Hawley press release:

Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is sending a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blasting the league’s apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Senator Hawley writes that, as the NBA is now sanctioning political messages, they must stand up for American values and make clear where they stand on China’s human rights abuses.

Senator Hawley writes, “The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the CCP – are themselves statements about your association’s values. If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write ‘Back the Blue’ on their jerseys. Or ‘Support our Troops.’ Maybe ‘God Bless America.’ What could be more American than that?”

OF COURSE the NBA was going to limit jersey messages to a pre-approved list. The league doesn’t want the pressure of censoring players’ individual choices. Nor does the league want to condone messages that would offend offend customers and jeopardize revenue. Support for Hong Kong protesters would definitely qualify as financially perilous.

The NBA – a business trying to make money – wants to support its employees and appeal to its audience. These relatively benign phrases accomplish those goals.

That doesn’t prevent NBA players from criticizing China. I take NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his word (especially after the Daryl Morey controversy) that the NBA endorses its employees right to speak out.

The NBA just isn’t going to allow players to give just any message through their jerseys.

Some players are understandably bothered by that limitation. But the biggest pushes for change aren’t going to come through multi-billion-dollar corporations. That’s just reality.

Likewise, though Hawley raises legitimate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, scolding an American company for legally acting in its best financial interest is… um… certainly a choice for a U.S. Senator.

Also, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski sent a profane two-word response in response to Hawley’s press release.

Wojnarowski:

NBA executive predicts every team will lose money next season

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The NBA is launching an unprecedented and ambitious operation – hosting the rest of its season in a centralized location with frequent testing – because that’s what’s necessary to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What about next season?

Coronavirus will likely remain a danger on Dec. 1, when the league hopes to begin. That threatens fan attendance. Heck, that could undermine teams playing at all in their home markets. All 30 teams, rather than just 22, adds complications.

Even if the season gets off the ground, there will be financial issues.

Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“The truth is, things are changing so fast that, when it comes to next season, the best we can do is put a stake in the ground and make a guess,” an Eastern Conference team president said. “The reality is nobody is probably going to operate in the black next season.

“The only question is how much each of us are going to lose.”

NBA owners love to cry poor. The actual math often reveals a different picture. There are complexities that teams can hide.

Some teams have already cut employees salaries. But some teams are also doing extravagant things like shipping their courts to Disney World for practice:

Still, NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated 40% of league revenue comes from ticket sales and other game-day sources. If teams are ever believable about losing money, it’d be now. Coronavirus has wrecked so many sectors of the economy.

Revenue falling significantly would be felt by players, who – per the Collective Bargaining Agreement – receive about half of Basketball Related Income. (That 50-50 agreement supersedes players’ stated salaries in their contracts.)

It’s undecided how and when players would suffer those losses.

The 2020-21 salary cap could be reduced. But that would put the burden on players – free agents, draft picks – signing new contracts next offseason.

That’s why the salary cap is reportedly expected to remain roughly flat. There are a couple options within that scenario.

Players could have a larger share of their salaries withheld (as they’re doing this season). Then, at the end of the season, owners would return whatever money is necessary to reach the 50-50 split. However, that would reduce players’ spending power during the season.

Or players could collect their usual salaries with an artificially high salary cap. However, that would likely mean they get more than their entitled 50% share and the salary cap would be reduce in future seasons to offset. Current players – some of whom won’t be in the league in future years – would probably love that. Owners likely wouldn’t accept paying players more sooner.

Increased withholding from player salaries is probably the best option. But there’s plenty to decide about the exact withholding amount and how long the money is held. To ensure enough money is withheld, the percentage should initially be fairly high. Then, as the revenue picture becomes clearer, the withholding amount could decrease in future paychecks.

Of course, that assumes the league finds a safe way to play. Which is the biggest challenge.

Report: Wizards’ Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

Wizards players Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II
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Bradley Beal not playing sunk the Wizards’ for the NBA’s resumption, anyway.

If that and Davis Bertans sitting out weren’t enough, Washington is also without Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Garrison Mathews.

Ava Wallace of The Washington Post:

The NBA announced 25 players tested positive from June 23-29. It’s unclear whether Bryant and Payton were among that group or additional positive cases.

It’s also unclear whether Bryant, Payton and Mathews will join the team at Disney World.

Bryant would be a particularly significant loss. His optimism and energy in tough situations are exactly what the Wizards need right now.

With the Nets severely shorthanded and the Magic looking uninspiring, Washington still has a path to the playoffs.