Boban Mania: Marjanovic jumps into NBA with both feet – and lands dunking on someone

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boban Marjanovic got his big break in 2010.

Or so it seemed.

After four professional seasons in Serbia, Marjanovic appeared ready for the bigger stage. European powerhouse CSKA Moscow signed the 21-year-old center to a three-year contract.

But Marjanovic played part in a flop. The coach that signed him was fired after just five months. CSKA loaned Marjanovic to a lesser Lithuanian team then released him.

He eventually signed in the Adriatic League, where he developed into a star. Marjanovic played for the Hawks’ summer-league team in 2013, but nothing came of it. He looked headed for a nice, safe career in Europe.

Then the Spurs called last summer offering a contract.

After what he’d been through with CSKA, how quickly did Marjanovic choose to leave his comfort zone for the NBA?

“No consideration,” Marjanovic said. “Immediately. No thinking.”

Nearly as quickly, Marjanovic has made his mark in the NBA.

Marjanovic has played just 180 minutes, but he has produced like an all-time great in them. Boban Mania is sweeping the league – fans rallying behind a player who’s part Rudy Gobert, part Brian Scalabrine, part Monstar.

Yet, Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich throws a bucket of cold water on the hysteria, unready to anoint Marjanovic.

“The more minutes he gets, the more I’ll be able to tell if he’s somebody that’s going to have an impact in the program or not,” Popovich said.

For now, Marjanovic is, quite literally, the NBA’s biggest novelty.

He’s 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and hands engulf an average man’s:

Marjanovic puts his elite frame to good use on the court. Though his playing time is a tiny sample, his statistics are astounding. How many players with even 50 minutes have completed a season topping his…

Combination of points (24.8) and rebounds (14.4) per 36 minutes (edit: since the NBA-ABA merger)? Nobody.

Win shares per 48 minutes (.357)? Nobody.

PER (31.8)? Nobody.

Marjanovic at least has company there. Wilt Chamberlain also had a 31.8 PER in 1962-63, and Stephen Curry is posting a 32.2 PER this season.

Simply, Marjanovic produces like an all-time great when on the court. He’s just not on the court much.

Marjanovic scored 18 points in 17 minutes on 8-of-10 shooting against the 76ers in December. He sat the next game.

He had a three-game string later in the month with 10 points and seven rebounds, 17 points and four rebounds, seven points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes each contest. That sustained success didn’t even preserve his spot in the rotation.

In all, Marjanovic has played in just 24 of San Antonio’s 42 games. A majority of his minutes have come in the fourth quarter with the Spurs ahead more than 15.

Unsurprisingly, fans  have embraced the Marjanovic show. Not only does his presence in the game typically signify San Antonio’s dominance, he keeps it going in incredible ways.

Marjanovic has shown touch as a shooter:

And as a passer:

And, of course, he’s a bludgeoning finisher:

But when fans chanted “MVP!” during Marjanovic free throws, Popovich shuddered.

“Sometimes it actually worries me,” Popovich said. “I think the crowd, they really get a kick out of him and all that, but he’s a basketball player. He’s not some sort of an odd thing.”

Marjanovic doesn’t see the fans’ support as harmful.

“They give me some power,” he said.

Yet Popovich still finds more reason for concern, particularly noting Marjanovic’s speed.

Marjanovic is slow. That’s a downside of his size. And as we’ve seen, teams are better than ever at going small and exposing immobile big men.

Popovich has carefully picked when Marjanovic plays, not forcing him into those difficult situations. But for Marjanovic eventually to receive a bigger role, he must face key questions:

Can he handle more minutes without becoming fatigued? Can he keep up with smaller, faster opposing lineups?

The answers could prove huge for the Spurs as they transition to the Kawhi LeonardLaMarcus Aldridge era.

Aldridge famously prefers not to play center. That works fine with Tim Duncan right now, but Aldridge is nine years younger than Duncan. What happens when* Duncan retires? Could Marjanovic start at center with the jump-shooting Aldridge at power forward?

*If?

First things first, San Antonio must re-sign Marjanovic before counting on him long term. The 27-year-old becomes a free agent this summer when his one-year, $1.2 million contract expires.

Despite Popovich’s reservations, the Spurs will probably offer Marjanovic the $1.5 million qualifying offer. That’ll make him a restricted free agent and subject him to the Gilbert Arenas provision.

The Arenas provision prevents other teams from signing a player to an offer sheet that starts above the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,628,000 next season). But they can jack up the salary in the third season to what the max would’ve been without the Arenas provision, as the Rockets did with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. They can also add a fourth year that offers a 4.1% raise on the third year.

For Marjanovic, that means the highest-paying offer sheet he can sign projects to be worth $58,110,398 over five years:

  • 2016-17: $5,628,000
  • 2017-18: $5,881,260
  • 2018-19:$22,832,503
  • 2019-20:$23,768,635

If the Spurs don’t match a back-loaded offer sheet, Marjanovic’s cap hit will be his average salary ($14,527,599 in the case of the projected max) each season with his new team.

If San Antonio matches, Marjanovic’s cap hit will be his actual salary. That’d cause obvious complications if he’s earning more than $20 million in a few seasons.

Marjanovic’s situation will also be difficult to manage next summer.

The Spurs don’t have Marjanovic’s full Bird Rights, just his Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights). Unless they ink him to a deal that starts at $ 1.44 million or less – which seems unlikely – they’ll need cap space or another exception to re-sign him. Using the non-taxpayer exception – or, less likely, bi-annual exception – would hard-cap San Antonio. That could get tricky with more than $80 million in committed salary and player options for Duncan, Manu Ginobili and David West – all of whom could be seeking raises.

Will anyone see the Spurs’ predicament and Marjanovic’s potential and pounce?

Far more teams will have enough cap space this summer to sign a star than stars will be available. Some teams that strike out will play it safe and split their room on role players.

But will anyone swing for the fences? If a team isn’t satisfied with incremental improvement – fearing the treadmill of mediocrity – Marjanovic offers plenty of upside.

Just look what he’s doing right now.

There are major questions about the sustainability of this production, but Marjanovic has plenty of margin for error while remaining elite. There’s reason to be tantalized.

Marjanovic also has reason to stay in San Antonio, where he plays for a winning team with an excellent record of player development. Does he want to re-sign with the Spurs?

“This is my dream,” Marjanovic said.

Marjanovic offers little else about his plans – for the rest of this season and free agency. He just hopes for the best.

“If you don’t think positive,” Marjanovic said, “you’ll never get a chance to do something in your life.”

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.