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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.”

Mark Cuban says no Mavericks player will wear No. 24 again in honor of Kobe

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Kobe Bryant never suited up for the Dallas Mavericks, but his impact on the NBA and Mark Cuban is undeniable.

As a tribute to Kobe — who died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others — the Mavericks’ owner announced that no player will wear No. 24 for the Mavericks again.

Kobe was a nemesis of the Mavericks — back in 2005 he scored 62 points on them in three quarters, outscoring the entire Mavericks’ team’s 61 points — but had earned the respect of their players. And owner. Cuban was part of a league-wide outpouring of both shock and love for Bryant upon the news of his untimely death.

Five Mavericks players have worn No. 24 before: Mark Aguirre (1982-1989), Jim Jackson (1993-1997), Hubert Davis (1998-2001), Pavel Podkolzin (2005-2006), and most recently Richard Jefferson (2015).

He will be the last.

Shaquille O’Neal says he’s ‘SICK’ over losing his brother, Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will always be linked – as champions, as enemies and eventually as friends.

The historically great combination led the Lakers to a threepeat from 2000-2002. Their egos were too large for one team and, eventually, they broke up. But later in life, their bond – built through shared experiences – prevailed over distant grievances.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, O’Neal shared his sorrow:

These photos span 17 years. Bryant and O’Neal went through so much together.

They were just settling into the next phase of their relationship – poking at each other while knowing an underlying affection existed. Disagreements had become more fun than biting.

It’s such a shame their ever-evolving relationship gets undercut so soon.

Michael Jordan: ‘Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe’

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
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Kobe Bryant grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. Bryant styled his game after Jordan. Bryant even wanted to sign with Jordan’s Wizards. Though they never became teammates, Bryant still developed a brotherly relationship with Jordan.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, Jordan shared a heartfelt message.

Bryant once said he wanted Jordan or Phil Jackson to present him at the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s unbelievably sad Bryant’s impending induction will come posthumously. But Jordan would be such a fitting speaker about his brother.

Kobe Bryant, daughter die in helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant, the legendary Laker star who was saluted by LeBron James on Saturday night, has died in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northwest of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant, and where he was reportedly headed to coach his daughter’s game.

The crash killed nine people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

His death sent waves of sadness and shock around the NBA and beyond.

Bryant starred for 20 years in NBA

Kobe had a 20-year NBA career that will send him to the Hall of Fame (once he becomes eligible). He was a five-time NBA Champion, a 15-time All-NBA player, NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Medalist for Team USA, and a player who influenced a generation who came up after him. His work ethic was legendary and was part of what rubbed off on LeBron and many others.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

He stepped away from the game and focused on storytelling, which helped him win an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe became synonymous with the Lakers and their brand — the loyalty Kobe generated with his fans was unmatched in the modern NBA.

Kobe’s death came just a day after LeBron passed him for third All-Time in NBA scoring.  LeBron talked about how he had grown up idolizing Kobe and the influence Kobe had on his life. Kobe’s last Tweet was about LeBron and, appropriately, the future of the game.

More details on the crash

From the AP story on his death:

Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about an acre (.40 hectares) of dry brush, said Art Marrujo, a dispatch supervisor with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.

“They will look at man, machine and environment,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter-crash litigation.

“They will look at the pilot – was there any indication of fatigue, any indication of a training issue?They’ll scour his or her record,” Robb said. “They will look at this helicopter from stem to stern. They will take the engine to the NTSB metallurgical laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and examine it to see if there was something that malfunctioned in flight.”

Investigators will also consider what role might have been played by weather, terrain, radio towers or bird strikes, he said.

Robb said he has handled many cases involving Sikorsky S-76 crashes and regards the machine as having a good reputation.

“It is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” he said, “but parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”