Associated Press

Spurs’ quiet star Kawhi Leonard ready for Curry, Warriors

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — On a team that prides itself on humility, efficiency and selflessness, Kawhi Leonard is the most Spur-like of them all.

Tim Duncan‘s stoicism has been spoofed in commercials and memes, but Leonard makes the veteran seem positively animated in comparison. A big dunk or key play? Leonard might give a small fist pump, maybe a slight clap of his hands.

“It’s very rare for him,” guard Tony Parker said, “even less than Timmy.”

The soft-spoken Leonard is a lot like Duncan on the court, too, quietly putting together a season that has him in the early MVP discussion. The Spurs are right there near the top of the Western Conference standings, behind the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and the teams will play each other for the first time this season on Monday night in Oakland. Duncan will be out with soreness in his right knee, the Spurs said Sunday.

“He’s probably the best two-way player in the league now,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You have to deal with him in all kinds of different ways. He’s a terror on defense. Offensively he’s gotten better and better. It’s kind of slowly but surely become his team in a lot of ways.”

If everyone else is excited about it, that will have to do. You won’t hear much buzz from Leonard. His focus is singular.

“Just wanting to win, really,” Leonard said. “That’s it. That’s all I think about.”

The 6-foot-7 forward is clearly the best player on a team with a trio of future Hall of Famers in Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the offseason’s biggest free-agent acquisition in LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs were hopeful, if uncertain of Leonard’s potential when they traded away team favorite George Hill to Indiana in 2011 for the dynamic, raw talent out of San Diego State. Leonard has rewarded San Antonio’s forward thinking by meticulously becoming one of the game’s elite players, staying late and coming early to hone his game.

“He’s a young player and he’s just trying to be the best basketball player he can be,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “That encompasses playing both ends of the floor and everything that entails.”

It’s a drive that led Popovich to proclaim in 2012 that Leonard was “going to be a star” and “the face of the Spurs.” As usual, he was right.

“He looks phenomenal,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant said. “His game has grown leaps and bounds from when he first came in the league. He’s done nothing but continued to add. Three-point shot, pull-up shot, left, right, post game, handling the ball. He looks great.”

From stripping the sure-handed Stephen Curry of his dribble at midcourt last April to holding Indiana All-Star Paul George to a career-worst seven points last month, Leonard continues to prove himself an elite defender. A 7-3 wingspan helps, but there’s more to it.

“He’s tenacious,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “It starts with a level of pride and intensity. Physically, he is so long and strong I think that combination makes him really unique from a physical standpoint. But there are a lot of guys that have physical tools. It’s the fact that he takes pride in them and also within what they do.”

George called his matchup with Leonard “a game with a game” that he enjoys. Added LeBron James: “Kawhi has some of the best hands, he’s a great defender. I love going against him.”

Leonard’s defense is no surprise. He won Defensive Player of the Year last season. But he’s doing more on the offensive end, too – averaging career bests in scoring, rebounds and assists – all while guarding the team’s best perimeter player, regardless of size and position.

“His confidence is up there, obviously,” Duncan said. “He’s playing as well as anyone in this league right now and it shows. He knows what he can do and he’s confident in what he can do. You see it in every game out there. The shots he’s taking, the role he’s taking with the team and the way he’s leading.”

After signing a five-year, $90 million contract in July, Leonard was eager to leave, though not for a celebration or a shopping spree. Leonard was rushing to return to the court for the second of his three daily workouts in the offseason. The NBA Finals MVP trophy from 2014? On a table, collecting dust.

“It’s not my goal this year to be MVP,” he said. “I said I wanted to be a player that was on an MVP level. That’s not a goal of mine. I do want to be recognized as one of the best when I retire.”

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland contributed to this report.

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.

Report: 76ers focused on Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni in coaching search

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The 76ers appeared focused on Mike D’Antoni in their coaching search.

Then, Doc Rivers surprisingly became available.

The former Clippers coach met with the 76ers and is now in the center of the conversation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For the Sixers now, the focus is on Rivers and D’Antoni, a source told ESPN. A decision is expected this week.

Rivers would be an easier fit with this roster than D’Antoni, whose style doesn’t appear to work as well with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers also looks like he’d help Philadelphia take the next step.

But that seemed like it’d be true with the Clippers and wasn’t.

Tyronn Lue’s candidacy with the 76ers has clearly faded. Could he join the Clippers, Rockets or Pelicans? If Philadelphia hires Rivers, maybe D’Antoni still lands with the Pacers?

Rivers’ availability has definitely thrown a wrench in the coaching carousel.

Victor Oladipo denies trade rumor he wants out of Indiana

Victor Oladipo
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It was a trade rumor that kind of came out of nowhere — maybe more as a thought exercise for Celtics fans hoping to move on from Gordon Hayward — but it got traction: Victor Oladipo reportedly wanted out of Indiana.

Not true, Oladipo said.

Oladipo jumped on Instagram Live with rapper Fat Joe and shot down the rumors (hat tip Clutch Points):

“I’m a Pacer. I’m a Pacer…

“Those rumors on the internet, I don’t know where they’re coming from, I’m just focused on getting my knee right for next year.”

He said later in the interview he wants a ring, he wants “hardware” because that is needed to show you are one of the greats, and he would consider leaving the Pacers to get it. But that wasn’t a short-term thing. (Also, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Elgin Baylor and a lot of other guys would like to talk with you about that attitude.)

Oladipo returned mid-season from his knee injury to a Pacers’ team that finished as the four seed in the East but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.

Oladipo never quite returned to his All-NBA form after coming back from injury and averaged just 14.5 points a game in the 19 regular season games he did play. Oladipo is owed $21 million next season, the last year of his current deal.

Whether he wants out of Indiana or not, at $21 million and with questions about just what level of player he is post-injury, there is not much of a trade market for Victor Oladipo. Indiana more than likely runs it back under a new coach — who has yet to be chosen — and banks on a healthy Oladipo helping the team make the next step.