Kawhi Leonard says he’ll return “soon,” no friction between him and team

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Part of the reason for all the rumors and speculation around Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs — when he would play again, about tension between him and management — was the lack of real information. Leonard doesn’t say much, the Spurs are not a leaky organization, and the Internet abhors a vacuum. Without real information, speculation and rumor will fill in the space.

Wednesday, Leonard spoke to the media and tried to quash all those rumors (video above, courtesy ESPN).

First, he said his pain level with his quadriceps tendon issue is “diminishing” he plans to return “soon” but left it open.

“Soon. I don’t have a set date right now. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. The progression that I am making has been great. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”

He also tried to quash the idea that there is a lot of tension in his relations with the Spurs, saying he wants to stay a Spur for his entire career. The reports of tension between him and management while he sought second opinions were not true, Leonard said.

“Everything was done as a group. I don’t feel like nothing was friction. I talk to Pop (Gregg Popovich) every day. He knows what the progression were. He knew what I was doing the whole entire time, as well as the front office. We made a group decision, so it was me just going out and saying, ‘I am going to go out and do this thing.’ “
Spurs general manager RC Buford admitted previously that Leonard’s injury and slower-than-anticipated recovery has been “difficult for everyone” but everyone involved said there was no real tension. It’s just some frustration at a slow process that has changed the Spurs season.

San Antonio has a decision to make this summer: Leonard is eligible for a Designated Veteran contract extension, which would lock him up with the Spurs for six seasons at around $200 million (maybe just a little short of that, depending upon the final salary cap numbers, but it would be the one guaranteed year remaining on his current deal at $20.1 million, plus five years after that at 35 percent of the salary cap).

If he returns and looks like vintage Leonard during the playoffs, there’s not much of a call, the Spurs make the offer. He’s a top-five, franchise cornerstone player who already has won a Finals MVP. But if he’s not all the way back, do the Spurs wait? It’s going to be an interesting process to watch.

But first, he just needs to get back on the court because the NBA is more entertaining with him.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

Associated Press
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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.