PBT Mailbag: Could Kawhi Leonard just sit out next season for Spurs?

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Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

I haven’t been watching a lot of Summer League lately, but I have been watching all of you watch it via social media. Frankly, I just don’t get it. I went to Las Vegas last year for the event and I was not impressed. It was 100 degrees outside by breakfast, and the quality of play was, somehow, below college basketball level. I would have much preferred to stay home and watch on my couch where I have things like Doritos and a second bag of Doritos.

That’s not to say that I haven’t watched a few games here and there. I saw the Blazers beat the Jazz on Saturday, and most of the time I spent thinking about a very specific question. That is, which do you think would be longer?

  • The average running time of a Summer League Game OR
  • A video of every airball from all the NBA Summer League games combined into one long lowlight reel

Remember, Summer League rules include four 10-minute quarters, so there’s only a total of 40 minutes that we would have to fill with airballs from these games. I figure each airball highlight lasts something like four seconds, because you’d have to include the play leading up to it as well as the announcer reaction to the airball itself for it to be a worthwhile lowlight.

At four seconds apiece you’d have to have clips of 600 airballs sliced back-to-back to meet the 40 minute minimum. They played 67 games at LVSL last year, which means each game would need to average nine airballs. That’s only 4.5 per team, per game. I feel like I’ve seen at least that many this year. Maybe more, and that’s just from Trae Young.

In any case, it would be super close. The real question is, which would you rather be forced to watch: every LVSL game or every airball?

Some basketball writers don’t even get the choice, god bless them.

Let’s get to your questions.

Kate

Can Kawhi Leonard refuse to play/sit out for the Spurs next season? What ramifications could Kawhi Leonard face if he refuses to play for the Spurs next season? Can they enforce the CBA rule regarding the withholding services on him?

Kawhi Leonard has put the NBA in a tizzy, and nobody is sure whether he is trying to control his own destiny or if he’s simply gone crazy. Rumors are now swirling about whether Leonard needed to sit out for the majority of last season, and now we are talking about whether or not he would hold out for yet another if he remains in San Antonio.

The procedural answer here is that if Leonard was able to find a way to sit out and refused to play for the Spurs next season, that San Antonio would trigger the clause you are referencing in the CBA. Specifically, it means that Leonard would not satisfy the conditions of his contract and that he would not be able to become a free agent next season. Teams can also fine players for internal reasons, and no doubt the Spurs would likely move to that if they felt Leonard had drawn first blood.

However, there is very little precedent for this outside of the NBA Draft. Teams have been frustrated with players they have drafted before — Jon Barry refused to play for the Celtics in 1992 and they finally traded him halfway through his rookie season. Guys like Steve Francis have forced their way off of teams. And we all remember how Kobe Bryant was never going to play for the Charlotte Hornets, right? But that was all before those guys had ever seen an NBA court. Kawhi Leonard is a dang ol’ Finals MVP. It’s just … wild.

The real motivating factor to get Leonard on an NBA floor would be the damage he would do around the league to his reputation if he was still controlled by the Spurs and flat out refused to play for them. That kind of open, poisonous relationship with a franchise is not exactly enticing to other teams. That includes ones looking at him in free agency, especially if those same teams have major questions about whether he is actually healthy enough to be worth the big contract he’s shooting for.

Historically, teams have found a way to trade trouble players off of their franchise simply as way to get the miasma of their unhappiness out of their locker rooms. That’s the most likely case in this scenario, and I doubt we will get too far into the season with Leonard still refusing play for the Spurs. Then again, last season was completely insane when it came to Leonard and that whole dynamic, so I can’t rule it out.

Alex

Please, sir, tell me what will happen with my dear, sweet Michael Beasley. (And also what non-Celtics teams should be offering Marcus Smart.)

Look, Alex. We know you love your sweet little B-Easy. But sometimes you can’t always stay with your favorite players. Sometimes you need to let them be free, and send them to a farm upstate. In this case, that farm is located on a team in a lower-division Russian league. Not in the fun, tricycle-riding bear part of Russia, either. More like the waiting in line for black bread before you go back into the iron ore pit part of Russia.

Seriously though, it seems like we talk about Beasley being a reclamation project a lot and perhaps that’s because he’s still just 29 years old. However, not a lot of teams have cash to throw around and Beasley will be a minimum salary player. He’s going to end up on a team that doesn’t matter, or the Lakers.

Smart should get more looks from teams, although he’s not a likely candidate to end up anywhere but Boston and a few select places because of the cap crunch and because taking his qualifying offer isn’t the best choice. There are going to be so many guys on the market in 2019 and there are still some teams that can offer a Smart a deal now. Taking his qualifying offer and becoming a free agent next year is one route, and obviously there will be many suitors for him next summer. However, he’s not likely on the top of the priority list for many teams and more and more guys seem to be angling for 2019. He could end up in a flooded market, getting the same money next summer as he can right now but having played one year at a reduced salary.

The Kings do make a lot of sense but perhaps that’s because of their track record with wing players. Vlade and the boys seem to stockpile a bunch of guys who have one NBA talent they think they can transform into an elite skill. Smart is already an elite basketball player, and adding him to the Kings along with Marvin Bagley Jr. would help solidify them and make them more legit as they build for the future. It’s boring, but that’s the best answer.

Jeremy

Do you think Tony Parker wore puka shells in 2005?

Let’s do some quick back-of-the-napkin math. Parker was born in 1982, which makes him too old to have seen the first wave of puka shell popularity in the 70s. That means he would have had to get into them when they made a comeback in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Adam Sandler was wearing puka shells as Pip in Airheads, which filmed in 1993. Parker would have been 12 at the time Airheads came out in 1994, and he would have been in high school when the necklace hit peak popularity between 1998 and 2002. You also have to realize that Parker grew up in France, with a completely different fashion wave which might not have been tainted by puka shell culture. Looking at my own middle school yearbook, it’s obvious the U.S. was heavily influenced by BIG PUKA, but you have to guess those classy Frenchies probably ducked some of our American trends.

By 2005 Parker would have been 23, and no self-respecting young adult would be caught dead wearing puka shells. Plus, I feel like by 2005 things had really shifted.

The real question is: Did Tony Parker wear a trucker hat in 2005? You tell me, Jeremy. You tell me.

Nick

Does Jake Layman have a nickname? If not, it should definitely be “Jumpin’ Jake”

I honestly don’t understand the obsession about Jake Layman that Portland Trail Blazers fans have. I mean, I understand what it is, I’m just not allowed to type why they like him.

In any case, as nice a guy as Layman might be, I don’t think you can give a nickname to a player who doesn’t have an impact on the floor. The guy averaged exactly one point per game last season for the Blazers.

Yes, because Portland decided not to renew the contract of Pat Connaughton it’s possible that Layman takes up more minutes this year and we see more of what he can do. But in the meantime, I’m just not ready to give him a nickname just yet. At least not a positive one. Guys who come off the end of the bench usually have negative nicknames, which I’m not in the business of giving.

IF Layman actually produces this season for Portland, here are my top picks:

  1. Yung Kitzhaber
  2. Slayman
  3. Dunkin’ Douglas (middle name)
  4. Eric Judy
  5. Thrillard (nobody else has taken this one I think)
  6. King Jake
  7. Dr. Buckets, Esq.
  8. White Hot

John

Is Sean Marks a top 5 executive?

Considering what he had to work with after taking over from Billy King and formed a team foundation using only cap space or late picks, I think the Nets are closer to relevance than people realize. Agree?

Bob Myers, Daryl Morey, Danny Ainge, RC Buford, Dell Demps, Sam Hinkie (legacy).

So, probably not. Also, Marks just got hired in 2016 so he needs a longer body of work to really judge whether or not he’s a top five executive in the league. Brooklyn won eight more games last season than they did season before, which isn’t exactly a huge jump. Yes, the Nets have made a couple of good moves to build for the future. They snagged D'Angelo Russell, got rid of Timofey Mozgov, and bet big on Allen Crabbe (twice).

Next year seems like it will be a big test whether the Nets are headed in the right direction. They should have the added boost of not having LeBron in their conference, so it will be up to Kenny Atkinson to steer this team near the playoff race. Brooklyn has the ability to create a massive amount of cap space in the summer of 2019 if they renounce most of their cap holds, so whether Marks can convince players to head to New York City will be big. Until then, I’m withholding judgement.

Seriously though, go look at the list of current NBA GMs and tell me most of their fanbases don’t want to fire them out of a cannon toward a big parachute.

Alfredo

With Boogie in the Bay, the Warriors have become The Ultimate Warriors (or Team USA Warriors or Monstar Warriors). The growing fear is that the Dubs dynasty has reached Russell-Auerbach levels where they could possibly surpass a 3-peat. The only teams that want to do something about it are the Lakers and Celtics, but I have a problem with this because it paints the narrative of the two legacy teams being the only hope to save competitive basketball. In fact, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was what gave the NBA its first taste of relevancy in the 1960s (mostly on the Laker side for their connections to Hollywood and entertainment); the rivalry once saved the league from bankruptcy and a bad image problem that would have made itself second fiddle to the NFL. It’s like saying, “If the Lakers and Celtics aren’t ruling the NBA where they’re the main draw in most of the Finals, then the NBA is ruined.” What are your thoughts on this hypocrisy between this current Warriors dynasty and the Lakers-Celtics rivalry dynasty? How do you think Warriors will fare vs. both legacy teams in the playoffs and Finals respectively? Will there never be parity in the NBA – and is that okay?

The idea that parity doesn’t exist in the NBA is just flat out wrong. Teams float to the top and fall into the bottom all the time. Parity isn’t about all 30 teams taking their turns winning the Larry O’Brien. It’s about whether teams have a field level enough to allow them to compete and complete that cycle of rising and falling.

Yes, if you look at the list of past NBA champions over the last 15 years or so, it really comes down to just a few teams. The Lakers, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, Warriors, and Mavericks just to name a few. But there have been seven different teams to finish atop the Eastern Conference since the 2010-11 season (four out West).

If you are using the number of teams that win championships as the measure of parity in the NBA, then perhaps you have an issue. But this talking point has only risen recently because of the seeming inevitability of the Warriors winning the championship for the next few years. While adding DeMarcus Cousins certainly seems to have an upside in the playoffs this year for Golden State, he will not be a member of that team next season, so I’m not making that the nail in the coffin for either side.

There’s no doubt that the league would prefer if the Warriors didn’t have a select few players on their roster, Kevin Durant in particular. The real issue Golden State might push into the light is players taking less than their market value to group together on one team. That may benefit some select owners, but several will likely bring up this issue during owners meetings if it continues.

If people feel exasperated because the Warriors are bound to win the championship every season, then they didn’t pay attention when LeBron James beat them just a couple years ago in the Finals. Weird stuff happens. Stars get hurt. Guys punch guys in the crotch. There’s still some variance you can expect.

Part of being a fan is being along for the ride when your team isn’t the best or doesn’t have a chance to win it all. You can learn all about how your young players will mesh together and where the future of the team is headed. Each season, 29 teams fail to win the championship. That will never change, and as long as that’s the way the season ends every year there’s no use giving up watching pro basketball. Get a grip, everybody.

You know what the best way to win a championship in the NBA is? Have someone who’s not a doofus buy your favorite team. Honestly. Knicks fans know what I’m talking about.

Abdoulaye

What about a trade of Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard for Serge Ibaka? Damian Lillard and CJ Turner need a traditional frontcourt. Al-Farouq Aminu needs to play at the 3. A starting five of Lillard, CJ, Evan Turner, Ibaka, Jusuf Nurkic with a bench of Seth Curry, Wade Baldwin, Gary Trent, Aminu, Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins looks decent.

Ibaka would also bring the best of Nurkic as he plays better with a traditional PF like he did with Noah Vonleh. Small ball is good if you only have one of Dame and CJ or if you don’t face a talented big.

I’m not sure this trade moves the needle for either team. Toronto is working on developing a young wing in OG Anunoby already, so Harkless would sort of clog that up. Leonard doesn’t seem to have a lot of additional value for the Raptors at this juncture.

Meanwhile Ibaka isn’t necessarily a valuable trade asset. He was a negative box plus-minus for a very good Raptors team last year, which sort of shows on paper what some people saw while watching him on the floor last year in Toronto.

I also think your overall assessment of the Blazers roster is a bit off. First, Portland doesn’t play small ball. Small ball is what the New Orleans Pelicans used to sweep Portland in the first round. If anything, they play too “big” for some of their Western Conference foes as it is.

Aminu is not a bench player, and he is best while playing the four position. That’s been the case for some time, and of course it is much better when the Blazers have a another 3-point shooter next to him like Harkless or Allen Crabbe. It also helps when the Aminu isn’t ice cold from 3-point range, but at this point he will be a constant yo-yo player from that spot on the floor.

I have been saying that the Blazers need to take a big swing in order to prove to Lillard that they are willing to compete in the West, but I’m not sure that Ibaka is that guy. The reality is the Portland Trail Blazers are stuck where they are until something comes available for Neil Olshey.

In the meantime, I’m excited to read 17 more clickbait articles about how the Blazers are going to trade Lillard to the Lakers. Love them clicks, boy.

See y’all next week.

Submit your questions to the mailbag for next week by e-mailing pbtmailbag@gmail.com.

Three Things to Know: Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, for him and Trail Blazers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, both for him and the Trail Blazers. This was just stomach turning.

With 2:22 in the second overtime between Portland and Brooklyn, Trail Blazers’ big man Jusuf Nurkic went up for an offensive rebound and when he came down he landed awkwardly, his left leg bending in ways legs simply should not ever bend. (We are not running the video in this story, if you want to see it check out our original post on the injury, but be warned this is one you may want to avoid.)

Nurkic has suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also the recovery will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this, but as Jeff Stotts of the injury blog In Street Clothes noted, the only thing like this is Paul George‘s Team USA injury, and it took him eight months to get back on the court and much longer to regain his form).

This is devastating for Nurkic personally. The Bosnian big man signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer, then came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was playing at an All-Star level (it’s just making that team in the West is like climbing the Matterhorn because of all the talent in the conference, including at center).

This is also devastating for the Trail Blazers — a year after getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round by New Orleans, there has been real optimism this year’s Blazers were better built to make a postseason run. Nurkic’s improved play was at the heart of that optimism.

On offense, he is the primary screen setter for Damian Lillard — the Lillard/Nurkic pairing is the second most used pick-and-roll combination in the league via NBA tracking data (D’Angelo Russell/Jarrett Allen of Brooklyn is first). Nurkic not only sets a big, solid screen, but he’s also become much better as a playmaker, meaning when teams inevitably trap Lillard to get the ball out of his hands he can dump it off to the rolling Nurkic and the big man can find the open shooter or score himself. Portland’s offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better this season than a season ago and Nurkic is at the heart of that improvement.

Defensively, Nurkic drops back off picks and does a good job using his size to clog the lane. When opponents try to drive on him, he’s adept at blocking and altering shots.

The problem is the drop off in talent after Nurkic at the center spot for Portland. Enes Kanter was brought in and has played the most backup minutes recently, and he is a good scorer on offense but not the playmaker that Nurkic is. However, the bigger issue with Kanter (and Meyers Leonard) is he struggles mightily to defend the pick-and-roll, something any opponent will attack in the playoffs. We may see more Zach Collins thrust into the backup five spot (he has played more four lately), he’s more mobile as a defender and can both roll or pick-and-pop on offense, but there’s a reason he’s fallen back in the Portland rotation, he is young and inconsistent.

Portland clinched a playoff spot by still getting the win over Brooklyn on Monday night, however, what seed they can hold on to is up in the air. Portland is currently the four seed in the West, 2.5 games up on the Jazz and Clippers (the Blazers are three games up in the loss column on both). Without Nurkic and C.J. McCollum as they head out on a four-game road trip (McCollum could be out much if not all of the rest of the regular season with a knee injury), the Blazers could stumble and lose out on home court in the first round.

Wherever they start the playoffs, advancing past that just got a whole lot tougher on Monday night.

2) Devin Booker puts on a show scoring 59, but Jazz dunk their way to win anyway. There were two very different offensive shows going on in Salt Lake City on Monday night. On one end, Devin Booker was just hitting everything on his way to 59 points.

On the other end of the court, the Jazz exploited the Suns’ nonexistent rim protection to put on their own dunk contest — and in the process Rudy Gobert set the NBA’s single-season record for dunks at 270 (he’s now at 275 after this game).

Utah got the win handily, 125-92. They even fouled Booker at the end of the game so he couldn’t get to 60 points (Jimmer Fredette helped with that, the new Suns’ guard jacked up some shots even when Booker was put back in the game late just to get to 60).

3) Oklahoma City’s struggles continue, this time in a loss to Memphis. A couple of months ago, Oklahoma City looked like the second-best team in the Western Conference, a team poised to make a deep playoff run — they have two elite players in Paul George (an MVP candidate) and Russell Westbrook, a stout defense led by Steven Adams, and they create matchup problems.

Or they used to. OKC has lost 5-of-6, the latest to Memphis — without Mike Conley — on Monday night. The Thunder have fallen all the way back to the eight seed (tied with San Antonio for 7/8) and could well get their nightmare scenario of facing Golden State in the first round.

The problem has been on the offensive end, where Paul George has gone into a slump, Westbrook is still putting up numbers but is not efficient, and at least Dennis Schroder seems to have gotten out of his funk. That was the case in Memphis: George had 30 points but needed 29 shots, Westbrook had 16 points on 20 shots, and Schroder was the man with 25 points on 14 shots.

Meanwhile, the star of the game was Bruno Caboclo with a career-high 24-points.

This is the second season is a row George has struggled after the All-Star break. Last season he shot 38.5 percent overall (32.4 percent from three) after the break. This season it’s 38.6 percent shooting overall and 32.9 percent from three.

George and the Thunder have eight games to get this figured out or it may not matter who OKC faces in the first round of the playoffs.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert sets single-season record for most dunks at 270

Associated Press
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Mention Rudy Gobert and the first thing that comes to mind is his defense. The Jazz center is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and may well win the award again this season, Utah has a defensive net rating of just 92.2 when Gobert is on the court after the All-Star break, 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

However, Gobert can provide offense, too — he rolls to the rim, has soft hands, and knows how to finish at the rim.

Meaning he dunks. A lot.

In the second quarter of Utah’s win against Phoenix on Monday, Gobert finished off an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell and it was Gobert’s 270th dunk of the season, setting an NBA single-season record (Dwight Howard held the record t 269 from his 2007-08 season; this stat has only been tracked since the 1997-98 season). Gobert averaged 3.7 dunks per game, just finishing plays around the rim as defenses focus on Mitchell, Joe Ingles, or can’t anticipate the passing of Ricky Rubio.

Gobert finished with five more dunks in the game as the Jazz almost had their own private dunk contest against the Suns’ interior defense. Gobert finished with 27 points and got the Gatorade shower for it.

Gobert isn’t going to be the only person passing Howard’s old record this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has 262 dunks on the season. The race for most dunks this season is not over.

We just know it’s going at a record pace.

NBA family sends its love for Jusuf Nurkic after ugly leg injury

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It’s the kind of injury that turns your stomach.

Portland’s center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a devastating leg injury during the second overtime of Portland’s eventual win over Brooklyn Monday night. A win that clinched a playoff spot for the Trail Blazers, yet their locker room was silent after the game because a guy who is at the heart of why they are headed to the postseason, a guy having a career year, has an injury that is threatening that career.

After it happened, the love poured out from other NBA players.

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic taken off court on stretcher after gruesome leg injury

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This looked bad. It was worse — for Jusuf Nurkic, and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Midway through the second overtime against Brooklyn Monday night, Nurkic went down with what can only be described as a gruesome injury. The Trail Blazers later announced it was compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this).

Nurkic had gone up for an offensive rebound and came down awkwardly, his leg bending in ways that no leg should bend. He laid on the floor in pain, was carted off in a stretcher — with the crowd sending positive vibes — and taken directly to the hospital.

Here is a video of the incident, but be warned this is brutal and may be a video you want to avoid if these kinds of injuries make you feel ill. Or, even if they don’t.

Around the league, sympathy poured out for Nurkic.

This is a Portland team also without C.J. McCollum, who has a left knee injury and is out officially for the upcoming four-game road trip and may miss the rest of the regular season.

Nurkic got paid last summer, a four-year, $48 million deal — but unlike others who take their foot off the gas once they get their money, Nurkic came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1 and other advanced stats are at career bests, and on the defensive end he moved better and was more of a presence. On offense, he sets the picks for Damian Lillard (second most used pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA) and when teams inevitably trap and blitz Lillard he has gotten the ball to the rolling Nurkic, whose skills as a passer and playmaker have grown tremendously in the last year. He has been Portland’s second best player for stretches of the season.

Portland had looked like a more dangerous playoff threat this season and Nurkic was a big reason for the Blazers’ optimism heading into the postseason. Now, that edge is gone.