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Tony Parker: Kawhi Leonard didn’t leave Spurs because of me

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Last March, Tony Parker – who, unlike Kawhi Leonard, already returned to play regularly for the Spurs – said his quad injury was 100 times worse than Leonard’s.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Parker regrets how that played out and finds it “unbelievable” some fans thought the comments played a role in Leonard’s desire to leave San Antonio.

“If people think that, then they’re really wrong,” Parker says, addressing the situation publicly for the first time. “Because I’m definitely not the reason. I was saying that in a positive way. The sad thing is everybody ran with this and put me as the bad guy, and I had no problem playing with Kawhi.

“I loved playing with him. I’m kind of the one who passed him the torch because it was kind of my team between 2008 and 2015, and I passed the torch to him. So it was sad people tried to put me against Kawhi. It never happened like that. People like [former Spur] Danny Green and other people that knew Kawhi and could talk to them, I told them to tell him the real story.”

Parker did better in explaining he had no problem with Leonard. At least Parker was speaking for himself at that point.

Very few people know Leonard well enough to understand his plans. Parker isn’t one of them. He needed a go-between just to explain himself to Leonard. There was clearly a divide there.

Parker isn’t positioned to say Leonard’s reasoning. It seems Parker, now with the Hornets, is just trying to get heat off himself.

I doubt Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio because of just Parker’s comment. But I do believe that comment contributed to Leonard feeling alienated.

Maybe that’s not how it was intended, though I have a hard time seeing how it’d come across “in a positive way.” Still, what people say doesn’t always convey how they feel. We needn’t beat up Parker if he didn’t choose his words carefully enough.

But we also shouldn’t blindly trust he can speak for Leonard like this.

Three Things to Know: James Harden is breaking records, Warriors just look broken

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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) James Harden is breaking records, Warriors just look broken. At what point do we say “the Warriors have a problem?”

I’ve been at the forefront of the “whatever, they’ll get it together when it matters” campaign, that we’re measuring the Warriors against the impossibly high bar they set. However, the Warriors were crushed at home by the Lakers on Christmas (even with LeBron James having to leave the game), next they gave away a fourth-quarter lead to the Trail Blazers and lost in overtime, then Thursday night they repeated the pattern blowing a 17-point lead to the Rockets, going to OT and losing again.

At what point do we say “this is a problem?”

Thursday the Warriors’ problem was named James Harden.

He has vaulted himself back into the MVP conversation with a historic run in the last dozen games: 40.1 points per game average in those 12 on a ridiculous 64 true shooting percentage, plus 9 assists and 6.6 rebounds a night. Harden now owns the NBA record streak of games with at least 35+ points and 5+ assists at nine (and counting), and he has topped Stephen Curry’s record for consecutive games with five or more made threes at eight.

Against the Warriors, he had 44 points, made a career-high 10 threes, had 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Oh, and with the game on the line did this.

Which, frankly, was instant Karma after the Warriors took a two-point lead on a Curry shot that only happened because the referees somehow missed an obvious out-of-bounds call when Kevin Durant “saved” the ball to keep the play alive.

Harden’s run has carried the Rockets offense and propelled the team to an 11-1 run that has taken them from 14th in the West to fourth. The last six wins have come with Chris Paul out. That said, I’m not ready to say Houston is back to being title contenders — their defense is 13th in the NBA during the win streak, it’s not great, Harden is just covering it up right now.

The Warriors aren’t playing like contenders, either.

In those same last dozen games, the Warriors are 7-5 with a meager +1.1 net rating. Curry and Draymond Green are finally healthy, yet the Warriors are not playing with the consistency of execution or passion we expect of contenders. In the final 3:30 of regulation against Houston, Curry and Durant — mostly Durant — took all the shots and were 2-of-8.

This roster is thinner, Golden State could use a good DeMarcus Cousins in the paint (nobody knows exactly how good he will be whenever he returns), and the Warriors look older and a little slower.

Maybe none of that matters. Maybe the Warriors’ “don’t worry, we got this” attitude when asked about their struggles it is right. They are back-to-back champions, maybe Golden State can just flip the switch.

But at what point do we say “the Warriors have a serious problem?”

2) Kawhi Leonard returns to San Antonio and DeMar DeRozan reminds everyone he was traded, too. Spurs fans got their cathartic moment. Despite the fact Gregg Popovich didn’t like it, when Kawhi Leonard returned to San Antonio Thursday Spurs fans lustily booed every chance they got and even changed “traitor” at points (but Danny Green got plenty of love).

Leonard and the “he will make Toronto different in the playoffs” narrative have dominated the storylines around the Raptors and in the run-up to this game. DeMar DeRozan — the guy that was the reason the Spurs went with the Toronto package, the guy pissed he was traded from a city and franchise he loved over the summer — dominated the game and reminded the world he was part of the trade, too.

DeRozan came out of the locker room hotter than a TexMex salsa with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in the first half. He finished the game with his first ever triple double. DeRozan finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists, and the Spurs got the 125-107 win.

Overlooked in that was LaMarcus Aldridge bullying Serge Ibaka on his way to 21 points on 14 shots, or that Bryn Forbes had 20 points on 10 shots. The Spurs were the classic efficient Spurs. Which is why they currently are a playoff team (tied for the seven seed at 21-17) in the crowded West.

One final thought: Toronto misses Kyle Lowry. A lot. And they missed Jonas Valanciunas a lot in the paint, also.

3) The first round of fan All-Star voting is in and… what exactly are you all thinking? The first round of fan voting is in and if we went by that the All-Star captains would be LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo (remember the new All-Star format has the fans picking the 10 starters, who are thrown in a pool the captains choose teams playground style). That makes perfect sense, they are two of the best players in the NBA this season.

The other eight in the starter’s pool would be: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Derrick Rose, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Dwyane Wade.

Um… really fans? Wade, who comes off the bench on a struggling Heat Team and is playing replacement player level basketball, but you want him over Victor Oladipo or Kemba Walker or Kyle Lowry? I love the Rose comeback story as much as the next guy, but you’re picking him over James Harden or Damian Lillard? And Doncic is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but if you’re picking him over Anthony Davis or Paul George you’re doing it wrong.

That said, it’s an exhibition and fans vote their heart. So if they have Vince Carter — who I think entered the NBA during the Taft administration — seven in the East frontcourt voting, so be it. Or if they vote DeMarcus Cousins, who has yet to touch the court for the Warriors, 10th in the West frontcourt, so be it.

I’d say “give the people what they want” except the NBA is not going to do that. Remember the fan vote counts for 50 percent of the total, with a player vote making up 25 percent and a media vote making up the other 25 percent. Plus, the fan vote will shift as more votes come in. Which is good. Also fans, you can stop voting for John Wall, he’s not going to be playing (but is 10th in fan voting in the East guards somehow, despite a down year before his injuries).

Gregg Popovich on Spurs fans booing Kawhi Leonard: ‘I felt badly about it’

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San Antonio Spurs fans were probably never going to be nice to Kawhi Leonard when he eventually returned to the AT&T Center in Texas. The Toronto Raptors star left the Spurs franchise over the summer under inauspicious circumstances following a year of mystery.

But now Leonard is a member of a new team, and both parties have to move on.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s first game against the Spurs at the AT&T Center was on Thursday night, and fans did not greet him kindly. While Spurs diehards chanted for Danny Green during warm-ups, they immediately booed Leonard.

San Antonio beat Toronto, 125-107, and after the game Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that he felt badly for Leonard after fans gave him what for. Popovich and Leonard shared a little moment together after the game that was at least nice to see after how things were left.

Via Twitter:

DeMar DeRozan had a career night, notching his first triple-double ever on a statline of 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists to go along with two steals.

Spurs fans boo Kawhi Leonard in return to San Antonio

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Thursday night was the first time that the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors have faced each other since the massive trade between the two teams sent DeMar DeRozan to Texas and Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Canada.

It was always going to be an emotional night at the AT&T Center once we found this game on the calendar. And yet, the real question is how Spurs fans would receive Leonard some months later.

As you know by now, last season did not go well for Leonard in San Antonio. The nature of how things fell apart between Leonard and the organization has become clearer over time, but the gist of it is that it got pretty wonky between the best franchise in the NBA and the former Finals MVP.

So, how did Spurs fans react when Green and Leonard were introduced? I bet you can guess.

Via Twitter:

Yes, that’s the AT&T Center chanting Danny Green’s name before he was announced, then promptly booing Leonard once the PA resonated with his own.

We also expected the team to do a tribute video for the pair, but even there it seemed that Green was billed first. Check out the wording of the Spurs’ tweet.

Via Twitter:

At this point it’s going to take some time for things to cool off between the two sides. But stranger things have happened, and perhaps Spurs fans will love Leonard once again. Hell, the Portland Trail Blazers retired Bill Walton’s jersey in 1989 and things did not end on happy terms there, either.

Leonard is an all-time Spurs great, but for now they probably have reason to boo.

Three Things to Know: Derrick Rose hears MVP chants in return to Chicago

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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) Derrick Rose hears MVP chants from Chicago crowd after he puts on a show in his hometown. Derrick Rose is a Chicago legend. He was born there, played on the blacktop and in the high school gyms there. Came back from college as a member of the Bulls and went on to win an MVP there with an exciting and dynamic style. He is still loved there, no matter how it ended.

The prodigal son returned home Wednesday night wearing a Timberwolves jersey and in the middle of a renaissance season — 18.7 points per game, 4.7 assists, shooting 45.5 percent from three and with a 19.7 PER — that is his best since he wore a Bulls uniform and heard MVP chants at the United Center.

He scored 24 on his old team Wednesday and heard those MVP chants again.

Rose’s highlight package on the night was vintage Rose. He attacked, absorbed the contact, and made plays. What he has now that he didn’t have in his time in Chicago — besides healthy knees — is craft to his game. He’s much more than just an athlete now.

Rose had 24 to lead the Timberwolves in a thrashing of the struggling Bulls, 119-94.

2) Don’t look now, but the Nets have won 9-of-10 and Spencer Dinwiddie is a stud. When Spencer Dinwiddie recently signed a three-year, $34 million extension with the Nets, there were a lot of casual fans around the sports universe who said, “who got how much? Damn NBA is out of control.”

Not in NBA circles. Talk to league executives, and you heard a lot of “Dinwiddie could have made more in July but he took the security of the payday now.” Not that anyone blamed him (execs think the Nets made a smart move with the extension).

Wednesday night he showed why there were a number of teams eyeing him heading into free agency, scoring 37 in Brooklyn’s double-overtime win against Charlotte.

This was an entertaining game to watch from the start, but how it got to overtime in the first place was one of the oddest end-of-game sequences you will ever see.

The Nets have won 9-of-10 and are back in the playoff picture in the East as the nine seed, just 1.5 games out of the postseason. Which is remarkable and speaks to the effort of the players and the culture being built in Brooklyn. The Nets are making this run with an elite offense — 114.5 points scored per 100 possessions in their last 10, third best in the league — covering up a bottom 10 defense. That is not only winning them games, but it’s also making them fun to watch, and everybody is noticing.

3) Danny Green drains game-winning three and the Raptors keep on winning, 106-104 vs. Miami. Not only are the Toronto Raptors 26-10 this season, it just feels different from the past Toronto teams (the ones that flamed out in the playoffs with a predictable offense and guys that didn’t always step up in the moment). The win over the Heat in Miami on Wednesday showed why.

First, they have Kawhi Leonard now, and he dropped 30 in this game. He’s better than any player this franchise has ever had (sorry, Chris Bosh) and we know he can step up in the postseason because he’s got a ring and a Finals MVP trophy to prove it.

Then there are the role players. Danny Green might be the best under-the-radar pickup in the NBA last season, a throw-in as part of the Leonard trade but a guy with a championship ring, an All-Defensive team player, and a guy who all season (and throughout his career) has knocked down the big shot in clutch moments. Like he did Wednesday night.

The real test for Toronto will come in May (and maybe June), but right now I would not doubt this team.