Associated Press

Manu Ginobili’s personal career highlight: Spurs title in 2014

3 Comments

The 2014 Spurs — which won 62 regular season games, then got revenge on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals to win the franchise’s fifth title — played arguably the most beautiful ball-movement, sharply-executed basketball the league has ever seen. By the end of that season, the Spurs were a force of athleticism and high IQ players who just shredded opponents.

With the door officially being closed on San Antonio’s “big three” era after the retirement of Manu Ginobili, that is one team worth looking back on with pride. Ginobili does. He met with the media this weekend in San Antonio and was asked about the greatest highlight of his Hall of Fame career, and it was that team — and how it responded to the crushing loss to the Heat the season before in the Finals — that he talked about. Via ESPN:

“I was carrying a very heavy load in my bag for what happened the year before,” Ginobili said. “Being able to leave that aside, feel that I helped the team to accomplish that goal, was huge. A very important moment of my career. We did it with a great team, a team that played great in a fun way, altruistically. And I was already older. When I got here and we won the first championship, I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t know what was going on, how hard it was. At 37, and after a couple of frustrating moments where we were very close, that was very fulfilling and a big joy.”

Watching Ginobili play was a joy. Talking to him as a media member was a joy, he was always gracious. The league will not be quite the same without him.

Manu Ginobili points to moment he knew NBA retirement was final

1 Comment

Former San Antonio Spurs wing Manu Ginobili is done with the NBA. That much is for certain.

Ginobili addressed the media on Saturday, confirming his decision to remain retired and that last season would be his final in the Association. Speaking to reporters, Ginobili said that he needed to take a couple of weeks to gather himself after he announced his retirement before he answered questions and faced the media.

Most interestingly, Ginobili said there was one specific moment when he returned to the Spurs practice facility that confirmed to him that he wasn’t going to come back to play for San Antonio in 2018-19.

Upon arriving to the PF, Ginobili saw some of the younger Spurs players working out, yet didn’t feel any connection or motivation to wanting to do the same.

Via ESPN:

“I took last season mentally as my last season,” Ginobili said. “So every place I went, every situation, I kind of knew it was going to be the last one. But I left the door open, just in case. Slowly, the door started to close more. I couldn’t see my body going through that kind of grind again. I felt that I had a good season, that I left everything I had in that previous season both physically and mentally.

“When I came back here and I came to work out a little bit, to lift, bike or whatever, I saw Bryn [Forbes], I saw Dejounte [Murray], I saw some of the guys working out and preparing for the season. And I was so far from that. That’s when I said, ‘For sure, this is it.’ There was a little bit of that door opened, but it closed pretty quick. I couldn’t see me getting ready for another 82-game season, 65 in my case.”

Ginobili said that the decision would stand, and Coach Gregg Popovich of course was respectful of his wishes. Ginobili said Popovich tried to change his mind but only for a moment, “He briefly tried to convince me. He saw me very convinced. I guess he saw it right away. He respected my decision, of course, and we had a great talk.”

The 37-year-old Argentinian veteran said that one of his favorite moments from his career was the 2014 NBA championship, and that he would cherish memories from all over his 16-year NBA career.

Ginobili ends his run in San Antonio as a four-time NBA champion, two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA recipient, and as the 2007-08 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

Spurs on precipice after losing Kawhi Leonard

AP Photo/Darren Abate
6 Comments

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and the Lakers contended for championships for the next decade.

Tim Duncan won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and the Spurs contended for championships for the next decade and a half.

Kawhi Leonard won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and… only four years later, San Antonio is just trying to sneak into the playoffs with an old roster.

Leonard did his part, until last season at least. He grew into a perennial MVP candidate, the NBA’s best defender and an elite offensive player.

But that all came crashing down over the last year. Leonard got hurt, and a distrust between him and San Antonio grew. It’d be difficult to determine how much blame to assign each side even if we knew everything, and we certainly don’t know everything.

What’s clear: The Spurs are bearing the brunt of the breakdown.

Their trade of Leonard to the Raptors – for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 first-rounder – was a devastating sell-low. That probably wasn’t the Spurs’ best offer in a vacuum, but they were reportedly limited by their own parameters – preferring to send Leonard to the East and valuing immediate contributors.

That’s the effect of a 69-year-old coach running the front office.

Gregg Popovich is an all-time great coach, and if he wants to avoid rebuilding until retirement, he has more than earned the right. Embracing youth and accepting losing probably doesn’t appeal to him at this point.

Popovich has proven masterful at getting players to understand their responsibilities and executing them, and that’s why his teams have been so consistently good in the regular season. He’ll need another supreme coaching performance to get this squad into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.

The most common oversimplification of the summer is that the Spurs are basically just adding DeRozan to a team that won 47 games last season because Leonard barely played anyway. San Antonio also lost important cogs Kyle Anderson (signed unmatched offer sheet with Grizzlies), Danny Green (traded to Toronto) and Manu Ginobili (retired). Tony Parker left for the Hornets, too.

At least San Antonio got Popovich a few players familiar with his system, re-signing Rudy Gay (one year, $10,087,200), Davis Bertans (two years, $14 million) and Bryn Forbes (two years, $6 million) and signing former Spur Marco Belinelli (two years, $12 million). None of those players came cheap.

Newly signed veterans Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter could help, too.

The Spurs aren’t completely punting the future. They drafted Lonnie Walker No. 18 and Chimezie Metu No. 49. Belinelli’s and Forbes’ salaries decline in the their second seasons. Bertans’ is flat.

Teams run into trouble when they prioritize the present regardless of greater circumstance, and the Spurs did that to some degree. But they also have Popovich and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom will make it easier for San Antonio to win next season. Popovich doesn’t need much, and Aldridge’s interior style can prop up lesser supporting casts.

That said, I’m still not sure the Spurs have enough.

They’ve been headed for trouble for a while, as their relationship with Leonard deteriorated. That didn’t all happen this offseason, though that’s when the dam broke.

Offseason grade: D-

Udonis Haslem reveals why he chose to return to Heat

Getty Images
1 Comment

MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem arrived at the Miami Heat facility for a workout one day last week, and was told he needed to sign a waiver before he took the court.

The reason: Technically, he wasn’t on the team.

“That was a little weird, having to do that,” Haslem said.

It won’t be a problem for the next year. Haslem officially signed his one-year, $2.4 million contract with the Heat on Monday, a deal that was struck last week and finally became official when he put pen to paper. Haslem will enter his 16th NBA season, all with the Heat, and that means the Miami native will be with his hometown franchise for more than half of its 31-year history.

“For the hometown kid in me, that means the world,” Haslem said. “I wish I understood how big that is right now, because I really don’t, but I know it’s big.”

Haslem was the seventh-oldest player in the NBA last season – and will rise at least one spot on that list this season, with the retirement of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. Vince Carter is 41 and will play for Atlanta, Dirk Nowitzki is 40 and back with Dallas, and Haslem is 38.

“It’s great to have our captain back,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

The others who played last season and are older than Haslem are Jason Terry, Damien Wilkins and Jamal Crawford. They all remain unsigned for the coming season.

So, too, does Dwyane Wade. He and Haslem are the only two players who were part of all three Heat championship teams. Haslem said he’s busily recruiting his business partner – the pair shares several off-court interests, including a pizza chain – to come back as well.

“My mindset has always been for us to finish it together,” Haslem said. “I want us to do a whole season together. Experience the road, dinner on the road, go through that whole process. I want us to experience that together.”

Wade tweeted his congratulations to Haslem when the deal was signed.

“You are (the) most selfless person I’ve ever met,” Wade said in his tweet.

Haslem appeared in only 14 games last season, and hasn’t had much of a role with the Heat in the last three seasons. Haslem believes he can still play – he has kept himself in tremendous condition – but knows that he probably won’t have a big on-court presence again.

Still, a meeting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra last week helped seal the deal to return.

“Me and Spo were honest with each other,” Haslem said. “Honesty is not always telling somebody what they want to hear. And we both have gotten to that point in our careers where we value each other’s opinions, whether we want to hear them or not. We trust each other. We root for each other. We both have the best interests of this team in mind.”

But even if he doesn’t get much in the way of minutes, Haslem knows he’s valued. Spoelstra raves about the way he interacts and mentors teammates, and Haslem said that was a huge part of his decision as well.

“It’s about my love for the organization and my love for the guys,” Haslem said. “It wasn’t about me. If I was looking for playing time, I could have gone someplace else or played in China or something. But at the end of the day, would it have made me as happy as being around this organization and being around these guys? No, I don’t think it would.”

 

5 Up, 5 Down: NBA is as good as it’s ever been and arguing otherwise is futile

Twitter
3 Comments

5 Up, 5 Down is a column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

The malaise of summer in the NBA is upon us. How has your vacation been? Mine was delightful. I got a lot done; I went to the coast; I generally tried to unplug. Is Kawhi Leonard still with the San Antonio Spurs? I hope they can figure that mess out, I love those guys together.

It’s a slow news cycle in the NBA these days, although it will pick up soon. That doesn’t mean that narratives aren’t abound, even if they aren’t necessarily ones having to do with actual basketball. Even the Los Angeles Lakers News Machine has downshifted a little bit, although that isn’t to say they aren’t still running through the gears.

Real basketball will start soon, and along with it real stories. In the meantime, there has been some fun stuff happening this summer that acts as a nice transition into the coming 2018-19 NBA season.

Let’s get to it.

5 Up

Lance Stephenson and LeBron James are friends now

LeBron James has been Lance Stephenson’s foil for nearly his entire career. When the two were battling out in the Eastern Conference playoffs year after year with Stephenson in Indiana, there was a clear rivalry between two. That rivalry always favored LeBron, which was great because Lance is an extremely wack dude.

Now they are both on the Los Angeles Lakers together and it appears that Stephenson is ready to take a supporting role in whatever way he can to appease James. Speaking to the Indianapolis Star last week, Stephenson said that he thinks LeBron is going to “sic” him on opposing offensive players. OK, then.

There is a considerable chance that things go south in Los Angeles for Stephenson. I just want to mark this moment in time when it appeared that both were ready to be friendly with each other. You know, just for hindsight.

Houston finally swapped Ryan Anderson

Yes, the Rockets were finally able to trade Ryan Anderson and his behemoth contract away from Houston. To what end, nobody is yet sure.

Anderson was sent to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a package centered on Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight. How that benefits either team isn’t really clear, although Anderson is still a useful shooter from 3-point range. Mostly it seems like this is a source of relief not only for the Rockets, but for those of us who were wondering when Daryl Morey would clear those numbers from his books.

Phoenix won’t be ready to compete anytime soon and they did have some cap space to be able to absorb Anderson’s contract over the remaining length of his deal. The Suns were able to get out from Chriss and Knight, both of whom have not developed as anticipated. What this could mean to the larger NBA public is that teams are more willing to make deals with potential lateral benefit on paper as a means to get out of bad contracts signed a few years ago. I can hear Portland fans licking their chops from here already.

Joel Embiid learned how to shoot from YouTube

You can learn just about anything on YouTube. How to speak another language. How to become a photographer. How to use video editing software. Bushcraft, whatever the hell that is. It’s endless.

Joel Embiid apparently learned to be an NBA player thanks to YouTube. Fancy that.

According to the Philadelphia 76ers big man, decided to look up proper shooting form by Googling for videos of people shooting a basketball when he was living in Florida as a high schooler. Specifically, Embiid looked up how white dudes shot the ball.

Listen, I know it’s a stereotype, but have you ever seen a normal, 30-year-old white guy shoot a three-pointer? That elbow is tucked, man. The knees are bent. The follow-through is perfect. Always. You know how in America, there’s always an older guy wearing like EVERLAST sweat-shorts at the court? That guy is always a problem. His J is always wet.

Googling is a skill. Don’t @ me.

Ray Allen was told not to shoot 3-pointers

This story about coaches telling Ray Allen not to settle for 3-pointers when he entered the league is sort of the exact example you need to know that the NBA has never been as good as it is now.

My whole problem with the argument about comparing generations of the league — outside of the pure futility and boredom of it — is that the answer is so clearly obvious that today’s athletes would beat athletes from any other generation. They are bigger, faster, stronger, more nutritionally conscious, and trained with the latest advances in medical science and sports data.

Yes, it’s possible that given the chance, players from older generations would be able to adapt and play at a high level with this same benefit. But that’s not really what we are looking at is it? The conversation can’t devolve into some insane genetic experiment. Arguing over whether Bob Cousy could toast Kyrie Irving if only he wasn’t eating canned green beans his whole life is patently crazy.

As they stand, the only adaptations that modern players would need to adjust to in order to go play in prior decades is to the awful sneaker technology and the fact that you could foul guys harder and more often in decades past. You don’t think LeBron could handcheck a dude? You think James Harden, whose whole game is about bringing the ball low and gripping it as tight as he can as NBA players bat at it, couldn’t use his extreme deltoid strength to his advantage in the 1990s?

Then again, the whole “today’s athletes are bigger and stronger” sort of lends to the idea they’d be able to adjust to hard fouls and rule changes thanks to superior bodies and knowledge of the game.

The idea that Allen wasn’t supposed to settle for 3-pointers just 22 years ago it is outright hilarious, and exemplifies how far we have come not just as individuals watching the game but in terms of team strategy.

The rate of acceleration is exponential at this point. I can’t wait for the basketball singularity.

Klay Thompson’s whole summertime steez

Looking good, bro.

View this post on Instagram

Future @thebig3 champs

A post shared by Klay Thompson (@klaythompson) on

5 Down

The Timberwolves have interest in Luol Deng, Joakim Noah

Watching the Minnesota Timberwolves is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. There is perhaps no way that things end up well for this team, and that’s not just because Tom Thibodeau seems hell-bent on the idea of bringing back old Chicago Bulls players that couldn’t even beat the competition in the Eastern Conference half a decade ago.

There is also some significant distance between Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, and adding Deng and Noah is really the icing on the cake for a team that is reported to have locker room troubles. Honestly, the Timberwolves are typically a fun League Pass team and this year seems to be shaping up to be no different.

Sign Keith Bogans. Sign Kirk Hinrich. Sign CJ Watson. Sign Mike James. Sign ‘em all, I say.

Manu Ginobili is no longer a Spur

Manu Ginobili deserves to go out on his own terms. The sun appears to be setting on the days in which the Spurs are perennially atop the Western Conference with seemingly little effort. Ginobili has put in his time, and is a future hall-of-famer. Now, it’s just a little sad to think of how many pillars in San Antonio are no longer there.

As a tribute, let’s watch my favorite Ginobili highlight.

Shaq once choked a teammate

Shaq has done an excellent job of rehabilitating his image, especially for someone who went through his entire career as someone who was seen as both captivating and a completely self-absorbed jerk. The fact that O’Neal has become a successful broadcaster during his post playing career, and the fact that he entered the league more than two decades ago has faded some of the opinions about Shaq that developed over the course of his career on the court.

That is, that Shaq was dominant but lazy, self-important to a fault, and unable to see his own value when paired against another all-time great. Again, much of that has been washed away through the sands of time, but the idea that he once choked a teammate as a member of the Phoenix Suns is a little disheartening.

The reality is that Shaq has been pretty wack ever since the Lakers rightly decided to stick with Kobe over him in 2004. This story isn’t endearing, it’s just disappointing. Watch us never talk about it again.

JR Smith is already unraveling

JR Smith was at one time a favorite of LeBron James. Who knows if that’s still the case, but James is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and Smith is still stuck in Northeast Ohio. Meanwhile, it appears that Smith isn’t handling it well. The Cleveland Cavaliers guard allegedly chucked a fan’s phone as the fan was trying to record him for social media.

This is was not out of the ordinary for an NBA player — the filming, I mean, not the phone breaking — and the fact that Smith decided to huck this dude’s phone doesn’t bode well for what to expect from him in the coming season. We haven’t even started the preseason yet and already Smith is doing extremely Knicks-y JR Smith stuff.

Nevermind. I actually can’t wait.

These ugly gold-and-diamond LeBrons

Did Donald Trump design these? Good god.