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Report: Gregg Popovich wants to sit down with LeBron James, pitch Spurs

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In Cleveland, it feels like LeBron James is out the door. Maybe his family can change his mind, but it’s more likely the Summer of LeBron.

Three teams, besides the Cavaliers, have been linked to  LeBron — the Sixers, the Rockets, and the Lakers. Others, such as Miami, get mentioned at times. Beyond that, there’s a whole lot of teams that would like to get a chance, just get a sit down with LeBron and his team and make a pitch.

One who both wants to and might get that chance is Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times

I’ve also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas.

Is LeBron going to leave Cleveland for a smaller market? Is LeBron going to come to the West where the Warriors and Rockets already are dominant forces? LeBron will consider all his options, but the Spurs seem a longshot. That said, LeBron’s respect for Popovich could lead to a meeting — likely over dinner and a couple excellent bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

If LeBron did consider it, there would be massive advantages. And challenges.

A pairing of LeBron with Kawhi Leonard — assuming he stays and signs a super-max contract extension with the Spurs, Popovich is working on it and groundwork is already being laid on that front, according to league sources — would be one of the league’s elite one-two punches on offense. Put the two of them with Dejounte Murray and it would give the Spurs the kind of long, switchable, physical perimeter defenders needed to hang with the Warriors and Rockets.

We also know Murray wants LeBron to come.

In addition, you know the Spurs’ role players would step up, play smart, and give LeBron the kind of support he lacked this past season — San Antonio won 48 games essentially without Leonard last season. Over the final days of the playoffs, LeBron was wistfully talking about playing with high IQ players again — the Spurs can give him that. It’s easy to see guys like Manu Ginobili (he would come back for one more year if LeBron were there), Pau Gasol, and Rudy GayDavis Bertans, and others making it work with LeBron.

For the Spurs to land LeBron would mean some serious salary cap gymnastics in San Antonio. If the Spurs renounce free agent Tony Parker and if Danny Green opts out and the Spurs don’t bring him back, the Spurs still would be floating around the luxury tax line before LeBron comes in (and the Spurs, ideally, would like to have both of them back if LeBron is there). The Spurs would need to trade several big salaries — including LaMarcus Aldridge, who would be an odd fit on the court with LeBron anyway — without taking any money back to get far enough under the cap to sign LeBron to a max contract. The easier way would be for LeBron to pull a Chris Paul move and opt-in to the last year of his deal ($35 million) then force a trade to the Spurs, who would send Aldridge, Patty Mills, and some young players and picks to the Cavaliers. (Good luck convincing Cleveland to take on a $70 million or more luxury tax bill to put out a team with Kevin Love, Aldridge, Mills and the No. 8 pick — there likely would need to be a third team in this trade to make it work.)

Never say never with Popovich, he is respected enough by LeBron to get the meeting. However, it’s hard to see this coming together.

 

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Three Things to Know: Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans in playoffs, but questions abound

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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) Where we are out West: Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans all win and secure playoff berths. Winner of Denver at Minnesota Wednesday gets the last spot. A lot of questions about the Western Conference playoff chase were answered Monday night — three teams reached the magic number of 47 wins and locked up spots. What we don’t know is seeding — Utah could finish anywhere from the three to eight seed, depending upon the next couple of days. Friend of this site Matt Moore helped sum up the confusion.

But at least we know seven of the eight teams in the party. We also know that Denver and Minnesota will play Wednesday with a playoff spot on the line. That’s because, despite a lackadaisical effort in the first half, the Timberwolves came back to beat the Grizzlies thanks to 18 points and 14 boards from Karl-Anthony Towns (who battled foul trouble all night). Denver handed Portland its fourth straight loss, setting up a Nuggets/Timberwolves winner-and-you’re-in showdown Wednesday.

The Thunder looked like they enjoyed the South Beach nightlife a little too much the night before and fell behind 23-5 early to the Heat Monday. However, Oklahoma City fought back and punched its ticket to the playoffs thanks to a Russell Westbrook triple-double and 27 points from Paul George, propelling them to a win in Miami.

The Spurs trailed the Kings by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter vs. the Kings, but Manu Ginobili sparked a comeback that led to a 98-85 win, and with it the Spurs are in the playoffs for the 21st straight year. The Pelicans went into Los Angeles and beat the Clippers, securing their playoff spot — something that would have seemed impossible when DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles, but Anthony Davis has played at an MVP level since then.

Maybe the most important game of the night in the West was Denver getting clutch plays down the stretch from Nikola Jokic (who had a triple-double) and Jamal Murray to beat the Trail Blazers. First, that win set up the one-game showdown between the Nuggets and Timberwolves Wednesday — winner is in, loser goes golfing. Or to Cabo to go fishing. Or whatever they want to do, because they will have time on their hands.

It also was the fourth straight Portland loss, and that opened the door for Utah to snag the three seed — if the Jazz can beat the Warriors Tuesday night (no easy task, but Golden State has nothing to play for and may rest guys) then it sets up a Wednesday Jazz vs. Trail Blazers game where the winner gets the three seed, the loser falls to four.

2) Cavaliers clinch 50 wins, division title, but if they want three seed they need some help. For all the talk this season about the vulnerability of Cleveland — and with the way that team has defended, that talk is valid — it is still a very good team. The Cavaliers locked up the central division crown and picked up their 50th win of the season LeBron James drops 26 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds while Kevin Love scores a game-high 28 points as the Cavaliers beat the Knicks 123-109.

The Cavaliers are the four seed in the East, half a game back of the Sixers in the three seed (Cleveland is one game back in the loss column). They want the three seed because that puts them in banged-up Boston’s side of the bracket, meaning an easier road to the conference finals. However, Cleveland needs help. The Cavs need either the Hawks to snap the Sixers 14-game winning streak Tuesday night (good luck with that) or the Bucks to beat the Sixers on Wednesday night. A 76ers loss means the Cavaliers get the three seed (assuming Cleveland beats New York again on Wednesday); otherwise, the Cavaliers are the four seed and likely face Toronto in the second round.

3) Robert Pera is going to pay up and hold on to ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies. That may be a win for the status quo there. Minority owners frustrated with the majority owner and wanting more say is an NBA tradition right up there with Christmas Day games and a lack of defense in the All-Star Game. However, in Memphis two of the minority owners — Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus — had a unique situation where they were offered the chance to potentially buy out the majority owner Robert Pera.

It was a buy/sell clause and, in a nutshell, here’s how it worked: Kaplan and Straus each were allowed to make a bid and with that set a valuation for the Grizzlies franchise (an option both took back in October). From there Pera, the controlling owner, had two choices: let one of the two men buy out Pera’s 30 percent of the team at the valued price, or Pera had to buy out those two minority owners at that price. This was all behind closed doors, we don’t know what values Kaplan and Straus set for the team.

We do know Pera decided to pay up and keep the team, buying out Kaplan and Straus. The Grizzlies announced that Monday night.

What does this mean for the Grizzlies on the court?

We don’t know for sure, but the sense around the league is that Pera backs the status quo with the Grizzlies — that means keeping, not trading, Marc Gasol, and trying to put together a playoff team around him and Mike Conley (who should be healthy for next season). Pera has not wanted to break this team up, and while he’s a bit of an absentee owner (Pera spends a lot of his time overseas with business interests), he and Gasol are reportedly in regular communication.

It also means interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has a real shot to keep his job. Yes, Bickerstaff is 15-47 as the Grizzlies coach after they fired David Fizdale, but Bickerstaff has done what management asked in helping the team tank, and because of that it’s impossible to evaluate how well he could coach this team under normal circumstances. Other coaches may well be interviewed, there could be a change, but Bickerstaff is likely in play to stay.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Kings to clinch 21st straight playoff berth

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Rudy Gay scored 18 points, Manu Ginobili had 17 and the San Antonio Spurs rallied late to beat the Sacramento Kings 98-85 on Monday night and clinch their 21st straight postseason appearance.

Sacramento, which was eliminated from the postseason on March 11, led by 14 points before being outscored 38-19 in the fourth quarter.

Reserves Gay, Ginobili and Bryn Forbes combined for 25 points in the fourth quarter. Forbes finished with 11 points total.

Willie Cauley-Stein led Sacramento with 25 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox added 21 points, and Buddy Hield had 17.

Forbes’ fast-break layup off a steal by Kyle Anderson gave San Antonio its first advantage at 68-67 with 10:21 remaining. Sacramento went back ahead seconds later when Hield hit a 3-pointer, and the lead changed three times after that before Ginobili and Gay gave the Spurs’ the edge for good.

Gay and Ginobili had thunderous dunks in the final five minutes that helped San Antonio maintain small leads.

Manu Ginobillllliiiiiii!

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Gay also had a 3-point play off a runner he tossed in and ripped the ball from Cauley-Stein while blocking the 7-footers shot.

A 3-pointer by Forbes and a layup by Ginobili 30 seconds later to gave the Spurs an 82-77 lead with 5:23 remaining.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 15 points and 14 rebounds but was 6 for 19 from the field.

Sacramento forced the rally with some hot shooting through three quarters.

Fox, who was shooting 30 percent from 3-point range for the season, made his first three 3s. He finished 3 for 5.

The Kings had 11 offensive rebounds through three quarters to the consternation of the Spurs’ fans, who groaned louder with each.

Sacramento shot 41 percent for the game.

 

Report: Spurs held players-only meeting imploring Kawhi Leonard to play

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Gregg Popovich’s thinly veiled attempt to pressure Kawhi Leonard into playing apparently had an effect – on Leonard’s Spurs teammates.

They, apparently led by Tony Parker, confronted Leonard.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs held a players-only meeting to implore All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to return to the lineup and help the team in its push for the playoffs, league sources told ESPN.

Spurs guard Tony Parker, a four-time NBA champion, quarterbacked the meeting with his teammates and Leonard after Saturday night’s victory over Minnesota, league sources said.

The conversation was described as tense and emotional at times, league sources said.

Several teammates spoke up, expressing frustration and confusion over a growing divide with Leonard that has created significant tension between the franchise star and the Spurs, league sources said.

Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.

That optimism around Leonard? It just went up in flames like Nick Young‘s Forever 21 clothing.

The Spurs have cleared Leonard to play, but he and his medical team don’t feel he’s ready. That’s an uneasy disagreement, but not necessarily illegitimate. Players know their own bodies and can sometimes sense problems doctors can’t identify. As of a few weeks ago, Popovich said Leonard was doing what he’s supposed to do.

So, a locker room full of players telling Leonard to play anyway sounds pretty unhealthy. It’s a shocking development in San Antonio, where the Spurs’ culture is recognized as arguably the NBA’s best and where the team is known for erring on the side of caution with injuries.

Fairly or not, Leonard probably invited this showdown with his handling of the injury. He told teammates he’d return to play then repeated the message publicly while adding soon. He reportedly targeted last Thursday, but a week later, he remains out. The disconnect between him and the franchise certainly didn’t help his teammates understand his point of view.

That disconnect was largely pinned on Leonard’s quiet nature, which makes it so rattling to imagine him facing a room of frustrated and confused teammates. Good for Leonard for standing up for himself if he truly isn’t ready to play.

But his teammates’ questioning will only increase the belief he’s just malingering. After all, if anybody could relate to him, it’s other professional athletes – especially Parker, who had a similar injury and recovered much more quickly (which doesn’t prove anything about Leonard, but certainly could influence opinion).

After the meeting, Manu Ginobili said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“He is not coming back,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn’t be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball.”

That sounded as if Ginobili were just trying to talk him into that mindset, so he’d stay sharp while Leonard remained out and wouldn’t be disappointed by a continued absence. But after knowing Ginobili got information straight from the source, that comment looks much more telling.