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Report: Marco Belinelli returning to Spurs on two-year, $12 million contract

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As Kawhi Leonard has thrown the Spurs into crisis, they’re coping with comfort.

Continuing a trend from last summer, San Antonio is showing how much it values continuity. The Spurs have already agreed to re-sign Rudy Gay, and they’ll also bring back Marco Belinelli, who helped them win the 2014 title.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

At 32, Belinelli remains a dangerous 3-point shooter. His defense is lacking, though.

San Antonio’s depth chart at shooting guard is getting crowded – Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Lonnie Walker and now Belinelli. Considering how much Gregg Popovich values resting veterans, maybe that will work out just fine.

The 76ers have now lost both their big midseason acquisitions, Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova (who also returned to a prior team, the Bucks). Philadelphia will need to find shooting, which could include but shouldn’t be limited to re-signing J.J. Redick.

Report: Rudy Gay to re-sign with Spurs for one year, $10 million

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A small forward who wants to stay in San Antonio.

Not Kawhi Leonard.

Rudy Gay.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Gay opted out of a contract that would have paid him $8,826,300 next season. So, he comes out ahead.

The Spurs have proven generous with players already in their system, and this is another example.

Gay had a fine season with San Antonio last year, and continuity is comfortable. This isn’t terribly out of line for Gay’s production.

Considering the league-wide cap conditions, could the Spurs have re-signed him for less if they squeezed harder? Maybe. Did that risk losing him entirely? Yes. Would that have been so bad?

Depends what happens with Leonard and whether the Spurs are rebuilding anyway.

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.

 

Pelicans head into summer facing big Boogie Cousins, Rondo questions

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This Pelicans team had no quit. Not early in the season when the pieces weren’t quite fitting together, and not after most people wrote their season off when DeMarcus Cousins returned from an Achilles injury. With Anthony Davis playing like an MVP, Jrue Holiday finding his groove, and the addition of Nikola Mirotic to help space the floor, the Pelicans not only made it to the postseason, they swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

While they eventually couldn’t climb the Mt. Everest that is Golden State, the Pelicans have something real to build on.

But now they also face some tough questions in a Western Conference that has little margin for error:

• Do the Pelicans bring back DeMarcus Cousins? If so at what price and for how many years?

• Do the Pelicans bring back Rajon Rondo?

• Can the Pelicans add a scorer on the wing to balance the roster?

None of those questions have easy answers.

The Pelicans do want Cousins back — they were the No. 4 seed and playing well when he went down. Coach Alvin Gentry put it this way:

Is Cousins still a 26 and 12 guy coming off a torn Achilles? Probably not. But he still has value.

More importantly for the Pelicans, after this playoff run, the Pelicans don’t “need” Cousins back to win, and they know it. That gives the Pelicans leverage when the sides sits down. If Cousins walks they will struggle to get anyone as good in (they are capped out still), and they will have burned a good pick to get him, but this team just reached the second round of the playoffs without him.

On the other side of the table, it’s going to be hard for Cousins, who was going to get offered a five-year max contract from the Pelicans ($176 million over the course of it) before the injury. Now he’s not going to get a max starting at just north of $30 million a season, likely he lands more in the $22 million to $25 million range. However, the bigger issue being discussed around the league is the years — no team is comfortable being locked into four (or for the Pelicans five) years with him. Cousins’ best bet is two years and a player option for year three. If he wants to go that long.

Last summer, Rudy Gay was coming off a torn Achilles and got a two-year, $17.6 million contract with a player option the second year. While the money would be higher for Cousins, maybe he would bet on himself and take a one-plus-one deal knowing he could get paid next summer if he is healthy and shows he can still dominate. Or, the two sides could go with a longer deal that has some protections built in or performance goals, although that is far less likely to come together.

The advantage the Pelicans have: No other team is going to come in big now, either. Before the injury Cousins had options (just with one fewer guaranteed year and a little less money), now those teams — Lakers, Mavericks, others — will be cautious like New Orleans. There is nobody ready to throw max money cash or long contracts at Cousins.

Which is why he likely strikes a short deal with the Pelicans and tries to prove himself — and boost that value.

If Cousins remains a Pelican it limits what the team can pay Rajon Rondo.

New Orleans got him with what was a very good deal — one year at $3.3 million — for this season. Despite the flaws in his game, his price is going up, and the Pelicans want to keep him. New Orleans loves his impact on the locker room, and having Rondo at the point allows Holiday to focus more as a pure scorer sometimes working off the ball, a role he has thrived in.

Rondo is an unrestricted free agent. The most the Pelicans can offer him as a raise is $3.9 million, which will not be enough to keep him. New Orleans can use their $5.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception on him (which jumps to $8.6 if Cousins leaves because they go below the tax line). If another team comes in above $5.2 million, there is nothing the Pelicans can do.

What’s more, use that exception on Rondo and they lose an option to bring in a needed wing scorer. Mirotic helped fill that role, but the Pelicans could use some athleticism and defense on the wing to help round out an improving roster.

The Pelicans look like a team on the rise in the West, but they also could look different by the time summer is over.

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.