Stephen Curry

Getty Images

Kobe Bryant on best NBA duo: “I think it matters what they put around those two guys”

1 Comment

James Harden and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Eventually there will be Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, plus Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The NBA is stacked with elite duos that are NBA contenders, and figuring out which twosome will fit best together has become part of making a prediction for who will win the NBA title.

Kobe Bryant was asked that in an interview by ESPN and he went another direction (hat tip Hoop Rumors).

“It doesn’t matter. I think it matters what they put around those two guys, and then what is the offensive and defensive system they’re going to be executing. You could have marquee names and put those marquee names together, and guess if they could play together or not, but it ultimately comes down to what system do you have them in and how does that affect the rest of the guys.”

He’s right. The Warriors had a big three but do they win without Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, solid bigs, and everyone there buying into Steve Kerr’s system? LeBron and Irving in Cleveland needed Kevin Love and J.R. Smith (pre-meltdown mistake) to win in 2016. The big three of LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh had Ray Allen and other guys to hit big shots, plus they lost before they all bought into Eric Spoelstra’s system. The Spurs won five rings with Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili but always were the ultimate system team under Gregg Popovich.

It’s why a lot of pundits lean toward the Clippers when looking at the coming season — this was a 48-win, hard-to-play-against team well coached by Doc Rivers last season before Leonard and George showed up. But, will the Clippers be the same team and play with the same passion this season? Do the Lakers have the guard play needed to contend, and can Frank Vogel get them on the same page (can he keep his job)? Do the Rockets have the depth after their starting five? Will any of those teams fully buy into the coach’s system?

What makes this NBA season so fascinating and wide open is that every team has plenty of questions, there is no juggernaut. But next June, we may be talking less about the best duo and more about what Kobe said — which supporting cast and system worked best?

 

Draymond Green wants to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Several big-name players did not play for the United States during the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The team led by Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart did not medal, and on Sunday it was Spain that took home the gold over Argentina.

But that might not be the case for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

According to Draymond Green, the Golden State Warriors star is looking to add his services to Team USA for that Olympics run.

Via NBC Bay Area:

“I do hope to play, and I think a lot of guys will want to play,” Green said Thursday on CNBC’s ‘Power Money.’ “The schedule this year was a little treacherous with the games that was in America, and also the travel to Australia, which is why I think a lot of guys dropped out. You know, a long ways to China. It was just a lot, and it also leads right into the season. Those guys will be coming back in the next couple days and we’ll be two weeks away from training camp.”

“I think you’ll see a lot of guys participating next year in the Olympics,” Green continued, “and I hope to be one of those 12 guys.”

Marc Stein also noted this week that Green’s teammate Stephen Curry would also be expected to volunteer his services for the Olympics. Curry has not yet played for Team USA during an Olympic tournaments.

It seems like it’s harder and harder to compel players to play in national team events. It may be good for branding to play internationally, but so many teams and sponsors have international tours in the off-season that players may consider national team duty a duplication of services.

The Olympics mean more than the World Cup in this country, but the real test of whether stars sign up for Team USA next year will be about what happens in the NBA season.

With this era’s flame still flickering, Pistons load bench with name recognition

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ 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.

Just three teams have had the same trio of $16 million-plus-salary players each of the previous two seasons and next season:

Golden State won a championship, returned to the NBA Finals and enters next season with four-ish stars in a two-star league.

Detroit missed the playoffs, got swept in the first round and enters next season with, um, a reasonable chance at making the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Pistons’ expensive core has underwhelmed while limiting flexibility. Drummond and Jackson are paid too much to trade for value and too good to tank with. The best option is probably the least drastic, keeping this group together and hoping for the best.

Same story last summer. Same story this summer.

But maybe not same story next summer.

Jackson’s contract expires after next season. Drummond has a player option he sounds ready to decline. At that point, the Pistons must decide what to do with Griffin – keep his top supporting players, find new ones or trade him to kickstart a rebuild.

In the meantime, Detroit added yet another expensive potential starter and a few recognizable reserves. This far into the plan – no matter how lackluster the results so far – the present remains a high priority.

The Pistons turned Jon Leuer‘s deadweight contract and the No. 45 pick into Tony Snell, No. 37 pick Deividas Sirvydis, No. 57 pick Jordan Bone, the Trail Blazers’ 2023 second-rounder and $3 million. I would’ve rather kept Snell and the No. 30 pick sent by the Bucks for taking his undesirable contract (and Detroit’s original second-rounder, No. 45). But that wouldn’t have generated the $3 million cash.

Milwaukee dumped Snell because he’s too expensive for a fringe rotation player there and due $12,178,571 in 2020-21. Leuer’s contract was expiring. But the Pistons are so desperate on the wing, they might start Snell.

The Pistons also signed Derrick Rose (two years, $15 million), Markieff Morris (two years, $6.56 million) and Joe Johnson (partially guaranteed, surely minimum). That’s a former MVP, someone who finished fourth in Most Improved Player voting at age 24 and a seven-time All-Star.

But those likely backups are past their primes. Rose looked like he’d fall out of the NBA before a resurgent/outlier-shooting season last year. Though helpful more often recently, Morris didn’t crack the Thunder’s playoff rotation. Johnson has been playing in a 3-on-3 league for NBA retirees.

Expectations shouldn’t be too high. But there’s at least hope this group packs more punch than departed Ish Smith provided off the bench. More bench scoring could limit the load on Griffin, who – even in his best season in years – wore down by the playoffs.

Because of Rose’s injury history, it was important to sign Tim Frazier (minimum) as third point guard. Claiming Christian Wood off waivers was another a good under-the-radar move. But signing Joe Johnson will make it harder for Wood to make the regular-season roster.

If all goes well, Detroit’s best move of the offseason will be drafting Sekou Doumbouya No. 15. I rated him No. 7 on my board. But that was because I like his raw talent in a weak draft, not because I’m convinced he’ll become a good NBA player. It’ll take a while to assess that pick.

This summer wasn’t easy for the Pistons, but it was simple. Their status quo could change soon. If they play well next season, they’ll face difficult choices with Jackson and maybe Drummond. If they don’t play well next season, that’ll invite its own problems.

They’re hoping to face the play-well issues and built this team accordingly. But with limited flexibility, the outlook remains similar, with next summer looming as the major inflection point.

Offseason grade: C

Grizzlies reportedly refusing to talk buyout with Andre Iguodala

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
4 Comments

Golden State’s roster got a shakeup this summer with Kevin Durant leaving, and they needed to get younger and more athletic around their remaining big three (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green).

That meant Andre Iguodala was out, given a heads up by the team then traded in a salary dump to Memphis. The conventional wisdom around the league was that the Grizzlies would buy out Iguodala, who is likely playing his final NBA season and wants to do so on a contender.

Except, nothing is ever as easy as it should be in Memphis, as Shams Charania of The Athletic notes in this report.

This sounds like a leverage play from an agent.

From the Grizzlies’ perspective, why buy Iguodala out now? Wait until the trade deadline, see if you can trade him and get an asset back to help your rebuild, and if not buy him out then. In the interim, a veteran leader and consummate professional such as Iguodala would be welcomed in a young Memphis locker room with players such as Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.

However, that’s not what Iguodala would want. He would want to be with whatever contending team he’s going to join for the full season. He wants a buyout sooner rather than later.

Maybe that means Iguodala will have to give up more than just the price of a minimum contract to get a buyout done. We’ll see how this all plays out. But someone is trying to gain a little leverage with this leak.

Warriors’ owner: Not re-signing Klay Thompson “didn’t even remotely cross my mind”

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There was an eerie hush that fell over Oracle Arena during Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June when Klay Thompson went down grabbing his knee after landing following a dunk. It was a combination of “Are you kidding, not another injury?” and “Let this not be serious.”

It was serious — Thompson had torn his ACL. He will be out for much of this coming season rehabbing, until some time after the All-Star break (and likely into March). It will take longer than that for Thompson to return to his old self.

The injury happened just weeks before Thomspon would be a free agent. The injury did not change the Warriors plans, they still offered him a five-year, $190 million max contract. The idea of not re-signing Thompson never crossed the Warriors’ mind, team co-owner Joe Lacob said to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole on “The Warriors Insider Podcast.” (Transcription via NBC Sports Bay Area.)

“There was no doubt in my mind, whatsoever (they would resign Thompson). I, and we, want Klay to be here for a long time. He’s one of my favorite players in the world…

“ACLs … not good, ok we know that. But stuff happens and that’s an injury that now people know how to manage. Plenty of people have come back from ACLs and done pretty well. Honestly, it didn’t even remotely cross my mind.”

The Warriors have bet on Thompson’s return to form keeping Golden State as contenders going forward for years. They re-signed Thompson, extended Draymond Green, and still have Stephen Curry under contract. While Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn (and will play for them in a year following his recovery from his Achilles tear), the Warriors added All-Star D'Angelo Russell, who will either work out in a three-guard lineup for the team or be traded for a player who is a better fit (the Warriors are going to give this every chance to work before thinking trade).

There are two parts to players returning from a torn ACL: Physically getting well enough to play again, and mentally trusting that knee the same way and playing without hesitation again. The mental part takes longer. Thompson should get there, but it will take some time.

Even with that, the Warriors see themselves as part of the mix in a very deep Western Conference. They can be if everything goes their way, but the days of the Warriors having a margin for error and still winning big are gone.