Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t know whether he’ll retire after season

2 Comments

Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said in 2015 he made a commitment to newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge, presumably to coach through the five-year contract he signed in 2014.

That contract will expire after this season.

Then what?

Popovich, via Marc Stein of The New York Times:

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season in an interview Wednesday

Maybe Popovich is legitimately undecided about his future. Maybe he has a firm plan and was just being dismissive because he didn’t want to discuss it publicly. There’s obviously a massive difference between the two, but it’s difficult to parse from only his quote.

Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics. That responsibility means a lot to the Air Force veteran. Some have even speculated he’ll retire from the NBA after this season to prepare for his USA Basketball duties.

In the meantime, Popovich remains one of the NBA’s top coaches. He has helped San Antonio turn around its season, building a strong offense around mid-range shooters DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge and getting everyone on enough of the same page defensively to be reasonable on that end. The Spurs aren’t a great team, but they’re good in ways that have Popovich’s fingerprints all over them.

Popovich could continue to succeed in the NBA for the foreseeable future. The question is – with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone and Popovich nearing age 70 – how much longer he wants to do it.

Tony Parker gets standing ovation, touching video tribute in return to San Antonio

Associated Press
1 Comment

Only one other time in NBA history has a player who won four championship rings with a team come back to play them in another uniform — Michael Jordan returning to Chicago.

Tony Parker became the second on Monday night, coming home to San Antonio wearing the teal of the Charlotte Hornets.

He was greeted like a champion — a well done video tribute.

Then a standing ovation when he checked in.

Classy all the way San Antonio.

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

AP Photo/Darren Abate
2 Comments

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.

Kawhi Leonard on Spurs fans booing him: ‘Media does a great job to stir people’s minds and to influence them to think a certain way’

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spurs fans booed Kawhi Leonard in his return to San Antonio with the Raptors.

Associated Press:

The reception didn’t surprise Leonard.

“No,” Leonard said. “Media does a great job to stir people’s minds and to influence them to think a certain way. So, I already knew how that was going to be the way the media was.”

And LeBron James is the one getting compared to President Donald Trump? This is an incredible example of blaming the media for your own problems.

Leonard forced a trade from the Spurs. Ergo, Spurs fans dislike him. It’s that simple.

Maybe different coverage would make Leonard look more sympathetic. There’s a case the Spurs mishandled his injury. But that wouldn’t change the underlying issue: Spurs fans are loyal to the Spurs and loathe players who cross the Spurs.

And it’s not as if Leonard’s reputation for quitting on the Spurs was purely a media creation. Tony Parker, who got hurt around the same time as Leonard and returned sooner, said his own injury was 100 times worse than Leonard’s. Manu Ginobili indicated Leonard wasn’t doing enough to build camaraderie with his teammates. David Robinson said Leonard didn’t return his messages. Gregg Popovich said Leonard wasn’t a leader.

This isn’t the media. It’s prominent Spurs – Leonard’s teammates and coach and a franchise great – informing fan opinion.

Not that fans needed convincing to boo Leonard. They would do that without a word said about him after how he forced his way out.

On Basketball: International stars leaving mark on NBA

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Go back to the 1999-2000 NBA season, and there were only two foreign-born players in the NBA who averaged 15 points per game: Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

This season, there are 24 names on that list – by far the most in league history.

The NBA international imprint just keeps getting bigger, providing the sort of transformative impact the likes of which the league probably hasn’t seen since the ABA merger.

One of the MVP front-runners at this point is Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has led Milwaukee to the NBA’s best record entering Wednesday. Dallas’ Luka Doncic looks like an overwhelming favorite to become the first Slovenian rookie of the year. Cameroon’s Joel Embiid might be the dominant big man in the league, and keeps getting better for Philadelphia.

These aren’t just some guys taking up roster spots, either.

These are franchise players. At least one-third of the league’s teams have a foreign-born player who would classify as its best, or at least its most important.

“It’s been fun to watch over the last two decades, where the game started internationally and where it is now,” said Dirk Nowitzki, the German who became the biggest star in Dallas Mavericks’ history. “I think the game has grown globally, China, Australia, Africa, Europe, South America. I think we’ve got 150 international players in the league or more. It’s been fun to watch.”

Just take a peek at Tuesday’s boxscores to see the impact.

– There were six guys with 12 or more rebounds, five of them born outside the U.S.

– There were six guys with seven or more assists, all of them born outside the U.S.

– There were four guys with three or more blocks, all of them born outside the U.S.

Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists for Denver, and it might not have even been his best game of the season. Jokic is Serbian – and represents how the game is played today. He’s a 7-footer. Big, fast and skilled. He’s going to be a problem for teams for a long time, and is the biggest reason why the Nuggets entered Wednesday atop the Western Conference.

The NBA has utilized a `USA vs. The World’ format in what used to be called the rookie game at All-Star weekend since 2014, and maybe it’s time to think about doing something like that in the varsity matchup as well.

Think about this possibility: Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Embiid, Jokic and Ben Simmons starting. Select Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela and Nikola Vucevic as the backup big men. Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovic as backup guards and wings. Jamal Murray, Jonas Valanciunas and Boban Marjanovic would be snubbed on this 12-man mythical roster.

And that scenario even has Australian-born Kyrie Irving playing for the U.S. side in this made-up game.

The U.S. team led by LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis would probably still win. But it might be worth the NBA taking a look at this sort of format before too long.

“You’ve got guys coming from everywhere and anybody now in the world, you know if you work hard you can come play in the NBA,” said Charlotte’s Tony Parker, who was born in Belgium.

There’s a myriad of theories on why this is happening.

The one that makes the most sense is that the game is basically beamed in real time right now to every phone in the world. Young players like Doncic can see fellow Europeans succeed in the NBA while oohing and aahing over their basketball heroes – and for the Mavericks rookie, it was LeBron. Embiid went slightly more old school, saying his favorite all-timer is former MVP Hakeem Olajuwon. Antetokounmpo modeled some of his game after Scottie Pippen.

The seeds have been planted over these last 20 years.

It was only a matter of time before they bore this sort of fruit.

“We just know what this game is about,” Doncic said of the young foreign cluster of stars. “I don’t know if people think international players aren’t that good, but I think we showed up.”