Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Report: Spurs hiring Brent Barry to front office

1 Comment

Brent Barry came up in the Pistons’ and Hawks’ recent general-manager searches.

He’ll get his start as an NBA executive in San Antonio.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

During his 14 year playing career and time as a TV analyst, Barry has shown the basketball intelligence and interpersonal skills to suggest he’ll succeed in this role. Working for Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford could add valuable experience.

Barry played four seasons with the Spurs, winning titles in 2005 and 2007. He returns to San Antonio at a turbulent time for the franchise. Several key players – including Barry’s former teammate, Tony Parker – have left the team.

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-

Hornets’ offseason not quite a joke, but not much better than that

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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.

At least Mitch Kupchak avoided the most biting wisecracks at his expense.

After getting fired by the Lakers in part for giving Mozgov a ridiculous four-year, $64 million contract, Kupchak’s first roster move as Hornets president was… trading for Mozgov. And maybe Kupchak is that delusional about Mozgov.

But Charlotte later flipped Mozgov to the Magic for Bismack Biyombo, who’s much better and paid only slightly more. That deal might have just fell into Kupchak’s lap, as Orlando is overloaded at center anyway and needed to aggregate salary to acquire Jerian Grant.

Still, Kupchak’s original sin with the Hornets stands. He traded Howard’s expiring contract and wound up with Biyombo, who’s due $17 million each of the next two seasons. That extra year of high salary could be disastrous.

Kemba Walker will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Charlotte has even fewer means now to upgrade its roster around him. Maybe a max contract and loyalty will convince him to stay, but at this point, Walker’s max salary might push the Hornets into luxury-tax range. That has always been a no-go for owner Michael Jordan, which means Walker returning could force downgrades elsewhere.

How appealing is any of this to him?

Charlotte could argue just shedding Howard’s presence will help, and it might in some ways. But he was also pretty productive on the court, and that counts, too.

Charlotte could also point out it got a couple second-rounders (plus $5 million) in the Howard-Mozgov trade and a couple more in the Mozgov-Biyombo trade. (The Hornets also got two more-second rounders by taking known Clippers target Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 then trading him to L.A. for the No. 12 pick, used on Miles Bridges.) But those second-rounders don’t near the going rate for accepting $17 million of 2019-20 salary. The Hornets would have been better off just buying out Howard and ending their salary commitment after this season.

At least all those second-rounders are already going to good use. Charlotte traded two for No. 34 pick Devonte’ Graham, who looked good in summer league.

Graham could help with the Hornets’ biggest weakness, backup point guard. So could Tony Parker, who received $5 million guaranteed with an unguaranteed salary next season.

But that’s a high price for the over-the-hill Parker, and that money probably could have lured a more productive player. Surely, part of Parker’s appeal was his ability to help new Charlotte coach James Borrego – hired from the Spurs – install his system.

Borrego replaces Steve Clifford, who’s a good coach but wasn’t Kupchak’s guy. Kupchak is clearly putting his stamp on this team.

Kupchak is one of the most accomplished general managers of all-time. He built multiple championship teams in Los Angeles. But he also appeared out of touch late in his tenure there. Is he a good general manager whose bad breaks just happened to have come most recently, or has he fallen behind? It’s a question he’ll settle in Charlotte.

The early returns are not encouraging.

Offseason grade: D

Tony Parker pushed to Charlotte by role offered, not money

Getty Images
1 Comment

When Tony Parker signed with Charlotte, leaving the San Antonio Spurs after 17 seasons, there was a rumor the Spurs low-balled him on their offer. Which is not exactly how the Spurs treat their veterans, but that was the rumor.

Parker says it’s not true.

Speaking to French publication L’Expresso Parker said the Spurs offered similar money, it was the role that pushed him to Charlotte. (Hat tip NBC News 4 in San Antonio.)

The Spurs offered me the same thing (contractually) as Charlotte, but it was more about the role. It was not a question of money. And it’s important that people know this, because there are a lot of people who were “angry” at the Spurs, thinking the franchise had not offered me anything. Yes, they offered me something similar, but I did not want to finish (as an) assistant-coach. And that was the role they offered me, when I wanted to play…

And when Michael Jordan called me, my idol, I thought, let’s go. For me, I feel like closing the loop, to finish my career in his club, it’s something special for me because it’s him that made me want to play basketball.

For the record, Parker will make $5 million this season and $5.25 million the following season (although that contract is not fully guaranteed until July 4, in case the Hornets need to make a change of direction).

In Charlotte, Parker will come off the bench but get a healthy chunk of minutes behind Kemba Walker. The Spurs have Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills, both of whom are younger and, at this point in time, better than Parker. His role would have been more as veteran mentor, and Parker wasn’t ready to go there yet.

Whether or not Paker someday signs a one-day contract with San Antonio so he can retire a Spur or not, he will always be remembered as one. The same way we don’t remember Patrick Ewing in an Orlando jersey. Parker will forever be a Spur, he’s just wearing teal for a season or two.

New coach James Borrego determined to bring ball movement to Charlotte

Getty Images
1 Comment

Last season, the Hornets averaged 281.5 passes per game, fifth lowest in the NBA. That doesn’t mean they were selfish, but if a team is going to not keep the ball moving it needs elite isolation talent – the two teams with the fewest passes per game were the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, teams with James Harden and Russell Westbrook (among others) who can thrive in isolation.

With all due respect to Kemba Walker, Charlotte doesn’t have that level or depth of isolation talent.

Which is why new coach James Borrego — out of the Spurs system — is preaching ball movement or guys will sit. Look what he told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s the spirit of your team because it says, ‘We’re unselfish,’” Borrego told the Observer of his non-negotiable. “That we make the right play and we trust the next guy to make the right play if that is what’s asked.

“It’s at the core of our organization, like if I ask a guy to play a (different) position or come off the bench. I expect you to do that job and do it well. Likewise, when the ball is in your hands, I expect you to make the right decision.: So pass it, drive or shoot it quickly because that makes us hard to guard.”

It’s why Dwight Howard is in Brooklyn right now. It’s not that Howard can’t still defend the paint or put up numbers — 16.6 point and 12.5 rebounds a game last season — but he demands the ball in the post a lot and that just drags down the offense. They become easier to guard. Isolations and post-ups only work well if a player is elite-level efficient at them, and Howard is not that guy anymore.

The Hornets will be an interesting team to watch this season. They chose not to test the trade market for their All-Star Walker, instead they brought in Tony Parker and are banking on a new coach, Nicolas Batum to stay healthy, Jeremy Lamb to take a step forward, and everything to come together in a run to the playoffs. It could go down that way. But if not… just listen for the Walker rumors to start up.