Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:
San Antonio Spurs
Training camp site: San Antonio, TX
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).
Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.
Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.
Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.
Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)
Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.
Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).
Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.
Posted on: August 12, 2010 9:00 pm
NEW YORK -- With star-studded attendance and a conciliatory tone, collective bargaining talks Thursday between the NBA's owners and players changed the attitude, if not the substance, of the debate. Even with union vice president Mo Evans calling the players "partners" with the owners -- what's next, LeBron James and Dan Gilbert double-dating? -- the two sides are still far from a deal to avoid a lockout after the 2010-11 season.
But quietly, modest breakthroughs were made Thursday on several big-picture points relevant to the new financial structure owners and players are trying to create. According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, here are the key points that owners and players actually agreed on -- or at least, agreed to disagree:
* First, there seems to be agreement on both sides that something needs to be done to improve the competitive balance of the league. How to do it, however, remains hotly contested. The players believe many of the owners’ woes can be solved through broader revenue sharing, for which they included a plan in their proposal. The owners continue to believe that how the owners divvy up hundreds of millions in annual losses doesn’t solve the problem that expenses are too high. According to sources, the owners seem to be hunkered down in their pursuit of shorter contracts with less guaranteed money – and they appear to be focusing on those issues even more than reducing the 57 percent share of basketball-related income (BRI) that the players receive. In the owners’ view, shorter contracts and the ability to restructure them midway through – a provision that exists in the NFL’s CBA – would help teams become more competitive faster. The players acknowledge the problem with the current system when teams burdened with bad contracts get “stuck in the mud,” according to a source, and need 3-4 years to clean up the mess. But the players disagree with the owners’ desire to shorten contracts and limit guarantees, even with the long history under the current CBA of players with declining ability becoming contractual albatrosses for their teams. Tracy McGrady and his $24 million salary getting dumped on the Knicks as an expiring asset last season is an extreme, but not rare example.
* With top players such as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Richard Jefferson taking significant pay cuts on new deals this summer, there also seems to be common belief that payrolls will decline during the 2010-11 season for the second consecutive year – even after the biggest free-agent spectacle in league history. Since some rosters aren’t complete and the NBA’s fiscal year hasn’t closed yet, the amount of the decrease isn’t known, and the two sides differ on what the amount will be. The owners seem ready to acknowledge a 1 or 2 percent decline, while the players believe 5 percent is more realistic.
* Regardless of the amount of the payroll decline, one team executive said owners were rattled by the bold free-agent coup pulled off by star players this summer – with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up in Miami – and have become focused on limiting player movement as a result. Any efforts to curb players’ free-agent rights would be staunchly opposed by the union. But there is a real sense from the owners, according to this executive, that they’re determined to write provisions into the new CBA that would provide stronger disincentives for free agents to leave their teams.
“If there’s anything I’d love to see happen in collective bargaining, it’s for the term ‘free agent’ to go away and I’d love to see the term ‘mid-level’ go away,” the executive said. “There’s nothing free about it, when you’re making the mid-level, you’re making more than two-thirds of the league. Mid-level sounds like mid-major, Holiday Inn, Applebee’s. It’s inappropriately termed.”
* Sources also revealed new details of the players’ proposal, which National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has declined to specifically discuss publicly. In perhaps the first concession of the year-long negotiations, sources say the players have proposed issuing owners a credit on their books for capital improvements to their arenas. The Knicks, who are investing as much as $850 million to renovate Madison Square Garden, would benefit handsomely from such a provision. The players presented this as a way to encourage owners to modernize old arenas and thus create additional revenue streams.
Posted on: December 27, 2009 10:02 pm
NEW YORK – Gregg Popovich was a lot more cheery after the game Sunday than he was before, when he openly lamented having arrived at the team hotel in Manhattan at nearly 4 a.m. – 14 hours before the Spurs were scheduled to play the Knicks.
“I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4 or 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing,” Popovich said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I think it puts a good product out on the floor. … It must be something that I don’t understand, because trips like this don’t make sense.”
After the Spurs’ overnight misadventures between Milwaukee and New York – ice, delays, the whole deal – Popovich actually was in a position to feel optimistic about his team for once. After beating the Bucks 112-97 Saturday night, the Spurs finished off the Knicks with an 11-4 run in a 95-88 victory. Popovich called this San Antonio’s most complete effort of the season in consecutive games.
The closing run against the Knicks was fueled by the Big Three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. But this season has been about, and will continue to be about, the supporting cast that has changed around them. That’s why Popovich isn’t ready to declare the crisis over.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
The Spurs, architects of four championships on a shoestring budget, finally took the plunge over the luxury tax last offseason. Realizing that their window was closing while the big-spending Lakers were digging in for another dynasty, San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and made this season about paying the price to win.
“The landscape has changed,” Popovich said. “We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it – trying to stay under the cap and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side. It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players. To stay in the hunt, there was a simple question: Do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you’ve got to spend the money. And so we did it this year.”
The result has been an inconsistent team trying to find its way, which is news to the Spurs, who have been a model of stability for much of the past decade. With three new starters and with longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen retired, the Spurs aren’t necessarily a better team than they were in the pre-luxury tax era. Just different.
How different? Duncan offered this painfully honest assessment.
“We’ve got to figure out the scheme that works for this team,” he said. “It might not be what’s worked for this team in the past.”
A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense.
The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work.
The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)
“Look at all the other top teams in the league,” Jefferson said. “You look at Boston, they’re trying to integrate Rasheed Wallace. Look at Denver, they pretty much have their core, everybody back. The Lakers are trying to bring in Ron Artest, but they have everyone there. This is one of the few teams, us and Cleveland, that are good teams, but have a lot of new faces that they’re trying to get into the group.”
Popovich was asked before and after the game how long it should take for the Spurs to become the Spurs again – or become whatever it is they’re going to be. Of course, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens.”
And if it doesn’t, it could be a long time before the Spurs play the luxury tax game again.
Posted on: June 23, 2009 2:04 pm
The San Antonio Spurs fired the first salvo of what is expected to be a busy trading period Tuesday, agreeing in principle to acquire Richard Jefferson from the Milwaukee Bucks for Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Fabricio Oberto, a person familiar with the trade confirmed to CBSSports.com.
The Spurs reaffirmed their commitment to making at least one more championship run with their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili by agreeing to add Jefferson, a gifted offensive wing player who gives them another way to break down defenses and play at a pace more conducive to the transition-oriented teams in the Western Conference. The trade is "real, real close" to happening, said the person familiar with the situation, who expected the deal to gain approval from the league office later Tuesday.
Jefferson, who turned 29 on Sunday, has the kind of toughness and championship pedigree around which the Spurs have built their four championship teams in the past 11 seasons. He also has been bothered by chronic ankle injuries, but didn't miss a game in the past two seasons, including his first with Milwaukee in 2008-09 after being acquired for Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian. But the trade leaves the Spurs lacking big-man depth, opening the possibility that they have another deal in the works.
The Bucks get $11.3 million in salary-cap relief in 2010 with the expiring contracts of Bowen, Thomas, and Oberto coming off the books after next season. Jefferson is due $29.2 million over the next two seasons.
Posted on: December 19, 2008 10:07 am
Carlos Boozer was looking dapper in a nicely tailored suit Wednesday night as he stood in the bowels of the IZOD Center chatting with one of my competitors, Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com. What Boozer said during the interview has sent the already fragile Jazz into a tailspin.
What did Boozer say, you ask? That his strained left quadriceps tendon would keep him out until the All-Star break, or for the rest of the season? That Jerry Sloan was a grouchy old man? That Paul Millsap was the most overrated player in the NBA -- not the most underrated, the honor CBSSports.com bestowed upon him Thursday?
Nope. Nothing quite that controversial. Nothing even remotely surprising or combustible at all.
Boozer simply confirmed what anyone who follows professional basketball should have known: That he intends to declined his $12.7 million player option this coming summer and seek a long-term deal.
"I'm opting out. No matter what, I'm going to get a raise regardless," Boozer said. "I am going to opt out, I don't see why I wouldn't, I think it's a very good business decision for me and my family, but I'd also like to see what happens with the Jazz and stay here."
That quote rippled through the Jazz organization, all the way up to owner Larry Miller, who blistered Boozer on his weekly radio show Thursday.
"It's one of the top 10 stupidest things I've heard an NBA player do in 20 years," Miller said.
Why would this come as such a surprise? Top-tier players like Boozer and Kobe Bryant (early termination clauses in '09), plus LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade (player options in 2010) specifically negotiated escape clauses in their current deals -- escape clauses that kick in before the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A host of others -- Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Michael Redd, Yao Ming, Paul Pierce, Richard Jefferson, Tyson Chandler -- have early termination clauses in 2010. What's the big deal?
All of these clauses were negotiated so marquee players would have a chance to sign long-term deals -- in many cases, the last of their careers -- under the current rules. Once the CBA expires in 2011, most players and agents believe the new agreement will be less favorable to them and more favorable to the owners. All of the above players will get more money if they opt out or terminate their contracts before the CBA expires than they would if they waited.
James has parsed his words carefully in discussing his 2010 options, but he has all but said what Boozer said the other night -- that he plans to decline his player option and become a free agent. That doesn't mean James, Boozer, Bosh, Wade and others will leave their teams; after all, their current teams can pay them more and give them longer deals. Boozer went so far as to say that in his quote, adding that he'd "like to see what happens with the Jazz and stay here."
Despite the fact that Boozer was merely being honest and essentially stating the obvious, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan expressed disappointment with his comments. Boozer went into damage control mode with local beat reporters; here is the transcript of their conference call. Boozer and the Jazz tried to blame the messenger, a standard media relations ploy when someone says something controversial. The spin was that Boozer thought he was simply chatting off the record with Sheridan, who spent a lot of time with Boozer and teammate Deron Williams while covering Team USA's gold medal run in Beijing. Boozer even invoked the old "the reporter put words in my mouth" tactic. Don't believe it.
There was nothing off-the-record or sinister about this, and nothing really surprising or controversial, either. It's just business, people. Good business, at that. Can't be mad at Boozer -- or any other player -- for that.