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Spurs back as NBA's best -- and remain its best at change

POSTED: Jun 16, 2014 10:45 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst


Tim Duncan (with Patty Mills, 8) remains a focal point, but new faces dot this Spurs' title-winner.

Danny Green allowed the other day that, yes, there are times he'd like to tell Gregg Popovich to shut the (bleep) up.

"I'm sure that goes through a lot of guys' minds," he said. "But it's part of the game. It's part of his job. He's supposed to be on you. He's supposed to push you to get the best out of you. And with me, he wants the best for me. I know that. Sometimes, I get a little frustrated, but at this point of the season, you've just got to play basketball. Be smarter, and go out there and adjust."

No team has adjusted more in recent years than San Antonio. And no team has been more successful at it. And so, the Spurs' fifth NBA championship should be their most gratifying, as it was the most unexpected. There was no one who thought the Spurs could recover from getting as close as they did in 2013, losing in two gut-punches from the Heat in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals.

No one thought the Spurs could keep walking the injury tightrope, as they have for years, hoping for the season they could get Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all to June healthy. The likelihood of three 30-somethings getting through the regular season and playoffs unscathed, no matter Popovich's minutes management for each of his stars in recent years, was quite low.

Through the Lens: Best of Finals

And yet, Sunday night, after the Spurs ran over the Heat for a third straight game to take the championship they'd been denied 360 days ago, there was the 38-year-old Duncan, leaping into the arms of his former teammate (and, now, minority owner of the team) David Robinson. There was Popovich, hugging his old point guard, Avery Johnson. There was Ginobili, waiving a towel with the flag of his native Argentina draped around him. There was Popovich, hugging his players' families, telling them in the hallway by the team's locker room, "we all have a piece of this."

The Spurs' greatest success the last two seasons has been finding reinforcements that could carry the load along with their star players. Kawhi Leonard's ascension during the season and playoffs is the most notable and obvious. But the Spurs got more out of Green, Patty Mills, and Tiago Splitter, just as they got more out of Bruce Bowen, Beno Udrih and Fabricio Oberto en route to their last title, in 2007.

"Everybody focused on the Twin Towers in David's time," owner Peter Holt said late Sunday night. "But you've got to look at the other players. Nobody thought AJ [Johnson] could be a starting point guard on a winning team, a ring team. Sean Elliott had been over to Detroit and back.

[Editor's note: The Spurs traded Elliott to the Pistons before the 1993-94 season in a deal that sent Dennis Rodman to San Antonio. In the offseason of the 1993-94 season, they traded to get Elliott back, and he became a starter on the Spurs' 1999 title team.]

"It's been around from day one, or at least as long as I've been here. Always the role players, always the people being put around [the stars], and the right kind of people, where the fit is not just on the court, but off the court, which may be just as important."

GameTime: Peter Holt

The Spurs' brain drain in the front office and alongside Popovich on the bench has been well documented. But San Antonio has managed to keep two of their most important coaches around through all the shuffling: Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier. They have handled the day-to-day, season-to-season development work for the team since 2005 (Engelland) and 2007 (Forcier).

And their work in helping the Spurs transition from the low-post, grind-it-out teams earlier in Duncan's career to the let-it-fly group that forces pace and rains 3-pointers now has provided the backbone for this two-season run of Finals berths.

Their work was on display against Miami, as the Spurs set Finals records for field goal percentage (.527), 3-pointers made in a five-game Finals series (55) and average margin of victory (14 points) in a Finals series of any length, and point differential (70) in any Finals series.

"Chad Forcier and Chip Engelland have been primary reasons for any success we've had in developing players," Popovich had said Saturday. "They have a program where the guys come early, they stay late on a daily basis or every time we practice.

"They're really responsible for the skill sets of the individuals improving. Kawhi Leonard didn't shoot threes when he came here, you know, that sort of thing. Tony Parker's runner, you know, that kind of stuff. And every team works on this stuff, but those are the two guys for us that really get it done."

GameTime: R.C. Buford

It still starts with Duncan, of course. He has morphed from understudy to David Robinson on the first championship team (1999), to defensive anchor of the second (2003) and third ('05) teams, to offensive touchstone of the fourth ('07) to elder statesman on this one.

Yet while he's no longer dominant offensively, he's still got great hands and can use his wiles and knowledge to be an effective finisher at the rim.

But this title was the ultimate tribute to "The Spurs Way," that seemingly mysterious amalgam of coaching and player development and institutional memory and talent that has kept San Antonio relevant, season after season.

In reality, it's not at all mysterious.

The Spurs have a system, and they plug players into it who excel at those things the system demands. It means small forwards have to be able to shoot corner 3-pointers, not 3-pointers at the top of the key. It means big men have to be able to pass to one another in the paint. And it means you have to be in pristine shape. It doesn't always lead to a title, but it almost always leads to San Antonio maxing out what its roster can do each season.

"It's a testament to the work that our players do, and the work that our development coaches do, Chip and Chad," Buford said last week. "They have a great deal of responsibility for the growth that those guys have, and that doesn't happen through five on five [workouts] oftentimes.

GameTime: Tony Parker

"It happens in a private workout environment. It happens in a private lunch, where they're recognizing a lack of belief or loss of confidence. And then I think Pop's not afraid to put guys in. If you don't play well, that's not going to be a reason why he doesn't put you back in. If you don't play hard, if you don't come to practice, if you don't follow the game plan, those are the reasons why he won't put you back in."

Engelland is to shooting what Idan Ravin and Joe Abunassar and Rob McClanaghan are to the offseason workout, beloved throughout the league as a savant with the mechanics of a jumper.

The first season for a player in San Antonio is brutal, trying to learn Popovich's complex offensive and defensive schemes. But as Engelland and Forcier tinker, not just with the shot but with a player's overall game and knowledge of the court -- improving spacing, moving without the ball -- things begin to make sense.

A player that can get to year two with the Spurs starts to see the light. His learning curve gets exponentially faster. It's that way in many places, but seems especially true here.

"We've had some good success with that," Engelland said. "Corporate knowledge seeps in ... Pop asks for it every practice, every timeout. And that starts from Tim down, as everybody knows. There's no trickery. You're going to do it this way. Here's our message in the preseason. And he's going to carry that message through each game. And if you don't do it, it's going to be on the halftime film, or the postgame, or the next day. So there's no sliding."

Duncan, Popovich Emotional After Win

Back in 2001, Parker was miserable his first season in the United States. He was a 19-year-old given the ball midway through his rookie season, with veterans clamoring for the ball and a wildman screaming from the sidelines. (When a wax statue of Parker at the Musee Grevin in Paris was unveiled in 2006, Parker said "there's something missing." Asked what it was, he said, "Pop, standing right here [by his ear], yelling at me.")

Today, Parker not only will retire a Spur, but will surely remain with the team in some capacity when his playing days are done and he has been enshrined in another museum -- the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

"There have been times in Tony's career when things didn't go exactly the way he'd hoped, we'd hoped," Buford said. "A lot of doubters. And nobody has taken the brunt of Pop's coaching probably stronger than Tony has. And their faith in each other has produced the career that he's been able to accomplish, and the contributions he's made to our group success."

That success has been joined the last two years by the likes of Green -- twice cut by Popovich. The second time was followed by an intervention of sorts by Green's college coach, UNC's Roy Williams, who told him in no uncertain terms he was blowing his chance. Brought back a third time after stints in the NBA D-League in 2012, Green hasn't stopped shooting (per Popovich's orders).

Green has shot 42.9 percent and 41.5 percent from 3-point range the last two seasons, after shooting 37 percent on 3-pointer in his first go-round with the Spurs.

GameTime: Tim Duncan

"It's a simple way," Englelland said. "It's a hard way, but it's a simple, fundamental way. And you have three Hall of Fame players, too. It's a nice combo to kind of fit in gradually. Kawhi's had to take more responsibility as the players have aged, and it's hard -- when do I do that? It's tough. But he's done a good job, and other guys have done a good job."

Leonard was acquired from the Indiana Pacers on Draft night in 2011 for George Hill, in one of the hardest deals the Spurs ever had to make. No one person gets credit for standing up for the acquisition of Leonard -- "We don't do this individually, except for [Sam] Presti picking Parker," Buford said, knowing full well that will drive the Thunder's GM crazy. But the Spurs came to believe that Leonard had the makings of an athletic wing who could immediately improve their perimeter defense while contributing on offense in transition with those huge hands of his.

But it was a tough sell. Hill was "Pop's son," the rare player for whom Popovich developed a public soft spot. Nor did Duncan, Parker and Ginobili care to see their well-respected teammate go.

"There was concern from them, not only that they were losing a great friend, but also a great teammate," Buford said. "The trust that that group allowed us to make that move -- 'cause we don't make that move without including them -- was vital to them saying, 'OK, we don't like this, but we'll see.' "

GameTime: Manu Ginobili

Initially, Leonard was hampered by the lockout, which kept him from working with the Spurs' coaches until December of his rookie season. He had worked with a personal trainer in San Diego on his shot, though, and he jumped in with Engelland with both feet and an open mind immediately.

"When I first got here, we just brought the ball down in front of my face and focused on the release point," Leonard said. "After that, probably the first week of working with him, ever, we really didn't change that.

"It was just more repetitions and me getting more comfortable with my new form ... just my psyche, telling me this is the right way to shoot the ball. It's just a feel and comfort that you have to get with the basketball when you're shooting."

Splitter, drafted by the Spurs in 2007, stayed overseas for three years, winning MVP honors in the ACB League in Spain in 2010 before coming States-side. He was considered one of, if not the best, big men in Europe. And he was a lost man when he came over.

"It was tough," Splitter said. "You have to imagine -- I came from a different league, a smaller league, and had different challenges every game. Then you get to the San Antonio Spurs, and you have all the players already located [in] what they have to do, and you try to put yourself in the mix. My first year was a learning experience."

Splitter couldn't beat out DeJuan Blair at the starting power forward spot his first two years as he adjusted to the NBA game and dealt with injuries. He didn't move smoothly or naturally on offense.

Kawhi Leonard's Finals MVP Performance

This year, though, he was a starter next to Duncan for most of the season, only getting replaced by Diaw in the Western Conference finals and Finals. But he was a defensive anchor, frequently drawing the opposing team's best post player, helping the Spurs get back to being a top five defense this season.

"The defense is a little bit more of, you know, put your body in the right position, be ready," Splitter said. "But on offense, you need a little more timing. You need to know the system well. You need to know your teammates -- where they play, how they pass the ball, where they are going to be on the court. So I would say the offense was tougher."

Mills was a forgotten man during The Finals last year. He developed a staph infection in his foot, but even if he was healthy, he wouldn't have played much; Popovich thought he needed to lose weight, and more than a couple of pounds (he had the nickname "Fatty Mills" last year, which may or may not have come from Popovich).

Mills said his motivation was simple: He wanted to play more this season.

Mills Heats Up In 3rd

"Obviously, the schedule was hectic, going back home [to Australia] in the middle of winter, with the family, and then the national team as well," he said. "But staying disciplined on eating habits, and learning, and trying to understand nutrition, that was the key. And keeping in mind what the end goal of what I wanted to get out of this, and that was to play a part now."

Mills lost 15 pounds by the start of training camp, and looked and felt again like the player that led all Olympic players in scoring at the 2008 Olympics Games. When Parker went down with an ankle sprain during the team's annual Rodeo Trip, Mills stepped in and made huge shots to help win games in Washington, Charlotte and L.A. against the Clippers.

He kept it going in the playoffs. After totaling 31 postseason minutes in each of the previous two playoff seasons, Mills played 351 minutes in this season's postseason -- including 76 minutes off the bench against the Heat. In five games, Mills made 13 threes, including five in Sunday's clincher. Mills, too, got a shot tune-up from Engelland.

His former coach at the Australian Institute of Sport, Paul Goriss, told Bleacher Report over the weekend that Mills' release is higher and quicker than before.

"I think that's a credit to both him and the Spurs organization because he's done a hell of a lot of work with [his shot]," Goriss said. " ... He just looks like a natural shooter now. I think that's him getting more technical advice, putting more time into it and valuing it."

Diaw was more fully-formed (this is not a joke about his weight) by the time the Spurs picked him up a couple of years ago, having been bought out by Charlotte after a couple of wholly unimpressive seasons with the then-Bobcats. At 30, Diaw looked nothing like the guy who'd been Most Improved Player in Phoenix, when he fit right in with a Suns team that loved to move the ball around and hunt threes.

Bob Ryan: 2013-14 NBA Season

Yet it even took Diaw a year to pick things up in San Antonio. He, too, was no factor in The Finals last season against Miami. But Buford had long coveted Diaw since before he was picked by Atlanta in the 2003 Draft, and believed there was still potential there.

"If we scouted Tony, we knew about Boris," Buford said. "The two of them have been best friends since they were teenagers. So, where we were drafting, you'd have been thrilled if you could have drafted Boris. But that didn't happen. And even before the Draft, Boris had been here to visit Tony a lot. So we knew who he was. And over the course of time, he kicked our ass in Phoenix quite a bit. So we knew how good a player he was."

Diaw was the catalyst in San Antonio's victories over Oklahoma City and Miami. Not the best, or most important, or most valuable. But he was the force that turned both series around. His ball movement and basketball IQ allowed the Spurs to play Parker more off the ball, running things through Diaw. There were times when the Spurs would have four ballhandlers -- Diaw, Parker, Ginobili and Mills -- on the floor with one big.

Whether or not Diaw got the "hockey assist," he was always in the center of the ball movement that knocked Miami off its defensive axis. The Heat thrive on trapping screen and rolls and getting deflections that lead to turnovers whenever a team tries to go weakside. But the 6-foot-9 Diaw was strong enough to hold off the doubles when they came, big enough to see over most of Miami's defenders and nimble enough to got into the post, where he exploited still more passing angles and driving lanes with his court vision.

So in Game 5, Mills was throwing (and making) everything he shot at the basket. Leonard was busy wrapping up Finals MVP honors. Splittler was stuffing Dwyane Wade at the rim, all while Ginobili was going all 2005 on Miami with a thunderous dunk and 3-pointer on back-to-back plays ("turned the game around," Green said) in the second quarter.

The Spurs didn't even need much from Parker, who missed his first 10 shots in Game 5 before scoring all 16 of his points in the second half.

They had been a little wounded a year ago, but they were not slain. They lay down to rest for a while, and then they rose to fight Miami again.

Last year, Duncan walked off the floor at American Airlines Arena in Miami following Game 7, looking emotionally spent, representative of a shattered organization. ("'Shattered' is a little strong," Holt said Sunday night. "But it was a tough summer.") Almost a year later, Duncan again walked off the court at the end of The Finals.

This time, he had his son in one hand and his daughter in the other, and he smiled a great, broad smile as he spoke gently to them, Father's Day coming to a close, the confetti swirling down all around them.


(Last week's record in parentheses)

1) San Antonio (3-0) [2]: Among the greatest emotional recoveries I've seen from a basketball team, ever.

2) Miami (0-3) [1]: The Heat looked like a truck going up a steep grade the last three games against the Spurs. Big and serious questions to follow in the coming weeks.

3) Oklahoma City [3]: Season complete. KD swears he didn't bet The Game $20K, and only promised Game's AAU team some gear.

4) Indiana [4]: Season complete.

5) L.A. Clippers [5]: Season complete.

6) Brooklyn [6]: Season complete.

7) Washington [7]: Season complete.

8) Portland [8]: Season complete.

9) Houston [9]: Season complete.

10) Toronto [10]: Season complete.

11) Memphis [11]: Season complete.

12) Dallas [12]: Season complete. The Diggler made his pitch last week for Carmelo Anthony to come to Texas, though his heart didn't seem to really be in it.

13) Golden State [13]: Season complete.

14) Charlotte [14]: Season complete. A bit of a surprise to see Rod Higgins step down abruptly late last week as team president. No one has been closer to Michael Jordan over the years. But MJ, according to the Charlotte Observer, wanted to give more authority to GM Rich Cho for trades and negotiations.

15) Atlanta [15]: Season complete. Hawks still working on filling a vacancy on their bench following Quin Snyder's departure for the Jazz.


Argentina (2-0). Messi leads the national soccer team to an opening round win in the World Cup; Manu Ginobili leads the Spurs to the championship with a circa 2005 performance in Game 6 Sunday. Vamos, Vamos Argentina.


Miami (0-3). Riles has his work cut out for him, but the real issue for the Heat going forward is that its core guys weren't able to generate much defensive pushback against the Spurs. Of course, San Antonio shot the ball at an historically good rate in the Finals, and Miami should not thus overreact. But it will have to do something.


How will this all work out for Derek Fisher in New York?

Fisher made his first appearance last week as Phil Jackson's choice as head coach of the Knicks, having signed a four-year deal (not five, as originally reported). He won the press conference, of course; he always wins the press conference. But winning games will be a different challenge, regardless of what Carmelo Anthony decides to do next season.

Continuing the recent trend of bringing in ex-players right off the floor (or the TV studio), the Knicks will almost certainly play a lot of triangle offense under Fisher, as the Lakers did during much of Fisher's 13 seasons in L.A.

Phil on Fisher, 'Melo & The Finals

Jackson wasted little time after striking out with his first choice, Steve Kerr, who spurned the Knicks for the Golden State Warriors. Fisher seemed to be the only other candidate on Jackson's radar once Kerr was out.

It's not that Fisher hasn't been thought of for years as coach material. But the Knicks didn't seriously consider highly successful and available coaches like Lionel Hollins, George Karl or Jeff Van Gundy (their lack in the latter not totally shocking, given the verbal jousting Jackson and Van Gundy engaged in during the Bulls-Knicks rivalries in the 1990s).

"There's only a few guys who capture their teammates' attention when they speak," said Nazr Mohammed, who played with Fisher in Oklahoma City in 2011 and 2012, by phone Sunday. "When he spoke, everybody listened. He's got the credibility behind him. I think he's a natural born leader and he'll put in the time to do the work to be a really good head coach."

It is, of course, a job that has gotten beyond uncertain in the last three or four years, with good coaches with good records who went deep into the playoffs nonetheless getting fired. Coaches with winning records are getting fired. The business has never been more demanding.

If you take Gregg Popovich (who hired himself to be coach in 1996 after firing Bob Hill) out of the mix, only three coaches -- Dallas' Rick Carlisle, Miami's Erik Spoelstra and OKC's Scott Brooks -- were hired by their current teams before the 2009-10 season.

"It's not so crazy that we stop doing it," Popovich said last week. "But it's a pretty volatile environment. You can't control as many things as you'd like to control. There's a lot of travel. It probably gets old after a while. But I think it's not being in control that probably hurts a lot of coaches. They're bounced around a little bit. It can be a tough way to earn a living, and tough on a family and that sort of thing. But it depends on the organization, too. That's why I said Derek's in a good spot, if he's got Phil there to help make everything pretty sane."

Fisher on New York

Jackson does seem determined to be a mentor and not a threat to his new coach, repeating time and again that he couldn't coach even if he still wanted to, which he doesn't. We will see if that's still the case if the Knicks stumble out of the gate or struggle early, the same way Brooklyn did with its brand new, just-retired coach, Jason Kidd.

Kidd had some help turning things around, though, with veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce policing the locker room. Fisher may not have that luxury.

"They got some knuckleheads on that team," said one of Fisher's former Lakers teammates, Robert Horry, by telephone Saturday. "Derek is going to have to get someone on his side, quick, like Tyson Chandler. Tyson is respected by everybody over there. That's going to be his big guy that everybody's going to follow."

Horry said that Fisher became an elder statesman late in his career, but that was not the player he knew during L.A.'s three-peat from 2000-02.

"He wasn't a leader," Horry said. "He spoke up and said stuff, just like everybody on the team. When you have a championship team, you don't have just one leader. His whole attitude might have changed down the stretch when he was with those young bucks, but I never experienced it because I had more tenure than he did."

Fisher on His Experience

Mohammed says Fisher showed he had potential coaching chops in Oklahoma City.

"There was times after a game when Coach Brooks would say his part, and then he'd say 'Fish, what did you think?,' " Mohammed said. "And it became a routine. He didn't come with the same old stuff every time. He's been through every situation imaginable and it really worked with the players. With a tutor like Phil Jackson especially, he's going to be able to do even more. Of course, there's going to be a learning curve."

Fisher will surely align with Jackson on running the triangle offense, or at least incorporating large chunks of it. The Knicks have a potential triangle guard -- size-wise, anyway -- in Iman Shumpert. But they have a lot of personnel holes, whether or not Anthony returns.

And Fisher will have to learn not only to manage his time, his practices, his interactions with the media, and on and on, but not to be overwhelmed. In this, especially in dealing with the New York media, which has been known to follow its own tune on occasion, Fisher's tenure as president of the National Basketball Players Association could help. But the end of his presidency -- accusations of improprieties by Fisher against former executive director Billy Hunter, which ultimately led to Hunter being fired and firing a lawsuit against Fisher and his now-former assistant -- left some wounded feelings among some players.

"Some people can get consumed," Popovich said. "I'm not one of those. You have to have some priorities. The best part is all of you. You get a chance to talk with a lot of people, answer questions, share ideas. It's something that's valuable in life, and I'm grateful and happy to all of you for giving me the opportunity."

[Editor's Note: the preceding three sentences were dipped in the purifying waters of Lake Sarcasm before being uttered by the Coach.]

GameTime: Fisher to Coach Knicks

Horry says people in New York have to be patient.

"It's one of those situations where you're gonna be learning on the fly," he said. "I don't care who you are. I don't care if you're Michael Jordan. When I was in Phoenix Danny Ainge had just stopped playing. I was like, I hated you when I was playing. I don't think you're smarter than me."

[Editor's Note: Horry famously threw a towel in Ainge's face during a heated in-game argument with him on the bench.]

Fisher was close to both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, leading to speculation that he'll have at least a puncher's chance of convincing Durant to go to New York when he becomes a free agent in 2016. Or, perhaps, Westbrook, who's available a year later.

"KD responds well to everybody," Mohammed said. "But he [Fisher] had a tremendous effect on Russ from the day he walked into the locker room. This was a guy Russ grew up watching, playing for the Lakers. Russ is an L.A. kid. You could tell Russ looked up to him. One good thing about Fish is he understands his audience. He's able to communicate with everybody. Russ took his input prior to the games, and it was a great situation for us ...

"Plus, he didn't just talk to be talking. You have guys that want to hear themselves talk. And that's not what he does."

If Fisher succeeds, though, it won't be because of what he says. His five rings, among the most ever won by one player, give him credibility. But that will only go so far.

"He'll go out and stand up for himself and won't back down," Horry said. "That's going to be key for him. Nobody's going to challenge him. They're not going to say 'I can take this old man.'"


It's what they call a sanity clause. Ha, ha, ha, you can't fool me -- there ain't no Sanity Clause. From Laura Coates:

GameTime: Sterling News

Donald Sterling is not signing off on the sale of the Clippers and wants to pursue a lawsuit against the NBA. Okay, sure. I'm not asking about the finer details of his rights, or how the NBA has the authority to force this sale (I completely agree with the NBA and I do hope this sale goes through!).

My question is what happens in the interim. If Donald Sterling is still the owner by the start of training camp, can players and Doc Rivers back out of contracts? How? Could Chris Paul "retire" only to come out of retirement a few weeks later with another team? Can Rivers simply resign and become coach of another team (I'm there are many ready to offer a lucrative job!)? How does this work? Is there a precedent for a player, coach, trainer, etc saying to a team under which they are contracted "Nope, I can't work for you" and being able to walk away only to find another team? I've been an NBA fan since I was 13 and outside of Stevie Francis throwing a tantrum after he was drafted second by the Grizzlies and forcing a trade, I can't remember anything closely resembling this situation.

Or are they all just saying "maybe I would leave" to the media knowing there's nothing they can do about it?

If Donald Sterling is still the owner at the start of camp, Laura, the repercussions will almost certainly have already begun. I can't imagine a free agent signing in L.A. if the league had taken no action against Sterling. I can't imagine new advertisers signing on for the 2014-15 season (and how could the Clippers promote the team on TV and other media with that cloud still over their heads?) Adam Silver made it clear on NBA TV last week that if Donald Sterling wins the probate trial against his wife Shelly and is reinstated as co-trustee of the family trust that owns the team, the league will re-schedule the termination hearing it had originally planned to try and take the team away from him. I would imagine that hearing would take place quite quickly after the July 10 probate trial concluded, and in time for the team to be able to sign free agents and conduct its business in some kind of normal fashion over the summer.

As to your questions, with the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, I don't think people can just walk away from their contracts and play or coach somewhere else. A signed contract is a very powerful and legally binding document. Remember, Steve Francis had not yet signed with the Grizzlies when he asked to be traded; he had just been drafted by the team. Vancouver could have held on to his rights for years, daring him to continue sitting out, instead of capitulating and trading him to the Rockets. Why the Grizz didn't remains a mystery.

Say it with me three times: Love...Luke...Sikma! From Gene Oreszak:

David, who do you think Kevin Love compares to from days going by. A combination of Mo Lucas & Jack Sikma?

I don't see Lucas, Gene. Mo was a physical defender who, while he could score, didn't have near the range of Love. Sikma is not a bad comparison; Jack was a little taller but had the same combination of shooting and rebounding chops (he averaged a double-double during his first nine seasons in Seattle) as K-Love. He was more of a post player, though.

One man's Hugo is another man's Pierre. From Sean Sheehy:

Who 'owns' the history of the original Charlotte Hornets? For example, is Alonzo Morning the greatest player in New Orleans Pelicans History, or Charlotte Hornets history?

I think some would say Chris Paul is the greatest player in Pels/Hornets history, Sean. But I get your point. Hard to say. For example, I don't think many people associate George Mikan with Los Angeles, right? But he did play for the Lakers, and he won as many rings as Magic for that franchise. My guess is that as time goes on, the memories of the Hornets' team that moved to New Orleans will fade, and the Pelicans will assume a place of primacy in most people's minds.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and good thoughts for Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken to If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!


(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) Tim Duncan (12.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2 apg, .481 FG., .750 FT): He didn't dominate on offense, but he rebounded and defended better than many thought he could still do at this stage of the season, and his career. A sentimental postseason MVP? Probably. But Timmy still had his moments at both ends.

2) LeBron James (27 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, .558 FG, .778 FT): Those predisposed not to like LeBron will surely pile on, after the Heat's loss in The Finals. This was not LeBron's fault, pure and simple.

3) Kawhi Leonard (20.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .686 FG, .842 FT): Man, I wish Dr. Jack was still around to give me a "Leonard!" call when Kawhi started busting jumpers in the Finals. (And, best sign: at AT&T Center Sunday: "Kawhiet Riot.")

4) Kevin Durant: Season complete.

5) Blake Griffin: Season complete.

Dropped out: Dwyane Wade


4.13 -- Personal fouls called per 48 minutes by referees that are 6 feet tall or shorter, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Economics by authors Paul Gift and Ryan Rodenberg. The authors studied 4,463 regular season games from 2008 to 2012 and determined that shorter NBA refs call more fouls than their taller brethren. Refs 6-0 to 6-3 called 4.09 fouls per 48 minutes; refs taller than 6-3 called 4.03 fouls per 48. The difference is only one additional foul every 10 games.

47 -- Days since the Lakers have had a coach. Mike D'Antoni resigned on May 1. But the Lakers, from all accounts, are in no hurry to hire a new head coach, and may wait until after the Draft and the start of free agency in July.

$82,000,000 -- Tax breaks that the 76ers are expected to receive from the state of New Jersey as part of the deal to build a 120,000-square foot facility in Camden that will serve as the team's headquarters and practice facility.


Top 10: June 15

1) This was not a great NBA season, but it was more than representative, and it has a great champion that has done almost everything the right way for a very long time. And, I get to go home after seven weeks on the road.

2) If there are a handful of local investors who are interested in joining up with majority owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, up to and including the likes of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Milwaukee's chances of privately financing an arena to ultimately replace BMO Harris Bradley Center -- needed to keep the team in town past 2017 -- increase dramatically.

3) Sad to see Sam Mitchell leave the NBA TV family, but he belongs on a bench, and he was a good hire by Flip Saunders to be his top assistant. Sam will tell the truth to anyone, star or no, and that's something the Wolves need a lot of going forward.

4) I think I can differentiate between Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney, but that's about all I can give you on soccer. Still, I'm enthralled by the energy and passion the World Cup provides every four years.

5) I think I say this every year, but it remains the case, so I'll say it again: I know next to nothing about hockey, but I could listen to Doc Emrick call anything -- a game, a wedding, my annual physical. He is great, and his work on the Stanley Cup Finals was as good as ever.


1) Am I looking forward to the next three or four weeks, where everybody will cite "sources close to the discussions" claiming LeBron will go to Chicago, or to the Clippers, or back home to Cleveland -- or to the Prague Peacemakers? No, I am not.

The Starters: 'Melo in Miami?

2) Hate to see a defending champion go out like that -- three straight routs.

3) Hilarious to see the New York media hyperventilating all over themselves to break the news that Carmelo Anthony is opting out of his contract to test free agency -- eight months after Carmelo Anthony said he was going to opt out of his contract to test free agency.

4) Did not see more than a few minutes of the U.S. Open this weekend. This is my fault. Can't get into it without Tiger being on the course. There are obviously great players on the Tour these days, including the champion, Martin Kaymer. I am a casual golf fan, though, and need to see Eldrick.

5) RIP, Chuck Noll. From all accounts, he seemed a demanding but very fair coach, and his results with the Steelers in the '70s speak for themselves. One of the NFL's all-time greats at his profession.


Also that was a nice flying header by the second coolest Robin in the world!
-- Portland center Robin Lopez (@eegabeeva88), Friday, 3:17 p.m., while watching Netherlands star forward Robin van Persie's amazing header during his country's 5-1 dismantling of Spain in its opening World Cup match.


"For now, it seems Adam Silver is content with focusing his energy on violating my rights, attempting to take my property, and signing autographs for TMZ. Maybe once the dust settles, he will have some time to focus on the NBA's own transgressions."
-- Donald Sterling, in a wild statement released Tuesday titled "Why I Am Fighting The NBA? The NBA Wants To Take Away Our Privacy Rights And Freedom Of Speech." Sterling called the league "despicable monsters" and "a band of hypocrites and bullies." He said the NBA came after him because it didn't want to examine its own history of discriminatory behavior, which he said included numerous lawsuits against the league charging gender-based discrimination. Sterling has reportedly hired four private investigation firms to dig up dirt on the league and his fellow owners.

"I'm not frustrated. I just think it's all in my people that represent me, it's in their hands, and I just want to go to a spot -- wherever that is, one of 30 teams -- where I can win. In six years I haven't been in the playoffs, and I think it's time for people to be watching me. Even though I love the E3 and 'Call of Duty,' I'd much rather be playing."
-- Kevin Love, to Fox Sports, on whether he is frustrated with the Timberwolves and wants to be dealt. Love was cornered while at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which showcases new video games, in Los Angeles last week.

"Well, I never wear the same shirt twice. Maybe I'll wear jeans more than once. But some of the things I wear are loud, so once I wear them, that's it. I give them away to friends or family."
--Russell Westbrook, to Women's Wear Daily, while announcing his partnership with the tony men's store Barney's New York on a collection of Westbrook-designed clothing and accessories called Westbrook XO Barney's New York.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.