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Building bridge to future a 'process' for resilient Spurs

Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and new Spur LaMarcus Aldridge are pillars of next era in San Antonio

POSTED: Nov 9, 2015 5:06 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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The Spurs have already surrounded coach Gregg Popovich with the future (Leonard, Aldridge) as the past's (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) time begins to dwindle.

Perhaps this was the time to point out that the President of the United States had been delighted to answer my questions.

But it was too late. Gregg Popovich did not reveal any inner angst or conflict at the prospect of life without his three superstar San Antonio Spurs -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The question was an idea, not an opinion: perhaps Pop could sleep a little easier these days, knowing that he now had a near-complete bridge to the post-Timmeh era with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, along with sharpshooting Danny Green, all signed for the next four seasons at least (Leonard's deal runs a fifth year).

Maybe, with the angst of keeping the NBA's most successful franchise of the last two decades going well into a third now lessened, Popovich could breathe a little easier?

"My life will stay the same," Pop said last week. "When those three guys leave, my life will stay the same. It's basketball. It's not my life. It's basketball."

No doubt, Popovich is a fully formed human being, not defined by his job, great at it though he may be. But he did allow that things would change a bit for him as a coach, and that he's thought about what the Spurs would look like down the road, with new stars leading them.

"I thought about it five years ago," he said. "So I think about it all the time. Mostly that I'll be sad not to have them around, more than anything. When you've been with somebody as I have with those three guys, I'll miss walking in the gym and seeing them there. But, you know, life goes on for everybody."

The Spurs took the leap in July, signing Aldridge from Portland for four years and $84 million, soon after they got a verbal commitment from Leonard, their 2014 Finals MVP, for a five-year max deal for $90 million. Green turned down bigger offers elsewhere to re-up for four years and $40 million. In doing so, the Spurs put down their markers.

Appreciation For Pop

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker talk about the influence Gregg Popovich has had on their lives.

Of course they will endeavor to win another ring this season, merging the old with the new. But Aldridge, Leonard and Green is the trio that will try to carry on the tradition that Duncan (Hall of Fame center David Robinson had more than a little hand in it as well), Parker and Ginobili created, one that has lead to five NBA titles since 1999.

"You assume I care about what's going to happen after I'm gone," Duncan says, as only he can, deadpan and with exquisite comic timing.

He continues: "We've got a good core here. We've got a good bunch of young guys. And, obviously (we're) adding L.A. to that. As long as Danny stops sucking" -- Green, seated next to Duncan, was waiting for the zinger -- "and Kawhi is obviously on his way up and is going to be incredible, there's going to be a good team here for a long time. We've done that over the years. The organization has continued to put people into place where they're coming along, and there's no lull in what we do."

Maybe Ginobili is relieved the Spurs will go on after he's gone?

"Well, that type of decision, that is playing, or not playing, and just change your life completely, I'm a little bit more egotistical on that," says Ginobili, and thank God he's honest. "I'm way more worried on my future well-being, and my kids, and my family, where we are going to live and what we are going to do, than what is going to happen with the Spurs. With all due respect, of course. I love the franchise, and I'm probably going to be attached in some way. But for such a big change, maybe I'll be a little more egotistical."

Tony?

"It's nice to see that R.C. (Buford, the team's President of Sports Franchises) and Pop are doing an unbelievable job getting talent to the organization," Parker said, "and it's going to be in good hands when the Big Three retire."

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have earned the right to be fiercely proud of their legacy. They've won 543 games together over the last 12 years, which broke the previous record of the Celtics' Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for the most wins by a trio of players on one team in NBA history.

DPG is the manifestation of Popovich's brain, not only on the floor, but in the locker room, on the plane, on nights off. They have set the tone for the Spurs for more than a decade -- Duncan supplying the competitive fire (it is amazing that there are still some out there who don't know how much he burns to win), Parker the speed and breakdown ability, Ginobili the heart and soul that keeps coming back, year after year, even after winning just about everything that can be won.

Aldridge has had none of that success.

He became an All-Star in Portland, emerging as a go-to player after Greg Oden and Brandon Roy were consumed by injuries, becoming the center of the Blazers' new nucleus with Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews (see below). But Portland won just one playoff series during his nine seasons there, and he didn't see a future contending in the West in the Rose City.

So he chose San Antonio, which is close to where his kids live in Texas, and a franchise that demands assimilation.

"I've never been in this situation," Aldridge said. "I've never had to handle this kind of transition. I've been in one place and they kind of tailored it for me, and made things work around me. This is new. I don't know how long it's going to take, but I know I'm on a great team that will work for me, and every game, it's going to get better."

NBA Action: Into the Action

Dive into the action in San Antonio as the new-look Spurs get set for another championship run.

So far, Aldridge has been up and down. He struggled in his first game against Oklahoma City; looked much better in wins over Boston and New York; took a step back against the Wizards and did better against Charlotte. It is uneven, even on good teams, to adjust to new surroundings.

Most NBA systems have similarities; think of them as Venn Diagrams, where there's a lot of overlap. The differences are in the verbiage; the concepts are the same. Take the idea of switching everything defensively late in the shot clock, or at the end of a game. Some teams use a color, like "red," to convey that they want their players to switch on every pick and roll. When I covered the Washington Bullets a million years ago, they called that action "blitz." But other teams use "blitz" when they want their two defenders to trap the ballhandler in a pick and roll.

Or, to use a music analogy: the note C-sharp is the same as the note D-flat. Different names, same concept. But it may take a second to realize that, and on a basketball court, that second can be the difference between an open shot and a contested one.

"It's tough," Aldridge said. "But I have guys like Tim and everybody that tell me it's going to be a process. I'm not used to having 10 points. I'm not used to not shooting the ball well on back-to-back nights. I'm not used to not knowing where I'm going or where I'm going to be, things like that. But it's a process. As long as we keep winning in the process, then it'll be all good."

It is a common theme for most Spurs newcomers. In some ways, the franchise's reputation for team-first, multi-pass play at the offensive end works against it -- at least for a while -- as the new guys feel their way. Many who have come to San Antonio after playing big roles elsewhere have had periods of struggle, whether international (Fabricio Oberto, Tiago Splitter) or domestic (Robert Horry, Roger Mason).

LaMarcus Aldridge Highlights

LaMarcus Aldridge drops 24 points and grabs 14 boards in the Spurs win over the Celtics.

"It's a process of just learning the system, trying to figure it out, adjust to some of the, I guess the details they do a little differently than everybody else," said veteran forward David West, also a newcomer to the Spurs way this season.

Like Aldridge, West has a new role in San Antonio than he did in Indiana, where he was a primary scorer, occasional enforcer and father confessor. At 35, he didn't have time to waste. So he walked away from the guaranteed $12 million the Pacers were going to pay him for the $1 million minimum that was all the Spurs could afford.

"Everybody, every time at the beginning, when they come in, they want to please everybody," Parker said. "And that's normal. That's human nature. You want to fit, and get along with everybody, 'cause everybody talks so much about our passing, and sharing the ball, things like that. So he's trying to do the same thing. But at the same time, he's our number one, number two option with Kawhi. So he has to be aggressive."

Leonard continues to grow exponentially.

Kawhi's Double-Double

Kawhi Leonard records a double-double (18 points and 14 rebounds) in the Spurs win over the Knicks.

The Spurs' offense now flows through Leonard, who leads the team in usage rate (28.8 percent of all possessions through the team's games Saturday); his usage rate in San Antonio is higher than Anthony Davis' in New Orleans, or Carmelo Anthony in New York, or Kobe Bryant in L.A. He leads the Spurs in scoring (21.8 per game) and steals (2 per game), and is second in rebounds (8.3).

And he is doing all that while crushing the offensive dreams of opposing threes.

Six games is, of course, an extremely small sample size. But if they're any indication of what Leonard is going to do this season, he'll not only be an All-Star, he'll be in the MVP chatter before too much longer. The body count so far for the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

Kawhi Leonard stats
Date Opponent FGs Points +/-
10/28 Thunder 13-22 32 +5
10/30 Nets 6-16 16 +16
11/1 Celtics 8-18 19 +3
11/2 Knicks 8-16 18 +13
11/4 Wizards 10-22 23 -11
11/7 Hornets 10-16 23 +11
Kawhi Leonard opponent stats
Date Opponent FGs Points +/-
10/28 Kevin Durant 6-19 22 -1
10/30 Joe Johnson 1-7 2 -22
11/1 Jae Crowder 3-9 7 -9
11/2 Carmelo Anthony 4-17 19 -9
11/4 Otto Porter 8-10 19 +11
11/7 Nicolas Batum 2-6 10 -19

(Yes, that's Otto Porter who did work against Leonard last week in Washington. They'll meet again next month.)

Popovich positively gushes about his 24 year old, who has next to nothing to say about himself.

"At this point, he's just trying to figure out what to do when people come after him," he told reporters last week. "He's getting double-teamed now. That's a whole different basketball game. So he's watching Barkley tape and Jordan tape and seeing what those guys did. Those guys were great baiters. They'd get in a situation where they knew where they wanted to go with the pass. Right now, he's learning when do I try to score, when am I in a crowd, when am I not in crowd, when do I let it go? All those decisions. That's the part of the game he's working on.

"He already plays at both ends, which is pretty spectacular. There aren't too many guys in the league who can excel at both ends. They're good players, but they're mostly offensive. They don't do what he does."

Aldridge does different things, which is why the Spurs wanted him. But he's still feeling his way.

Duncan told me it's not trying to please as much as thinking too much that trips up the newcomers.

"Everybody's trying to think," he said. "They're trying to think the game. They're trying to react the right way. They're trying to make the right decision every time. And when you think too much, your normal reactions become secondary. And that pause and that hesitation takes something away from your game. We just have to play through that. That's what the 82 games are for. We're going to figure it out, and guys are going to come around."

Aldridge says he's actually okay at the defensive end. It's the offense that hasn't come as quickly as he'd expected. It's knowing where the shots are in the Spurs' system, as well as learning the plays. It's like his first two years in the league in Portland.

"You can tell that he's thinking a little bit out there," Green said. "It's natural; it's normal, right now. You can tell confidence-wise that he's not 100 percent confident. Sometimes, you see phases of it. It comes in spurts. A couple of the games, he played well. Boston, he hit some different phases where he was aggressive. New York, he had some phases where he was aggressive and comfortable. But then there's sometimes where, new situations, new team, different matchups, different points of the game."

Aldridge also has to short-circuit the continuity that has been a hallmark of the Spurs' core group. The Spurs' starters all know each other's every move; the bench -- Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills -- have been through a million shared moments, losing the most devastating way possible to Miami in 2013, returning to vanquish Miami in the most glorious way possible 12 months later.

"We have been together for so long," Ginobili said. "For example, even now, Boris, Patty, Kawhi, they've been already here for four seasons. So whoever comes tries to fit. Even LaMarcus. The team is not going to change because he was the free agent, the best free agent in the market. We're (not) going to change how we play, or adjust to him. He has to adjust to us. And I guess our way is a little different than others. I assume; I only know this (way). What I hear, it just takes a little more."

Few have mentioned Green when talking about San Antonio's future, but after crashing and burning in his first turn with the Spurs, the 28-year-old Green has become a complete two-way player in San Antonio. He's proven himself in The Finals; if not for Ray Allen's not-miracle three that saved Game 6 of the 2013 Finals for Miami, Green may well have been Finals MVP.

Now, after turning down bigger offers to stay in San Antonio last summer, he's a major player for the next generation.

"Well, that's the hope," Green said. "I don't think about it too much, but if I think about it, I think about the here and now. But down the road, hopefully (Aldridge is) still around. Hopefully I'm still around. I think we'll have a good core, and I think that was the whole key to bringing him here and bringing some of the young guys back. You can continue to keep this going -- and not, I guess, fill the shoes, but follow the path that Manu and Tony and Timmy have paved for us."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (4-0): Draymond Green may be as unique a talent as there currently is in the Association.

2) Cleveland [6] (4-0): LeBron becomes the 20th player in NBA history to eclipse the 25,000-point mark. James will soon pass Jerry West (19th, with 25,192 points) and Reggie Miller (18th, with 25,279 points) on the list.

LeBron's Historic Night

Check out the highlights from LeBron James' historic night where he becomes the youngest in NBA history to reach 25,000 career points.

3) Atlanta [7] (4-0): Hawks' ball movement ridiculously good: 119 assists on 158 field goals during four wins last week.

4) San Antonio [4] (2-1): Reworked Spurs bench showing signs it can be productive.

5) L.A. Clippers [2] (1-2): Remember when I said last week that the Clippers' bench could very well be a difference maker by season's end? Well, forget I said that.

6) Utah [13] (2-1): Jazz have been sensational on defense so far, and will get good tests this week during an Eastern Conference road trip at Cleveland, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta.

7) Houston [NR] (4-0): When someone said something especially dubious during my college days, my buddy Dan gave them what he called "the Eye of Disdain." This is Eye 2.0.

8) Portland [NR] (3-1): You got moxie, Blazers. Pick a suit.

9) Oklahoma City [3] (1-3): Thunder love having Enes Kanter on the floor, but the defensive issues haven't gone away.

10) Toronto [9] (2-2): Raps still betting on the come by extending Terrence Ross for three years and $33 million.

11) Detroit [14] (2-1): Reggie Jackson rapidly becoming Mr. November.

Drummond, Jackson Go Off

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson lead Detroit past Portland.

12) Chicago [5] (1-2): Derrick Rose's three ball hasn't made the jump to hyperspeed just yet; it's still in the Millenium Falcon with Chewbacca and C3P0.

13) Miami [15] (2-2): The silence surrounding Gerald Green's hospitalization and absence from the Heat is troubling.

14) Dallas [11] (1-2): Chandler Parsons finally makes his season debut, but is still limited minutes-wise for a while.

15) Washington [12] (1-2): Wizards are hopeful -- hopeful -- that Bradley Beal didn't do any more damage to his shoulder Saturday night against the Hawks. All X-rays taken have been negative and Beal is really sore, but so far, there doesn't appear to be anything serious. They'll all know more today.

Dropped out: Memphis [8], New York [10].

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Milwaukee (4-0): Yes, it was low-hanging fruit for the Bucks -- two victories over winless Brooklyn, one apiece against Philly and New York. But the defense was nonetheless first-rate (90.3 ppg allowed in the four wins), and the Bucks got Jabari Parker back on the floor.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Brooklyn (0-4): Haven't won yet (0-7 overall), five of next six on the road, including three on the West Coast this week, with the next best chance to win -- maybe -- in a home and home with Boston in 10 days, by which time the Nets could be 0-12. The Prokhorov is not amused.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What does a professional athlete think about when he has to do a calf raise two inches off the ground, but can't?

This was the test for Wesley Matthews, who'd made himself into an NBA player with a brew of talent, will and anger -- anger that he hadn't been drafted, the will to become the leader of the Trail Blazers in five seasons in Portland despite never having been an All-Star, and the talent to become one of the league's best two-way two guards, a fierce defender and a floor spacer for Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Yet now, he could barely get his left foot off the ground.

"I almost broke into tears," Matthews said recently. "'Cause I thought we were supposed to keep going in this direction, keep going in this direction. I was days, weeks ahead of the curve. So I'm excited, and I'm thinking, well, what's the next step? It was a calf raise. I've done millions of calf raises in my life, so I was like, 'This is all I've gotta do?' I'm giving everything I've got, and it's not moving. I was like, man, I've got a long ways to go."

There's no good time to blow out one's Achilles' tendon, but the timing of this injury was especially cruel to Matthews. He was about to turn 29, and finally have the opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent. He'd played in every game in four of his five NBA seasons, which is why he called himself "Iron Man," after the comic book and movie hero.

But Matthews didn't get where he is by backing down from a challenge. Eventually, the calf went in the air. And, even more impressively, Matthews kept his word to the Dallas Mavericks, signing the four-year, $57 million contract he'd agreed to after fellow free agent DeAndre Jordan changed his mind and didn't sign in Dallas.

One of the biggest things that helped me was, I'm not afraid of anything. ...I wasn't afraid to make that next step, because I wasn't worried about it.

– Wesley Matthews

And on Opening Night, less than eight months after the injury, Matthews was back on the floor. He's played in all but one of the Mavericks' games so far, staying under 30 minutes a game as he gets his conditioning and timing back.

"Very few people thought he could come back that quick," said his agent, Jeff Austin. "He never doubted his ability to get back quickly but had doubts whether teams would believe."

Said Marc Sherry, Matthews's Wisconsin-based physical therapist, "I wasn't sure he was going to be able to make it back for Opening Night, and I'm not sure if the Mavericks and the surgeon thought so, either."

Matthews tore his Achiles' March 5 -- ironically, against the Mavericks. Two days later, Dr. Richard Ferkel performed the surgery in Los Angeles; Matthews had worn a t-shirt going into the hospital that read:

UND

RAF

TED

Three weeks after the operation, he started post-op workouts.

"You're talking about a guy," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, "who's made a living proving people wrong."

This is true. Indeed, Matthews was, famously, undrafted coming out of Marquette in 2009, and has buffed that chip that's been on his shoulder ever since to a retina-burning shine. So he attacked the rehab schedule.

Instead of rehabbing in his house in suburban Oregon (it has a court, and he didn't want to tempt himself, or fate, by getting up shots too soon), Matthews split his rehab time between Los Angeles, where Ferkel and Austin could check on him, and Madison, where his mother and family members still live.

"Family and friends are important to Wes," said Sherry, who's known Matthews since he was a high school freshman "And I think it was important for him to have that support as he went through the grind."

But for all of Matthews's confidence, he was still leery about entering free agency in a boot.

"We really were not sure what the market would bear," Austin texted Sunday, "but I kept telling him that although some teams would definitely be afraid of the injury, his style of play, his work ethic and leadership qualities should win the day with at least one team and he can't sign with more than one team anyway. As it turned out, that's how it went down."

Austin believed at least a half dozen teams would have come hard after a healthy Matthews. He ended with two. But one was Dallas.

Matthews Career Highlights with the Blazers

Check out some highlights from Wes Matthews during his 5 year stint with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Mavericks reached out to Matthews early in the free agent negotiating period. The Blazers did not. Portland's position on Matthews was simple: if LaMarcus Aldridge, also a free agent, opted to return to town, the Blazers would make a vigorous push to re-sign Matthews as well. When Aldridge decided to go to San Antonio (see above), Portland went into rebuild mode, signing free agents Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis, trading for young veterans Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, and recasting its team around Lillard, who got a $120 million max deal.

The Mavs believed their team physicians and athletic performance staff, led by head athletic trainer Casey Smith, would help Matthews return to form -- "We talked to our doctors," Mavs owner Mark Cuban e-mailed Sunday -- even though Achilles' tears are among the toughest from which to recover for players; many get back on the floor, but lose their explosiveness and quickness. (It helped that Matthews suffered the injury relatively early in his career; players who tear them later almost never are the same.)

The plan was for Jordan, Matthews and forward Chandler Parsons to comprise the Mavs' new core, the one that would succeed Dirk Nowitzki's days with the franchise. But, famously, Jordan changed his mind, and walked away from the agreement he'd reached with the Mavs, opting to return to the Clippers. (Jordan returns to Dallas for the first time since leaving the Mavs at the altar on Wednesday (8 ET, ESPN), when the Clippers come to American Airlines Center.)

Jordan's decision to go back to Los Angeles benefited Matthews financially. The original plan was for Jordan to get a four-year max deal for $80 million, while Matthews got four years and $57 million. When Jordan reneged, the Mavs gave Matthews the max, which for him was four years and $70 million.

When Jordan balked, Cuban told Matthews he could leave, too, and see what else was out there. But Matthews stayed.

"I guess 'cause I'm confident in myself, and I'm confident in this team, and I'm confident in this organization," Matthews said. "One of the first things I asked was, I don't want to be a package deal. I was clear on this before. I feel like I am a legitimate two guard in this league. I filled a need. And they wanted me. So, whether (Jordan) came or not, it didn't make a difference."

I feel like I am a legitimate two guard in this league. I filled a need. And they wanted me. So, whether (DeAndre Jordan) came or not, it didn't make a difference.

– Wesley Matthews on joining the Mavericks

So when Cuban said "No hard feelings, I understand; you came here thinking that DeAndre was coming," Matthews's response was succinct: "Nah. I'm here."

But he still had a long way to go. Matthews was ready to do the work, but he didn't know what he didn't know.

"You can't tell Wes what he can't do," Sherry said. "You have to show him, and show him how to get there. We tried to break it down, task by task. You had to set goals every day."

Sherry didn't want Matthews to just rehab the Achilles' in a vacuum, and then have to try and incorporate himself back on the court. So he would combine exercises with basketball movement during the rehab. Matthews would, while standing, do a full toe raise, for example, followed by a full calf raise -- and then try to do a reverse pivot.

"It's a tough thing to do, because so much of basketball is unpredictable," Matthews said. "You can't script how a play's going to go. You can't script where the ball's going to go, what move you have to make. So much of it is reaction, and how quickly you get your reaction time, and mentally, how confident you are that you can do it. One of the biggest things that helped me was, I'm not afraid of anything. And so, I wasn't afraid to make that cut. I wasn't afraid to make that plant. I wasn't afraid to chase off a screen. I wasn't afraid to make that next step, because I wasn't worried about it."

Smith came up to Madison several times during the summer. He and Sherry texted each other every week to make sure they were on the same page. And Matthews didn't take any days off; when he returned to Madison from L.A. for a wedding in August, he texted Sherry: I've got to come home tonight; you got anything for me tomorrow?

Matthews says now he had no doubt he'd get back on the court before the projected eight-month timetable.

"It's all in who you entrust to help you during this time," he said. "Dr. Ferkel, I trust Dr. Ferkel. I trust Marc. I trust Casey. I trust Fabrice (Gautier, the L.A.-based physical therapist Matthews used when in California). I trust (strength and conditioning coach) Robbie Davis, who was out there working with me. I trust those guys. So I trusted they knew what they were doing. And I trust myself."

The Mavericks will work Matthews back up to a full workload slowly. For now, he likely won't play in back-to-backs. Carlisle is going to err on the side of caution. Dallas is hopeful it can make a playoff run this season -- the Mavs have been in the postseason 14 of the last 15 years. But Matthews is a long-term piece, not a short-term fix. He is in Dallas because the Mavs believed in him and think he can do more than he did in Portland.

When Matthews was in high school, he was a heck of a forward in soccer. He loved soccer, more than basketball. But his mother told him he had to make a choice, because she couldn't afford to have him play both sports. He chose basketball, and he's stuck with it ever since.

"I've defied every odd, and this was just another one," Matthews said. "It was another obstacle for me to overcome, to push myself that it's another challenge. I defied it, being undrafted, then making in a rotation, then starting, then getting a good deal, and living up to it, and getting another one. To me, it was just nothing. It was another test, another something I can tell my grandkids about sometimes."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

I'm (still) ready for my post-up, Mr. Scott. From Peter Hoang:

It's painful to watch Kobe in his Jordan Wizard years, but what options do the Lakers have of forcing him to be more efficient without sacrificing that "we love our legends" idea? Should we just stealthily tank another year or do you see a way we can get some real development for our young guys?

GameTime: Kobe's Last Trip to MSG?

The crew chat about what could have been Kobe Bryant's last trip to Madison Square Garden as a player.

I was asked this on a radio show in L.A. earlier this week, Peter. If you're a Lakers fan, I suspect you already know the answer. There's no "rebuilding" with that franchise, just as the Knicks never enter a season with development of their young players as a priority. The Lakers could have easily gone full blown youth movement this season, and lived with the lurching progress made by a team with nothing but kids -- Russell and Clarkson and Randle, etc. But they did what teams that charge thousands for courtside seats have to do -- they brought in veterans like Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams that could allow them to win more games now. The only difference between the Lakers and Knicks is that New York will do much better with their collection of vets in the East than Los Angeles will do in the West. As for Kobe, you know what he's going to do, he knows what he's going to do, everybody knows what he's going to do -- hoist shots, night after night. That's the deal. (Look at his career averages -- he's never shot 47 percent from the floor for a season once! The difference is, in his prime, he was getting 8-10 free throws per game, and his defense was outstanding. But even now, he's still very, very good on the glass for a two guard.) I don't think the Lakers have to tank. They'll lose fair and square on their own.

That Toddlin' Town. From Carlos Martinez Ortega:

Last campaign one of the big disappointments was the Chicago Bulls. They alternated big wins (on the road Golden State) with absurd losses. This year it seems that the path is exactly the same. They made a great game vs Oklahoma and then they lost at home against the Wolves.

I don't know what it is happening in the locker room of this team but from your point of view, where is the solution? Is a problem of egos? Chemistry?

They have changed coaching staff but the lack of consistency is still there.

Hardly time to push the panic button, Carlos. It will take time for everyone to get used to their new roles -- and I continue to maintain that Mike Dunleavy, Jr.'s absence is a bigger deal that people seem to realize. There's very little consistency for any team this early in the season. (Some guys are in regular season shape, for example, while others aren't.) What is of concern is hearing so early on that the team isn't playing as hard as it could. That should not be happening the first two weeks of the season. You get not playing well, or consistently, right now, but there's no excuse for not giving great effort in November.

Sowing the seeds of network discontent. From Oliver Maroney:

I did a Q&A with Kristen Ledlow and I asked who'd win in a game of HORSE between CJ McCollum and her.

Now I want to ask the crew! No dunking allowed (Shaq), who wins in a game of HORSE between the TNT cast. And Shaq really doesn't have a case, because he lost to Kristen Ledlow already!

Assuming you're including the remote crew as well, Oliver, this is pretty easy -- Reggie would kill everyone in HORSE. None of our guys could come close to his range (though Kenny would think he could). CWebb might well finish second, though; with his mitts, he could control the ball throughout whatever series of between the leg or behind the back dribbles he came up with leading into the shot. (And I love Kristen. But my money would be on C.J. in that hypothetical matchup. Watched dude for four years at Lehigh in the Patriot League before he was drafted. He can make every shot.)

Send your questions, comments, criticisms, and other municipalities named after marine mammals that settle elections with games of chance to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (29.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5 apg, .521 FG, .880 FT): Leads the league, per NBA.com's advanced stats, in points off turnovers per game (8). Actually had a poor shooting night Saturday in Sacramento. A Congressional Inquiry will begin within the month.

Highlights From Stephen Curry's Big Night

Stephen Curry scores 34 points, hands out 10 assists and grabs seven rebounds versus the Denver Nuggets.

2) Blake Griffin (31.9 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.3 apg, .552 FG, .889 FT): Gotten out of the gate strong: currently second to Curry in the league in PER.

3) Andre Drummond (22 ppg, 24.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, .689 FG, .190 FT): Has gotten at least 20 points and 20 boards three times already this season. Just growing by leaps and bounds into a full-fledged two-way terror.

Nightly Notable: Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond has a monster game with 29 points and 27 rebounds in the Pistons victory over the Trail Blazers 120-103.

4) Kevin Durant (30.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .518 FG, .865 FT): Even when he's bad, he's good.

5) Russell Westbrook (22 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 12.5 apg, .453 FG, .875 FT): I'm just ... I'm trying ... but ... well, maybe it's just not for me.

BY THE NUMBERS

67 -- Consecutive games the Warriors have won when taking a lead of 15 or more points in any game over the past year-plus. Let that sink in for a second: Golden State has led 67 regular season and playoff games since the start of last season by 15 or more points. (This is Schuhmann's favorite stat, maybe ever.)

14 -- Years since the Timberwolves have won their first three road games of the season, after Minnesota's overtime win Saturday in Chicago. Last season, the Wolves didn't win their third road game until January.

21 -- D-League teams as of 2016-17, when the Long Island Nets begin play in Brooklyn. The Nets will play at Barclays Center for one year before moving out to Long Island at the renovated Coliseum in Nassau. Brooklyn will be the 12th NBA team to own and operate a single D-League franchise, with Chicago, Washington and several other cities expressing interest in becoming D-League franchisees.

I'M FEELIN' ...

The Starters: Worst of the Week: Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs aired a video in their arena that had no business being aired by a professional organization.

1) There will be lots of popcorn at the ready Wednesday night when the Clippers and DeAndre Jordan visit Dallas. Lots and lots and lots of popcorn.

Arena Link: Rudy Gobert

Utah's big man Rudy Gobert joins GameTime via arena link to speak on his development within the Jazz organization and his outlook on the season.

2) Utah begins this week ranked first in opponent points allowed (85 per game), defensive rating (92.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and two-point field goal percentage allowed (41.3 percent), is second in Effective Field Goal percentage defense (43.7 percent, just behind Minnesota) and is tied for fifth in the league in blocked shots with 40. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are 1-2 in the league in Defensive Rating, per basketball-reference.com. One senses a trend growing in the Wasatch.

3) I thought the Sixers were crazy for cutting Pierre Jackson before the start of the season, but undrafted T.J. McConnell from Arizona is diming everybody up in the first fortnight. Jahlil Okafor looks very comfortable with McConnell on the ball.

4) Best. Dad. Ever.

5) An 89-year-old man gets up on stage and tries standup for the first time. He succeeds (slightly risque).

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) How is Memphis -- Memphis! -- last in the league in opponent 3-point percentage allowed? And 25th in total opponent field goal percentage allowed? And 23rd in defensive rating? What in the name of Grit-n-Grind is going on down there?

New Orleans Pelicans: How Worried Are You?

Anthony Davis might be an MVP candidate but are the Pelicans in trouble after starting 0-3?

2) Also: Explain to me, slowly, what is going on in New Orleans, which had such high expectations going into the season. I know the Pels have had a whole lot of injuries, but they also have one of the five best players in the league in Anthony Davis. Losses are understandable. The way they're losing isn't.

3) I'm sure all those people who booed the Knicks taking Kristaps Porzingis on Draft night, and all those people who wrote about how it was a reach to take him fourth overall, are all copping to what they did and acknowledging he might be able to play a little, right?

Hornets vs. Spurs

Kawhi Leonard scores 23 points as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Charlotte Hornets 114-94.

4) Respect the idea behind the camo unis, Spurs. But, nah. Let military families in for free next time to honor their sacrifice. Something like that.

5) Twister is, just now, making the Toy Hall of Fame? Who are these secret THOF voters? All THOF should be transparent and every voter should disclose his/her votes! (Previous two sentences lifted from annual Baseball Hall of Fame voting outrage columns/Tweets.)

Q & A: Chris Paul

He remains guarded (pun unintended), hard to know if you aren't in his inner circle. That in and of itself is hardly a bad thing; privacy and trust are hard-won qualities, and more of us should exercise them on our little Kardashian-sopped orb.

But one of the things that come with exercising one's privacy and not trusting outsiders is that one's best qualities can sometimes be hidden. And if there's one thing that's great about Chris Paul, it's how relentlessly competitive and cantankerous he can be.

In his 11th NBA season, the 30-year-old Paul still desperately seeks a Finals appearance, having had another prime opportunity slip through his hands last spring. Then, his Clippers, a win away from the Western Conference finals, with three swings on their racket after taking a 3-1 lead over Houston, coughed and wretched away the lead, getting outplayed by the Rockets when it most mattered, and blew the series. It was the latest bitter disappointment for Paul, who's done everything individually one can do -- eight straight All-Star appearances and counting, four First Team All-NBA honors, five First Team All-Defensive team honors. But Paul came to the Clippers, where his hand-picked choice for coach, Doc Rivers, is firmly in control, to win a championship.

With Blake Griffin and the newly re-signed DeAndre Jordan, there isn't a team in the league with a better trio of stars. Paul had to cut his vacation short in July to help the Clips keep Jordan, who'd agreed verbally to go to Dallas. And he had to clear the air with Jordan, who'd chafed at Paul's demanding nature all season. Now, of course, everyone says anyone who pointed out what everyone knew was going on is crazy, and that Paul and Jordan have nothing but love for each other. Okay. You often don't know what goes on inside families, when people protect their privacy and don't let outsiders in.

Paul, who missed Saturday's game against Houston with a groin injury, is back on the march again, conducting one of the league's best offenses as only he can -- a mix of jumpers, drives, hesitations, exquisite ballhandling and deft passes that have kept him at the top of the point guard heap for a decade. He doesn't need recognition from the outside. What he needs is a ring.

Me: When the Spurs lost to Miami in The Finals in 2013, the next year, the first day of training camp, they went back and looked at that Game 6, when Ray Allen hit the shot. Because Gregg Popovich thought they had to get that loss out in the open, spend as much time as they needed to dissecting it, and arguing about who was to blame, so they could put it to rest in their minds. Did you all do anything like that with the last three games of the loss to Houston?

Chris Paul: No, no. For us, we have nine new players from our team last year. Me, Blake and DJ, we're basketball heads, anyway. We watched that, I don't know how many times. For us, it's about experience. We've been in all these different situations. We don't have to see it. You don't get to go back. So it is what it is.

Me: But you did watch it individually?

Rockets - Clippers Series Recap

Relive the epic seven-game series between the Rockets and Clippers from the Western Conference semifinals!

CP: Yeah, yeah. I learned from it -- that you've got to finish. I mean, it wasn't nothing that I didn't know already.

Me: With those nine new guys, what's the challenge when you have so many guys from so many different teams?

CP: It's up to us, to the leaders -- me, Blake and DJ. With us, it's our fifth year together. We know each other as well as we could possible know each other. Everyone follows us. If they see us in practice, they see our habits, and it becomes a collective responsibility. I think that's what we're doing.

Me: How does that manifest itself? How does that daily leadership show up on the floor, or the practice court?

CP: Adding Paul (Pierce), I think helped a lot. But I think guys on our team will tell you that DJ and Blake are a lot more vocal. And we needed that. I think our team, right now, we're in a good place. Still trying to figure some things out, but we keep talking about it. We take it one game at a time, and we've just got to keep building through the process.

Me: Does the chemistry you and Blake display on the floor go even deeper?

That's the next step, is just winning. For me, you end up talking about the same stuff, year after year -- 'What's it going to take? What you gonna do? What you gonna do?' It's enough talking about it. We've just got to win.

– Chris Paul

CP: I think so. When you've been together that long, five years, there's a lot of guys in this league that don't get a chance to play together that long. We're family. Believe it or not, to a certain extent, us three have sort of grown up together. We've matured in so many different ways -- on the court, off the court. And I think now it's about trust. Obviously, all of us respect each other. But we all have a common goal, which is we all just want to win.

Me: You have said that the stories about you and DJ have been blown out of proportion, and he has said the same thing. But was there anything that needed to be discussed between you two when he decided to come back?

CP: I don't know. To tell you the truth, everything this summer is such a blur. When people talk about our story, it's hard to remember bits and pieces of it. It was just a dialogue, telling big fella, 'We want you to be here.' And I think he knew that already. He knew where his heart was, and it is what it is... It's funny. People are always going to say this or say that. We're close. We're a tight-knit group. Me and DJ are actually really close. I told my trainer, at some point, you know, I played 82 games for the first time last season. And I thought about how tough that is. And then you think about big fella, in that I haven't played a game (for the Clippers), put the uniform on without him. I think that says a lot about him, the commitment to the game, taking care of his body, why he's the dominant player that he is.

Me: What's the next step for this team?

GameTime: Clippers Reloaded

The GameTime crew discusses the Clippers' new additions to the team.

CP: Winning! (laughs) That's the next step, is just winning. For me, you end up talking about the same stuff, year after year -- 'What's it going to take? What you gonna do? What you gonna do?' It's enough talking about it. We've just got to win.

Me: Chris Webber had one of the best sayings. He said the championship teams aren't necessarily the most talented teams, or the best coached teams, but they're the most stubborn. Because they keep coming back, even though they may get beat year after year. How difficult is that mental aspect of that, coming back again and again?

CP: I don't think it's difficult at all. When you're a competitor, and you want something, you're going to keep working until you get there. And I think that's how we are, starting with me, Blake and DJ. We all have that will to win. And I think us bringing in the guys we've brought in, bringing in Paul and stuff like that with that championship pedigree, just starting to understand that it's one day at a time. You just keep building and building and building.

Me: What difference will the new bench make this year?

CP: It'll make a huge difference. I think Austin was amazing in the preseason, even in practice, stuff like that. Josh (Smith) will be huge for us. Jamal (Crawford) is who he is; he's Jamal Crawford. He can score at any time. But for us, it's going to be about doing everything as a team. Everyone knows how good we are as individuals, but for us, it's just about doing it together.

Me: Did you feel compelled to say anything at the start of camp about not talking anymore, and just going out and winning?

CP: I say that all the time. For me, people probably watch me play and say 'Man, he's always talking, he's always talking.' I'm very vocal. That's just how I am. And at the position I play, that's just who I am. But at the end of the day, all this talking -- this is what we need to do, this is what we need to do -- it sounds good, but you've got to do it on the court. That's what I mean when I say enough talk.

Me: What's the deal with y'all in the Warriors?

CP: What deal?

Me: All the woofing that's been going on.

CP: Is there?

Me: I would say so.

CP: Man, it's basketball. Guys say whatever they want to. We're just going to go out and play.

Me: Is it at all difficult at the start of the season mentally, when you've got to take six months to build toward May and June?

CP: Nah, it's not difficult. I mean, if you're a rookie or something, yeah, it might be. But we've got a few guys that have been at it for a while, and we understand that it's all about the process. What you do today builds for tomorrow.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Hornets center Cody Zeller (@CodyZeller), Friday, 8:12 p.m., from the dining room of a Chipotle/Panera/jApplebee's/Olive Garden in the greater San Antonio area, where Charlotte was playing Saturday.

THEY SAID IT

"Frustrated is not going to do anything. You've got to fix things and communicate and teach. You can be as mad as you want, but if you're not executing tactics, the basics of it? A boxer can go into a ring as mad as he wants, but if he's technically not sound, he's going to get knocked out."

-- Kobe Bryant, to local reporters, on why he's not freaking out after the Lakers' poor start.

"Everyone who loves the game of basketball acknowledges how great the team play is on the floor. Anybody who watched the WNBA Finals came to the same conclusion. If we can get fans of the game of basketball to sample this product, they will come back. This is great basketball. There is no dispute. And in the early days of the WNBA, we had detractors who claimed that the quality of the basketball was not sufficient to sustain a league. No one is saying that anymore. It's entirely a business issue."

-- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, to USA Today, on the issues facing the WNBA in the wake of league president Laurel Richie's decision to resign last week. NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will oversee the WNBA on an interim basis until a permanent replacement for Richie is chosen.

"Overall, we're not playing extremely well on either side of the ball. No one is satisfied with the start. But we're a team that's faced adversity in the past. It's a very resilient group that's proven we can get off the mat and win games. We're 3-3. We're not 0-6. Granted, the aesthetics in three losses haven't been good, but those losses don't count three times in the standings."

-- Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace, to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, on his team's stumbles out of the gate, which have seen Memphis suffer a 50-point loss to the Warriors, a 30-point loss to Cleveland and a 19-point loss to Portland less than two weeks into the season.

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.