Morning Shootaround (May 21): San Antonio Spurs having to face harsh reality
Plus, hip injury ends season for Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas
Spurs having to face harsh reality | Hip injury ends season for Isaiah Thomas | Kanter released from custody | Waiters to return?
No. 1: Spurs having to face harsh reality — The good news is that the San Antonio Spurs made it to the Western Conference Finals. The bad news is that they’re playing without two of their best players — Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker — and the Golden State Warriors are showing no mercy. Saturday night in San Antonio, the Warriors thumped the Spurs again to take a 3-0 lead in the series, and the Spurs lost David Lee in the process. As Fran Blinebury writes, sometimes reality can be overrated:
At the rate things are going, the star-crossed Spurs could run out of players before they run out of games, which likely will be on Monday night when the Warriors complete their sweep of the Western Conference finals.
“The fact is that it’s just too tough,” said the venerable Manu Ginobili.
Tough under any circumstances when you’re facing a Golden State team with four All-Stars and more weapons than an armory that has lost only one game in just over two months.
Virtually impossible when you have nothing with which to hit back.
Popovich had said all he wanted to see was some competitive belief from his Spurs after they sleepwalked through a 136-100 drumming in Game 2. So they fought and they scrapped and they battled in Game 3 and got a 120-108 sock in the eye for their effort.
“Couldn’t have asked any more from them competitiveness-wise,” Popovich said.
“It’s just tough to pile up injuries this time of year,” Pau Gasol said. “It is critical to have everyone healthy and we already have two key players missing. So I hope David Lee gets good news tomorrow.”
The Spurs have become the basketball version of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” defiantly standing his ground when all of his limbs are severed in a sword fight.
“Tis but a scratch,” said the Knight. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
The Spurs play on because the NBA says you can’t just call it a season at some painful, broken point and go home.
Maybe Leonard, again an All-NBA First Team member and a finalist for the 2017 MVP award, could have tried to make it up and down the court with a badly sprained left ankle.
But Popovich was not putting his premier player into such a situation. For one, you can’t limp against the Warriors. For another, at 25, Leonard is the future of the Spurs franchise as they go forward and the coach takes the long view.
Popovich made a similar choice back in 2000 when a young Tim Duncan of the defending champs hurt his knee just before the playoffs. It was the type of injury where the medical staff said he could play without doing further damage. Duncan sat, the Spurs lost 3-1 to the Suns in the first round, but came back to win consecutive MVP awards in 2002 and 2003 and led the team to four more championships over a decade and a half.
“I think we do what every team tries to do,” Popovich said. “You take care of your players, you do what’s best, hopefully, in the short run and the long run, and it matches up. But sometimes you’ve got to make a tough decision. I think our philosophy helps some players extend their careers. But it doesn’t mean that the way we do it is the only way.”
No. 2: Hip injury ends season for Isaiah Thomas — Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas put together a career season, finishing among the league’s scoring leaders and rating a spot on the All-NBA second team. But after leaving Boston’s Conference Finals Game 2 against the Cavaliers, word came out yesterday that Thomas will be done for the season, and perhaps the chances of the Celtics along with him. As Mark Murphy writes in the Boston Herald, despite the way it ended, it was a season to remember for Thomas:
Thomas aggravated an existing injury that team physician Dr. Brian McKeon yesterday termed a right femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) with labral tear in the right hip. Thomas experienced the FAI flare-up in the first half of Friday’s Game 2 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was painful and limiting enough to keep him out of the second half.
“Isaiah has worked tirelessly to manage this injury since it first occurred,” McKeon said in a prepared statement yesterday. “The swelling increased during the first two games against Cleveland, and in order to avoid more significant long-term damage to his hip, we could no longer allow him to continue.”
According to McKeon, Thomas has been playing with the FAI for a significant amount of time, dating to March 15, when he first suffered the injury against Minnesota.
Thomas ran into further trouble during the Game 6 loss to Washington in the conference semifinals. He played through the hip trouble, however, tolerating it along with lingering effects from dental surgery after absorbing an inadvertent elbow to the mouth from the Wizards’ Otto Porter Jr. in Game 2.
Michael Zarren, the Celtics’ assistant general manager, took to Twitter with the following post: “Can’t say enough about #thelittleguy @Isaiah_Thomas – last month one of the guttiest performances (thru all sorts o’ stuff) I’ve ever seen.”
Thomas’ world was rocked the day before the start of the playoffs with news that his younger sister, Chyna, died in a car crash just outside Seattle on April 15. Thomas flew to Tacoma, Wash., twice during the first-round series against Chicago, the second time to speak at his sister’s funeral.
Thomas never missed a game, hitting his peak with 53 points against Washington on May 2.
The C’s, already in an 0-2 hole in their best-of-seven series against the defending champion Cavaliers, clearly will be limited for the remainder of the conference finals, which shifted to Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3 tonight.
“I think for IT not to play, he’d have to have one of his legs cut off or something,” Celtics veteran Gerald Green said after Thomas didn’t return for the second half of Game 2.
No. 3: Kanter released from custody — Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter posted a video Saturday on Twitter saying that he was being held by police in the Bucharest airport after his Turkish passport had been canceled because of what Kanter said was his political opposition. After a few hours in custody, Kanter was eventually allowed to leave, as Ben Hoffman writes in the New York Times:
Enes Kanter, a Turkish citizen who is a six-year veteran of the N.B.A., found himself in an apparent political tussle on Saturday that began at a Romanian airport and ended hours later, in London, with Kanter proclaiming on Twitter that he would continue on to New York to hold a news conference on Sunday with “lots of things to say.”
What he seems certain to talk about is his outspoken opposition to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and how that stance seemed to have led to Saturday’s chain of events, in which the N.B.A. ultimately asked for the State Department’s help in assisting Kanter.
The day started with Kanter, a 6-foot-11 center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, saying in a video posted on Twitter that he had been detained at the Bucharest airport, with the authorities telling him that his passport had been canceled.
Kanter said his political opposition to Turkey’s president was the reason for the detention. Hours later, the Romanian authorities said he was free to go.
In an interview with The New York Times, Fabian Badila, a spokesman for the Romanian border police, said Kanter had arrived in Romania on a flight from Frankfurt at about 1 p.m. on Saturday. “My colleagues established that his travel documents weren’t valid,” Badila said, “that they had been canceled by his home country, so he wasn’t allowed to enter the country.”
Badila added, in reference to Kanter: “At around 5 p.m., he left the airport on a flight to London. While he was at the airport, he wasn’t detained or locked up; he was allowed to wander around, but he couldn’t enter the country.”
Later on Saturday, Kanter posted a message on Twitter saying that he was safe in London, with New York his next stop. “Got lots of things to say with lots of crazy stories,” he wrote.
The N.B.A. said it had worked with the State Department to ensure Kanter’s release in Romania.
As to the status of his passport, and why he was allowed to travel to London without a valid one, no official announcements have been made. But in an interview with The Oklahoman, Hadis Fetic, an executive assistant for Kanter, said that the Turkish government has been known to report citizens’ passports as stolen or missing in order to have them confiscated in foreign countries and that Fetic believes that is what happened with Kanter’s passport.
No. 4: Waiters to return? — After the Miami Heat found their groove in the second half of last season, they just missed a postseason berth following an injury to shooting guard Dion Waiters. And while Waiters can test free agency this summer, he said in an interview this weekend that he hopes to stay with the Heat.
“I want to be there,” Waiters said Thursday when asked if he wants to return to the Heat during an appearance on The Hochman and Crowder Show on WQAM. “When that time comes and we sit down, we just got to make it happen. Let’s get it over with as quick as possible.”
Getting a deal done with a player who wants to be in Miami sounds easy, but money could end up dictating Waiters’ decision. The 25-year-old is expected to sign the first big contract of his professional career this offseason, as he’s made $19.7 million over his five seasons in the NBA.
After averaging 15.8 points and 4.3 assists in a career-best season with the Heat, Waiters is expected to get contract offers worth around $15 million per season this summer.
Waiters holds a $3 million player option to return to the Heat next season, but he’s expected to enter free agency this summer with more money available on the open market. He made $2.9 million with Miami this season.
“I think I’ll be back [with the Heat],” Waiters said on WQAM. “We just got to make it work and hopefully everything can come together full circle.”
The Heat are expected to have about $38 million in cap space this summer after it clears Chris Bosh’s contract off their salary cap.
Since Miami’s season ended, Waiters has posted videos of himself working out in South Florida with Heat teammate Udonis Haslem. It’s just a continuation of the work he put in during the season, as Waiters took advantage of the Heat’s program to get his body in better shape and proved it by posting a before-and-after photo to show off his new physique.
That “Heat culture” is one of the reasons Waiters wants to return next season.
“The things that they preach to us and really speaking it into existence, and being able to really buy in and see the results,” Waiters said on WQAM. “I think once you start seeing the results, you start to trust the process more. That was my whole thing. My thing was about seeing the results. When I listen and I’m locked in, you see the results. And as far as my body, just being able to maintain the weight that I lost to help my play was huge for me.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to an ESPN report, David Lee suffered a torn patellar tendon and is out for the season … The Knicks met with Kristaps Porzingis’ brother/agent … New names continue to emerge in the Atlanta Hawks search for a GM … Mike Miller thinks Nikola Jokic could be a Hall of Fame-type player