BThe Spurs haven't played for a while and won't until Saturday, but they've still been on the periphery of basketball news here and there. I am contractually obligated to have opinions on these things, or to at least fake my way through it. Please do not refer to them as my takes, because people who have those make literally more per day than I do in a year, and the less said about that, the better.
The Kevin Durant to the Spurs rumor: I'll probably write a longer post in the future about my feelings on this, but for now the Cliff's Notes version is that I just can't see it, for several reasons. Unlike JRW, I wasn't ever skeptical about LaMarcus Aldridge joining the Spurs for any reason but simple mathematics. All along I thought it was the perfect fit of available free agent and roster need. He was a Texas native who was always a big admirer of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. PATFO needed to make the transition from the Duncan Era and were seemingly growing disenchanted with Tiago Splitter. There were rumblings that Aldridge may not fit the team's culture, but those concerns have largely been proven to be unfounded. The only reason I didn't think the Spurs were going to get Aldridge was not because they weren't a glamour destination or whatever but I simply miscalculated the cap. I didn't factor it was going to increase enough for Duncan and Manu Ginobili to not have to settle for minimum contracts.
Durant is a whole other can of worms. I've learned my lesson about trying to do cap gymnastics and will leave that to smarter folks, but I do believe that if he were to leave Oklahoma City that he'd very much desire a bigger market, whether it's the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Miami or even Washington D.C. I don't think it's a good personality fit, to say the least. Durant is a diva, he's ill-humored, ill-tempered, ultra-defensive off the floor and not defensive enough on it. Can you imagine how Duncan or Kawhi Leonard would handle a question about what they think of Mark Cuban saying they're not a superstar? They would probably direct the reporter to take a sightseeing tour of their property. They sure wouldn't feel the need to belittle the defense of a vanquished opponent or to question whether some random like Charlie Villanueva will be in the league.
Then there's the basketball side of it. The Spurs already have a pretty good small-forward. Even if you allow for the concept of "position-less" basketball and figure Leonard and Durant can co-exist, it would mean making Aldridge a full-time center, which we're pretty sure he doesn't want, and to dramatically decrease both his touches and Leonard's. After years of developing step-by-step to the point where he's now a first option, a go-to guy and a high-usage superstar, it's pretty unrealistic to expect Leonard to take a step back from those responsibilities next season and anytime in the near future.
Marc Gasol thinks his brother Pau will be a Spur: Now this I can get behind. I take this story far more seriously than the Durant thing because for one we're getting it straight from the horse's mouth --or at least just one degree removed, in this case-- instead of it being just a rumor from unnamed sources and for another there seems to be a more linear fit basketball-wise. Presumably, Gasol would be the replacement for a retiring Duncan, taking over as the starting center alongside Aldridge.
Unlike Durant, Gasol wouldn't be a max contract, and he'd be a good fit culturally. The Spurs were supposedly the runner-up for his services in 2014, after Chicago. It's not every day that you can sign a 35-year-old and get five years younger at a position, but Gasol still has plenty in the tank and had a very good season for the otherwise disappointing Bulls. ESPN's RAPM loved him (though I remain dubious about this metric), ranking him as the sixth-best overall center, and had him worth the fourth-most in wins. They also had Duncan third, and between them not one but two Clippers, so... moving on. Somewhat surprisingly, RAPM finds Gasol very acceptable as a defender. For what it's worth Basketball-reference's Box Score Plus/Minus had Gasol having his best defensive season last year. Gasol wasn't a huge difference-maker according to NBA.com's offensive and defensive ratings, but they had the Bulls slightly better on both ends of the floor with him playing than on the bench. Finally, he put up an excellent 21.7 PER and had career-bests in rebounding, assists, steals and blocks, per-36 minutes.
My impression is that Marc Gasol is feeling a pang of regret for not joining the Spurs last summer and kind of wants to live vicariously through his older brother. I'm not sure that Pau would find San Antonio as appealing of a destination without Duncan or Ginobili, but I can't really make a better case for him going elsewhere, so yeah I can totally see this happening. I will say that if Marc is in the business of steering free agent acquaintances of his to the Spurs, I'd prefer he do so with Mike Conley.
The Spurs as title favorites: When Steph Curry went down with a sprained MCL some Las Vegas sportsbooks installed them as betting favorites to win the championship. Man, I can't stress enough how little I care about this. I'm not superstitious and I don't believe in jinxes, but I hope you don't need me to explain how meaningless this is. Spurs fans know by now how quickly a team's fortunes can change, and if you don't, then ask the Clippers, who went from being a coin-flip against the Warriors in round two to staring at 4-2 series loss to Portland overnight, losing both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. And those injuries pushed the Warriors back to being favorites, so the Spurs were the hypothetical top dogs for all of a day, innocent bystanders as the winds of fate blew through the other half of the playoff bracket.
You know when I'll think of the Spurs as favorites? If and when they win a road game at Oracle Arena to capture home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. Until that happens, they're climbing the mountain. Ahem.
Ettore Messina interviews with the Lakers: I know I'm as cynical as they come, but I think of all the Spurs related news this past week I'm most dubious about this. I know he got an interview, and I know he has history with the franchise since he used to be a consultant there, but I can't fathom the Lakers hiring Messina.
Not because he's not deserving, of course. I absolutely think he's got one of the top 30 resumes on the planet and therefore qualified to be an NBA head coach. I just can't see it with the Lakers, who have fewer things in common with the Spurs both in terms of how they run their franchise and their professional associations than just about any team, outside of maybe Dallas. The Lakers have always catered to their stars. The Spurs don't. The Lakers care about headlines and things that are ancillary to winning. The Spurs don't. Messina is a no-nonsense coach and the Lakers let themselves be held hostage by Kobe Bryant for years while also doling out playing time to the likes of Nick Young.
Messina consulted there because Mike Brown was the coach and Brown I'm guessing was clued into him by Popovich, but that's just me speculating. Outside of Brown's brief tenure, the two organizations have no ties and the Lakers have never to my knowledge ever expressed any desire to be "like the Spurs," secure in the fact that the way they've always done things has worked just fine. My guess is they'll hire a bigger name, or one more closely associated with them, with Luke Walton being the likeliest candidate.
Coach of the Year voting:
NBA Coach of the Year results. pic.twitter.com/RjLgn8Stqg— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) April 26, 2016
With all due respect to Kerr and Popovich, I really think Steve Clifford and Brad Stevens should've gotten more love by the voters. Who are their stars? Isaiah Thomas? Kemba Walker? Not to sound like Cuban, but that's really stretching the boundaries of the term, is it not? Pop and Kerr are coaching a bunch of future Hall-of-Famers. They've done fantastic jobs, but there are plenty of coaches who could roll out the basketball and take those rosters to 50 wins (like Kerr's predecessor did). Replace Clifford or Stevens with someone like Kurt Rambis, and those teams would be lucky to win 25 games. I don't necessarily think Popovich or Kerr should be punished for having more talent to work with than others, but at the same time I don't think it's mind-blowingly impressive to go from a 67-win season to 73 ... with the same roster. That just means you won a handful more of the coin-flips. Pop had a better case than Kerr, to be honest. The Spurs improved significantly from last year and he integrated a lot of new pieces, not just Aldridge.
Kawhi Leonard's First Round: The Spurs' superstar will certainly have his hands full against Durant and Russell Westbrook in round two, but we need to appreciate just how dominant he was against the Grizzlies, albeit against a diminished roster.
How good you ask? Well he put up a 38.0 PER according to RealGM.com, a site that uses a slightly different calculation than ESPN.com, which has Leonard at 35.6 PER. Either way the number is stratospheric and a far cry from his first round a year ago against the Clippers. The thing I like about RealGM is that it keeps round-by-round track of PER. So I looked up the Spurs' PERs in playoff rounds during the Duncan Era.
I decided to record all the instances where somebody finished above a 28.0 PER in any series. It turns out it's happened 34 times since 1997-98, and we call the Duncan Era the Duncan Era for a reason, as he accounts for 15 of the 34. You probably don't remember much about the best series he ever played, and probably wish you could forget the second-best.
Name PER Year Round Opponent Series Stats
Tim Duncan 40.8 2002 First Seattle Link
Tim Duncan 38.1 2006 Semis Dallas Link
Kawhi Leonard 38.0 2016 First Memphis Link
Tony Parker 33.0 2009 First Dallas Link
Tim Duncan 32.0 2007 Semis Phoenix Link
DeJuan Blair 31.7 2013 First Lakers Link
Tim Duncan 31.5 2004 First Memphis Link
Manu Ginobili 31.5 2013 First Lakers Link
Tim Duncan 31.3 2003 Finals New Jersey Link
Tim Duncan 31.3 2003 WCF Dallas Link
Tim Duncan 31.0 2002 Semis Lakers Link
David Robinson 31.0 2001 First Minnesota Link
Tim Duncan 30.9 2009 First Dallas Link
Tim Duncan 30.7 2012 Semis Clippers Link
Tony Parker 30.6 2013 First Lakers Link
Tony Parker 30.6 2004 First Memphis Link
Robert Horry 30.5 2004 First Memphis Link
Tim Duncan 30.3 2003 Semis Lakers Link
Patty Mills 30.3 2014 Finals Miami Link
Fabricio Oberto 30.1 2009 First Dallas Link
Tony Parker 30.1 2013 WCF Memphis Link
Tim Duncan 30.0 2005 WCF Phoenix Link
Tim Duncan 29.7 2001 Semis Dallas Link
Manu Ginobili 29.7 2005 Semis Seattle Link
Malik Rose 29.6 2002 First Seattle Link
Tim Duncan 29.0 1999 Finals New York Link
Manu Ginobili 28.9 2014 WCF Oklahoma City Link
Tim Duncan 28.8 2007 WCF Utah Link
Manu Ginobili 28.7 2005 First Denver Link
DeJuan Blair 28.5 2010 First Dallas Link
Tim Duncan 28.5 2005 Semis Seattle Link
David Robinson 28.3 1999 WCF Portland Link
Tony Parker 28.1 2007 Finals Cleveland Link
Kevin Willis 28.0 2003 Semis Lakers Link
If I was waffling back and forth before, these numbers have settled it for me. I definitely think Duncan belongs in the Hall of Fame now.