Tag:Tony Parker
Posted on: June 27, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: June 27, 2011 12:12 pm
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Labor update as NBA heads for 'ugly' lockout

NEW YORK -- The NBA owners' planning committee is meeting by conference call Monday to tackle one of the most significant sticking points that have kept the league's imperiled labor negotiations from progressing toward any chance of a deal: revenue sharing.

The committee, led by chairman Wyc Grousbeck of the Celtics, had been scheduled to meet last Friday in conjunction with a full-blown bargaining session with players, but the session was rescheduled.

The status of owners' work on a revamped revenue sharing program -- and the sharing of that information with the National Basketball Players Association -- is viewed as paramount to any slim chances the two sides have of progressing toward a new collective bargaining agreement by midnight Thursday, the expiration of the current deal. Commissioner David Stern last week disputed the union's assertion that owners have not shared "one iota" of their revenue sharing plan, and the upshot was this: not only can owners and players not agree on the league's financial losses, they cannot even agree whether revenue-sharing information has been shared with the players.

The owners' full Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Dallas in preparation for either one last push toward a deal or the lockout that executives on both sides have viewed as all but inevitable for the better part of two years. The owners and players are tentatively scheduled to convene in New York Wednesday and/or Thursday to take one final stab at making a deal. If enough progress is not made to at least prompt an extension of the negotiating deadline, owners are prepared to impose a lockout at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday. The Board of Governors could conduct a procedural vote Tuesday in Dallas to authorize the labor relations committee to lock the players out, although Stern said such a vote could be taken at any time and wouldn't have to be done in person.

At the Tuesday meeting, the labor relations committee -- led by Spurs owner Peter Holt -- will update the full board on the progress in collective bargaining talk with the players. That presentation should take about as long as it takes Tony Parker to get to the basket from the foul line. Despite bargaining sessions in Dallas and Miami during the NBA Finals, and three sessions last week in New York, the two sides appear no closer to a deal than they were in January 2010 -- when owners first presented a draconian proposal calling for a $45 million hard salary cap, the elimination of fully guaranteed contracts, and a more than 33 percent rollback of player salaries.

Owners have since moved about $650 million annually on their salary demands, offering to guarantee players no less than $2 billion in salary and benefits over the life of a 10-year CBA. They also have relaxed their insistence on banning fully guaranteed deals -- though contracts would be for a maximum of three or four years under their proposal, as opposed to the five- and six-year deals free agents can sign under the current CBA, with the extra year in both cases going to a player re-signing with his current team.

Owners also made what they portrayed as a significant concession in offering a "flex cap" concept with a $62 million target for all teams and a top and bottom range to be negotiated with the players. The NBPA rejected this proposal during a week filled with incendiary rhetoric, with union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers calling it a hard cap in disguise and saying it was a "total distortion of reality."

The players have made two significant economic moves during the recent talks, first offering to take a $318 million pay cut over a five-year deal and then raising that offer to $500 million. Stern referred to the latter move as "modest," infuriating union officials and galvanizing the players to the point where more than 30 of them showed up at Friday's bargaining session at the Omni Berkshire Hotel wearing NBPA T-shirts with the word "STAND" printed on the front.

The players also were rankled by the league's offer of a flat $2 billion in annual compensation in the owners' 10-year proposal. Not only do the players oppose a CBA of that length, they also allege that they would not regain their 2010-11 mark of $2.17 billion in salary and benefits until the final year of the owners' 10-year plan. The owners' offer to phase in their salary reductions -- first for two years, and then for three -- was viewed by the players as a non-starter because they would receive less than 50 percent of basketball-related income (BRI) by the midpoint of the deal and would be below 40 percent in the final years. The players currently are guaranteed 57 percent of the league revenues, which are expected to come in at $3.8 billion for the '10-'11 season.

Players also viewed the owners' request to keep the approximately $160 million in salary collected by the league in an escrow fund for the '10-'11 season as part of their most recent proposal. Money earned by players under the existing CBA should be "off the table," according to Fisher, who said this request by the owners "speaks to their arrogance." League officials were dismayed by Fisher's comments and believe it would've been more productive for the players to reject the idea during negotiations rather than air it publicly.

But a key tipping point in bargaining could be what revenue-sharing details the owners come forward with this week. Owners have long rejected the players' request that revenue-sharing be collectively bargained, but the players believe many of the issues owners have addressed with regard to improving competitive balance could be satisfied by redistributing revenues from successful to struggling teams. In Friday's bargaining session, the Celtics' Paul Pierce crystallized the players' perception that owners have cloaked their determination to slash salaries behind the more benign concept of competitive balance.

"If it’s about being competitive, let’s come up with a system we can all be competitive in," Pierce told the owners, according to Suns player representative Jared Dudley. "If it’s about money, that’s a different story that we’re talking about."

Although NBA owners have enhanced their revenue-sharing plan in recent years, the league continues to have one of the most inequitable systems in professional sports, with big-market teams holding enormous advantages because local gate and broadcast revenues are not included in the revenue-sharing pie. Owners view the current luxury-tax system as akin to revenue sharing, but it is not enough to address the disparity between teams like the Knicks and Lakers, who make more than five times what teams like Memphis and Minnesota bring in through ticket sales. Those glamour-market teams also enjoy local broadcast deals that exceed some small-market teams' total revenues, according to a person familiar with league finances.

It has been difficult for the NBPA to justify the massive salary reductions the league is seeking without knowing how owners plan to address this enormous disparity among teams. One option at the NBPA's disposal would have been to file a request with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a ruling that revenue sharing should be a "mandatory subject" of collective bargaining. Sources say union officials have opted not to go this route and instead have trusted the owners to come forth with an effective and transparent approach to getting their own financial house in order before getting further salary concessions from the players.

After declining to make a counter offer to the owners' latest proposal Friday, the players have put the onus on owners and league negotiators to reveal their revenue-sharing plans as part of the next scheduled bargaining session in New York. As of Monday, sources said NBPA officials had no plans to travel to Dallas for an additional bargaining session.

In any event, it may already be too late to get a deal in place and avert a lockout. Even if the two sides unexpectedly made significant progress Wednesday and Thursday, there would not be enough time for lawyers to craft a new agreement before the deadline. In that case, the league would impose a moratorium on business while final details were hammered out and the contract was drafted.

But far more likely is that both sides will be unwilling to move off their most recent positions until the pain of a work stoppage is experienced.

"They've got to go through the process," said a person who has been heavily involved in past labor negotiations. "It's going to be ugly."
Posted on: June 22, 2011 11:35 pm
 

Draft Buzz: Monta, Odom, Rambis and more


The latest trade buzz surrounding Thursday night's NBA draft, from conversations with executives, agents and others in the know:

* The Warriors have fielded numerous calls about Monta Ellis, and seem to be cautiously open to discussing the star guard's desire for a change of scenery. Such efforts have become increasingly difficult since the hiring of Mark Jackson as coach. Jackson wants to coach Ellis, and has become well aware that he has emerged as owner Joe Lacob's favorite player on the team.

* A recent conversation between the Warriors and Lakers centered around Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown going to Golden State for Ellis, but those talks went nowhere, sources said. The Bulls would become involved if they were willing to part with Joakim Noah, and Chicago executives have consistently balked at including him in trade talks for the past year -- mostly due to the base-year compensation factor in the five-year, $60 million extension he signed last year.

* Executives also have heard Ellis mentioned in conversations with Memphis for Rudy Gay, but acquiring Gay would be extraordinarily problematic for any team given the uncertainty about what new economic and cap system the league and players eventually will adopt. With four years and $68 million left on his contract, Gay "isn't going anywhere," one executive said.

* One of the few trades that makes sense as teams weigh the effects of taking on money in a shrinking-cap world is a deal that has been dormant for weeks: Ellis to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala. Both players have three years left, and although Iguodala is owed $44 million compared to Ellis' $33 million, those are the only deals most teams will be willing to make between now and June 30 -- those in which they don't have to take on additional years of salary.

* The Timberwolves have peddled the No. 2 pick far and wide and have been unable to land an offer that tempts them. Discussions with the Lakers centered around Odom, but that wouldn't be good business to trade young, cheap labor for a 31-year-old making $8.9 million next season -- even though he has only $2.4 million guaranteed in 2012-13.

* Speaking of the Wolves, team officials continued to say Wednesday night that coach Kurt Rambis hasn't been fired yet, but the more things like that are stated, the more obvious it becomes that Rambis is gone. The search for a replacement will begin soon after the draft.

* Spurs officials continue to do what they're paid to do -- find out what their players are worth on the trade market. That's all the Tony Parker speculation is, several rival execs believe. "You know and I know they're not trading Tony Parker," one GM said. "You can't get anything close to equal value for him."

Posted on: June 22, 2011 10:40 am
 

Draft buzz: Nash, Smoove, and more


NEW YORK -- Suns president Lon Babby put the brakes on Steve Nash trade speculation Wednesday, saying, "We are not trading Steve Nash. Period. Exclamation point."

Despite the questionable syntax, the otherwise clear dictation from Babby to the Arizona Republic quashed the latest Nash trade discussions, which had him going to Minnesota for the No. 2 pick in Thursday's draft. The Timberwolves have been among the most active teams in trade discussions leading up to the draft, offering the second pick to several teams with a list of demands that included Nash, the Lakers' Pau Gasol, and the Wizards' JaVale McGee, league sources said Wednesday. The proposed Gasol trade is "not happening," one of the sources said, and Washington has been unwilling to seriously discuss trading McGee.

A person close to Nash said of a possible trade to Minnesota, "I can't believe (Phoenix) would do that to Steve." Nash, 37, would be relegated to mentoring point guard Ricky Rubio on a rebuilding team that won 17 games last season.

If Minnesota is unsuccessful in procuring a veteran star for the second pick, sources said the Wolves are comfortable selecting Arizona's Derrick Williams, who team officials strongly believe will be on the board after the Cavaliers select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving.

Babby also told the Republic that the Suns "are not trading Marcin Gortat," whose name was included in the discussions with Minnesota.

A source also said discussions between Atlanta and Orlando with Josh Smith going to the Magic are "totally legit." Executives say the Hawks have expressed an eagerness to move Smith and would like to shed salary in the process.

Several executives were surprised to learn the Spurs are fielding offers for point guard Tony Parker, whose infamous statement that San Antonio's championship window has closed could usher in some significant changes for the four-time champions. An integral piece of the puzzle for the Spurs is the pending early-termination option for Tim Duncan, who has yet to act on his $21.2 million option for next season. It would clearly benefit Duncan to agree to an extension before the collective bargaining agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1, though Spurs officials are currently focused on the draft -- with one obvious priority being whether Parker or other assets could get San Antonio into the high lottery on draft night.

With top prospects in New York Thursday for media and service responsibilities, a person familiar with the draft discussions said the Pistons appear to have zeroed in on Texas small forward Tristan Thompson with the eighth pick. Thompson canceled other scheduled workouts after working out for the Pistons with five other players Wednesday.



Posted on: September 24, 2010 7:19 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2010 10:46 am
 

Preseason Primers: New York Knicks


The Knicks didn't get LeBron James. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Chris Bosh. Was the offseason a failure? Hardly. The Knicks are relevant again, with superstar Amar'e Stoudemire and supporting players Mike D'Antoni actually wants to coach. Playoffs? Let's not get carried away, but they have a shot. Which is more than the Knicks have been able to say for a long time. The buzz is back at Madison Square Garden. Now, all Donnie Walsh has to do is get Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Maybe then he'd get some of the credit he's due. But even if Walsh never signs or trades for another player, he's already restored respectability and competitivenss to what was a lost franchise when he took over.

Training camp site: Greenburgh, N.Y.

Training camp starts: Sept. 25

Key additions: Amar’e Stoudemire (sign-and-trade), Raymond Felton (free agent), Anthony Randolph (trade), Kelenna Azubuike (trade), Ronny Turiaf (trade), Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Landry Fields (draft).

Key subtractions: The stench of a decade of irrelevance. And David Lee (sign-and-trade)

Likely starting lineup: Felton, PG; Wilson Chandler, SG; Danilo Gallinari, SF; Stoudemire, PF; Ronny Turiaf, C.

Player to watch: Eddy Curry. Once again, all eyes are on the Knicks’ troubled center, who was on the verge of being an All-Star a few short years ago and now is hanging onto his career by a thread. Curry hasn’t made it through the first day of training camp for the past two years, so progress will be measured in baby steps. The best thing that could happen for all concerned is that Curry somehow stays healthy, keeps his weight in check, and shows enough in preseason to coax someone into taking on his $11.3 million expiring contract in a scenario that makes the Knicks better. For now, making it through a practice will do.

Chemistry check: Although the Knicks inexplicably flirted with past demons with the ill-fated attempt to bring Isiah Thomas back as a consultant, this is as clean as the slate has been at Madison Square Garden in years. With athletes like Stoudemire and Randolph, shooters like Gallinari and Mason, and a serviceable point guard in Felton, Mike D’Antoni finally will get to fully implement his offensive philosophy. Just as important, Stoudemire’s star power will bring the buzz back to the Garden.

Injury watch: Azubuike is still recovering from last season’s knee injury, and when he’s ready, he’ll be the starting shooting guard. That will give D’Antoni the flexibility to slide Chandler to the three or four, making him interchangeable with Gallinari and Randolph depending on matchups. Curry should be the starting center on paper, and the Knicks would like for him to be productive to increase his trade value. But if Curry falters – a good bet, given his track record – the Knicks are extremely high on Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov. D’Antoni is a huge fan of the 7-1 center, who figures to pass Curry on the depth chart by the start of the regular season.

Camp battles: Aside from Curry-Mozgov, D’Antoni has a pretty good idea of what the rotation will be. Mason, Bill Walker, Randolph and Turiaf give D’Antoni the most bench flexibility that he’s had since he came to New York. Fields, a sleeper in the draft who impressed with his length, athleticism and intelligent play during Summer League and in offseason workouts, figures to be a regular part of the rotation.

Biggest strength: The Knicks have been so bad, irrelevant and mismanaged for so long that the fact that team president Donnie Walsh has them under the cap with a superstar big man and young talent around him has gone overlooked. Such is the hangover from the pursuit of LeBron James. But remember: If Walsh hadn’t created cap space for two max players, James wasn’t coming to New York anyway. If Walsh hadn’t landed Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t want to come, either.

Glaring weakness: Aside from needing one more star to compete with the elite teams in the East, the Knicks need something D’Antoni isn’t known for: defense. They definitely have the athletes to defend better than their reputation under D’Antoni would suggest. Now they have to add the commitment and prioritize it, which will be one of the most important goals in training camp.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
 

Preseason Primers: Spurs


The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:

San Antonio Spurs

Training camp site: San Antonio, TX

Training camp starts: Sept. 28

Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).

Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).

Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.

Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.

Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.

Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)

Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.

Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).

Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.
Posted on: July 4, 2010 7:39 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2010 11:50 pm
 

Knicks land second sitdown with LeBron reps

The Knicks had a second meeting with LeBron James’ representatives Saturday in Cleveland, a get-together called by the team to clarify its cap position and the options available to surround James with other free agents or assets acquired in trades, a person with knowledge of the sitdown confirmed to CBSSports.com.

The meeting was called after it became apparent that the Knicks were closing in on an agreement with free-agent power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, but that was not the reason for the gathering, the person with knowledge of it said. The meeting was first reported Sunday by the New York Daily News .

“It was just to make sure that they understood how much cap room we had,” a team official familiar with the meeting said. “… The options that you could come out of that with is what we wanted to explain. I think they were unclear and we had to show them.”

Those present included Glen Grunwald, the Knicks’ vice president of basketball operations, and Madison Square Garden president Scott O’Neil, who were dispatched to Cleveland Saturday to explain the options at the team’s disposal to James’ agent, Leon Rose. James did not attend.

The team official with knowledge of the meeting stressed that, although Stoudemire met Sunday with coach Mike D’Antoni and will have a formal sitdown with Knicks officials Monday, it is by no means a done deal that Stoudemire will be a Knick. Stoudemire and D'Antoni met Sunday to lay the groundwork for Monday's meeting and clear the air about what once source described as "misperceptions" about their relatiionship at the end of D'Antoni's days in Phoenix. But while Stoudemire and D'Antoni may have cleared the air about possibly entering into another working relationship, James holds all the cards in terms of what complementary players the Knicks would surround him with if the King opted to sign with the Knicks.

All of the potential free-agent maneuverings are intertwined, with one executive involved in the chase saying Sunday, "Nobody has anybody yet."  And the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Sunday that James will likely delay an announcement of his decision until after a three-day Nike camp in his hometown of Akron concludes Wednesday.

Stoudemire, too, is keeping his options open, as AOL Fanhouse reported Sunday that the five-time All-Star plans to meet Tuesday with the Nets and Bulls if he doesn’t agree to terms with the Knicks Monday. In the information vacuum and speculative frenzy that has engulfed the NBA during this unprecedented free-agent summer, Stoudemire caused a stir Saturday night when he said that Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony had agreed to come with him to New York if he signed with the Knicks. New York is interested in both players, and has, in fact, inquired about obtaining Parker from the Spurs in a trade. But short of a trade – and a person close to Anthony told CBSSports.com Saturday that there’s “zero chance” the Nuggets will trade him this summer – there is no way for Stoudemire’s promise to become reality.

“Clearly, you can’t,” a team executive familiar with the Knicks’ situation said of the team landing Parker and Melo.

Meanwhile, the Knicks continue to pursue other options to either pair with a top-tier free agent or with Stoudemire, with small forward Mike Miller apparently the most coveted piece. In addition to the Knicks, the Heat, Clippers and perhaps Cavs are in contention for Miller, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com.

The Cavs, who came out of Saturday’s presentations to James feeling they are still the overwhelming favorites to retain him, are continuing to pursue Bulls free-agent center Brad Miller, sources said.


Posted on: April 24, 2010 1:23 am
 

Carlisle leaves Cuban's riches on the bench

Mark Cuban hired Rick Carlisle to coach the Mavericks because his research showed this: Carlisle was the best in the NBA at getting production out of players he was coaching for the first time.

In Game 3 of what has evolved into the most physical and compelling playoff series thus far, the three players Cuban acquired for Carlisle at the trade deadline hardly played at all in the second half Friday night. Caron Butler, the cornerstone of the Mavs' big deadline deal with the Wizards, didn't play at all after the second quarter. With a 94-90 loss to the Spurs, the Mavericks fell into more than a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-7 series. They fell into an identity crisis.

Sitting in his usual spot next to the bench, Cuban must've had no idea he would've been in such close proximity to the players he so painstakingly acquired to push the Mavs into title contention. Dallas got virtually nothing from Butler (two points in 14:48) and Brendan Haywood (four points and four rebounds in 17:57). DeShawn Stevenson, the other player who came over from Washington in the Josh Howard trade, got a DNP-CD. Shawn Marion, acquired by Cuban last summer in a blockbuster deal, was 3-for-9 from the field with seven points in 16:34.

Forced into another undesirable halfcourt slugfest with the Spurs, Carlisle decided to play small throughout the second half with J.J. Barea instead of Butler -- hoping to push the pace. It's not that it was a bad idea. It's just that the Spurs were still able to exert their advantages defensively and attack Dallas' suspect defense off the dribble at key moments -- especially in the fourth quarter. Butler didn't return to the floor again after committing his third turnover, a defensive three-second violation, with 3:38 left in the second quarter.

The way this series has unfolded, there seems to be no way around it going seven games. So the Mavs aren't in deep trouble. Not yet. Once they gave up home-court advantage by losing Game 1, the Mavs knew they'd have to win one game in San Antonio. That game pretty much has to be Game 4 on Sunday, because nobody is winning three straight games between these two old rivals.

"Anything can happen," Tony Parker said in the TV interview after the game. "Any time we play Dallas, we know they can win here. There's going to be another big one here on Sunday."

To beat the Spurs in San Antonio, I think it was pretty well proven Friday night that the Mavs need Butler not only to play, but to play at a high level. Getting some sort of contribution from Marion would be nice, too. The Mavs, who entered the playoffs feeling they had their best shot at a championship since they were up 2-0 on the Miami Heat in the 2006 Finals, have a real problem on their hands. That problem is a proud, crafty, championship-tested Spurs team that is starting to look and feel like its old championship self at just the right time.

Carlisle has until Sunday to come up with the right formula to send this series back to Dallas tied 2-2. As much as Cuban trusts Carlisle -- he sings his praises to anyone who will listen -- the pressure that comes with ignoring the millions of dollars in talent that Cuban handed him at the trade deadline cannot be overstated. 

As hard as it would be for Cuban to accept losing in the playoffs to the Spurs, just imagine how hard it would be to accept losing to the Spurs with his prized acquisitions sitting a few feet away from him on the bench.
 

Posted on: December 27, 2009 10:02 pm
 

Spotlight on the Spurs

NEW YORK – Gregg Popovich was a lot more cheery after the game Sunday than he was before, when he openly lamented having arrived at the team hotel in Manhattan at nearly 4 a.m. – 14 hours before the Spurs were scheduled to play the Knicks.

“I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4 or 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing,” Popovich said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I think it puts a good product out on the floor. … It must be something that I don’t understand, because trips like this don’t make sense.”

After the Spurs’ overnight misadventures between Milwaukee and New York – ice, delays, the whole deal – Popovich actually was in a position to feel optimistic about his team for once. After beating the Bucks 112-97 Saturday night, the Spurs finished off the Knicks with an 11-4 run in a 95-88 victory. Popovich called this San Antonio’s most complete effort of the season in consecutive games.

The closing run against the Knicks was fueled by the Big Three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. But this season has been about, and will continue to be about, the supporting cast that has changed around them. That’s why Popovich isn’t ready to declare the crisis over.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

The Spurs, architects of four championships on a shoestring budget, finally took the plunge over the luxury tax last offseason. Realizing that their window was closing while the big-spending Lakers were digging in for another dynasty, San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and made this season about paying the price to win.

“The landscape has changed,” Popovich said. “We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it – trying to stay under the cap and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side. It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players. To stay in the hunt, there was a simple question: Do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you’ve got to spend the money. And so we did it this year.”

The result has been an inconsistent team trying to find its way, which is news to the Spurs, who have been a model of stability for much of the past decade. With three new starters and with longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen retired, the Spurs aren’t necessarily a better team than they were in the pre-luxury tax era. Just different.

How different? Duncan offered this painfully honest assessment.

“We’ve got to figure out the scheme that works for this team,” he said. “It might not be what’s worked for this team in the past.”

A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense.

The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work.

The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)

“Look at all the other top teams in the league,” Jefferson said. “You look at Boston, they’re trying to integrate Rasheed Wallace. Look at Denver, they pretty much have their core, everybody back. The Lakers are trying to bring in Ron Artest, but they have everyone there. This is one of the few teams, us and Cleveland, that are good teams, but have a lot of new faces that they’re trying to get into the group.”

Popovich was asked before and after the game how long it should take for the Spurs to become the Spurs again – or become whatever it is they’re going to be. Of course, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens.”

And if it doesn’t, it could be a long time before the Spurs play the luxury tax game again.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com