Surviving Portland

The LaMarcus show continues.

This has been the perfect season to command the spotlight with Kawhi out of commission and slowly working his way back to form. Leonard dominated proceedings last year and all but regulated the rest of the Spurs roster to Who Are They status.

LMA was famously upset by this and it turns out that was not unreasonable. He still had something left in his game and has shown himself to be the guy that SA paid for: the number 1 guy.

Unfortunately, he is not an MVP-level guy, but then again who thought he would be that?

This is about winning titles, even if the Spurs are no longer front-runners for that spot these last few Warriors-heavy years. To that end, winning regular season games while everyone sits down is imperative. Tonight, LMA did the things necessary to win. This was the typical Spurs effort involving lots of contributions that will be forgotten when the postseasons begins but upon whose foundation the postseason runs begin.

LMA blocked one of the final tying attempts and that sealed the win. It will not win him the MVP but it is what we want him to do.

The Spurs are now 22-10 and four games behind the league-leading Rockets.

LaMarcus 41

When LaMarcus Aldridge dominates proceedings as he did against Memphis I have to refrain from saying “Where was this against Memphis in the playoffs?”

The answer is that this is not the same LMA for a lot for reasons and this is definitely not the same Grizzlies squad that competed hard for six games.

Pop called him an All-Star in all phases of the game and he is right. Even when LMA had been playing in the shadow of Kawhi’s Klaw, he was playing good, underrated defense.

My — and likely your — frustrations with his postseason play remain but it is important to put those into context. Both OKC and GSW featured at least two current, very recent past, or very recent future MVP players.

Still, LMA did not impress in every game against the Grizzlies and only in one or two games against Houston. Watching him do that against the same team makes me feel better even if it isn’t proof of much of anything.

Clipper Cure All

Did San Antonio learn so this from Golden State and decide to turn it on in the third quarter?

Aldridge is steady with his 20+ ppg, and is vaguely looking like Timmy on the score sheet. Pay tossed in some threes but Rudy Gay and Dejounte Murray are battling for the Most Fun Spur to watch.

Rudy Gay can score and that is great fun to watch. He showed some extra range was fun but the he followed that with a heat check. For we playoff-minded folks, the Rudy Gay they gets into pass lanes and uses length to bother teams is the one that will change a series.

LMA and Pau were not the most highly rated defensive players coming into San Antonio yet have held their own (in spots, in Pau’s case).

As Captain Jack once said, “The Spurs staff helps you be a great defender” and all that is needed is mental and physical effort.

So far, everyone looks about where they need to be. Now that the IG rumormongering is that the Klaw will be returning next week, things are looking up.

Brace yourselves, Kawhi is coming.

Spurs Start 1-0

Expectations for this Spurs team have varied wildly from Title Contender to Also-Ran. This team is not as obviously good as the Warriors and the poor performance of LaMarcus Aldridge has colored the view of even the most fanatic Spurs follower.

Still, this team has managed to produce ever year that it is a cliché. LaMarcus Aldridge apparently had a heart-to-heart and earned more touches early. He did not, apparently, spend time at Toast Masters. On the broadcast he mentioned ‘getting touches and getting into rhythm’ 8 times or so.

The questions about this team are and were approximately these:

  1. Who carries the offense without Kawhi?
  2. Can Dejounte Murray be the starting PG for this team?
  3. Which LMA do we get?
  4. Rudy Gay? What does he have?

Given the relatively successful integration of Pau Gasol — he was a net liability defensively for much of the year but he was a reliable contributor and a good defensive player situationally — we could reasonably expect a decent integration of Rudy Gay.

And so it went — he came in with the second unit and promptly dunked on a fast break. He played solid defense on Jamal Crawford. He was good.

Gay’s line: 14 pos on .651% true-shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists. Good.

Meanwhile Dejounte was a little frantic early, but he was good and active. He provides a level of energy that young TP provided, even if it gets a little wild. Pop circa 2004 would have not played DM, but this one is older and wiser and has coached through the Manu years.

I mean our starting PG produced 16 points, a couple of assists, a couple of steals, five rebounds, on 7/8 shooting. That’s good in 2017.

(Manu was good by the way he will never retire, apparently).

LaMarcus Aldridge got his touches. He had 30% usage rate, which is Kawhi level (31% last year) but not amazingly higher than LMA’s 2016’s rate of 24.5%. The important thing is that LMA feels more involved and that goes a long way toward making the team better.

Danny Green was Good Danny, meaning he made his jumper. He pulled up in transition which means he is Really Good Danny.

Like the Warriors, Cavs, and Rockets, this team is going to be defined by the playoff production and so this regular season experimentation is only so interesting.

The Spurs have integrated LMA, lost Duncan, added Dejounte, played fast, played slow, all while maintaining competitiveness in the league. It is silly to think they will not be able to handle a couple of injuries at the start of the year. The Wolves are a good talented team and that win was uglier than it probably would have been had Leonard been out there.

Right now this is going to be the Aldridge show, and we know that can be successful in the regular season. Take your time and get healthy, Kawhi.

LMA Is A Spur For Even Longer

If we were wrong about it seemingly like the Spurs wanted LMA to feel more wanted in this town, today’s news does not support that.

LMA reportedly singed a big extension that will keep him in silver-and-black for a while.

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That is good? I guess?

If nothing else the getting paid like he is super-important may help LaMarcus play like he is super-important. Honestly, after the offseason in which the Spurs considered dealing him and trading for maybe Kyrie and making a run at CP3, the Spurs went and cemented their commitment to last season’s plan.

Meanwhile the division competition is making excuses, maybe.

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Spurs Season Is Nigh

I am an old basketball soul and my biorhythms are accutely attuned to the NBA cycle. That is to say that it does not quite feel like basketball season just yet.

And yet, we are a mere six days away from the opener against the Timberwolves.

What madness is this? Well, it is the the NBA’s way of addressing the resting epidemic popularized by San Antonio’s own Gregg Popovich.

As a rule, I do not pay much attention to preseason. Still, I have noticed Rudy Gay looking good in silver-and-black even if the uniforms do not. I am nervously awaiting the announcement of a jersey-sponsor that I find gross.

The new Spurs jersey looks . . . off. I don’t know. Maybe I have truly become the Scrooge I was meant to become. So it goes.

Meanwhile, the Spurs have a billboard with Aldridge peaking over his shoulder with his nameplate prominently displayed. Somehow I feel like the marketing arm of the Spurs is doing their best to make him feel wanted.

I mean gaze upon this:

We all consider Kawhi the face of the franchise but it seems like these billboards and advertising campaigns are here to make you feel better about LMA. The thing is, I would feel great about him if he played up to his talent level.

No amount of advertising will make me less frustrated with his performance in the second half of game one against GSW.

If he plays like 1st Qtr LMA? Well, then yeah.

Finger: Kyrie Talk, Aldridge Burn

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As a counter to this, some will point to the Spurs’ acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge, and how that has not quite met expectations. But if there have been any issues in that arrangement, it is not because Leonard hasn’t given Aldridge a chance to be assertive. It’s because Aldridge hasn’t taken him up on it.

That about sums up everything I have written about LMA. Emphasis mine.

I’ve heard that some players think Kawhi is a “system” guy whose success is dependent on the scheme, that a handful of other guys would be doing the same were they in his situation. This is a version of something even guys that are big fans of the organization have said, including Stephen Jackson.

Bob Horry even went so far to say that established players need to dumb down their game to play in San Antonio.

The thing to take from all this is that 1. This system isn’t for everyone. 2. Everyone isn’t for this system. The players that want to do the things to win value organizations that do so consistently. While Kyrie Irving looks like he is fleeing the greatest player of this generation for some substandard situation, he actually is taking control of his fate: LeBron is not long for Cleveland (because Dan Gilbert is a clown) and Irving wants some place where he can do his thing without uncertainty. San Antonio may not be ideal for his ego, but it is a model of consistency.

FREE AGENCY

Patty Mills re-signed.

Jonathan Simmons is going to date around before he commits, and given his origins that is good. Let him go and see what the market will pay for his services and if the Spurs will match it.

Given the lack of offers for LaMarcus Aldridge and the strange trades (Paul George to OKC for nothing, Jimmy Butler to Minny for nothing, CP3 to Houston for consolation prizes) there is no obvious move that makes the Spurs significantly better. In fact, coming back with the same team keeps the Spurs’ institutional advantage that other teams mixing in new players lack.

The looming Warriors Question is unanswerable. No move outside of signing LeBron James makes any team serious contenders for dethroning Golden State. Andre Igoudala taking a peek at offers is the first crack in the dynasty-in-progress and injuries, random occurrences, and the disease of more can always happen.

LaMarcus Aldridge being anything less than 100% committed to the team is an issue, but there is no move to make at the moment. And so we wait.

Blake Griffin Hypothetical and Aldridge Fallout

Kevin O’Connor has a nice piece talking about Blake Griffin possibilities. During the Finals there was a Trade Machine screenshot that tossed Aldridge to New York, Melo to LAC, and Blake Griffin here. I liked that. Give me that.

Every report and blogger thinks this offseason for SA is going to be very complicated. As I [wrote previouslhttp://spurs.sanantonioreview.org/tag/chris-paul/http://), we all want Chris Paul but I would really prefer a CP3 making a LMA better, not throwing lobs to random signings. The fact remains that Chris Paul is worth too much money to come here. Signing a George Hill or a Lowry is unsexy, but probably more ideal for the long-term health of the roster.

Also interesting is this conversation in 2015 with Aldridge about what he wants as a Spur. It explains more of why he is unhappy. He averaged 17 and 7 this past season. Now read this (emphasis mine):

“So we rode – and I had my kids with me and my mom – so they sat in the front of the plane and him and I went to the back of the plane and talked the whole flight. It was just conversation, about the system, about me. It wasn’t really a lot of questions. It was just him telling me how I’m going to fit in. Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim (Duncan) is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there.’ So I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 (points per game) for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 (points per game).’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’ He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is ok.”

On choosing between Phoenix and San Antonio:

“I feel like me being there with Pop in the system with the guys, I should be ok. That was what I was weighing: Go to Phoenix, be the face and the guy, or go to San Antonio and probably win sooner and be more blended in. That was my issue. And I was like, ‘If y’all want me to come here and average 12 or 13 points, that’s not who I am. I like scoring.’ They were like, ‘No, we want you to play in the system, but you scoring is needed here.’ Once I heard that, I was fine.”

The irony here is that LaMarcus Aldridge is the guy who stopped LaMarcus Aldridge from scoring here. He had and has plenty of opportunity to get buckets and simply does not get them at the rate the Spurs need.

[Hat tip to The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti]

Spurs 2017 Offseason Rumors and Draft Results

  • Danny Green to get traded?
  • Spurs shopping LaMarcus?
  • Spurs looking for Chris Paul?

I wrote a version of this post about eight times before I said “let’s just wait.” The Spurs have been unusually active in offseason discussion the past two offseasons, acquiring LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, and then getting a meeting with Kevin Durant last year before signing Pau Gasol.

To hear the the team was shopping LaMarcus was unsurprising in the least for various reasons. Let us discuss them shall we?

Reasons We Were Not Surprised At LMA Being Shopped

  1. He was awful in the last two postseasons
  2. He looks unhappy all the time
  3. He likes to get big numbers and he has taken a backseat to Kawhi
  4. He was awful and got called out for it

While we all (including Pop) were critical of LMA’s game in the playoffs the last two years, we must acknowledge that he has been really good. The numbers look good, and when he is confident (usually when he has someone feeding him the ball early) he is top-20 level talent. Again, witness the first three quarters of the Western Conference Finals, the last game against the Rockets, and the first two home games against the Thunder last year. The issue is that these results are inconsistent, and frustrating when they are accompanied by no-shows.

The defenders’ argument is something like “he has no ball handler to get him the ball!” and while this is very true, especially this year, that could not account for his missing jumper.

Overheard:

LaMarcus has two heart conditions: he has the murmur and he has no heart.

Is the above fair? Nope. The skinny on LMA was always that he was a talented, but limited player who tended to sulk and avoid the necessary grunt work that would make him great. The local sports radio guy tells a story about LaMarcus skipping out on a workout with Tim Duncan because he could not hack the intensity. Those unverified rumors aside, he looks like all those are true when he is missing bunnies at the rim.

When Tim failed (he did, kids. Trust me) or when David fell short, they went out swinging. In the Hakeem Series, Dave Robinson had great series, and Olajuwon even complimented him on his defense saying something to the effect of “the reason I played so well, was because of David’s great defense. I needed all those moves.”

When Tim was dragging Terry Porter to the WCF, he got swept or lost in five to the Lakers but still had epic numbers.

LaMarcus? Nope. He could have willed the Spurs to victory in Game 1 but it was not in him. He could have showed out in a Game 2 loss like Jonathan Simmons did. He disappeared.

Spurs fans are excited for the possibility of the trade, LaMarcus apparently is also. MYSA, CBSSPORTS, ESPN, all ran a series of posts mentioning the trade and the reasons why. After draft night, he remained a Spur and the front office said the right things. He remains a Spur and provides the team a good chance of winning.

What is lost in all of this is how good LMA has been for SA. He has defended well on the perimeter, did an okay job at the rim, and scored well enough to be somewhat reliable. He had that stretch last season where he was amazing. This year he battled the heart thing, and later had knee tendinitis issues.

The issue is that he does not inspire confidence. So many people looked at LeBron’s chances of upending the Warriors in the Finals as better than none, simply because of how good he is. No one thinks that about LaMarcus. Instead, most are surprised when he shows out.

Possible Destinations

Interestingly, LaMarcus’ twitter account unfollowed the Spurs and followed Cavalier Kyrie Irving, former Cav Mo Williams, and Cleveland chef Joe Symons. Make of that what you will. The rumor was that SA was thinking of sending Danny Green, himself both loved and hated for his inconsistency since 2013, and LMA to CLE for some stuff. I speculated that STUFF could and should be Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert. For their limitations, they are essentially the same guys as LMA and Danny.

Shump is a good defender with a limited offensive game that comes and goes. Sound familiar? Love is not as athletic as LMA, but is a much better rebounder, and has a bit more range.

That deal was not enough, apparently.

Why trade Danny Green? Well the initial reports indicated the Spurs wanted to trade Danny’s $10 million contract to clear room for a run at Chris Paul. After Pau’s deal-restructuring (in essence, he declined his option officially) an essential next-step is clearing enough space for CP3 to think it is worth his while from the bank-account side.

Before the draft, LMA was rumored to be headed to the Suns for the 4th pick. He really considered Phoenix before deciding on San Antonio in 2015, and this was his chance to make that happen. Portland was also discussed (hahahaha) but there was no report on the possible asset group coming this way.

What It All Means

Just because there was no deal available before the draft does not mean there will not be something coming up soon. The Spurs even kicked the tires on Porzingis (smartly) even though that seems very unlikely. The Bulls were fleeced by the Wolves and so there is no telling who is a possible get for RC Buford. Twitter even mentioned a possible Paul George deal that could have been completed.

As it was, the Spurs picked up two guys — Derrick White and Jaron Blossomgame — who address needs. If Patty and Jonathan leave for greener ($$$) pastures, White and Blossomgame certainly fit the profile for replacements. White is yet another attempt to fill both the PG-of-the-future and backup-PG spots. The Spurs had to let go of Cory Joseph when making room for LMA, and dealt George Hill for the rights to Kawhi Leonard. Since, they have tried Ray McCallum, Ryan Arcidiacono, Nico Laprovitolla, and — yes — Dejounte Murray.

Supplementing Tony Parker (at the very least) has been an ongoing project that has yet to be fulfilled. Balancing that project with the need to field competitive teams to strike during Kawhi’s prime go together. Chris Paul would be ideal if it did not require dismantling the roster. George Hill would be an easy fit if he were not so injury-prone and a solid pick up at best.

The rest? Well there is no combination outside of adding the King himself that will put the org in title-favorite status.

Let us continue wait-and-see.