Manu

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Emanuel David Ginobili is much more candid than Tim Duncan ever was so this “final” (probably) year we have had much more insight into his mind. Tim would never publicly discuss the possibility like Manu has. Even tonight, he said he will think about it for 3-4 weeks before deciding whether to continue.

These glimpses into his thought process have been good for the fans. Zach Lowe got a glimpse into Argentina’s Golden Generation brought us closer to Manu’s thinking. Last season he joined Woj for an in-depth podcast. Tonight he got a giant standing ovation at home.

Tim is revered, but Manu is beloved. He speaks the language of the people, he plays with all his heart, and his fearlessness resonates with his fans in San Antonio and in Argentina.

He has made a habit of looking dead only to reappear later in the series and show why, exactly, he is still hooping for the Spurs.

He looked useless against Memphis, only to block the hell out of James Harden. He poured in 17 in the opener to these Conference Finals, and another 17 in game three. Oh and tonight he added another 15 in a valiant effort leading the youngsters against the most talented team in NBA history.

Enjoy Manu yamming on Bosh in 2014:

Enjoy the Manu game from 2013, when we thought he was done the first time:

Count me among those who think Ginobili should retire. His presence on the team is welcome, and he can still produce at the highest level against the best competition the league has. The Spurs will miss his steadying presence and knowledge on the bench, on the court, and on the road with so many new players on the roster. He has expressed interest in coaching, and that might be how he can be most valuable to this organization.

That is for later. Perhaps in 3-4 weeks.

Right now we say ‘thank you.’

2017 WCF G1: Warriors 113 – Spurs 111

The Spurs were up 25-points and after Kawhi Leonard left after another ankle injury, the Warriors stormed back with an 18-0 run and stole the game from the shorthanded crew to win 113-111.

Pop said the Spurs let it “slip away” and blamed some turnovers and poor play for blowing the lead. In the second half the Spurs were outscored like 58-33 after Kawhi left the game. They struggled without Tony and Kawhi as primary ball handlers/ rim attacking threats. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled (especially compared to his 11-point first quarter performance) and the KD and Curry made shots.

Aside from that, game one was a test of some theories.

Theory 1: Layoffs Do Not Hurt You

Result: Wrong. The most talented team ever assembled came out of the gate struggling, tossing turnovers, and missing shots (and free throws!).

Theory 2: Spurious’ WCF Preview How-To-Beat-GSW-Guide

It can be found here, but we will recap it now.

  1. Draymond needs to hurt his team
  2. Warrior’s Carelessness
  3. Kawhi & Aldridge need to be great
  4. Everyone needs to get hot

When the Spurs were up 25, these boxes were checked. Draymond was not destroying his team with technicals (that came after Kawhi left) but he was not his normal self. The Warriors were sluggish and turned the ball over often, and missed shots. Kawhi and LaMarcus were outstanding. LMA looked like the guy in Houston for game six. Kawhi looked like unguardable and mixed in a of playmaking. While Patty was cold, Manu had 9 first half points, Jonathan Simmons was hitting jumpers and Danny Green was 2-of-2 from three while playing good defense. Things were going perfectly.

Theory 3: The Spurs could win a quarter and a half if spotted a 23-point lead without Kawhi.

Nope.

The Game

Let us be real with ourselves. This was likely the best chance the team had at stealing a win. The Spurs had the element of surprise and all of the luck … until the worst possible luck.

The game plan involved some really clever attacks on the Warriors substitution patterns, that allowed the squad to put in lineups that could help off shooters and attack poor defenders. Most, if not all, of the breaks went San Antonio’s way, including turnovers and poor shooting from Klay Thompson.

In the end the other Spurs were not enough of a match for Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. That is not something we can be angry about. Down the stretch Golden State relied on Steph and KD to make plays and they did. The Spurs relied on Jonathan Simmons and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It was not so simple as I am putting it here. Manu was great down the stretch, and the Warriors were smart and disciplined enough to recognize he was the most likely go-to playmaker. When Jonathan Simmons missed his pull-up 14′ jump shot, he was the second option. Shaun Livingston denied Ginobili the ball, and Simmons was left to make a play.

The Warriors made a concerted effort to unstick their playmakers and get good looks for their guys. Steph said they “simplified” things, and when Zaza abused Patty on a series of simple pick-n-rolls that was evident.

When Pop inserted Kyle Anderson for some quality offense (he was great on both ends) they quickly went to Kevin Durant. Kyle had nothing for him.

This week Stephen Jackson said that the defensive scouting report on teams is what makes the Spurs great. They are the best-prepared team in the league. As you might imagine, this is partly why the Spurs can turn some of the weakest individual defenders into useful parts of the best defense in the league.

Kyle Anderson made some quality steals but cannot stay in front of a locked-in Kevin Durant.

The Spurs are consistently good each year because they maximize the talent they have but superior talent often wins. One reason the Warriors are so good is that they also maximize their talent. They also have superior talent.

Kawhi

Obviously the chances of beating Golden State in game two are drastically reduced if he is hurt. Everyone has repeated the similarly very obvious point that the Spurs would have likely stat him for the second game if they managed to steal the first.

The organization will make the best decision for his future health, and prepare the team as best as possible for the series. I do not buy the thinking that Pop risked his health by keeping him out there after he first tweaked it. He had to have gotten the okay to play through it. He looked fine in the minute leading up to the jump shot. Also, given what we saw transpire after he left the court, simply sitting him for health reasons would have meant a similar result if he does not ever play.

Injury risk is part of the game.

Aldridge

I have said previously that the team is the team. The decision to roll with Aldridge and his faults was made two years ago when they gave him a big contract. When he is good, he is one of the best in the game. That first quarter explosion was the kind of thing that only a handful of big men in the game can produce. Unfortunately he is not always at that level. He is not ultra reliable late and he showed that with the disastrous 4th quarter.

LMA 2nd Half:

11 points on 4/13 shooting, 4 rebounds, 5 turnovers.

He was 2/9 in the final quarter, including the missed three to tie. Gone was the aggressive, attacking Aldridge and in his place was the one resorting to a fadeaway too often.

The Other Guys

Dejounte Murray is going to be really good. He is not scared of the moment and played big in his minutes. He still needs a jump shot and to add some more strength so he is not bumped off the ball so often but he is a quality dude.

Patty Mills was bad, but that happens. Danny Green was good in spots. If Kawhi cannot go the only hope is that both of these guys are on. Everyone was kind of shook after Kawhi left, and I appreciate Manu for saying as much. The Warriors hinted at this when praising the crowd “they [Spurs] felt the crowd, too.” If we are going to beat up on LaMarcus, we should also point out that Danny Green allowed Steph Curry to walk by him for a bucket to make it five. Danny also missed the potential tying three right before that.

Jonathan Simmons is having a great week. He won rightful praise for going against Harden, and had a solid outing this afternoon. He cannot bang with Draymond for long periods, but in doses he is the kind of game-changer we all thought he would be.

Pau was bad. He drew lots of cheap fouls and so had to sit, reducing the Spurs’ rebounding edge. He still is not contributing much of anything offensively aside from ball movement, but against this team that is not enough. He needs to get buckets against the likes of Zaza or else it could be Dewayne Dedmon time.

Manu nearly pulled the game out for the Spurs. Mark Jackson blamed Manu’s effort for the three that Steph hit to tie at 106. GSW got two offensive rebounds and then the bucket. Every time I watch the sequence I think of it differently. He could have boxed out better but long rebound are tough to predict. Especially from guys like Curry and Durant. On the other end he was the only one that could reliably create, and scored twice on Draymond, and mixed in a dunk on Shaun Livingston. While it is fun to watch Manu do Manu things, if we have to turn back the clock to 2007 for this series, it is definitely over.

Game Two

I expected a lull in this one, and a strong comeback effort from GSW. The lull was longer than expected but I think Kawhi could have stemmed the tide a bit for the team late. In that alternate universe the Spurs are up 1-0 and facing an angry Warrior team. In this universe the Spurs are down 0-1 and facing that same angry and locked-in Warrior team sans Kawhi.

Game three was always going to be the best chance of a Spur victory and this game would have only been icing. The scary part of Golden State was evident in this one, however. That 18-0 run was the kind of eruption that put away Portland and Utah, but merely cut the deficit in this one. I do not see the Spurs building another 25-point lead to protect them from that roster next game. Klay Thompson is due to explode soon. He missed a few wide-open looks from deep that should have put the Spurs to bed sooner that we saw.

MANU: Game 5 Spurs 110 Rockets 107

I have listened to 22 years of basketball punditry. The handful of oft-repeated television tenets are burned in my brain, deep in the crevices of my mind: will to win, carrying the team on your back, finding a way.

I cannot help but think about those things on a night like this, where the Spurs simultaneously confirmed and refuted those tenets. Manu Ginobili played outside of his mind in winning time. Kawhi Leonard did not play through the pain of a sprained ankle. James Harden did not rise to the occasion.

I personally have not played at anything resembling a high level of any sport, and yet I have looked into teammates’ eyes and seen that the moment was simply to big for them. I cannot imagine the pressure of an NBA playoff game, having bricked a game-winning three in a rec league game 2 years ago myself.

Sometimes a person is at the mercy of circumstance, and they are left feeling betrayed by Lady Luck herself. 1 Tonight an MVP-candidate had an awful 4th quarter and overtime period in a pivotal road game five. He was clamped up by a former D-leaguer, and a 39-year old HOFer who was averaging 3-points per game this series.

For all of James Harden’s career and season accolades, I am sure he would trade them all for Eric Gordon to make the three that would have put the Rockets up by one with 15 seconds or so. That is this game we love.

Late in the fourth quarter Manu Ginobili drove by Clint Capela, newly minted shot-blocking force, and finger-rolled a classic Manu layup. He drove accross the paint — all elbows — and deftly flicked the ball off the glass with enough spin to put it in the basket. This, and not that righty dunk, was the most important offensive basket considering the moment.

Manu has never been scared of the moment, and up until recently he had the requisite athletic ability to shine therein. That is life.

Game five had a few vintage Manu moments, but one of the things that is going to be lost when he is long retired is how inspiring he is to his teammates. Usually when Manu is making plays, the rest of the team follows. That 2005 Big Shot Bob three? Manu drew the double-team because he was on fire down the stretch. Tonight Patty and Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge made gigantic shots in the final minutes. If any of those guys miss, then we would have a repeat of last year’s semifinal game 5 that saw Tony Parker miss a free throw and a 20-ft jumper in the final minutes.

The game is the game. Make or miss league. Etcetera.

The Game

The halftime score was 60-58 Rockets, the pace was played at the Rockets preference. Pop tried his big lineups, tried his small lineups, played Simmons, benched Murray, encouraged a faster pace, and saw his team pull out the game in the most awful offensive OT by two good teams. It all could have backfired if some Houston shots went in, or some San Antonio shots missed.

There are few surprises after five games of playoff basketball. The adjustments have been made, the injures had, and the sicknesses overcome. The Spurs are still defending Harden the same way they have all series. Aldridge was in space with him the same way he was in games one and four. The Rockets attacked the hoop and fired a ton of three point attempts.

The Spurs’ advantage was always their superior size and disciplined on both ends. The Rockets rely on their superior shot-making ability and talent advantage on the wings. Tonight the Spurs benefitted from their size on the offensive glass, while the Rockets stretched the Spurs out and got to the rim and countered threats with long range bombs off of kick outs. That is to say that both teams played their game and only just slightly bothered the other. It came down to shot-making.

In the final stretch, the Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams both missed catch-and-shoot threes. That was the difference between a 10-point Rocket advantage and the three points it was with 5 minutes left to go. Danny missed, Ariza missed, Danny again, Manu missed, then Aldridge got a put-back.

It was frustrating and illogical at some points. I mean, with three minutes left and the Spurs down one, LMA had the ball in the restricted area, pumped and passed out to Patty Mills for corner three … that he missed. James Harden took the ball down and got a huge bucket at the rim for a three point lead that felt gaping.

I do not mean to recite the final minutes play-by-play here, but I want to point out the moments that each team missed what could have been game-deciding buckets.

Patty Mills drove down and made only 1-of-2 after Harden got the big bucket. It was 96-94 at that moment. Both teams’ fans on twitter were feeling like they were letting the game slip away.

Eric Gordon beat the buzzer for a back-breaking three. Until Patty got his 20th point with one of his own. Kevin Harlan had just finished saying that the Spurs had missed their last nine when Patty was rising in Beverley’s face to pull that shot.

James Harden had his team up 99-97 hen he drove on Aldridge and dished to Beverley in the corner — a deadly spot — but the pass was too far off and Bev stepped out of bounds. The Rockets have literally run that play hundreds of times this season with lots of success. Then Aldridge floats a risky lefty floater over Eric Gordon — the kind that I have seen him miss a ton of times. It is tied. Lady Luck.

Kawhi then misses a lefty scoop because his ankle does not let him get lift. Then Patty fouls Harden on the screen. Harden gets cheap free throws, just like he has all season. In an alternate universe the headlines say something to that effect.

Enter Manu, who gets a huge bucket like Kawhi did the last series. Kawhi passed the ball over to Ginobili with 10 seconds on the shot clock after getting the ball as the first option on the early action. If Kawhi is not gimpy there, this would be his moment. Instead we called on Manu and he delivered.

Jonathan Simmons

Mr. Can’t Go Back took the charge of the game. If you are Houston fan, this is where you complain about the refs and the play-calling. Instead of going 2-for-1, James Harden went right at Simmons.

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The Spurs followed that with a silly possession that ended without a legal shot.

That defensive play was not a luck thing. In the post-game scrum they asked Jonathan if he was the Harden-stopper, and he quickly declined that implication.

Still:

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Overtime

Kawhi was benched. He was not much of a decoy when he was battling through the injury, nor was he very effective defensively. In a game where the Spurs are struggling to find guys to cover ground, playing Kawhi had little upside. It is the kind of move that Pop often gets praise for, but can backfire and fuels the anti-Popovich faction that likes to point out the awful flameouts in Spurs history under his watch.

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Whoever won this game was going to feel fortunate. Manu was still cooking, just not scoring. He pump-faked a shot, drove, then dealt Danny a smooth behind-the-back pass. Danny missed.

The Rockets continued their insistence on running with Harden, who was exhausted and had no legs for his jumpers. The Spurs got offensive rebounds but could not hit anything.

Aldridge turns it over just under three minutes. Harden leaves a three short.

Neither team is proud of these possessions.

Manu got to the bucket and produced a chance for Aldridge to tip the ball in. It was called interference. There were more than a few situations that went against both squads.

A few seconds later Harden Euro-steps into a pass to the corner for Beverly — the kind of pass I mentioned earlier that was usually successful. Here it felt like a back-breaker. It might as well have been a ten-point shot for all the distance 3-points felt at that time. The Spurs were in a drought extending back to the fourth.

Then Simmons made a play. He got himself two free throws out of it. Then a Manu steal on Harden’s kick out pass. Then Danny with a 26-footer. The lead!

The camera pans to a woman screaming. I feel the same way. She is me. I am her.

Oh then Harden gets a hockey assist to Anderson’s three. Spurs are down two under a minute. Then Danny Green attacks Harden’s close out and gets a bucket and a homer call And-1.

The Spurs are looking for a stop against a team that rained down 22 and 19 threes in two games against them this week. Eric Gordon goes cold. I am briefly reminded of one of the regular season games where he missed from a very similar spot in a very similar situation.

I did not like the reductive nature of the series analysis by the NBA blogosphere: Rockets will win or lose by the number of threes they make. Sure, but that applies to the Spurs also. Patty Mills made 2 of 5 threes in the last game. Tonight he went 5/12. The Rockets made only three fewer threes this game than last.

For all the fire-power on D’Antoni’s squad, he only went 7-deep in a game that went to OT. That decision contributed to the poor offense late. Everyone was gassed and threes are harder to make when the legs are gone.

Future

Either of these teams could have won this game. Either of these teams deserved to lose. Houston will feel the more aggrieved, though. The Spurs lost their MVP in the most crucial moment and got contributions from everyone that was maligned this postseason.

Aldridge had 18 and 14 including 9 offensive rebounds. Simmons had 12 and 3 steals, including his shutdown of Harden late. Patty had 20 and Danny made up for getting roasted defensively by getting seven huge OT points.

The defense was fantastic. The offense was good early, but struggled late. Kawhi said he is going to play next game, but if he is not healthy enough to play at a good enough level to carry this team the Spurs are going to be underdogs for the next two games, let alone against the rested, over-talented Dubs.

If Kawhi is able to contribute (he had 22 and 25!), I cannot see the Rockets bowing out easily in Houston. Their bench mob will play much better. Gordon, Ariza, and Lou Williams combined for only 26 points. Gordon had 22 by himself last game.

I picked Spurs in six and so will stick with that. I also predicted we would question any and everything we believed. And lo, it has come to pass.


  1. John Starks, Vice Carter circa 2001, Brent Barry circa 2008 

Kawhi Goes Off; Spurs Lose Anyway

Kawhi made seven of the Spurs’ nine made threes. Danny Green six (of six) of the twenty-one misses. Patti Mills went 1/4, Manu 0/4. Memphis made twelve of twenty-seven spread out over a handful o players.

The running subplot for the Spurs has been: Who will help Kawhi? Tonight Tony Parker was that guy, helping with 22 points on a series of nostalgic drives to the cup. Manu had his fourth straight blanking and Danny Green’s jumper was dry.

LaMarcus put up only 13, but had an efficient night and looked aggressive. He even had some highlight dunks.

So how did the Spurs lose this thing even though Kawhi nearly did everything in his power to try to steal it? Well, they had no answer for Conley that doesn’t involve putting the Klaw on him (which means Parker has Carter 🙃). That’s not a game-ending proposition, but not hitting open jumpers is. Mills missed the open looks that keep the offense humming and Danny Green couldn’t buy a bucket.

When Kawhi is more human, the Spurs are set up to get blown off the court. The Grizz former D-leaguers are getting buckets and making plays, while the Spurs are missing jumpers. Manu missed a rhythm three, and on the following defensive possession lost his man for a corner three. That’s how you lose.

After all that, we have to acknowledge the tough-as-hell Grizz squad that would otherwise be fun to root for. That old-school bully ball is what the Spurs have recently adopted to much success, but as Bane said “Ah you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.”

LMA and Pau are getting bullied — not into submission — but to the point where they don’t have an obvious advantage. Without the inside-out threat, the offense is a little out of rhythm. That’s the only explanation I can muster for Manu’s disappearance.

Mills had a chance to push the lead to four in OT but was blocked and Gasol got a three-point play the other way. That’s good hustle basketball on their end, and the type of play that it seems only Kawhi is making the Spurs’ way right now.

Before the series I called a tough six-gamer but was swayed a bit by the easy first two games. The silver lining is that this reminds me of the Mavs series from 2014. Yes, that was the year that the same Vince Carter hit a three that put Dallas up 2-1.. That tough series propelled the Spurs on to the best basketball seen until the Warriors copied it.

Spurs and The Thunderous Comeback

Hubie Brown talked about Kawhi’s jump stop to get a shot off in the last minute.

That the Klaw managed to get a shot off is unremarkable in and of itself, what made it worthwhile was that it was a good shot, a fadeaway jumper that he makes with regularity. It missed — but the carom wasn’t wild or unpredictable to his teammates. LMA grabbed the board, was fouled and took the lead from OKC and the Spurs stole it. That is the difference from say, Danny Green taking a shot at that moment, and Kawhi Leonard. It is also what makes a contested midrange jumper valuable.

In any comeback there are big moments that are seemingly memorable, but get lost. A hustle play, a big rebound, a turnover. This one had plenty and Manu was a part of a good chunk of them. Floating jumpers, falling down assists, huge buckets, great passes — Ginobili had a great game that I honestly will forget come late May. So it goes.

Also remarkable? The recent defensive prowess of LaMarcus Aldridge. He has quietly become a force inside against even the Warriors and Thunder. He managed to get a couple of huge blocks in this one, including the one below. He had a sequence against GSW yesterday where he challenged a shot and got a block to save a fast break situation.

Meanwhile Pau was huge offensively, which is what he was signed to do. Whereas we all were thinking the big man that would expand his range would be Aldridge, continuing the trend from last season, it has actually been Pau. It has been more than fantastic, as Pau has hit the kinds of shots and made the kinds of plays that change games. They also are a part of the comebacks that are oh so necessary to pull off. He had a stationary give-go with Manu that got himself a three and later forced a foul on Kanter that resulted in a couple of freebies. Those are winning plays that make up for his lack of footwork. Interestingly, the way that Russ Westbrook plays means that Gasol is not so vulnerable at the basket. He is good at challenging vertically and so the Thunder roster does not do much to pull him into vulnerable PNR situations where he struggles.

Watch LMA be a Classic Defensive Center

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Other Stuff

I bet you feel a little bit better about blowing a 20+ point lead against GSW after overcoming an even bigger 20+ (because it was later) against OKC. The Thunder are not as good a team as Golden State, but the Spurs got beat down last time they went to Oklahoma City and this served as some measure of a psychological win.

The Spurs do not need a psychological win you say? Well witness Kawhi viciously attacking the basket to seal the game. That kind of passion is at least something. Is it just straight competitiveness? Sure, and that kind of competition loving makes a player want to avenge a previous loss. I think the Spurs were a bit hungover from the loss and also were angry. It was an ugly win and these are my favorite kind because everyone has to dig deep and learn a little more about themselves.

Still, the Spurs beat a one-man team and had to scrape and scratch to do so. These last two games had about 3 periods of solid, good, Spurs basketball. That’s out of eight, mind you. There is room for improvement as the team heads toward the postseason. While the Warriors all but sealed first place, there is always a sliver of hope for the top seed, if not the desire to have a good run of form going in to the next phase. These two things should hopefully give the team some incentive to pick up the pace a bit.

Spurs 98 GSW 110

When the Spurs play well Manu and Tony and Gasol look wily and guile-y. When they don’t they look overmatched and slow. In this game we saw a bit of both. Manu looked good early, making deft passes and making plays, as he does. In the 4th he looked slow, and every day of his 39 years as Klay abused him for buckets.

Steve Kerr called the early game defense “okay” and attributed the poor start primarily to hit shooting and allowing the Spurs so many second chance points. He was right. As the Dubs dug out of the hole they looked like the highlight version of themselves, grabbing rebounds, making cuts, hitting big threes.

For the Spurs part, the easy buckets stopped falling — Pau, LMA missed jumpers they hit in the first and second — and when it came time to run offense, the Spurs didn’t execute and the Warriors did. David West is getting a tons of praise for his contributions (rightfully) but David Lee gave SA good minutes there also. What killed SA was the easy buckets Lee got for Ian Clark.

Tony and Pau got eaten up on PNRs (surprise!) and there isn’t much to do then. This is and will be the Achilles heel for SA in the postseason and everyone knows it, and will exploit it.

That said, he defense allowed 67 in the second and third while SA scored a mere 44. Last season the Spurs defense slowed the Warriors, even introducing the big man (Aldridge) defense on Steph that other teams mirrored, but couldn’t score.

The long-underrated aspect of Golden State’s three year run has been their defense. They began the second half by forcing three or four straight wonky possessions for SA — against the Spurs’ first unit.

Observations:

LMA had a sequence where he stripped them blocked two Warriors. He played really well but was ineffectual in stopping the offensive slump in the second half.

David Lee really played David West evenly. Having seen one year of West and most of one of Lee, I prefer the latter much more.

The Warriors player that is key is Klay. He is just as dangerous shooting but adds a post up dimension. Defensively, he is a problem. He harassed Kawhi , blocked a Patti layup, and defended well generally.

Tony really was off tonight. Lots of missed stuff that he normally gets. It was half because of age, and some of him just being off like Kawhi was. Leonard was being defended well, but he was missing things that are normally great shots did him.

All told the W’s are going to be rightfully praised for this huge win because of the circumstances. They grabbed two wins against competition that looked formidable. However Curry himself said “we don’t win the championship because of this game”. Similarly, the Spurs don’t lose the chip because of this loss. They did lose the number one seed, however.

The number two seed feels right for this team. I’m ready for playoff basketball.

Begin Anew

Life and basketball both move on without you.

The Spurs will move on without Tim Duncan. So it goes.

The 2016-2017 season is upon is and while the Spurs sport familiar faces, they have a new set of circumstances: inner turmoil.

LaMarcus Aldridge might be traded? What? Ever since Zach Lowe (see below) mentioned it, it has been brought up. The surprise is two-fold: it is the Spurs that are having this issue. And the Spurs just signed the dude last season.

But LMA might not have been happy before the All-Star break last year

The “rumblings in NBA circles” about Aldridge wanting to go to the Cavs last year do not make any sense. If his concern in San Antonio is an offense that doesn’t revolve around him, why would he want to go to Cleveland and be the third banana?

CBS Sports

Right. That does not make sense. But it still could be true. I never fully understood LMA’s unhappiness in Portland. More than a few dudes who follow the league mentioned that it was weird that LMA started doing the things he refused to do in Portland — rolling hard to the rim, defending, deferring on offense — but did in San Antonio with gusto. Or maybe it was only perceived gusto.

Really, it seems like LMA is frustrated that he is not the leading scorer and All-Star around whom the team revolves. Also, he does not feel ‘coddled.’

Wut.

While he says the right things about winning, he does hint at his discomfort with his numbers.

“To be seen as still valuable and still one of the top players in the league even though I’m not averaging 25, that’s pretty nice,” he said.

Winning is the objective, but Aldridge admitted, “When you do something for nine years, that’s who you are.”

This is a storm that is just beginning to brew. Let’s check in on other things.

What else does Zach Lowe have for us?

  1. The Clippers, not the Spurs, will be the No. 2 seed in the West

It’s ridiculous to worry about the Spurs. Their defense can survive without Tim Duncan; they allowed 98.6 points per 100 possessions when Duncan sat last season, a mark that would have led the entire stinking league. They beat younger, stupider teams just by making the proper play every time on both ends.

But I’m a little worried about the Spurs. Their defense and rebounding should take a hit with Pau Gasol sliding into Duncan’s starting spot alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are a combined 73 years old, and San Antonio didn’t add anyone to soak up some pick-and-roll duty. (Scouts love Dejounte Murray, but it’s hard to see him playing much as a rookie.)

Zach Lowe’s 30 Crazy Predictions

That is good analyzing. This Blog maintains a sense of unease at the thought of relying on Pau Gasol for anything other than offense. We watched him in the Olympics, and while he put up nice numbers, he could not move his feet well defensively. As the New Looming Threat is the same old Warriors, the prospect of Gasol and Aldridge having to guard Draymond and — gulp — KD?

I am starting to see why the Spurs would consider trading LMA. I disagree on the Dejounte Murray note. I think he gets significant minutes. Barring some miraculous jump in production from any of the back end of the roster or an injury, DM should be getting the third PG minutes that translate to lots of playing time in blowouts and back-to-backs.

He is the athlete we gave up (George Hill) and the youth that we do not have any more (Tony Parker) at the premier position in the league. He is still learning his place in the league but his ability combined with the confidence (cockiness?) provide some of the swashbuckling swagger that Manu just does not have every night. Also, he still has Tony, Manu, and even Patty to learn from. That’s something to be hopeful of.

Season Preview

In my brief time as Air Alamo guy I wrote in last year’s season preview that Spurs fans should not be mad at the situation, that OKC had too much youth and athleticism, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we got dumped by a young squad of athletes, whether that was Memphis again or OKC’s youth troupe.

I was still sad when we were eliminated- especially by the way we were dumped. I’ll even admit that I didn’t take my own advice and was the tiniest bit surprised. I thought we had unlocked the secret of eternal basketball life. Instead OKC used our powers of ball-sharing against us and undid all the good that was built up throughout that weird lockout-shortened season.

This year we have the same squad. Whereas the 2011 champion Mavs have the all-reject roster, the 2012 favorite Lakers retooled with a HOF point guard and the most athletic 7-footer in the game. The Heat replaced shooters with a HOF shooter and a former $100 million man. The Thunder still have the best scorer in the game and a lot of talent that can score and is willing to share the ball. Overall we are one year older and the competition is one year more experienced.

This isn’t unusual. Our unwillingness to tinker is our greatest strength. The Spurs value the corporate knowledge, that oft referenced Popovich phrase. It has also served to render us invisible. There are only so many words that can be written about Pop and Timmy and the Spurs Way. Everyone is content to forget about the Spurs until June, when circumstances force them to re-pay attention.

This season we have something slightly different. The NBA press has long respected yet long awaited the end of the run. Fans here have anticipated The End for a while. Some, maybe even Tony Parker himself, have already declared the end as having come and gone. That debate is for another post. This season and in all the seasons to come instead of waiting to see signs of slippage and looking for a chance to retool, I want to see how far this thing goes. Don’t trade Manu. Don’t trade Tony. Don’t tank. Let’s be like Kramer and the car salesman. I want them to say that the Spurs and that other guy went farther with the same roster (or at least the same big three) than anyone ever dreamed. I want you to be there when it happens.

What will it look like? How far exactly can this thing go?

Let’s say it is the fourth quarter 5:39 to go. The score is tied 89-89. Where does the ball go? The guy with the hot hand? Tim? He hasn’t been the unquestionable choice since about 2006. Sure, he can win the games against the New Orleans’ of the world. Sure he can use his guile and experience to steal points from Anthony Davis and the like. How about Dwight Howard? How about Perkins?

Will it go to Manu? Depending on the night, depending on the week, he may not be up for it. He is in his mid-thirties and doesn’t dispense greatness with the the same frequency anymore. In the four straight losses to OKC he scored more than 13 points once.

Tony? He is 30 now. We know who he is. We know what to expect from him. He can score in bunches early. He can disappear late. It was fun to hate on him for a while because he had so much potential and would show little flashes of greatness occasionally. He is the youngest and has the freshest legs but he is not Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade or even James Harden. He is Tony Parker, sidekick.

The correct answer is the open guy. The system that go us here. It creates open shots. The flawless execution and ruthless corporate knowledge will render all opposition talent looking foolish and two steps behind. The obvious problem is the same one that was evident last year: we need Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and all the rest to not only carry the team in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs as they did so well last year, but do so against the very best the NBA has in the highest pressure situations there are. It is an incredible specific situation to prepare for, and one that won’t appear for seven months.

It is a test of patience and focus. It is trying to beat a video game with no save points. You have to go straight through to the end perfectly. There is no room for slacking. The machine has to be well-oiled and running smoothly or some other team will be holding the Larry. There is no out. There is no guy to toss the ball to and say “Clear out. You are the offense the rest of the way.”

This is the most intriguing aspect of the following the Spurs this and every year from now until the gas tank is empty. It is far easier to manage egos of the Heat guys in their prime, supremely talented guys that can win a game single-handedly, or guiding young talents on the Thunder, who have the best scorer in the game and something to prove. The Spurs have 30-year olds to manage, young guys to groom, and role players to coach up just to have the slightest of chances. Other teams need role players to “step up” when the stars are having an off night. This Spurs team needs them every night or there will be no tomorrow.

Prediction: 55-27. Exit Second round in 6 games to LAL. Bastards.