Kevin Love Trade Gives Ricky Rubio Chance to Redefine NBA Career

Kevin Love hasn’t officially escaped the Gopher State, but his move to Cleveland seems far enough along, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, that he could comfortably put down a security deposit on his next home.

With nothing more than a formality—the 30-day waiting period for the ink to dry on top pick Andrew Wiggins’ contract—standing between Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Minnesota Timberwolves are preparing for their new Loveless existence.

It’s hard to give that news a positive spin. The walking double-double fills a stat sheet like few others can (26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season), and the Wolves have no one rising through their ranks to replace that production. The win column Love struggled to fill during his six seasons in ‘Sota may get even lighter in the near future.

At the very least, the pressure to perform won’t be nearly as high as it has been in recent years. That’s the silver lining to this story if there is one, and no one should benefit from that more than point guard prodigy Ricky Rubio.

The “prodigy” label feels like an awkward fit for someone who has already spent three seasons in the NBA and 23-plus years on this planet. The fact he was introduced to the basketball world long before his 2011 debut paints him as more of a disappointment than a prospect who hasn’t emptied his upside tank.

Yet it’s hard to say if the real Rubio has ever made it stateside. Sure, the flashy passes and occasionally gaudy assist totals made the trip, but the floor general has never ranked higher than second in command on his roster.

One botched contract negotiation aside, there has never been a question as to the identity of Minnesota’s franchise face.

“Rubio has been following Love’s lead for the last several years,” wrote TrueHoop Network’s Steve McPherson. “No matter David Kahn’s feelings about who is and isn’t a max player on the Wolves, Rubio joined Love’s team, and so his role…was to fall in line behind the veteran leading the team.”

Rubio couldn’t be just another soldier in Love’s army, though. His buzz was far too big for that.

A professional hooper since the age of 14, Rubio needed to be the slick-passing Robin to Love’s Batman; Minnesota’s John Stockton if you will, a guy who made winning plays while Love posted the sexier stats and reaped the rewards those numbers often bring.

In three years together, the partnership never got off the ground.

The Wolves ran up a record of 97-133, each season adding another notch to their now decade-long playoff drought. But the group was more a victim of misfortune than a collection of misfit pieces.

The start of Rubio‘s rookie season was delayed by the NBA lockout, and the end of it was derailed by a torn ACL. He missed 25 games the following year, 39 less than Love, who twice broke his shooting hand.

With Love’s frustration mounting and the clock ticking toward his early termination option, Minnesota’s 2013-14 campaign seemed doomed before it started.

There was tremendous pressure to perform. The Wolves spent their offseason targeting win-now veterans like Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf. It was playoffs or catastrophic, franchise-crippling bust.

Rubio‘s scoring dipped to a career-worst 9.5 points per game. He shot just 38.1 percent from the field, the fourth-lowest mark of any player who logged at least 30 minutes a night.

The Wolves struggled to keep their head above water, which still wouldn’t have been good enough in the overloaded Western Conference. They lost their first 11 games decided by four points or less, and the combination of individual and team struggles weighed heavily on Rubio‘s shoulders.

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press in January. “I’m not being myself, and the team is noticing.”

He eventually elevated his own game—he averaged 10.7 points on 41.5 percent shooting after the All-Star break, compared to 8.9 on 36.1 before it—but he couldn’t reverse the franchise’s fate. The Wolves finished 40-42, which neither earned them a playoff berth nor satisfied Love.

It’s definitely disappointing, both for Rubio and the Timberwolves as a whole. Love’s production won’t be easily replaced, and a team that has suffered through this amount of losing isn’t exactly warm to the idea of a lengthy rebuild.

Rubio told NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper he doesn’t want Love’s departure to rid this franchise of its expectations to succeed:

Before I came to Minnesota, the season before they won like 17 games. I was a little scared when I went there. I’m coming from Europe, where I was playing in Barcelona. I think we lost six games or seven games in two seasons and every loss was a disaster. I don’t want to go through a process like every win is something special.

It’s hard to imagine the Wolves not taking a step back without Love. They did as well as they could have with a superstar essentially forcing his own exit, but their haul still features only a raw Andrew Wiggins, a protected 2015 first-round pick and the uncomfortably large gap between Anthony Bennett’s ceiling and his basement.

Yet a few extra losses shouldn’t scare Rubio away. Not when his environment is changing to one much more conducive to individual growth.

The win-or-lose-Love days are over. This is Rubio‘s team to lead, potentially at a top-dollar price:

Wiggins is just the latest in a long line of top-tier athletes surrounding Rubio, ideal receivers for such a crafty gunslinger.

He’s a showman who doesn’t let his dazzling displays tread too deeply into reckless waters. There is nothing wrong with flair when it’s accompanied by function, and he is nothing less than a master mixologist when blending the two.

This should be a fun team to watch and an even more enjoyable one to lead.

For the first time in his career, Rubio should have the chance to do just that. He didn’t exactly hurt for touches last season (only John Wall had more total assists), but he never had complete control of the offense. Of the 22 players to average at least six assists last season, only Kendall Marshall (16.3) had a smaller usage percentage than Rubio (16.4).

Finding offensive chances won’t be an issue going forward. With an intriguing group of complementary pieces around him, numbers should come in equal abundance.

This is a reset button for Rubio and a unique one at that, as Vice Sports’ Ian Levy observed:

Rubio has an opportunity that is rarely afforded to young players who were drafted high and have fallen short. He has three years of experience under his belt, hasn’t had to move cities, and still gets the opportunity to be part of an organization whose status quo and goals for the future are suddenly a perfect match for his own. Make layups, make jumpshots, make his teammates better in an offense which functions effectively, regardless of the score or the time remaining in the game; focus on process until the product arrives.

This is the NBA start that Rubio never had. This is his team now, and one that will move as quickly or slowly as he can handle.

It’s a far different challenge from the one he’s been given to date, but the light at the end of this tunnel should shine brighter than any he’s ever seen.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer Goes Ape at Fan Festival, Gives Out Email Address

Steve Ballmer absolutely crushed his entrance at the Clippers Fan Festival on Monday afternoon.

The newly minted Los Angeles Clippers owner fired out of the tunnel at the Staples Center to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” punishing hands and working the crowd like a professional hype man.

ESPN’s Arash Markazi and Fox Sports’ Jovan Buha recorded Ballmer’s entrance for posterity and uploaded the footage to Instagram. Imagine Donald Sterling’s court-side manner, but the opposite. 

All reports indicate that the former Microsoft CEO refused to simmer down after grabbing the microphone on the court.

Lofty promises were made.

The phrase “Boom, baby” made an appearance.

The former Microsoft CEO also gave out his email address on the Jumbotron.

I would’ve guessed “BallmIsLife” as his handle, but “SBallmer” works, too. 

In any case, the Steve Ballmer era with the Clippers is off to an emphatic, teeth-grinding start. Ballmer, who picked up the Clippers for an NBA record $2 billion this month, appears ready to set a new tone for his franchise.

I do feel bad for Mr. Ballmer’s assistant, though. Tending that email address just became a full-time job.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

 

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Kevin Love Instantly Gives LeBron James Something Chris Bosh Never Could

LeBron James left Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat behind because he wanted to play with younger talent, save northeast Ohio and right the wrong of his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010—in some order.

Playing alongside Kevin Love, a big man with skills that exceed Bosh’s in a number of key areas, would be a pretty nice bonus as well.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports confirmed the whispers that had been floating around since before James even officially rejoined the Cavs, reporting Love would soon be in Cleveland as part of a blockbuster deal sending Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-rounder to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s easy to think of Love and Bosh as similar players, as both spread the floor and fit the mold of next-generation stretch bigs. But those similarities exist only on the surface. A deeper look reveals just how much more Love brings as a sidekick to LBJ.

 

Bombs Away

Bosh made a leap as a perimeter threat last year, firing off a career-high 218 triples and hitting 74. Prior to last season, Bosh’s career high in attempts was 74. In hitting 33.9 percent of those threes, Bosh proved he was evolving into exactly the kind of perimeter threat teams covet in the frontcourt.

Love, though, is already the paragon of that player type.

He pumped in 190 three-point shots on a whopping 505 attempts last season, good for an accuracy rate of 37.6 percent. Opposing defenses worry about Bosh’s outside shot; Love’s jumper is an anxiety-inducer of an entirely different sort.

Not only that, but also Bosh’s improved accuracy was just as much a result of his own hard work as it was the wide-open looks he enjoyed while playing for one of the league’s best passing teams. Love, on the other hand, attempted far more shots in far worse offensive circumstances. He drew the attention of entire defensive game plans, whereas Bosh was more of an afterthought.

Despite all of that, Love was more efficient. Imagine what he could do with James attracting attention.

 

Giving Back

Love won’t just mooch off James next year. He’ll also return the favor in a way Bosh never did: by moving the ball.

“I don’t even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high,” James said of Love, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.

Don’t be mistaken: Bosh was never a poor passer with the Heat. And his assist percentage cracked double digits in his final five seasons with the Toronto Raptors, per Basketball-Reference. As was the case with outside shooting, though, Love is simply more skilled than Bosh.

That’s because the Heat big man isn’t the only player whose game has evolved. Love, who spent his first five seasons putting up passing numbers very much in line with Bosh’s career marks, made enormous strides as a facilitator last year.

In racking up an assist percentage of 21.4 percent, per Basketball-Reference, Love nearly doubled his previous career high. No surprise, then, that he racked up 4.4 dimes per game in 2013-14. While it’s true the Heat’s offensive system rarely called for Bosh to make a play, it’s hard to argue he could have equaled Love’s distribution output under any circumstances.

When you also note that Bosh’s and Love’s career turnover percentage is nearly identical, Love’s value as a passer stands out all the more starkly.

 

And Then There’s the Rebounding

Shooting and passing aside, Love has crushed Bosh’s production on the glass throughout his career. Bosh took some heat last season as his rebound average stayed below seven per game for the second straight season, but it’s probably not fair to say he’s an outright poor rebounder.

Miami moved Bosh away from the bucket with increasing frequency over the past four years, effectively eliminating many of his chances at easy boards. When looking to defend Bosh’s rebounding decline, that has always been the first piece of evidence.

Love, though, proves perimeter bigs can still do work on the glass. He averaged 12.5 pulls per contest last season. And though an increasing percentage of those rebounds came on the defensive end, we know Love can be a beast on the offensive boards when he’s in position.

For proof, we need only look at his first two years in the league—seasons in which he spent almost all of his time in the lane. He led the NBA in offensive rebound percentage in both of those years, per Basketball-Reference.

The caveat, of course, is that Love’s refusal to defend often leaves him in excellent rebounding position. He’s not alone; David Lee has been padding his rebound totals the same way for years. Bosh is a far more active and committed team defender than Love has ever been, and his rebound chances suffer because he doesn’t give up easy buckets in hopes of snaring a miss.

That’s not to say all of Love’s boards are cheapies. He grabbed 4.9 contested rebounds per contest last year, third in the league according to SportVU data provided to NBA.com. Nonetheless, not all of the differences between Love and Bosh weigh in favor of the former.

James will likely find himself missing his former running mate on defense.

Tyson Chandler, NBA scout extraordinaire, has the book on Love:

That’s a small price to pay for everything else Love brings, though.

 

A New Toy

On paper, and by virtually any comprehensive statistical measure (PER and win shares, in particular), Love is a better player than Bosh. The fact that Love is also four years younger can’t be ignored either. What remains to be seen is whether James’ new teammate can adapt as effectively as his old one did.

That’ll be a tough act to follow, as Bosh completely altered his game to fit within a unique Heat system that was built to maximize James’ strengths. We don’t know if Love can be as effective when he doesn’t get the sheer volume of looks a No. 1 option typically enjoys. And he’s not known for contributing in ways that don’t show up in the box score—particularly on defense.

Ultimately, there’s a lot Love can give James that Bosh couldn’t. But there’s also something James will give Love: a chance to prove his gaudy stats actually represent a skill set that leads to wins.

If Love makes the most of that opportunity, he and Bosh, for all their differences, may eventually end up sharing something in common: a championship trophy earned as James’ sidekick.

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Byron Scott gives initial thoughts on Lakers roster via Twitter

Newly hired Lakers Coach Byron Scott took over the team’s Twitter feed Friday, giving his thoughts on the team’s prospects this season.

His top priority, Scott wrote, is “to get our team to play defense on a consistent basis every single night.”

That’s a welcome thought. given the Lakers gave up 109.2 points per game last season.

How does he intend to make that happen?

“Accountability is obviously the first step. Desire & dedication are the next steps,” Scott wrote.

The Lakers announced Scott’s hiring on July 28. As a player, Scott contributed to three NBA titles during the Showtime era.

In his final season in the league as a player, 1996-97, Scott was a teammate of Kobe Bryant.

“He was the most mature 18-year-old I had ever come across. He kind of kept to himself,” Scott wrote of Bryant.

Scott has an idea how he wants to deploy Bryant along with point guards Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash.
lRelated Byron Scott sees tough road ahe…

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Judge gives ruling on O’Bannon case: NCAA loses

The NCAA’s limits “unreasonably restrain trade” in violation of antitrust laws.

      
 

 

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Shaun Livingston Finally Gives Golden State Warriors Exactly What They Need

It wasn’t a Kevin Love trade, and it may not be a precursor to one, but landing Shaun Livingston was a huge step in the right direction for the Golden State Warriors.

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, “Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that Livingston and the Warriors have struck a deal that will pay him the league’s full mid-level exception for the next three seasons, which is valued at an estimated $16 million.”

General manager Bob Myers and Livingston apparently saw eye to eye on more than money alone.

Per Stein, Livingston told ESPN The Magazine‘s Jordan Brenner, “It’s the fit. Definitely the fit. I want to remain competitive and this is the best opportunity.”

Finding a winning franchise is always a good fit, but there’s more to it than that.

Starting with the obvious, Livingston is an experienced and gifted floor general who seems to be peaking at the perfect time for Golden State.

As NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman notes, “Livingston had the best season of his career in Brooklyn last year. Starting most of the season, he averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game as a secondary ball-handler in the backcourt.”

Livingston told Brenner, “It was the best year I’ve had in terms of consistency.”

As CSNBayArea.com’s Monte Poole notes, “Livingston’s career has been hijacked by injuries, the most grotesque and devastating being a left knee injury as a member of the Clippers in 2007. The injury required extensive surgery and rehabilitation.”

By now the effects of that injury are ancient history.

So the signing comes at a good time for the Warriors. They’re getting a guy who appears to be hitting his stride, understanding his role and finding his niche. And the transition with Golden State should be straightforward enough.

As was the case in Brooklyn, Livingston will spend much of his time playing alongside a point guard who can score.

Stephen Curry did it all for Golden State last season, averaging 24 points and 8.5 assists in a campaign that solidified his status as an emergent superstar. But Curry does some of his best work off the ball, and that’s one reason he’ll co-exist splendidly with Livingston.

The 28-year-old’s ability to handle and distribute the ball will allow Curry to spend additional time running off screens and getting himself the shred of daylight he needs to put a shot up. Livingston will also relieve Curry of some minutes. The elder Splash Brother averaged 36.5 of those minutes last season and 42.3 per contest in the playoffs.

Though the 26-year-old has carried the load quite nicely, an extra breather now and then certainly couldn’t hurt.

Livingston may also embolden Curry to become even more of a shooter, which is probably a good thing given his career’s 44-percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc.

Crucially, Livingston has pass-first instincts. His 26.6 assist ratio ranked just behind Curry himself last season (who scored a 26.7 rating). That didn’t rank him among the very best distributors, but it’s an impressive figure given that Livingston’s usage rate was 60th out of 70 qualifying point guards.

In other words, there was a relatively small sample size by which to measure Livingston’s decision-making. But the eye test confirms that he looked to facilitate more than the average ball-handler.

And the numbers confirm solid overall efficiency. Livingston’s 14.52 player efficiency rating put him ahead of several starters around the league, including Jameer Nelson, George Hill and Raymond Felton.

There are limitations to Livingston’s game to be sure.

He can’t shoot three-pointers, and he turns the ball over a bit more often than you’d like to see from a player who doesn’t dominate the ball. 

The good news is Golden State has plenty of three-point shooters, namely Curry and backcourt partner Klay Thompson. Floor spacing won’t suffer too much when Livingston is on the floor, and he’s learned to make up for his missing perimeter shot with a better-than-average in-between game.

As CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore observes, Golden State, “needed a floor general and perimeter defender more than another shooter anyway.”

About that defense.

The Warriors became a much-improved defensive club over the last two seasons, and that’s in spite of the fact that interior anchor Andrew Bogut has been consistently sidetracked by injury (though the 67 games he played last season were a vast improvement over the 2012-13 campaign, when he suited up just 32 times).

Golden State ranked third league-wide last season in opponents’ field-goal percentage (at 43.6 percent), just behind defensive juggernauts in the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls.

Livingston will only add to that defensive presence with his length and versatility. Though he’s frequently classified as a point guard on account of his handling ability, Livingston can guard virtually anyone in the backcourt or on the wing. In fact, there’s no reason he couldn’t play alongside Curry and Thompson—essentially playing backup to small forward Andre Iguodala, himself a top-shelf playmaker and defender.

The Warriors have been on the verge of contending in each of the last two seasons, appearing just a piece or two away from having what it takes to surpass teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Even as rumors swirl regarding the team’s pursuit of Love, it may be that the less ambitious acquisition of Livingston makes a significant difference nonetheless. 

Unless Myers and Co. are absolutely convinced that acquiring Love is worth disrupting this squad’s core, this roster is better off being tweaked than overhauled. Very little here is fundamentally broken, so the fixes should be modest.

Outside of a trade, the organization couldn’t (and can’t) afford much else.

With Livingston occupying Golden State’s mid-level exception and bringing the club’s salary commitments right up to the hard cap, the remainder of the offseason may be a quiet one. But for the chance of that Love story becoming a reality, quiet isn’t a bad thing.

Nor was adding Shaun Livingston.

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Tim Duncan’s Return Gives San Antonio Spurs Clear Path Back to NBA Finals

The San Antonio Spurs know exactly how to keep a good thing going.

They haven’t simply found a way to survive with an aging core; they’ve arguably improved with time.

When results are this sweet—15 consecutive 50-win seasons, five world titles since 1999—then the recipe should not be questioned. The Spurs have something incredibly special going on, something that seems to shape up well for a third straight run to the NBA Finals.

The Spurs will no longer have revenge serving as their guide back to the championship round, but greed could prove to be an equally effective motivation. With a high ceiling and small window, they can and should attack the NBA hardwood with a gluttonous appetite for success.

That window won’t stay open forever. The fact it isn’t shut now is something of a mini miracle in today’s game. The Spurs have a miraculous mix of people, though, and the understanding that individuals matter even in a collective pursuit of a common goal.

The franchise values its employees, and that feeling is reciprocated. That’s why the best ones that come to the Alamo City never leave, like future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. The 38-year-old, fresh off his fifth championship run, just committed to his 18th season with the Spurs, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Spurs confirmed Duncan’s decision in an official release Monday afternoon.

When Duncan suits up, good things happen for San Antonio.

Spurs.com detailed the level of success the superstar and his franchise have enjoyed during their time together:

Over the 17-year span San Antonio has posted a 950-396 regular season record, giving the team a winning percentage of .706, which is the best winning percentage in all of professional sports over that span and the best winning percentage over any 17-year span in NBA history. Over the span, the team has accumulated four 60-win seasons and currently owns an NBA-record 15 consecutive campaigns of 50-plus victories.

After nearly two decades, Duncan is still the most important piece of San Antonio’s puzzle.

Statistically speaking, the 14-time All-Star plays a much smaller role than he used to.

With his minutes being as carefully monitored as ever by coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan’s challenge is making the best of what he’s given. His scoring (15.1) and rebounding (9.7) averages bear the brunt of his limited exposure. Still, he’s maximized his chances and flashed an efficiency not unlike what he had shown in his peak performance days:

The Spurs need those numbers, but they need Duncan the player and what he represents even more.

He’s a historically gifted player with an unwavering commitment to the Spurs’ way of business. 

He doesn’t question Popovich’s methods or the numbers they’ve taken away from his stat line. He won’t take the franchise for all its worth but instead work for a deal that leaves the organization with significant spending power:

Duncan has created a culture where the team truly comes first. Considering his stature as a two-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP, it’s no surprise to see his teammates willingly following his lead.

The Spurs have a deadly mix of top-shelf talent and tight-knit chemistry. As long as that balance remains, so will San Antonio’s standing as an elite NBA force.

With the front office putting the teams together that we’ve had and us playing smaller roles and our roles changing over the years, and us happy to accept the roles that we’re in, I feel we can do it until we feel we don’t want to do it anymore,” Duncan told reporters following the Spurs’ Game 5 win over the Miami Heat.

San Antonio’s blend of veterans and young talent has helped all parties involved. The old Spurs stars are not pushed beyond the limits of their aging frames. San Antonio’s young guns have the opportunity to shine, but they aren’t asked to dominate every time out.

There is little pressure to perform outside of the fuel they find from disproving the doubters who have yet to learn their lesson.

“We’ve been on our last run for the last five or six years from how everyone [in the media] wants to put it,” Duncan said at the 2014 NBA Finals, via The Ledger. “We show up every year, and we try to put together the best teams and the best runs possible because what people say doesn’t matter to us.”

The Spurs have enough talent to compete in the fully loaded Western Conference, but it’s their culture that separates them from the pack.

It’s Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili leaving enough on the table so the front office has the finances needed to keep free agents Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner around if it wants. It’s Parker sincerely celebrating Duncan’s return:

It’s Duncan enjoying his fifth NBA title by elevating a teammate who had just captured his first ring.

“He plays with a confidence that is just amazing,” Duncan said of 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “I’m honored to be on this team right now, because he’s going to be great for years to come.”

The window isn’t nearly as wide for the Spurs.

“Next year may actually be the last year of these Spurs as we know them,” NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin wrote. “Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli all will be in the last years of their deals.”

For a franchise that has treated the roller-coaster aspect of the NBA as its own lazy river, the Spurs could finally be on their way to facing some uncertainty.

That’s (at least) another year off in the distance, though.

The Spurs will return most (and could bring back all) of the pieces responsible for rattling off a league-best 62 wins and posting top-six efficiency marks at both ends of the floor. They’ll also get to see how quickly Leonard’s star will rise heading into his fourth NBA season.

The West could be even deeper in 2014-15—the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are all shopping for stars—but the Spurs are still the standard-setters.

No one will build a collection of talent deeper than San Antonio’s. No one will cook up the same championship level of chemistry that the Spurs’ decision-makers have found.

The Spurs know how to make the most of their chances. They never let a good one go to waste.

No matter what transpires outside of the Alamo City this summer, no one will disrupt the path back to the championship round that once again sits in front of the Spurs.

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Lawyer hired in UNC athletics probe gives briefing

Former prosecutor hired by UNC to probe academic wrongdoing in athletics to give update

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Mike Woodson Gives Phil Jackson a Taste of His Incompetence

Good luck finding a job this summer, Mike Woodson. 

The New York Knicks extended their winning streak to eight games on March 21 with a 93-92 victory over the reeling Philadelphia 76ers, who are now losers of…wait for it…23 games in a row. They also closed the gap between themselves and the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference to only three games. 

But it’s hard to view a one-point victory over the reeling Sixers as a positive, especially if you’re the man calling the shots from the sideline. If there’s such a thing as a bad win, this would be the example you can find right next to its entry in an encyclopedia. 

With Phil Jackson now running the show as the team president, Woodson needs to be coaching his behind off. It would already be a stunner if the goatee-bearing head coach maintained his job through the offseason rather than getting replaced by a Jackson acolyte like Steve Kerr.

Now it would be a downright miracle after he pulled his starters with five minutes to go in a must-win game. Sure, it was only a contest against Philadelphia, but every outing needs to be treated like a do-or-die situation at this point in the season.  

Instead of looking like a man who knows what he’s doing, Woodson looked completely incompetent during the end of the eighth win in a row, emerging victoriously only because he was playing the Sixers and not a team with significantly more NBA talent. 

The Knicks did everything in their power to hand Philly the game, but the Sixers just failed to take advantage of every opportunity. 

There was the play in the waning seconds when Philadelphia was down two points. Thaddeus Young drove through the lane, but instead of hitting a wide-open shooter in the corner for a shot at a game-winning attempt, he passed the ball out of bounds. 

After Carmelo Anthony split a pair of free throws, the Sixers had one more chance to tie the game.

Clang. 

Michael Carter-Williams’ final three-point attempt failed to connect, and the Knicks managed to escape with a victory. Given the way the fourth quarter was proceeding, it was an escape that Houdini himself would’ve been proud of. 

As both the Sixers’ official Twitter feed and Marc Berman of the New York Post make perfectly clear, the Knicks somehow managed to blow a 17-point lead with only five minutes left.

And why? 

Because Woodson pulled his starters and must’ve thought he was playing soccer. I know it’s hard to remember, but in the NBA, you’re allowed to put players back in the game once they’ve been substituted out. You’re also allowed to touch the ball with your hands, so at least he’s having his team do one thing properly. 

With 5:13 left in the fourth quarter, the Sixers called a full timeout, down 91-74 at the time. Then they exploded. 

When just 3:30 was remaining in the game, James Nunnally hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to just 10 points. The game had proceeded in uninterrupted fashion for almost two minutes, and Woodson still wouldn’t stop the clock or make a substitution. 

So the teams proceeded, and the momentum continued trickling flowing flooding over to the Sixers’ side. 

After Henry Sims made an 18-foot jumper, the lead was down to only seven points. Then Young ended the run by fouling Toure’ Murry and sending him to the line for two freebies. 

Murry made the first, and Woodson had a perfect opportunity to insert some of his starters back into the game. But did he do so? Of course not. 

Apparently an eight-point lead with just under a minute left was safe, even though Philadelphia was in the midst of a 10-to-1 run. He must’ve forgotten that he was coaching the Knicks, a team that has been scarily unable to hold on to a lead throughout the miserable 2013-14 campaign. 

After Murry bricked the second free throw, MCW drilled a three-pointer. The lead was down to five. 

Then Murry turned the ball over, and Young made a triple to cut the deficit to only two points. Only then did Woodson decide to take action, calling a full timeout and inserting all five starters back into the game. 

Frankly, he’s lucky it wasn’t too little, too late. 

How can any NBA coach be content to sit back and watch his team completely unravel like that? How can they not want to take action, asserting authority and doing something, anything to get their team off the schneid

It was an embarrassing moment for Woody, even if his team emerged with a victory. And unfortunately for his chances of maintaining his current job past the last game of this season, it’s not the first time he’s been the part of such a narrative. 

In the last week, he’s been cursed at by Anthony in the huddle, and he’s admitted he could use some help from Phil trying to coach the triangle. So basically, this was actually a good week in the grand scheme of this season. 

As Sean Deveney wrote for Sporting News earlier in March: 

Remember, too, when the Knicks were nearing “open revolt” in mid-January, and even the mild-mannered Tyson Chandler was making insubordinate comments about his coach? Or how about last month, just ahead of the All-Star game, when the Knicks were said to be certain to let Woodson go before the break? When that didn’t happen, they would let him go just after the break. Assistant Herb Williams was said be ready to step in for Woodson.

But it is a near miracle that Woodson has lasted as long as he has this season, and an even bigger miracle should he stay on the bench for the remaining six weeks. For that, no question, he can thank Anthony.

It’s unlikely anything changes during the rest of the season. 

Pulling the plug on the Woodson experiment—ineffective as he may have been—would be highly problematic coming down the stretch of the 2013-14 season. After all, this team has won eight games in a row and does still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs. Switching coaches would just throw a wrench in that plan, even though the replacement would almost certainly be an upgrade over the incumbent. 

But this offseason? Let’s just say Jackson retaining Woodson is less likely than ‘Melo opting out of his contract to sign with the cap-strapped Indiana Pacers for a veteran’s minimum deal.

And if the lame duck of a head coach asks why, all the Zen Master needs to do is replay the fourth quarter of this victory over the Sixers. No words would even need to be exchanged. 

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Phil Martelli’s Grandson Gives Awesome Interview During Saint Joe’s-UConn Game

St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli’s four-year-old grandson stole the show at the Atlantic 10 tournament, and Philip Stephen Martelli was able to take it up a notch during the Connecticut-St. Joseph’s NCAA tournament game on Thursday night.

Thankfully, a reporter was able to grab an exclusive interview with the youngster. This conversation will easily go down as one of the best of the 2014 NCAA tournament.

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