How San Antonio Spurs Should Round out Championship Roster

The San Antonio Spurs elected to keep things simple this summer, quietly reassembling a roster that’s thus far identical to the one that quickly dispatched the Miami Heat in last season’s NBA Finals.

In addition to inking head coach Gregg Popovich to a multiyear extension, the organization extended point guard Tony Parker and re-signed free agents Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner. In a bid to maintain the corporate knowledge that’s gotten the franchise this far, general manager R.C. Buford avoided any impulse to prematurely shake things up with an eye to the future.

That plan almost certainly owes much to Tim Duncan’s decision to put off retirement for at least another season.

So long as Duncan continues anchoring San Antonio’s interior presence, the remaining piece to the puzzle consists primarily in surrounding him with high-IQ players who can pass and shoot the ball. 

Parker—now 32—will still be the club’s offensive engine, and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is poised to take another step forward in his rapid ascendance.

By all accounts, the Spurs are well-positioned to vie for another title. Though much has changed around the NBA landscape, Popovich’s squad supplements its talent with unrivaled chemistry, depth and discipline.

That said, Buford and Co. now have some decisions to make.

With just one open roster spot, speculation about the team’s final piece has surfaced with a number of names mentioned as possibilities.

The most familiar of those names is still deciding whether he’ll retire or play another day.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein suggested via Twitter in August that the, “Reigning champs, I’m told, [are] trying to barge into Ray Allen sweepstakes.”

Stein quickly proceeded to note that, “Ray Allen himself, mind you, has been saying for weeks that he’s still deciding whether or not to play next season, let alone choose where.”

Indeed, Allen and his camp have been persistent in their declarations that there’s nothing to see here, at least not yet.

“As Ray has previously stated, he is taking this time to make a decision whether or not he will play next season,” agent Jim Tanner said in an August statement, per USA Today Sports. “Any reports otherwise are false.”

Allen himself echoed that sentiment.

“It’s August, and I don’t want to rush to judgment,” Allen said, according to the Hartford Courant‘s Dom Amore. “I want to get to September and see how I really feel.”

Now that it is September, we may be closer to some news. If the Spurs can dissuade Allen from joining close friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, that would instantly resolve any outstanding questions about how Buford should complete his roster.

Though San Antonio’s wing rotation is well-stocked with shooters (including Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli), no team is too deep to make room for an icon like Allen. The 39-year-old may be coming off a career-low 9.6 points per contest, but he still converted on 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

Allen certainly can’t carry a significant load, but he’s the kind of specialist who rises to the occasion—as the Spurs themselves traumatically learned in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

While adding an accomplished veteran like Allen ranks as San Antonio’s ideal scenario, it probably isn’t the most realistic.

The organization has already signed a trio of roster long-shots: Bryce Cotton, JaMychal Green and, most recently, San Diego State forward Josh Davis. 

Unless one of those guys makes a strong impression during training camp, odds are the Spurs look elsewhere.

Earlier this month, Sporting News’ Sean Deveney reported that, “Free-agent forward Earl Clark, who followed up a breakthrough year with the Lakers by bouncing between the Cavaliers and Knicks last year, will be working out this week for the defending champion Spurs, a source told Sporting News.”

Still only 26, Clark has bounced around the league since the Phoenix Suns selected him with the No. 14 overall pick back in 2009. He showed some potential during his 2012-13 campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’d likely struggle to establish himself as anything more than a third-string forward in San Antonio.

Meanwhile, Stein reported amidst FIBA World Cup play that the “Spurs have expressed interest in signing Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon, ESPN.com has learned.”

Stein also notes that, “San Antonio remains determined to re-sign Australian center Aron Baynesbut has identified Ayon as both a potential Baynes replacement or a possible addition to the roster even if a new deal with Baynes is worked out.”

It’s not entirely clear how the team would make space for both Baynes and Ayon, but the big takeaway is that there’s a good chance the Spurs carry another seven-footer on the roster before all is said and done. One way or the other, it makes sense to add some depth behind Duncan and Tiago Splitter—especially with Diaw limited primarily to playing the 4 spot.

Baynes was used sparingly last season but made the most of his limited minutes with hard picks and tenacious rebounding. He even made 14 appearances in the playoffs, including some quality minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

His presence was a reminder that the bottom of the rotation matters, especially on a team that spreads its minutes around.

But important as these little things are, there’s a strong case to be made for punting this decision down the road a few months. Unless someone like Allen jumps at an opportunity to join the reigning champions, preserving an open roster spot makes a lot of sense.

Recall that San Antonio signed Diaw in March of 2012 after the veteran was waived by the then-Charlotte Bobcats. Buford could take a wait-and-see approach, surveying the free-agent landscape once teams have had the opportunity to waive or buy out what they consider excess baggage.

The Spurs have a way of reclaiming those lost causes.

Alternatively, some extra depth in the middle (in the form of Baynes or Ayon) couldn’t hurt. Another point guard to ease the blow of Mills’ months-long recovery from shoulder surgery might make sense, as well.

For the Spurs, these kind of decisions are something of a luxury. A title-worthy core is already in place, and the options for supplementing that core aren’t half bad. 

The rich appear destined to get a tiny bit richer.

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Brazil vs. Argentina: FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Score and Twitter Reaction

A close contest was expected between Brazil and Argentina in Sunday’s single-elimination clash at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and the score remained even through two quarters. However, a surging Brazil team ultimately shocked the Argentinians, dominating the second half to win by a score of 85-65.   

FIBA tweeted the game’s end result:

Heading into the game, Argentina was ranked third in the world—just behind the United States and Spain—but the No. 10-ranked Brazilians displayed their size and earned the victory by remaining aggressive in the paint.

Early in the contest, the Argentinians were sticking to the outside more than expected. The team was settling for jumpers and three-pointers rather than challenging Brazil on the inside. For a moment, it looked as though the game plan would work, as Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni was knocking down some serious buckets from behind the arc.

The first quarter ended with Argentina up 21-13, as Brazil couldn’t seem to find any kind of consistency on the offensive end of the court. HoopsHype tweeted some unfavorable stats for the Brazilian team early in the game:

In the second quarter, the tables began to turn in Brazil’s favor. The Argentinians continued to shoot from the perimeter, but with far less success than they had in the first. Meanwhile, Brazil became more aggressive on the inside, as Raulzinho Neto led the charge with a flurry of layups.

At the break, Argentina’s lead dwindled to just three points.

Brazil was feeling it in the third quarter. With a great deal of confidence and momentum on its side, the team continued to attack both on the interior and from the outside, as Anderson Varejao dominated in the paint and Marquinhos Vieira began to heat up from three-point range.

With just 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Brazilians were suddenly up by eight, and the Argentinians found themselves on the brink of elimination. Eurohoops.net tweeted the game’s current situation:

The situation remained the same throughout the fourth quarter. Brazil continued to attack on the inside, hitting high-percentage shots and increasing its lead. This forced Argentina into more wild attempts from the perimeter—most of which were missed.

By the end of the game, Argentina took a whopping 29 three-point attempts, connecting on 10 of them. Meanwhile, the team’s inability to drive to the basket forced it to settle for far too many jumpers, resulting in hitting just 12-of-27 attempts from close range.

Both teams fought hard until the game’s bitter end. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts:

On the other hand, Brazil shot an impressive 53.3 percent on the day thanks to its presence on the interior. The team won the rebound battle in decisive fashion, pulling down 39 boards to Argentina’s 26, and recorded 36 points in the paint—Argentina racked up just 18.

Neto was on fire on Sunday. He led the game with 21 points while hitting nine of his 10 shots. Varejao and Vieira were enormous presences on the inside. They combined for 21 points and 15 rebounds while coming up big on defense as well.

The San Antonio Spurs tweeted their own Tiago Splitter’s final stats:

Splitter spoke about his team’s mentality and how meaningful the contest was after the game, via Euroleague Basketball:

Argentina saw a nice performance come from guard Prigioni. He connected on three of his four three-point attempts and totaled a team-high 18 points while collecting four boards and three assists. HoopsHype tweeted what the result could mean for Argentina:

With the win, Brazil moves on to face Serbia in the quarterfinals. The Serbians dismantled Greece on Sunday, winning by a score of 90-72 due to the fantastic 21-point performance from Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Like Brazil, Serbia has some great size on the interior, but the team also has the shooting ability to remain efficient from the perimeter. There are plenty of similarities between these two teams, so expect to see some compelling basketball when they face off on Wednesday.

 

All statistics courtesy of FIBA.com.

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Turkey vs. Australia: FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Score and Twitter Reaction

Turkey mounted a late comeback after trailing for much of the 40 minutes, furiously battling back to defeat Australia 65-64 on Sunday and advance to the 2014 FIBA World Cup quarterfinals.

Sinan Guler and Emir Preldzic led the way for Turkey, both amassing a game-high 16 points. Ender Arslan added 11 more as the only three Turkish players in double figures.     

The Turks were beaten soundly on the boards, with Australia posting a 44-30 advantage in the rebounding battle. But Turkey was able to negate it with strong outside shooting—the team shot 9-of-22 from the three-point arc.

Australia was led in scoring and on the glass by forward Aron Baynes‘ 15 points and seven rebounds, while guard Matthew Dellavedova added 13. But despite spreading the ball around with 15 team assists, the Australians couldn’t overcome a 14-turnover performance.

Turkey will advance to face Lithuania in the quarterfinals.

Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press summed up the result:

Some of the most notable NBA names were rare contributors on Sunday. Omer Asik was among them, hitting his only shot from the field with four points and three rebounds as Turkey’s starting center.

Dante Exum also made an anticipated appearance for Australia, but it was short-lived. The Utah Jazz rookie missed his only shot attempt of the night, grabbing two rebounds as his only real impact.

When Australia’s run ended after the game, Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report saw the positives for Exum:

Australia controlled the tempo early on, jumping out to an 18-15 lead after the first quarter.

But Turkey had little trouble hanging around as the first half wore on, cutting the deficit to just one point at halftime.

The Australians began pulling away in the second half as much as any team would in this affair, escaping for a double-digit lead midway through the third when Baynes connected on a two-handed dunk. 

But when the fourth quarter came around, the Turks continued to trim the deficit closer and closer off big performances from Preldzic and Guler

Turkey was down, but never looked to be out when Australia was pulling away in the second half. Instead, the Turks continued executing what was working for them and got the tough baskets to make it a one-possession game down the stretch.

And when the time came, Preldzic hit the dagger with just seconds left to guarantee the win, as John Hobbs of TalkBasked noted:

With only five seconds left to muster a late winner, Australia wasn’t able to draw up a buzzer-beater and saw its World Cup run end in heartbreaking fashion.

Alexander Chernykh of Sports.ru captured the anguish of Australian fans:

The result was especially noticeable after the controversy that came about during the end of the group stage. Australia had to deny tanking to avoid Team USA in its group-stage finale against Angola, per The Guardian, via the Australian Associated Press

“We always, as Australians, compete the right way,” head coach Andrej Lemanis told Australian AP. “People will make up their own minds. There’s always going to be speculators. I can’t control what people think.”

In the end, Australia won’t have to worry about facing Team USA at all after being eliminated by the Turks. After early aspirations of winning Group D, Australia ends play in the FIBA World Cup 3-3. 

As for Turkey, its run in Spain will continue after impressing in Group C with three wins and two losses. They might not get it done in convincing fashion, but the Turks head into the quarterfinals with plenty of momentum as they gear up to play Lithuania.

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Brazil vs. Argentina: Live Score, Highlights for FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16

We’re on to the elimination round of the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and Brazil and Argentina compete Sunday at 4 p.m. ET for a bid to a quarterfinal matchup against Serbia. 

Argentina has been led by Indiana Pacers forward Luis Scola, who has averaged 21 points and nine rebounds per game over the tournament. Facundo Campazzo and Pablo Prigioni have handled the point guard duties effectively, averaging 5.0 and 4.4 assists, respectively. 

Brazil has staggered their scoring well, with six players posting at least eight points per game. Leandro Barbosa, at 31 years of age, has led the team in scoring with 13.6 a game, while Anderson Varejao has been the squad’s leading rebounder with 7.6 per contest. Marcelinho Huertas has put on a beautiful passing display over his five games, dishing five or more assists in three games. 

Argentina will need to compete with Brazil’s glut of NBA-caliber big men in Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter. The Argentines have shot well from along the perimeter, but the difference today could come from inside the arc, where Brazil has asserted themselves thus far.

You can catch this one at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN3. Be sure to follow along here through the final horn for live updates. 

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Serbia vs. Greece: FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Score and Twitter Reaction

Led by Bogdan Bogdanovic and a balanced offensive attack that saw five players score double-digit points, Serbia pulled off the upset of previously undefeated Greece on Sunday, winning 90-72.     

The Serbians torched the Greeks from behind the arc, finishing 9-of-18 from three and shooting 54.2 percent from the field in an impressive offensive display. 

Bogdanovic paced the Serbians with 21 points (4-of-7 from three) while Miroslav Raduljica (16 points, six rebounds), Milos Teodosic (13 points, five assists), Nikola Kalinic (12 points), Nenad Krstic (10 points) and Nemanja Bjelica (eight points, 10 rebounds) all contributed in a big way.

The man of the game, Bogdanovic, summed up the performance afterward, via Euroleague Basketball on Twitter:

Here’s Bogdanovic making his comments, via Sportnado:

It was the sort of breakthrough performance that folks had expected but yet to see, as Eurohoops tweeted:

Kalinic also spoke about the result:

Bjelica’s presence down low was also huge for Serbia, as Rafael Uehara of Hoop365 noted:

It was a true team display from Serbia, and one that Greece could simply never match. Nick Calathes led the team with 14 points while Georgios Printezis and Nikos Zisis each scored 12 for Greece, but it simply wasn’t enough to hang with the Serbians.

Greece’s 14 turnovers and the fact that they were far less efficient from three (37.5 percent on 9-of-24 shooting) than Serbia certainly didn’t help the country’s cause.

For a team that had yet to lose, the showing surely had to be a major letdown. In the end, the team’s deficiencies simply overshadowed its strengths, as Uehara noted:

Interestingly enough, Greece had the only two blocks in the game and matched Serbia in rebounds. But stats don’t always tell the full story, and in this game Serbia was simply the more fluid, efficient team.

Still, Serbia’s next test will far more difficult, as it awaits the winner of the Brazil vs. Argentina matchup. Either of those teams will be favored against the Serbians, though after the performance vs. Greece, Serbia will be a confident bunch.

If they can play the sort of team basketball they showed against Greece, they’ll be a very difficult out for whichever South American team they face.

 

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Biggest Takeaways from Saturday’s FIBA World Cup of Basketball Round of 16 Play

After the first day of elimination-round competition at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, four teams survived the round of 16, while eight others will attempt to do the same on Sunday.

The United States, France, Slovenia and Spain all advanced to the quarterfinals on Saturday in their first contests since preliminary-group play. There were no surprises so far, but the toughest matchups await—including a potential meeting between Team USA and Spain in the Final.

The U.S. has yet to be tested during tournament play, and its win over Mexico was no different. The 86-63 victory actually looks closer than it was thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Mexico. 

Meanwhile, Croatia’s late-game run was almost enough to upset the French (who prevailed 69-64), and Slovenia bested the Dominican Republic by a modest 10 points.

But Spain continued to mirror the United States’ dominance with an 89-56 victory over Senegal. With the Spaniards and Americans blowing opponents out left and right, their eventual meeting in the Final may be all but certain by now.

In the meantime, here’s what we can take away from Saturday’s action.

Begin Slideshow

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Spain vs Senegal: Live Score and Highlights for FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16

Spain and Senegal are squaring off in a round of 16 game at the FIBA World Cup. 

Keep it locked here on Bleacher Report throughout the game for real-time updates, highlights and analysis of all things Spain-Senegal. 

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USA vs. Mexico: FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Score and Twitter Reaction

Team USA continued its trek toward the 2014 FIBA World Cup title with a dominating victory over an overmatched Mexico squad in the Round of 16 on Saturday in Barcelona to advance to the quarterfinal round. 

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will assuredly be pleased with the way his squad performed. Despite going undefeated in group play, some sluggish efforts from the Americans down the stretch left concerns about what would happen against better teams. 

While this still wasn’t a perfect performance, the United States looked strong from the tipoff, storming out to a 23-13 lead through the first 10 minutes. Here’s a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of how the game played out:

Stephen Curry was the start of the game for the United States, as he appears to be finding his shooting touch after a slow start in the group phase. Golden State’s point guard finished with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 6-of-9 on three-point attempts and 11 points in the third quarter, via the Warriors’ Twitter:

As Mark Jones of ESPN tweeted upon seeing Curry catch fire, it’s good to see him back in top form:

You can see the difference having an outside presence makes for Team USA. Coach K’s group struggled against inferior competition like Turkey and early against Ukraine because they couldn’t make outside shots (13-of-34 from three-point range combined). The U.S. made 13 three-pointers on 29 attempts against Mexico. 

Despite the Americans experiencing some struggles shooting the ball and finding a rhythm together, but Jerry Colangelo told Sam Amick of USA Today prior to the Round of 16 that he liked where the group was headed:

You can see a lot of signs (of progress) during the course of a game, like the game against Turkey when we got off to such a poor start the first half (trailing 40-35) and then in the second half it was like (flips a switch). If you would have reversed the halves, nobody would have talked about how Turkey had this gameplan. We haven’t come out of the gate quickly enough in a few games, but once we get going it happens. 

It’s hard to develop chemistry in just a few weeks. Most teams in this event have been together for years, but Team USA doesn’t have that luxury. You can see the growing pains on the court, though the players are so talented that it hasn’t yet hurt the bottom line. 

Another good sign for Team USA is the continued excellence of DeMarcus Cousins. The backup center had a strong game against Mexico with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and seven rebounds. In fact, he and Curry scored 20 straight points during a stretch in the second half, according to USA Basketball’s Twitter account:

The news isn’t all good for the United States right now, as Derrick Rose continues to look like a shell of his once-great self. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com said watching the former MVP was becoming a burden:

Rose finished the game with zero points on 0-for-5 shooting, four assists, three turnovers and two rebounds. He’s understandably rusty after missing so much time the last few years due to two serious leg injuries, but eventually you hope to see some progress.

Team USA hasn’t yet needed Rose to secure a victory, but things could change as the Americans get deeper into the tournament. 

Next up, Team USA will play the winner of the Dominican Republic-Slovenia matchup on Tuesday, Sept. 9. The Americans played the Dominican Republic in the group stage, winning a 106-71 blowout. 

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USA vs. Mexico: Live Score and Highlights for FIBA World Cup 2014 Round of 16

After waltzing through the 2014 FIBA World Cup’s group stage, Kenneth Faried, Anthony Davis and Team USA are ready to take on Mexico in the round of 16. 

But the story differs quite a bit for a Mexican side that barely escaped Group D.

Mexico figures to be severely outmatched against an American team that torched opponents by an average of 33.2 points per game while dropping 102.2 points per night during group play. 

As a result, Mike Krzyzewski’s club led all teams during the group stage by posting a scoring margin of plus-166. The second-closest side in that category was Spain, who recorded a margin of plus-126. 

Dominating opponents on the interior all tournament long, look for Team USA to lean heavily upon Faried and Davis to carry the scoring load. 

Through five games, Faried is averaging 13.8 points on 79.1 percent shooting from the field while Davis leads all American scorers with an average of 15.8 points. 

Considering Mexico enters Saturday’s tilt averaging just 74 points per game, it’ll need to rely heavily on the three-pointer to keep things close. 

Interestingly enough, Mexico has knocked down triples at a 40.4 percent clip thus far while Team USA has converted a paltry 34.4 percent of its looks from distance. 

Also keep an eye on the pace. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, Mexico played at the slowest pace of all teams during group play (67.8 possessions per 40 minutes) while Team USA played at the fastest pace (85.8). 

Keep it locked here on Bleacher Report throughout the morning on Saturday as we get set for a 10 a.m. ET tipoff between USA and Mexico on ESPN2. 

 

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Kyrie Irving reportedly is 100% for FIBA knockout round

After a tough fall in Team USA’s blowout win over Ukraine, Kyrie Irving is good to go as the team gets ready for their win or go home game against Mexico at 10 AM EST on Saturday. Sam Amick of USA Today is reporting from Spain that both Irving and Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed the fall on Friday, a day after the Cavalier guard took a shot to the body and crashed to the floor, sending Team USA and Cavalier fans into a worrisome spiral on Thursday afternoon. “I’m all right,” Irving told reporters Friday in Barcelona. “I mean it was a little bit of a concern when it happened. I was a little bit worried. It was a tough fall on my back, just a light bruise that I took in the fourth quarter. But it’s part of the game … I’m all right. I’m a little bit more sore than I thought I would be, but like I said it was just a tough fall that I took yesterday and I’m just glad I’m OK.” Irving is no stranger to bumps and bruises, missing most of his freshman year at Duke and significant

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