Hibbert texts Duncan for advice on being like Spurs

Pacers’ Roy Hibbert leans on San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan quite heavily. He has trained with Duncan on numerous occasions and now it seems Hibbert wants to dig deeper and learn the ins and outs of the Spurs’ ball movement. Apparently Hibbert and the Pacers want to copy the Spurs’ ways and will do anything […]

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Why San Antonio Spurs Were Smart to Re-Sign Aron Baynes

Aron Baynes was the lone member of the San Antonio Spurs 2014 championship squad not on the roster through the summer, but that’s now a distant memory.

Despite a rumor he may wind up with a Chinese team, Baynes elected to stick with San Antonio for a $2.1 million fee, per ESPN’s Marc Stein.

The Spurs had officially tendered a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent in June, so the deal remained on Baynes’ table for two months. However, according to Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News, the 27-year-old felt returning to the Spurs was the best situation.

“At the end of the day,” Baynes said, “this just seemed like the best option for me now and I’m excited to be back. It’s not very often you can bring back every member of a championship team, so I’m excited and looking forward to being able to contribute.”

But it wasn’t merely the best option for the 6’10″ power forward; bringing him back was a smart decision by San Antonio too.

Baynes provides a physical rebounding presence, something the Spurs otherwise don’t possess in their dangerously thin frontcourt behind Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.

Matt Bonner will remain a fan favorite but is essentially an aging three-point shooter, and Jeff Ayres has limited upside. Yes, Boris Diaw alleviates much of the depth concern as a point forward in the second unit, but none of the three can clear space like Baynes.

To be clear, he isn’t an underrated superstar waiting for his break or anything of the sort. Nevertheless, Baynes’ NBA potential being little higher than a solid backup doesn’t diminish his importance to the team.

Though he doesn’t receive a staggering amount of time on the court, Baynes has proved efficient in limited action.

Additonally, Baynes performed well for Australia during the FIBA World Cup, tallying 16.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks over 26.8 minutes per outing.

Again, nowhere near elite yet productive.

San Antonio didn’t need a glamorous bench upgrade; it simply required a post player to occupy a modest reserve role and not protest—something Baynes has done, unlike DeJuan Blair before him.

Finding someone who is both satisfied playing fewer minutes each night and still valuable can be tricky, but the Spurs have a habit of doing that.

Last offseason, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli passed on bigger money and a more notable position with the Chicago Bulls to join an elite contender, per Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News. ”I know money is important,” Belinelli said, “but I’m a young guy and I want to improve my game. Money will come. I just want to win.”

The change paid off for the Italian in more than monetary ways as he hoped, setting a career high from three-point land and securing his first career championship ring.

Yes, Baynes’ re-signing is not perfectly identical since the journeyman Belinelli actually left Chicago in favor of San Antonio, but it’s similar. Baynes is obviously adequately content with his responsibilities, enough that he’d decline a larger payday and increased minutes to remain an end-of-the-bench backup.

Most importantly, Baynes understands the Spurs’ system. It certainly seems like coach Gregg Popovich is a plug-and-play master, but familiarity will be a primary benefit for the 2014-15 edition of the team.

Unrestricted free agents Gustavo Ayon and Ray Allen were intriguing candidates for the last roster spot, but neither whisper, both from ESPN’s Marc Stein, amounted to more than that. A couple handfuls of players worked out for San Antonio, including Michael Beasley, Earl Clark and Fuquan Edwin, among others.

But none of those talented athletes supplied what the Spurs desired. Baynes was their best option, and they were his.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Spurs unveil plan to build off championship

San Antonio will keep doing what has worked for so long with Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.

      
 

 

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Spurs sticking to ‘live in the moment’ philosophy (Yahoo Sports)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich has a ”live in the moment” philosophy.

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Could San Antonio Spurs Be Even Better This Time?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is already devising plans to keep his 2014 champions motivated after a historically one-sided, five-game series against the Miami Heat.

“I’m worried for one reason,” Popovich told longtime San Antonio Express-News scribe Buck Harvey. “They are human beings. They are going to feel satisfied.”

According to Harvey, San Antonio’s practice facility was adorned with “a framed picture of the Game 6 scoreboard” last season—one that depicted a 13-point lead the Spurs held late in the third quarter. 

The message was unmistakable: This was a game the Spurs should have won.

It was a message that resonated with the team, including a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer with seemingly nothing left to prove.

Tim Duncan told reporters this after clinching an appearance in the 2014 NBA Finals: 

We’re happy to be back here this year. We’re happy to have another opportunity at it. We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ll be ready for them. We’ve got some experience, obviously, from last year against them. And we’ll go back and look at some film. … We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.

Five games later, that bad taste was replaced by victorious champagne.

One can understand Popovich’s concerns. His team was on a mission last season.

Now it’s on a victory tour.

Even Manu Ginobili acknowledged this team won’t be reeling like it was a season ago, saying, “We have to work on our mentality,” at media day on Friday.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic. ESPN officially forecasted the Spurs as Western Conference champions once again this summer, and why not? No team in the West is more proven.

While San Antonio has yet to claim back-to-back championships, the 2014 Spurs were arguably the very best of the Duncan-Popovich era. 

And they’ll return intact for the season ahead, perhaps even better.

“It’ll be fun to have everybody back here and start up where we left off,” Duncan said on Friday at the team’s media day. “That’ll be a huge boost for us in terms of not having to get reacclimated with whose role is what…and everything else. I think that brings a comfort level for us and for Pop and for everyone.”

Duncan conceded that—as champions—the team will have a target on its back, eliciting maximum effort from competition looking to establish its credentials against the league’s best.

“That wears on you over a season,” he said. “So I think it’s just about us trying to find our rhythm, find our consistency and trying to deal with that and not being worn out by it.”

Indeed, San Antonio’s experienced leadership is well-prepared to deal with the challenges that await. Duncan and Co. understand the expectations that come with championships, and they aren’t about to shy away from them.

Even as Popovich grows concerned about the potential complacency one might expect from “human beings,” he’s reassured that his particular human beings are in good, veteran hands.

“I’m not worried a bit about Tony and Manu and Timmy,” Popovich told NBA.com’s Jared Greenberg on Friday. “They know how hard it is to get there [to a championship]. And I think it sounds odd, but it’s ironic. The more times you’re there, the more you appreciate how hard it is. But they’re not going to try to take a victory lap or anything like that this year. They’ll come ready.”

It’s the kind of leadership and championship pedigree other Western Conference contenders are missing, and it could very well translate into a 2014-15 campaign that looks an awful lot like the one that came before it.

As Duncan suggested, continuity will be pivotal.

The Spurs understand their roles, and they understand how to execute them against elite competition. That kind of corporate knowledge has been a cornerstone for the organization.

Rather than perpetually embarking upon a quest to acquire new talent, general manager R.C. Buford has placed a premium on retaining the guys already familiar with the system.

Formerly a key piece to San Antonio’s front office, Sam Presti has incorporated those principles as GM of the highly successful Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Continuity has become a lost currency,” Presti recently explained, per The Associated Press‘ Cliff Brunt (subscription required). “It’s very hard to maintain that, given the rules. You’re going to lose players, there’s going to be changes. I think how you adapt to that, how you’re able to absorb loss, but also add without having to lose players, is important.”

Though backup point guard Patty Mills will have to spend a few months recovering from shoulder surgery, San Antonio’s roster is virtually identical to last year’s iteration. It now includes rookie forward Kyle Anderson, but no one was lost to the free-agency or trade markets.

The video game generation of NBA fans may be tempted to view that kind of offseason as stagnant. 

Would-be contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers tweaked their way to an improved roster. The Dallas Mavericks—who took San Antonio to an opening-round Game 7 last season—made significant strides with the acquisitions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler.

Can the Spurs really afford to stand pat when the rest of the league is doing just the opposite?

As San Antonio Express-News scribe Dan McCarney put it in 2013, “If any team knows the benefits of staying the course, it’s the Spurs.”

It’s a franchise philosophy that’s proven viable, and it’s a vital foundation for the kind of chemistry on which this ensemble cast thrives. Crisp ball movement and sound defensive rotations don’t happen by accident, and nor are they the products of innate talent alone.

These skills are learned—and learned collectively.

But they’re also skills that can have transformative effects on individual growth, perhaps obviating the need to add outside talent in the name of improvement.

Entering his fourth season with the club, 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard arguably stands to benefit most from the familiar faces around him.

By now, the 23-year-old has had a sustained opportunity to absorb the Spurs’ methods, and he’s poised to emerge as an increased focal point of the team’s offense.

As Leonard begins enjoying the prime of his career, the Spurs stand ready to reap the dividends.

Backup swingman Marco Belinelli could also make a jump. This will be the 28-year-old’s second season in San Antonio, and he reasons to be increasingly assimilated into a motion-based offense where timing is key.

Fourth-year point guard Cory Joseph may similarly take another step forward after starting 19 games last season. The University of Texas product will be especially valuable early in the season as Mills recovers.

And in classic Spurs fashion, it’s ultimately the synergistic combination of those individual efforts that could keep this team on top. Together, these guys are far more than the sum of their parts.

If you thought their seamless harmony was a thing of beauty last season, there’s no telling what they’re capable of after another year of pounding the rock—and doing so together.

“For more than 15 years, they’ve stayed true to their core philosophies, as the best organizations do, even as they’ve innovated to remain competitive,” ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote in 2013. “For the Spurs, stability and serenity emerged as the organization’s defining qualities from the top down, so they were adopted as edicts in the team’s manifesto.”

It’s the paradox that keeps these Spurs fresh. While they stubbornly adhere to that manifesto, they’re always growing—this season with the help of two new assistant coaches: European legend Ettore Messina and former WNBA standout Becky Hammon.

“They’re two new faces, and they’re going to try to get themselves acclimated, and it will be interesting to see what they bring to the table,” Duncan said of the new coaches on Friday. “It’ll be fun to add to our coaching staff, and Pop’s really excited about it.”

So while San Antonio’s roster remains basically unchanged, the organization still infused new talent in its own way. The mix of new ideas along with tried-and-true wisdom may raise this club’s already-stratospheric ceiling to altogether new levels.

It may even pave the way for that elusive repeat.

“Why haven’t we repeated? Because we haven’t,” Popovich told reporters on Friday. “If we do, it’d be great. If we don’t, life will go on, and everything’s cool.”

Don’t let Popovich’s nonchalance fool you. 

He wants this. His Spurs want it.

Should an in-house growth spurt elevate them to greater heights, they just might get it, too.

 

Unattributed quotes collected by Bleacher Report at Spurs media day on Sept. 26.

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Manu Ginobili Remains as Important and Unpredictable as Ever to Spurs

The San Antonio SpursManu Ginobili remains a mystery.

I’m not talking about his talent, because it should be fairly obvious to all that he possesses tons of it. Rather, the manner in which Ginobili chooses to use his gifts is what produces question marks.

The 6’6” Manu is wildly unpredictable, which makes it difficult to guess what comes next with him. Will he break away from the play? Gamble on defense? Ignore head coach Gregg Popovich?

There’s just no way for teammates or opponents to know, and boy does it give him an edge. He’s always been the proverbial X-factor, and I feel confident in saying that will always be the case. That might sound like an exaggeration, but let’s take a look back at his career and see how he’s evolved.

 

Crossovers and Dunks

Long before even setting foot on an NBA court, Ginobili was a star. He helped Argentina hand Team USA its first loss at the World Championships since the Americans began using NBA players.

Manu had great ball-handling skills and demonstrated a great level of athleticism. I wouldn’t accuse the Spurs of being unpatriotic, but it’s probably fair to assume they loved what they saw from Ginobili against the United States. He showed no fear against NBA players and was constantly on the attack.

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper offered this appraisal of Ginobili’s performance in 2010: “Ginobili was everywhere. There just was no way to know the extent of the preview, that it was the first look for most in North America of a unique talent who would play a pivotal role in delivering three titles and making San Antonio, along with the Lakers, the dominant team of the first decade of the 2000s.”

San Antonio selected Manu with the No. 57 pick in the 1999 draft and kept him stashed away in Europe. By 2002, the Spurs felt it was time to bring him in.

Ginobili joined the Spurs and backed up Stephen Jackson at the 2-guard. Considering Manu was fresh off the World Championships and it was difficult to project how he would adjust to the speed of the NBA game, Popovich brought him along slowly.

Ginobili only averaged 7.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game during his rookie year.

Once the bright lights of the postseason came on, though, Ginobili became a seemingly maniacal king slayer. Despite coming off the bench, he felt comfortable attacking every player on a Los Angeles Lakers squad that was trying to win its fourth consecutive title.

Manu produced 11.7 points and 2.5 assists in 24.7 minutes per game against the Lakers, while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from long range.

Ginobili broke off plays to creatively attack defenders off the bounce and finish at the rim with authority. His play led to the demise of the Lakers, and San Antonio went on to win the championship.

Just like that, a reckless star was born.

Popovich has mostly kept Ginobili in a second-unit role throughout his career (except for the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2010-11 campaigns where he started over 55 games in each), in an effort to preserve his 2-guard. He’s only cracked the 30-minute barrier on average twice (2007-08 and 2010-11 seasons), which has kept him fresh for playoff runs, where the real magic happens.

An argument could be made that he’s been the best postseason 2-guard not named Kobe or Dwyane Wade over the last decade.

During his younger years, Popovich entrusted him in late-game situations where he came through time and time again. For instance, many remember Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals as the Robert Horry game, but few might recall that Ginobili had the assist on the game-winning basket.

Once the Detroit Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace trapped Manu in the corner, the 2-guard quickly responded by feeding an open Horry.

That kind of decision-making is the reason why the coaching staff feels confident down the stretch of games with the ball in Ginobili’s hands. He delivered again in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Manu capped a comeback by nailing a three-pointer to give San Antonio the lead late.

On the flip side, bad Ginobili showed up a few possessions later when he fouled Dirk Nowitzki and allowed him to convert a three-point play that sent the game to overtime where Dallas ultimately prevailed.

That sequence of events captures Ginobili’s career perfectly. He’s always been a moment away from the biggest and worst play of his career. At age 37, his skills have eroded with time, but he’s still the mysterious player he’s always been.

 

Jumpers and Floaters

San Antonio’s backup 2-guard has become a little slower and less athletic in the latter portion of his career, but he’s still important to the Spurs’ success.

Sure, the team operates now like a fine-tuned machine that was created for basketball, but the right pieces are still mandatory.

The Spurs seemingly operate as one, with everything flowing perfectly because that’s what Popovich demands. Manu is a big part of that because of his ball-handling, passing (6.8 assists per 36 minutes last season) and shooting (46.9 percent field-goal shooting last campaign).

He no longer attacks the rim with reckless abandon and regularly dunks over defenders, because he’s evolved in conjunction with the decline of his physical state.

Still, Ginobili keeps the ball live and continues to dish out remarkable passes to teammates, which explains why San Antonio had the best playoff offense last year, according to ESPN.com.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered this take in May:

He’s still pretty much the only player who can get away with breaking the offense and not having Gregg Popovich look like he wants to murder somebody.

His wild drives and outrageous passes are otherwise anathema for the Spurs, whose offensive system is an acutely constructed machine that runs with Peyton Manning–esque precision — except when Manu decides to pursue something that seems beyond possibility until the moment it actually happens.

He’s relying a little more on jump shots and floaters, without sacrificing too much in terms of efficiency. Don’t get it twisted, Ginobili still dropped the hammer on the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh during the Finals, but that’s no longer the norm.

Manu fits within Pop’s motion offense, but he’s no longer an overwhelming option for opponents.

He’s more of a role player now, as opposed to a star. And yet, Manu will continue to decide games because he’s a threat for a throwback performance.

For instance, in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals, Ginobili dropped 16 points and 11 assists on the Heat. He had similar numbers in Games 2 and 5, but he had a dud in the fourth contest (seven points and four turnovers).

His energy and playmaking off the bench will still impact games when he has it going, and the unpredictable nature of his game will continue to catch people by surprise.

The ascension of Kawhi Leonard will push Manu to the background ever so slightly, but he will continue to remain relevant and important to San Antonio’s success. Even in limited minutes, he’s the best second-unit player on the Spurs, and he will continue to swing series, while also occasionally looking like he’s sabotaging them.

Manu being Manu is just awesome, and the Spurs will take him as such. The latest title run is proof that he still affects San Antonio’s title window.

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San Antonio Spurs Season Preview: ‘Another Championship Is in Their Sights’

The world champion San Antonio Spurs will be looking to repeat for the first time in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era, hoping to battle Father Time as they roll on into another NBA season.

Do the Spurs have enough to pull off back-to-back titles?

In the video above, Howard Beck and Ric Bucher join Adam Lefkoe to give their take on the defending champions.

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Why It’s ‘Buyer Beware’ When Dealing with the San Antonio Spurs

Warning to any NBA team thinking about pursuing a sign-and-trade deal with the San Antonio Spurs for restricted free agent Aron Baynes: Walk away.

Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears tweeted earlier this month (h/t Air Alamo): “The Spurs are open to sign and trade offers for restricted FA C Aron Baynes, who played well for Australia at the World Cup, a source said.”

That tweet has since been deleted, but the interest and uncertainty surrounding Baynes persists.

Again, potential Baynes suitors: Just don’t do it. You’ll regret it later. It’s not worth it.

Abort.

That’s not a hit on Baynes, the Australian center who played a minimal role for the Spurs last season (but averaged 11.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com). Nor is it a knock against the rest of the NBA’s scouts, who saw the same production and bruising play from Baynes the rest of us did during FIBA play.

His appeal isn’t hard to understand.

He’s 27, he’s got a ring and he’s got two years of Gregg Popovich’s priceless tutelage on his resume. What’s not to like?

Well, for starters, how about dealing with a Spurs outfit that, somehow, always wins the transaction game.

Sure, drafting Tim Duncan got the ball rolling, and Popovich’s leadership has been invaluable in San Antonio’s nearly 20-year run. But the Spurs have sustained their success by dominating in the draft, making smart signings and getting the most out of virtually every swap they’ve engaged in.

Basically, San Antonio evaluates talent better than anyone—to the point that any team thinking about a deal with the Spurs should probably assume it’s about to get hosed.

The list of smooth Spurs moves is far too long to catalog in its entirety, but a quick glance back over some of the most recent, notable transactions paints a clear picture: It’s best to avoid doing business with San Antonio.

Last February, the Spurs sent Nando De Colo to the Toronto Raptors for Austin Daye. De Colo played 21 pretty good games for Toronto, enjoying an increase in his assist percentage that came along with greater ball-handling responsibility. His shooting numbers took a bit of a dive outside of San Antonio’s hyper-efficient system, though.

De Colo will play for CSKA Moscow next year, a fair indication of how valuable the Raptors believed him to be going forward.

Daye, though, looks like he may become yet another scrapheap-to-success story for the Spurs. The No. 15 overall pick in 2009, Daye flashed a tantalizing combo of shooting and ball-handling skills during summer league. At 6’11″, Daye can do just about anything on a basketball court; he’s smooth, polished and a darn good long-range shooter.

His game log from Vegas indicates he’ll be, at worst, a very good backup for Kawhi Leonard at small forward this season.

If you’re not willing to trust the long history of San Antonio rehabilitating talented players who’ve run out of chances elsewhere, or if you view all summer league numbers skeptically, that’s fine. There are other examples of San Antonio winning deals.

Take Gary Neal, a guy who scored 24 points in 25 minutes to boost the Spurs in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, as another test case.

Neal shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc in three years with the Spurs and was a huge weapon off the bench. He seemed like the kind of high-efficiency gunner any team would want.

In a telling move, though, the Spurs decided they no longer wanted him in 2013. They withdrew their qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent and essentially replacing him with Marco Belinelli, who went on to have, easily, the best season of his career.

If you view that transaction as a Neal-for-Belinelli trade, the Spurs got the best of the bargain. But if you also take into account how Neal declined after signing with the Milwaukee Bucks (and then after being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats), the Spurs’ foresight gets another gold star.

Neal (and the Bucks, apparently) thought a bigger role would mean great things. “It was a situation I was looking forward to, coming in here and being a guy they could rely on. It was a bigger role, a (higher) level of importance. As a competitor, you look for those situations and this is the first time in the NBA I’ve had a situation like this,” Neal told reporters upon signing with the Bucks.

The Spurs knew better.

It took a while, but we eventually learned the Spurs knew better in one of their highest-profile swaps in recent memory. At the time, and for quite a while afterward, most viewed the draft-day deal that sent George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the rights to Kawhi Leonard in 2011 as a wash.

It feels especially unfair to talk about that deal now, as Leonard is fresh off a Finals MVP award and Hill’s game fell off a cliff along with the rest of the Pacers last season. But that’s what makes this particular trade so fascinating: The Spurs ultimately dominated an exchange that seemed so reasonable when it went down.

If they don’t get you now, they’ll get you later.

Even as Leonard improved in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Hill was a key starter for the league’s best defense. And he made two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the end, though, Leonard has proved to be the vastly superior talent.

And that’s exactly what makes dealing with the Spurs doubly unfair.

Even if another team makes a seemingly equitable deal, San Antonio’s peerless culture and system of player development tips the scales in its favor eventually. Maybe Leonard would have developed like this elsewhere, but there’s no way to know…and it seems pretty unlikely.

Do the Spurs isolate talent more effectively than other teams? Or is their system’s capacity to nurture any talent so strong that they don’t really have to?

Yes and yes.

It’s a combination of both those things. After all, it takes a keen scouting eye (and some guts) to snatch up forgotten castoffs like Boris Diaw and Patty Mills in 2012, or Danny Green in 2011. And if you dig even deeper, you have to also include drafting Manu Ginobili (No. 57 in 1999) and Tony Parker (No. 28 in 2001). But none of those players, talented as they were when acquired, would have developed the same way outside of San Antonio.

True, some have gotten away. Goran Dragic and Luis Scola come to mind, both of whom the Spurs selected late in the second round and allowed to end up elsewhere. But by and large, San Antonio picks great players, either as signees or trade targets, and makes them even better.

Circling back, if there’s good news for the rest of the NBA in all this, it’s this latest development:

If Baynes winds up in China, at least the Spurs won’t get anything back via trade that pushes them out even further ahead of other contenders. They would, though, have an open roster spot—one they’d no doubt fill with yet another terrific talent.

Come on, Yao. You spent almost a decade in the NBA; you should know better than to deal with the Spurs.

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If San Antonio Spurs Can’t Save Michael Beasley’s NBA Career, Then No One Can

Stranger things have happened. That’s what we’re told, anyway.

Every now and then you come across something that makes you wonder if that’s in fact the case.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports, “Free-agent forward Michael Beasley is working out for the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs at the franchise’s practice facility this week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.”

That’s right. The franchise known for pursuing highly professional talent whose DNA is ready-made for head coach Gregg Popovich’s no-nonsense culture has apparently turned its attention to a guy with one of the league’s more checkered pasts.

The Spurs have proven very adept at discovering diamonds in the rough, but that rarely involves an outright reclamation project.

As Wojnarowski notes, “Off-the-court issues have contributed to NBA teams’ reluctance to sign Beasley, but there’s still a belief he can be an effective scorer.”

In all fairness, Beasley’s latest stint with the Miami Heat last season appeared to be relatively free of drama.

That hardly means it was a success, though.

The six-year veteran averaged career lows of 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in just 15.1 minutes per contest. The only saving grace was his making 49.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, a career high and encouraging sign of improved shot selection.

Some of the downturn should be attributed to the fact that Beasley suddenly found himself playing for a title contender. Playing time and touches were bound to be limited from the outset, especially with a four-time MVP and established veterans like Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis manning the forward positions.

The more troubling takeaway from the Miami chapter has less to do with numbers and more to do with hearsay.

The organization that selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 began its Beasley reunion with the best of intentions and a heavy dose of cautious optimism.

As NBCSports.com’s Brett Pollakoff observed, “The franchise was hopeful that the familiarity there, along with the strong locker-room presence that the championship team possessed would be enough to help him turn things around.”

An incident-free year later, it was the 25-year-old’s performance on the court that left doubts—doubts that were acute enough for the Heat to quickly shut down any talk of a 2014-15 encore.

The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson wrote in August, “A person with direct knowledge cited several reasons for the Heat’s lack of interest: inconsistency, lack of trust in his defense (and ability to execute the Heat’s defensive system), and maturity/focus issues, which are still a concern even though he improved somewhat in that regard last season.”

Worse yet, the Beasley experiment apparently failed to impress LeBron James.

“NBA sources said James was not pleased with Beasley’s focus, and he lost the confidence of coach Erik Spoelstra shortly into the season,” wrote The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn in June. “In one sequence that typified his career, Beasley swooped in for a tip-dunk in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. On the Spurs’ next possession, Beasley got lost on a pick-and-roll, allowing Diaw an open three-pointer, which of course he swished.”

Others in the locker room approached the issue with equal doses of diplomacy and realism.

“I’ve always been on Beas as far as being a two-way player,” Chris Bosh explained to NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan during the Finals. “He needs to play defense and offense. It’s something you’re really not taught early on in your career. But I think for him, just with his athleticism and strength, he can be a phenomenal two-way player.”

“He’s grown quite a bit, and he can use all these lessons he’s gathering to really help him in the future,” Bosh added.

It doesn’t require much speculation to surmise the Spurs might help Beasley grow even more. This is a team that made things work with the enigmatic Stephen Jackson (during two separate stints, no less). It’s a team that gave Boris Diaw a second chance after he was waived in 2012 by the Charlotte Bobcats—then the worst club in the league.

If extending Beasley’s NBA career is just a matter of eliciting more inspired defense and improved focus, Popovich and Co. are almost certainly up to the challenge.

The organization doesn’t demand perfection. It just needs buy-in.

But while few may doubt San Antonio’s ability to make the most of Beasley, its willingness to do so is another story. Early reactions to the scenario have accordingly expressed a predictable measure of shock and awe.

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore argues, “On the surface, the Spurs seem like the exact opposite kind of place for Beasley. They don’t allow nonsense, they don’t allow hijinx, they don’t allow drama.”

NBCSports.com’s Kurt Helin similarly writes, “Beasley is not exactly known for selflessness. Or playing within a system. Or focus. Or attention to detail. Or being a solid citizen in the locker room. Or anything else that has made the Spurs the Spurs.”

In short, San Antonio’s interest in Beasley is nothing short of paradoxical. It’s precisely the kind of counterintuitive, outside-the-box thinking that speaks to the organization’s most ineffable qualities. Just when we think we know what makes the Spurs tick, they go and do something that couldn’t seem more out of character.

Beasley’s biggest challenge may be shaking a reputation that’s undergone judgment in the court of public opinion.

As Caplan notes, “He’s had multiple run-ins with the law for marijuana possession, various driving violations (which one stop included possession of a loaded gun) and in May 2013, toward the end of his one tumultuous season with the Phoenix Suns, police investigated an alleged sexual assault.” 

It’s not a Spurs-like track record, but perhaps it’s unfair to define Beasley’s off-court life by some combination of accusations and youthful indiscretion. 

If there’s an NBA culture that can turn those kinds of optics around, it’s the one in San Antonio.

That said, the Spurs still appear to be exploring their options. 

Salient variables include what becomes of free-agent center Aron Baynes and whether the club will get a shot at signing Mexican big man Gustavo Ayon. The organization only has one roster spot remaining open, so there’s no guarantee there will be room for Beasley.

Meanwhile, Beasley himself may simply be trying to build a more robust market for his services. Any link to the Spurs could theoretically help in that regard.

Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy reported via Twitter in July, “Several teams have expressed interest in free agent Michael Beasley. Teams like the efficiency and maturity he showed last season in Miami.”

To date, however, that interest hasn’t been very visible.

USA Today‘s Sam Amick reported in August that the Los Angeles Lakers recently watched Beasley work out for a second time, fueling some speculation that general manager Mitch Kupchak could add some upside to a rotation that’s already undergone fairly significant change this summer. 

At the moment, there’s no bidding war for Beasley’s services. No job offers from a league that’s principally concerned with what guys like Beasley have done for it lately.

The former highly touted Kansas State product had his most productive season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010-11, averaging a career-high 19.2 points per contest and starting all 73 games in which he played.

After a far more muted second campaign with the Timberwolves, Phoenix rolled the dice in 2012 only to watch Beasley’s production and efficiency further decline.

So to some extent, the question teams like San Antonio are trying to answer is which Beasley will show up for the 2014-15 season. Should the Spurs go in a different direction (for whatever reason), Beasley’s options will be limited—perhaps nonexistent. 

And if this unlikely marriage does come together, the results are anyone’s guess. At best, Beasley could carve a niche in the rotation behind forward Kawhi Leonard, perhaps spending a few extra minutes at the 4 when Popovich elects to go small. Beasley’s versatility could be his calling card on a team that’s valued similar qualities in Diaw and others.

Should life with the Spurs flame out prematurely, Beasley’s next job search would be the hardest one yet. He desperately needs a vote of confidence from a credible source, and anything less could already doom his fledgling attempts at a return to form.

By now, Beasley’s still-legitimate potential has been offset by enough disappointment to keep most teams at bay.

What better time to remember that the San Antonio Spurs aren’t most teams?

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What If Kawhi Leonard Doesn’t Become a San Antonio Spurs Superstar This Season?

Kawhi Leonard has largely been a quiet standout for the San Antonio Spurs, but the small forward has proven he holds the potential of becoming a top NBA player.

That statement is not exactly ground-shaking, especially given his elite showing during the 2013 finals. The Miami Heat may have won the series, but Leonard’s hype train began rumbling at a dangerous speed.

He was soon heralded as the next best thing, and it was supposed to be an immediate change for the aging Spurs—a changing of the guard, per se. The former first-round pick certainly improved throughout the most recent campaign, but ever-so-fractionally, to be honest.

Of course, Leonard proceeded to absolutely dominate the final three games of the 2014 finals, making him one of the league’s most interesting subjects.

Consequently, he will once again be expected to make a leap into superstardom, but is the vaunted Spurs’ system actually stunting the 23-year-old’s development into an elite NBA star?

Not one San Antonio player averaged more than 30 minutes per game last season, which is either fantastic or somewhat perplexing. Fantastic, because Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are definite beneficiaries of Gregg Popovich’s scheme. And perplexing, because Leonard appears so close to placing himself among the league’s best individual talents.

An obvious explanation is “that’s just the way it works in San Antonio,” so he will continue to occupy a complementary role. Right now, Leonard is essentially a leading 3-and-D player, with the emphasis leaning toward his stellar defense since he has knocked down a modest 37.6 percent from distance.

“Can he be a star?” ESPN’s Amin Elhassan (subscription required) asked.

In the traditional sense, probably not. His offensive repertoire is not refined or diverse enough to allow him to be the main engine that powers a team’s offense. Similarly, he appears to lack the disposition to instinctively assume that role, as evidenced by the muted performances he put up in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals.

However, Leonard’s most consistent aggressive displays occur during the postseason, where he has increased his points, rebounds and steals outputs each year.  The 6’7″ wingman occasionally exhibits a fearless nature, clearly seen when he spotted up and buried a jumper in LeBron James’ face multiple times last June.

Despite being guarded by one of the league’s premier defenders, Leonard simply did not flinch. That’s just one example of the strides San Antonio knows he is capable of making, but his typically passive style still persists as a lingering question.

Will he be ready to flip the switch when Duncan and Ginobili retire, something that very realistically happens following the 2014-15 season? Or, will another season of being the third or fourth option slowly turn him into a player who only thrives as an under-the-radar component?

Note: One of Leonard’s previously mentioned spot-ups over LeBron is the second clip in the accompanying video.

San Antonio’s team-oriented scheme is flat-out fun to watch, but its longevity is clearly an issue. The retirements of both Duncan and Ginobili feel much closer after the Spurs earned another ring, and Popovich’s replacement cannot perfectly replicate what the team is currently doing.

Leonard’s reserved attitude causes doubts that he’ll be able to instinctively assume the role of a leading playmaker, so the Spurs need to see exactly that this season. The elderly version of the Big Three remains, and it’s a perfect opportunity to hand a budding star more responsibilities.

The Spurs often win handily, so Leonard has rarely, if ever been required to take a over game. He manages some key plays down the stretch, but the fourth-year pro can learn hero-ball without the pressure of being expected to drain the clutch shot every time.

Additionally, he can be the primary focus in more offensive sets, most notably an extremely successful and slightly tweaked version of the pick-and-roll. Instead of just rubbing around a screen, Leonard starts at the top of the key, dishes to a teammate at the free-throw line before securing a return pass as he slashes toward the rim.

Utilizing him more in the half-court offense will pay prospective dividends since Leonard is not a shot creator, which makes the aforementioned play so beautiful. It’s an elementary combination that can be completed with an end-of-the-bench guy—heck, even you can throw the pass.

San Antonio need not abandon its championship-caliber system and rush him into superstardom, but it still must take steps to ensure Leonard progresses into what scattered performances have displayed. 

This kid is special, and elite potential is written all over him. But Leonard should receive more opportunities to grow while playing alongside three of the finest players the NBA has ever seen.

If the Spurs ignore his necessary progression, it will set back their future successes. And that’s exactly what a perennially premier franchise does not want to encounter.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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