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|Kawhi Leonard has a new team Harold Landry Color Rush Jersey , and Gregg Popovich isn’t the coach.
This is where the San Antonio Spurs are at right now, as this impasse between the franchise and its best player continues even as the season is almost certainly winding down. There are only questions, no answers.
How is Leonard doing? The Spurs act like they don’t know. Leonard isn’t saying, either. He hasn’t been around the Spurs so far in these playoffs, rehabbing in New York, and Popovich is deferring questions to ”Kawhi and his group.”
That’s ironic. Unwillingness to answer certain questions is part of the Spurs’ mystique. Popovich can be an interviewer’s dream or an interviewer’s nightmare, but now, it’s the Spurs who are the ones seemingly frustrated by the lack of answers. Their best player was barely around this season, and with the Spurs looking almost certain to be knocked out of the playoffs soon by Golden State an offseason of what’s next is looming.
Leonard won’t be on the floor for the Spurs in Game 3 when their first-round series against the Warriors resumes on Thursday in San Antonio. We can also say how unlikely it is he will not be in Game 4 on Sunday or in Game 5 if San Antonio finds a way to extend this series. The official reason remains ”return from injury management” from what began as right quadriceps tendinopathy.
That’s why when Popovich lauds another player – in this case, LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been the first option in San Antonio with Leonard gone – the narrative immediately turns to whether the Spurs coach is throwing shade.
”LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” Popovich said Monday after the Spurs fell into a 2-0 series hole against the Warriors. ”He’s led our team at both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darned thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night.”
It’s entirely possible that Popovich was merely complimenting Aldridge.
It’s entirely possible that Popovich was throwing a subtle jab at Leonard, too.
Aldridge was asked by USA Today Sports about Leonard postgame and declined comment, other than saying ”he has to do what’s best for him.” And that’s most understandable.
Leonard – who is under contract for next season already P.J. Hall Color Rush Jersey , and has a player option that he can exercise in 2019 – will be eligible to be offered the supermax contract this summer, a five-year deal worth around $220 million. It’s unknown if that offer is coming. It’s unknown if Leonard would accept, anyway. He may just want to start over elsewhere.
His caution in coming back to playing is understandable. There are two oft-cited parallels that Leonard needs to avoid. Grant Hill shortened his career by trying to come back too soon from injury, and Isaiah Thomas – once certain he would get a max deal – faces a very uncertain future because of hip issues exacerbated by playing when he was hurt.
Aldridge is right. Leonard has to do what’s best.
That means it’s entirely possible the next time Popovich gets to use Leonard in a game will be in 2019 – when USA Basketball heads to the FIBA World Cup. Popovich has taken over for Mike Krzyzewski as national coach, and Leonard is one of the 35 players under consideration for that team. There’s a minicamp for the U.S. squad in Las Vegas this summer, and if Leonard is there, his dynamic with Popovich will be a huge storyline.
The Spurs have themselves to blame for at least part of this mystery.
There’s always been a secretive air to them. Answers are not easy to get from the Spurs, which sometimes gets construed as arrogance. David Robinson was engaging, but hardly an open book. Tim Duncan prided himself on revealing as little as possible. Popovich gives incredibly deep and thoughtful answers on many topics, but that list rarely includes his own team.
Leonard, who appeared in nine games in the regular season, has been the same way.
He doesn’t drop hints on Twitter, doesn’t vent on Snapchat, isn’t one for long-winded answers. Among the few times he really lets himself loose in the public eye is when the Spurs tape their annual commercials for the grocery chain H-E-B http://www.coltsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-darius-leonard-jersey , one spot sillier and funnier than the next – like the one where Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, using horrible British accents in an effort to seem fancy, ask Leonard if he wants some steak and he replies, ”indubitably.”
Happy times like those seem so long ago. It’s close to impossible to envision this having a happy ending.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
TORONTO — The Cleveland Cavaliers have eliminated the Toronto Raptors from the playoffs two years in a row.
The Raptors have a chance to reverse that trend this year, starting Tuesday night when they host the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their best-of-seven second-round playoff series at the Air Canada Centre.
The Cavaliers won their way into the second round by defeating the Indiana Pacers in seven games with LeBron James producing 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while playing 43 minutes in the decisive game Sunday.
“I’m burnt right now,” James said after the game. “I’m not thinking about Toronto right now until tomorrow, I’m ready to go home. Can we? I’m tired. I want to go home.”
James averaged more than 41 minutes per game in the series, averaging 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists.
The Raptors will be the more rested team, having wrapped up their first-round series against the Washington Wizards in six games on Friday.
When Raptors coach Dwane Casey was asked what his team could learn from the way the Pacers played the Cavaliers, he said: “Playing hard. They played their behinds off, put themselves in position to win.”
The Cavaliers defeated the Raptors in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 before going on to win their first NBA championship.
Cleveland swept Toronto in four games in their second-round series last year.
That series loss led the Raptors to change their approach by spreading the attack around more instead of relying so much on their All-Stat guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They also have developed a potent bench led by guard Fred VanVleet, who missed most of the series against the Wizards with a sore shoulder but played 19 minutes in Game 6.
The Cavaliers DaeSean Hamilton Color Rush Jersey , meanwhile, still depend so much on James, who became the NBA’s career playoff leader in steals and minutes played during the first round. He became the points leader in 2017.
James ranks first in points (6,404), first in minutes played (9,415), first in steals (399), third in assists (with 1,543), sixth in games played (224), seventh in rebounds (1,993) and 19th in blocks (216).
The Pacers left Bojan Bogdanovic to cover James for much of the series without help and Casey thought it was a good move.
“I thought it was good for Indiana because it took them to seven games,” Casey said. “You are not going to take away everything from anybody whether it’s Cleveland or Boston or Philadelphia. You are going to give up something and you have to decide what that is on that particular play or that particular night that you are trying to take away.
“That is what the chess match is in a playoff series. What you are trying to take away and what you are going to digest and live with?”
James did get some help in Game 7 against Indiana from Toronto-native Tristan Thompson, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“We started the game with a unit that we knew Logan Cooke Color Rush Jersey ,” James said Sunday. “All five of us, we knew what we could get out of each other. We’ve been in situations before, we’ve played in big games before, so that’s a comfort to start the game.”
“I just think with it being Game 7, just go with the guys that have been here and been through it all,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. “They know what it takes.”
“I’ve been telling (Thompson) all series long to just wait his turn until his name is called, and when it’s called, be that spark,” said Cavaliers guard George Hill, who had a strong fourth quarter. “From the jump, he was that spark that we needed, and I think he just had a phenomenal game — probably the best I’ve seen him play in a while.”
James praised Hill and Thompson. “Half a game ball should go to Tristan and half to G Hill,” he said.
The Raptors do not believe James will be tired when Game 1 comes around.
“You believe he’s tired? I don’t believe it,” Casey said Monday. “I’ll believe it when I see him sitting over on the bench Antonio Senzatela Colorado Rockies Jersey , and I haven’t seen that very much because he’s playing at such a high level. It’s amazing the type of condition he’s in. We’re not banking on that.”
“I don’t believe it, I bet he’ll be ready to go (Tuesday),” Lowry said.
The Raptors do intend to make James work hard.
“He’s on a mission,” Casey said. “But there’s certain things we want to do to make him expend some more energy and there’s a variety of ways we can do that. … I don’t want to sit up here and give away our game plan, what we want to do, how we want to do it, what we want to take away, what we want to give them, that wouldn’t be prudent on my part.”