TrueHoop: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs' great H-E-B commercial legacy

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
10:26
AM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
Special to ESPN.com
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San Antonio SpursAP Photo/Bahram Mark SobhaniSalsa. Shaving cream. Laundry detergent. Steaks. This is what the Spurs are all about.
The coolest San Antonio Spurs commercial of all time ran as part of the NBA's BIG playoff campaign in 2012. It very simply showed an offensive play being run in slow motion by Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan while only Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones" played in the background. It was perfect. All of it. Every single part. It was exactly who the Spurs are. I think I cried for, like, 45 minutes after I watched it.

The runner-up to the 2012 spot was the one that ran in 2005, when Nike was doing those bits where NBA players turned into animals. You can’t find the clip on the Internet anywhere, but the ad strung together separate clips of Manu, Tony and Bruce Bowen before they all morphed into piranhas. Other NBA players got similar treatments in the series. LeBron had one where he turned into a lion, and Dirk had one where he turned into an eagle or something, though if I were in charge I'd have had him turn into an ostrich. The most charming one of that group of commercials was Earl Boykins' -- he turned into a tiny poison dart frog, and that's just adorable.

The least-coolest Spurs commercial of all time was the one where Michael Finley was telling kids not to do drugs.

And somewhere in between all three of those fall the H-E-B commercials, 20 or so segments filmed over the past 10 or so years where various recent Spurs players (mostly Tim, Manu and Tony, but also sometimes Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen or Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard, and even occasionally coach Gregg Popovich) talk about brisket or laundry detergent or chip salsa.

H-E-B is a San Antonio-based supermarket chain that’s been around for nearly 110 years. They are, to be clear, beloved, woven all the way into the fabric of the city. My friends and I used to ride our bikes to the H-E-B by my house and then go inside and steal the pan de dulce they had on display in the bakery area. It's one of the first things I remember when I think about being a kid in San Antonio. H-E-B is basically the only grocery store my mom has ever shopped at. When my parents come to visit my family and me in Houston, they drive clean past three separate grocery stores to get to an out-of-the-way H-E-B whenever they need to buy something. That's just how it is. There is an actual symbiotic relationship there. Which is probably, at least in part, how/why the Spurs/H-E-B commercials have engendered the cult-like appreciation and fanfare they have in San Antonio.

I'm aware that all NBA cities have these sorts of locally run commercials where NBA players pitch car dealerships and mattress stores and so on -- I've watched them in Houston for years now -- but I feel confident in assuming that none are better than Spurs/H-E-B ones. The most recent batch, which went live in October, had a reverb that, for the first time in my memory, extended all the way into my Internet purview, landing at Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated and SLAM and more.

The seven most important H-E-B/Spurs commercials from their run together:

"One For Each"


This was one of the four most recent ones from the aforementioned October batch. People were excited about this one because it was the first time that Kawhi Leonard ever spoke in his whole entire life. (Kawhi will grow to be as loved a Spur as there ever has been, I'm sure of it. He's perfect. I love him.) You'll notice how easy Parker is in it, which is something he only recently figured out how to do. Duncan is an admirable straight man, a role he has held for the entirety of the series. And Manu is Manu, which is to say that he is God's Hand.

"M1 Effect"


Important because it is the only commercial that's ever been played in San Antonio that implied that a threesome was about to occur. Respect history, son.

"Laundry Sorting"


Kawhi again. Every time I watch this my heart melts to liquid from being so in love and then leaks out of my everything. Kawhi is an angel on Earth.

Note: During Game 6 of last year's NBA Finals, when Kawhi missed one of the two free throws he shot at the end of the game, giving the Spurs a three-point lead over the Heat (which Ray Allen eventually gobbled up) instead of four, that was very much the saddest point of my whole entire life. Not because the Spurs lost. I mean, it's whatever. I've seen the Spurs lose before. I'll watch them lose again. That's not a thing. It was so sad because it happened to Kawhi -- TO MY KAWHI. It was worse than when I watched my own son steal a ball from his teammate during his YMCA basketball game and then dribble to wrong side of the court and shoot a layup.

"Tough Talk"


Kawhi again, OMG.

"Night Club"


Important because Pop shows up. My one dream is to play for Coach Popovich. My other dream is that they remake “Bloodsport” and I get to play the lead. I'll take either one of those dreams.

"Poetry"


I met Brent Barry once. He was thoughtful and engaging. I liked him as a human. And I definitely liked him as a player for the Spurs, particularly during Game 1 of the West finals against the Phoenix Suns in 2005 (he went 5-for-8 on 3-pointers and tied for the highest plus/minus of any player on the court). And I enjoy him as a commentator and analyst, too. The best Brent Barry TV moment was when he was on NBA TV's "Open Court" and was ornery when discussing the dunk contest that he won. But I just didn't care for him much in these spots. It always seemed like he should've been funnier. I don't know. The Spurs won two titles with him, though, so he's good by San Antonio forever.

"Jerseys Smell Good"


Important because it was the only time in these commercials that Bruce Bowen was funny (the "How are they gonna respect us ..." line).

Note: Bowen is one of my all-time favorite Spurs players. Whenever I played rec league basketball in college or even today I always claim No. 12 for my stuff. I always appreciated his tenacity. I also appreciated his willingness to trip other players. That's basically my best defensive move, just tripping people while they're running around. #Bowen4lyfe

Bonus: "David Robinson and Dennis Rodman for Pizza Hut"


There have of course been other fun commercials in Spurs history. The American Express one with Tim Duncan is a personal favorite, if only because the herculean Kevin Willis has a very sneaky cameo in it. And there's also the Mister Robinson's Neighborhood one David Robinson did with Charles Barkley. And the Sprite one with Tim Duncan and Grant Hill where they're doing odd jobs during the 1998 NBA lockout. And the shaving one with Tim and Robinson together shortly after the Spurs drafted Tim. But maybe the best is the above Pizza Hut one, where David Robinson is talking to Dennis Rodman about how Rodman needs to open up and allow himself to be more weird.

I miss David Robinson so much.

I assume that these commercials will go on forever. There is no chance that the Spurs will ever leave San Antonio and there is an even smaller chance that H-E-B will ever not be around. And I’m grateful for that and happy. I just pray that Kawhi is around for just as long.

Clippers, Blazers know the score in West

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
3:10
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Just think of Wednesday night’s Trail Blazers-Clippers game as an alternate Western Conference finals, taking place in a world in which two-time MVP Steve Nash led Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns to back-to-back championships and rendered defense obsolete.

The Clippers and Trail Blazers are two teams that have spent this season among the upper echelon of the Western Conference, with aspirations of winning multiple playoff series. But if the postseason started today, they’d be matched up in the first round as the fourth and fifth seeds.

It’s not only that the Thunder and Spurs have better records, it’s that they are better equipped for the playoffs because of their superior defense. Both teams allow 97.5 points per game, the fewest among the current Western Conference playoff teams. The Trail Blazers allow the most, at 103.7. The Clippers are just over 100, at 100.6.

On the flip side, the Blazers and Clippers are the two highest-scoring teams in the league, and if nothing else, that can make for some entertaining regular-season ball. It helps that they’re so similar, with All-Stars at point guard and power forward, and an acceptance that they are offensively driven teams.

On Wednesday night, they hooked up for a game that produced 239 points and featured 40 lead changes and 18 ties. The Clippers used just enough defense at the end to prevail, most notably when Chris Paul pried the ball away from Damian Lillard, with DeAndre Jordan swooping in to scoop up the ball and commence a two-on-one fastbreak that led to a Matt Barnes alley-oop lob to Jordan. It put the Clippers ahead by three points with a minute and a half left, and they went on to win 122-117.

“It just felt like if you could get one or two stops in a row you would win the game,” said Jamal Crawford, who continued his role as the supplementary scorer to Blake Griffin with 25 points. “Finally at the end, we did.”

Still, the emphasis of this game was offense. It was really a matter of offensive efficiency more than defensive effectiveness. Even after his Clippers team shot 60 percent and scored 61 points in the first half, coach Doc Rivers said that during intermission, “I was upset offensively. We had nine possessions where we just didn’t get into anything. Maybe one of those games you’re going to need those possessions.”

It will be asking a lot to change either team’s identity to defense in the remaining two months of the season. So it becomes a matter of fine-tuning the offense. Griffin has become a player who can get 30 points at will; he scored 36 on Wednesday night. That they came on 21 field goal attempts shows how he has become more efficient as well as a better free throw shooter. Griffin was called “our MVP all season long,” which was most notable because the words came from Paul.

It will help the Clippers to get J.J. Redick back; he missed the game with a sore right hip. The Blazers will be served by the further development of C.J. McCollum, a promising rookie who went off for eight points in the final two minutes of the third quarter to give the Blazers the lead heading into the fourth. It was just his 17th game.

But these teams will have to beat some combination of the Thunder, the Spurs and possibly the surging Houston Rockets to advance deep into the playoffs. It’s worth noting that for all of Kevin Durant’s offensive fireworks of late, the Thunder’s defensive rating of 102.2 is their best since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.

“In the playoff situation, we can be a dangerous team,” Portland’s Lillard said. “There can be a three-game stretch where we just really get hot. We can really score the ball. We defend well in spurts. Once we figure out what we need to do to defend more consistently, we can be a really dangerous team.”

Can defending well in spurts get it done in the playoffs?

“I don’t think it can get done what we would like to get done,” Lillard said. “Offense can be fool’s gold. It might carry you. Last year, I think Golden State’s offense carried them. I think if we can find a way to be more consistent on D, we’ll be tough to play against.”

Until then, they’re at least fun to watch, especially when they’re up against their reflection in the Clippers.

Coach Shea Serrano

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
12:16
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Writer and teacher Shea Serrano is now coaching seventh-grade basketball, and it couldn't be going better.

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The incredible value of tough shooters

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
2:02
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Brett Brown was an assistant for the Spurs dynasty, and says a key lesson that he has brought with him to Philadelphia is the importance of getting tough, gritty competitors ... who can shoot.
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The Mavericks' sneakily effective offense

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
2:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The Mavericks aren't amazing shooters, or crazily athletic, but they're scoring very well. David Thorpe explains what the Spurs can expect to face tonight.

San Antonio pixie dust

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
6:07
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw were once among the worst players on horrible teams. Now they're key contributors for a great one. How does San Antonio make that happen?

10 Things To Know: Christmas games

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
4:36
PM ET
Verrier By Justin Verrier
ESPN.com
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"I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game.” -- Stan Van Gundy

Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.

With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.

To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.


1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began

The puppets are always the first to know.
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In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.

But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.

The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?

Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.


2. The master

Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.
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Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.

But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.

The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.

What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.


3. A pair of aces
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Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.

According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.


4. It’s gotta be the sleeves?

First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.

LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."

Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.

The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.

But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).


5. An exercise in sadness, Part A

Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.

Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.







6. Behold: The Sultan of Swag

At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?
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This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.

The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.

So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.


7. Welcome back, Dwight Howard

Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.
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Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent 3-point shooting (!!) in 35 minutes over 11 December games. The Rockets have five more games on the slate before the new year, but the only thing close to that since he wore out a FastPass at Disney World was a torrid eight-game April (20.9 points, 61.1 FG%, 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) to push the Lakers into the playoffs.

Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.


8. An exercise in sadness, Part B

Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?

Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.






9. Melo has Durant’s number

It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per NBA.com/stats.
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But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.

Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.

Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.


10. Pop or Scrooge?

Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?

A.) “I want some nasty.”

B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”

C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”

D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”

E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”

25 under 25

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
2:20
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kawhi Leonard was a candidate for Finals MVP, and he's only 14th on the list of elite young NBA players compiled by ESPN Insiders David Thorpe, Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan. That means a lot of things, including that good times are ahead for the NBA. Elhassan joins us to discuss.
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What's old is new again

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
9:44
AM ET
McNeill By Andrew McNeill
Special to ESPN.com
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Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tony ParkerAP Photo/Eric GayThe Spurs are banking on the same old formula once again, but with a few fresh new looks.
Apart from a single photo from each of their four championship seasons, there are few reminders of the San Antonio Spurs’ rich history near their locker room at the AT&T Center. Down a long white hallway where action shots of each of San Antonio’s active players are displayed, the title photos -- those uncomfortable team portraits with everyone from the equipment manager to team owner -- hang above metal boxes into which television stations plug their equipment. Cameras, microphones and small monitors are often left sitting on the floor under these team photos as people go about their business before the game. It is the messy part of an empty wing, far from a cherished section designed to immortalize Spurs teams reaching the ultimate achievement.

In the players’ lockers hang jerseys with accents that are oh, so familiar. Like it has for years, white trim outlines the black for the numbers 21, 20 and 9 and black lettering for the names “Duncan,” “Ginobili” and “Parker.” But these days they sometimes sit atop a camouflage pattern, a tribute to San Antonio’s large military community, or a silver alternate with a large single spur on the front.
[+] EnlargeTony Parker
AP Photo/Eric GayHas the sun finally set on San Antonio's dynasty?

The Spurs have won at least 50 games in 14 straight seasons, an NBA record. They’ve had the same coach for 18 seasons, the same star player for 16 seasons and the same “Big Three” for about a decade. It’s a franchise steeped in history.

But amid all the consistency, this franchise is constantly evolving. San Antonio was one of the early adopters of the SportVU camera tracking system. Last season, the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to go text-free when they debuted their gray alternate jerseys, declining to put a city or nickname on the front of the jersey and simply featuring that spur on the chest. There is now an in-house DJ for home games and, to my knowledge, Gregg Popovich has yet to order his execution. Tim Duncan (37 years old) and Manu Ginobili (36) will be retired soon enough, but the maturation of Kawhi Leonard (22) has the team optimistic about its future.

There are changes to this roster, but on the floor the product has been maintained, and that continuity is paramount. Twelve players return from a team that finished an excruciating 28 seconds away from an NBA title last season. Ten of those players were on San Antonio’s roster the previous year, when the Spurs squandered a 2-0 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.

After San Antonio dispatched the Grizzlies in a four-game sweep in last season’s Western Conference finals, the message resonating from San Antonio was about how happy the team was to get Duncan back to the NBA Finals. “We really want to do it for him,” Tony Parker said at the time, pleased he was able to make good on a promise he made to Duncan. The team sounded like a happy family relieved to get one more time together before life took each their separate ways. Some wondered if Duncan would retire after the season.

It was an understandable feeling. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Popovich know more than anyone how difficult the road to the Finals is, how many things have to fall into place in order to play into June. The Spurs were as healthy as they had ever been last season. Duncan has battled a deteriorating left knee over the second half of his career, but played 69 regular-season games and produced his best per-game averages in three years. Even Ginobili, who is usually good for one catastrophic injury per season, only dealt with small injuries of the soft tissue variety and played 60 games during the regular season.

Now after 103 games in 2012-13 and a summer full of international play for some of the team, including Parker, this Spurs team is going to play another 100 games and make it back to the Finals?

Yet a quick survey of the Western Conference suggests there’s no reason San Antonio can’t do just that. Every other West contender -- the Thunder, Clippers, Rockets and Warriors -- has a fatal flaw greater than San Antonio. And unlike the Spurs, they’re all figuring it out on the fly.

Questions persist about the mental and emotional toll Game 6 of last season's Finals had on the team, when the Spurs couldn’t secure a defensive rebound to clinch the series and ended up losing in overtime. “I think about Game 6 every day,” Popovich concedes. Other Spurs have similar stories, and who can blame them? San Antonio was seconds from being crowned champion, only to watch it disappear in a tangle of gold ropes on the AmericanAirlines Arena court in Miami. Two days later, in Game 7, the Spurs fell again.
[+] EnlargeTim Duncan
AP Photo/Eric GayDespite a crushing loss to Miami in the NBA Finals, things are looking up once again in San Antonio.

But the NBA season is such a long one. By the time the playoffs roll around Game 6 will seem like an eternity ago. The Spurs realize the painful memories will linger, never to go away completely, but there’s nothing they can do but play their way through it. It hasn’t gotten in their way so far: The Spurs currently sit at the top of the Western Conference with a 10-1 record, their best start through 11 games since 2010-11 when San Antonio began the season 13-1.

Aided in large part by the lack of getting-to-know-you period that so many other teams around the league are experiencing, the Spurs are second in the league in defensive efficiency behind the only other 10-1 team, the Indiana Pacers. The offense resides in the middle of the pack right now, but if San Antonio regains its rhythm and Duncan improves on his nightmarish 38 percent shooting, the offense will creep closer to elite once again.

The Spurs built an empire upon incorporating new aspects to an aging foundation. Young players joined with older to continue a winning tradition in San Antonio, while the organization finds new ways to make this classic franchise one advancing with the times. Imitated -- not quite duplicated -- around the league, the Spurs continue chasing history. Sometimes personnel changes are required for survival, but the Spurs are confident that continuity and a healthy mental state is enough to frame one more 12-by-18 team photo on the white walls outside their locker room.

TrueHoop TV Live

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
12:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Tom Haberstroh, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Henry Abbott to discussed Heat at Nets, Spurs at Lakers and more.

TrueHoop TV Live happened Friday at 2p ET. You can watch the rebroadcast, or on the Spreecast website.

The best offseason

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
3:45
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Indiana University professor Wayne Winston, a pioneer of NBA advanced stats, names the teams he expects to improve most this season.
video

TrueHoop TV: Art of the Game

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
1:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
TrueHoop TV favorite Shea Serrano just published a rap coloring book. His twin boys are following his lead with some original NBA art of their own.
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First Cup: Thursday

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
6:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Perhaps not since the Los Angeles Clippers used the No. 1 selection in the 1998 NBA draft on Pacific center Michael Olowokandi has there been a top pick who has flown under the radar more than Anthony Bennett. The Cavaliers shocked the experts June 27 when they selected the UNLV power forward. Very few people saw that coming. There are very few expectations being placed on his broad shoulders. Normally, the No. 1 pick comes to a team that needs him to produce right away. “I’m cool with it,” Bennett said. “I’m chillin’.” Cavs coach Mike Brown said the lack of pressure will benefit both the rookie and the organization. “It’s a terrific situation for not only Bennett, but for us,” he said. “He can come along slowly, and if he blossoms early, it’s a bonus for everybody. “We don’t have to rely on a teenager because of the depth we have.” Unbeknownst to Brown, Bennett turned 20 years old on March 3. The veteran coach said he’s keeping a close eye on Bennett. “Yesterday, I felt he was in a fog, running in 15 inches of mud,” he said. “It’s down to nine inches of mud now.”
  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey listened to the question about his predecessor, Kevin O’Connor, and smiled. No, he hasn’t retired. In fact, O’Connor will continue to play an important role for the franchise, although his home base will be in South Carolina. "Kevin’s job," Lindsey said, "is to make sure I don’t mess up." Not true, of course. O’Connor remains the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, but he is no longer the team’s primary decision-maker. That job belongs to Lindsey and his new assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. O’Connor will scout for the Jazz, in addition to offering advice when Lindsey or Zanik ask for it, which will probably be often. Lindsey’s working relationship with O’Connor, you see, has evolved into a trusting friendship in the 13 months he has been Utah’s GM. So it’s difficult to imagine with Jazz moving forward without O’Connor’s fingerprints remaining on the franchise. "I’m wearing him out," Lindsey said. "He’s been such a good friend. He’s moved from friend to confidant. He provides great feedback, counsel [and] humor, which in this business is very important. I just can’t say enough about him." O’Connor joined the Jazz in 1999, when Scott Layden was hired by the New York Knicks.
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Whether or not Deron Williams’ weight contributed to last season’s ankle problems is a subjective assumption, but he finds himself in a similar position this season, only slimmer. The other difference is caution, and an understanding that it’s not worth risking aggravation or further injury in training camp. Weeks after spraining his ankle and suffering a bone bruise, Williams was still on the sideline Wednesday at Duke University, under orders to remove himself from drills involving cutting and contact. The Nets are clearly prepared to sit Williams for all seven preseason games, so there are no repeats of Nassau Coliseum. “We are in a different stage with the team. You don’t feel you’ve got to have (Deron) on the court,” GM Billy King said. “We’d like to practice, but the goal now is to get him as healthy as possible, so that when he does go, there’s no setbacks. There is no need for him to have a setback in day two that sets him back so you’re not ready for opening day (Oct. 30 at Cleveland).”
  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden and Dwight Howard took a short trip down memory lane after practice Wednesday. When asked about playing each other last year in Los Angeles, Harden remembered a specific play, where he scored on Howard and made it look easy. “In LA last year against the Lakers, I was coming full speed down the court, left to right, he shifted one way completely and I just laid the ball up,” Harden said. Howard, too, remembers the encounter. Howard said that Harden’s Euro step is what caused him trouble. “He is lefthanded for one,” Howard said. “That is tough to defend. I remember last season when we played I was running back full speed. I got in front of him and I was like ‘I’m gonna set him up for a blocked shot.’ And he did some kind of Euro step real fast and he went past my shoulder and I was like ‘Man, I wasn’t even expecting that,’ so it’s pretty sick.” Howard said his Euro step doesn’t match up to Harden’s.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: When New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams puts in his backups this season, he doesn't want a drastic dropoff in production that occurred frequently last season. In a push to strengthen his bench, Williams plans to use swingman Tyreke Evans as a backup rather than as a starter, although he's one of their most talented players. Despite that starting shooting guard Eric Gordon's durability remains in question and starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu struggled with inconsistency as a midrange scorer last season, Williams thinks Evans can make a bigger impact playing with the second unit with forwards Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. Evans appears to have embraced his new role, although it's not certain yet if he will play more at shooting guard or small forward. "It’s a different situation for me, but it’s exciting that I’m going to play with these guys,’’ Evans said. "It’s going to help me out a lot and help them.'' It's likely when the Pelicans play their preseason opener Saturday at the Houston Rockets, their starters will be Jrue Holiday at point guard, Anthony Davis at power forward, Greg Stiemsma at center, Aminu at small forward and possibly Anthony Morrow at shooting guard in place of Gordon, who is likely to miss the first two weeks of preseason games to improve his conditioning after going through rehabilitation the entire offseason to recover from ankle surgery in May.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: How you feel about Marco Belinelli will likely depend on how you feel about Manu Ginobili. Make no mistake — Belinelli is no Ginobili. Rather, he’s a watered-down version of the aging yet still-potent dynamo the Spurs had no doubts about re-signing even after a wildly inconsistent Finals. Considering Ginobili, at 36, is a watered-down version of his own best self, that isn’t a ringing endorsement. But for a Spurs team with minimal cap space after bringing back Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, and a need for another multi-talented guard to lighten the load on Ginobili and Tony Parker, Belinelli was a practical choice. If Matt Bonner is Winter Shoes, the Italian journeyman is Christmas Socks: Thoroughly underwhelming, but useful nonetheless. With Gary Neal gone and the true back-up point guard role still unsettled, the Spurs will rely on their lone offseason acquisition of consequence in a big way. “He’s going to enter in our plans significantly, and quickly,” head coach Gregg Popovich said.
  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: “To me, the closest comparison to Paul George on this team is Quincy Miller,” Brian Shaw said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about him when I got here and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. He is really, really talented. At 6-10 he can handle the ball. When he gets his feet set he can shoot it from the outside and he’s got that – he smiles and he’s a nice guy when you see him, but he has a nasty disposition about himself when he’s out there on the floor. He has pretty good footwork. When I got to Indiana I didn’t know very much about Paul George. And then when I got there and I started working with him, I was like ‘wow, this guy could really be good if he puts in the work.’ Paul was very inquisitive; asked me a lot of questions, picked my brain about Kobe (Bryant), because Paul grew up in the L.A. area. He’s been asking me a lot of questions about Kobe and about Paul as well. So, it reminds me of that situation.”
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Humbled by a disappointing sophomore campaign with the Washington Wizards, Jan Vesely was a beaten-down man trying to piece together his shattered confidence at the start of the summer. He took a month off from the game to spend time with family and friends back home, then began the process of rebuilding the player who was selected by the Wizards with the sixth overall pick in 2011. “To realize that you are on the bottom and you have to get back,” Vesely said this week of his offseason motivation, “that’s the only thing I was thinking.” After taking baby steps through Wizards summer league in Las Vegas, Vesely represented his native country at the European championships, where he was a high-energy jumping jack. “Finally, I just enjoy basketball again,” the 7-footer explained. Vesely played multiple positions for the Czech Republic, ran the floor with abandon, rebounded and was a dominant force with few plays called for him, eliciting chants of “Honza,” his nickname, from the crowd.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This season Dallas Mavericks fans will see a lot less of Jae Crowder. No, the Mavericks have no plans of cutting into the 17.3 minutes per game Crowder averaged last season as a rookie. It’s just that Crowder went on a diet this summer and trimmed down from the 240 pounds he played at last season down to 225. The weight loss came at the request of the Mavericks, who felt Crowder could have more of an impact if he was a bit slimmer. “We just felt that it would facilitate him being much more effective as a multi-position player, and he’s done that,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s shown discipline, he’s shown his will to work. “I think that bodes as well for him as anything that he’s done here.” A small forward and shooting guard, Crowder said he addressed his weight issues by going on a strict diet.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The town of Bar, Montenegro, sits on the Adriatic Sea. During the day, its 20,000 inhabitants flock to beaches and coffeehouses. On warm nights, people stroll along one of the main streets, giving the place a family atmosphere. Historic churches and picturesque mountains dot the landscape. Nik Vucevic never expected to be well-known there. His family moved to Bar during his teenage years, and he's spent the last several years in the U.S. But everywhere he went in Bar during the offseason, random strangers stopped him and congratulated him for how he played during his first season with the Orlando Magic. … Vucevic ended last season with nine consecutive double-doubles. Word of his exploits circulated throughout Montenegro. When Vucevic was a child, he often approached pro players for autographs. One of his favorite players was Yugoslavian point guard Aleksandar Djordjevic. A few months ago, when Vucevic returned home, children often approached him.
  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: The relationship between Kyle Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey was a constant point of conversation last year. While the two never publicly lit into each other, there were certainly some growing pains as the frequently cantankerous Lowry tried to mesh with the occasionally stern Casey. So, it was noteworthy when Casey praised Lowry on Wednesday, unprompted. “He’s really set the tone,” Casey said when asked if anybody had surprised him so far in training camp. “I think his team only lost two games in the scrimmages. He’s really done an excellent job of running the show and being the leader of the team, whatever team he’s on. He sticks out.”

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
6:02
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Reggie Jackson is expected to serve as the emergency starter in Westbrook's absence, as he did in the Thunder's final nine playoff games following Westbrook's injury. Beyond that, though, the Thunder's first month and a half has suddenly become one big mystery. Is Jackson, who as of Tuesday morning still was projected to be the team's sixth man, now ready for a starring role? Can Kevin Durant effectively carry the load with defenses loaded up and locked in on him? How much does Derek Fisher, now 39, have left in the tank to offer as the presumable backup point guard? How good is Jeremy Lamb? Does Brooks have a backup plan? The Thunder's early-season success hinges largely on how these questions are answered. But the organization, from Thunder general manager Sam Presti to Brooks to Durant, pointed to last year's postseason as a steppingstone that prepared the Thunder for this situation and now stands as a source of confidence.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the news that Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season because of a second knee surgery, the Rockets looked ahead to his return, rather than the play in which he was injured. Westbrook went out in Game 2 of the Rockets’ playoff series against Oklahoma City when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting a steal as Westbrook was calling time out. That inspired an angry on-court reaction from Westbrook and a backlash from Oklahoma City fans that escalated to death threats. “He’s a great athlete,” Beverley said. “I know he has the best doctors. I think he’s going to be fine. Our focus is on this upcoming season and for us to get better as a team.”
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: If this were football or baseball, there would be some debate about which is the player to beat for the title, "Greatest of All Time." In basketball, there's not. LeBron James clearly has his sights set on the guy locked in perpetual flight on the east side of the United Center. "I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball," James added. "I want to be the greatest." James is no dummy. He knows there's a long way to go before surpassing Michael Jordan. Winning championships was a necessary step and he's done that. I've always claimed there's no point trying to compare James and Jordan, because they are different players. Jordan was an alpha dog scorer who always had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Kobe Bryant is a better comparison for Jordan. Bryant gave it a good shot, but he's not going to surpass MJ as the greatest of all time. James is a stellar distributor who probably compares better to Scottie Pippen in style of play. Of course, James has gone way beyond Pippen's offensive capabilities. Instead of praising James for being a brilliant team player, he gets criticized for not being Jordan. But with these comments, James has invited those comparisons himself.
  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: If Kobe Bryant can win a sixth title, he'll match Michael Jordan's count. While the debate of who is the best player of all time is quite subjective, it's fun to mull over. Jordan added a little fuel to the fire with his comments promoting the NBA 2K14 video game, according to the Associated Press. How would Jordan fare playing one-on-one against players like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Bryant? "I don't think I would lose," said Jordan, "other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves." Bryant gave a quick response on Twitter. Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It was iconic. And then it was gone. Now, apparently,LeBron James is about to again take a powder. Hidden as a hashtag on an Instagram post referencing his placement on the cover of the just released edition of theNBA 2K14 video game came this early Wednesday morning: #PowderTossComingBackToAnArenaNearYou Given up amid his turn for the serious as part of his successful bids for NBA championships the past two seasons, James can be seen on the 2K14 cover displaying the powder toss, as seen in the Instagram he sent out. … In the absence of the real thing, teammates Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller andJames Jones last season emulated James' iconic chalk toss in a pregame ritual, as James already was awaiting the pregame toss at center court. The NBA last season instituted a time limit on pregame rituals, forcing Heat guard Dwyane Wade to somewhat speed up his fullcourt fan salute, with the penalty otherwise a delay-of-game warning (the second and each subsequent of which is accompanied by a technical foul). Now, LeBron will find himself, and his powder, on the pregame clock.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony privately pined for a secondary scorer in the offseason. And so far, after the first practice of training camp, Anthony is talking like he has got one in the Knicks’ key offseason acquisition, Andrea Bargnani. Anthony even said he would be willing to slide over from power forward to small forward to make room in the starting lineup for the 6-foot-11 Italian. Anthony also tried taking the pressure off Bargnani, who became the scapegoat in Toronto after failing to become an All-Star after being No. 1 overall pick in 2006. “There ain’t no pressure on him,” Anthony said of Bargnani handling the move to New York. “You come in and do what you got to do and play ball. All the pressure’s on me. It should be easy for him. It should be an easy transition for him, adjusting. Just do it the right way, it should be easy for him.’’ Bargnani played just 66 of a possible 152 regular-season games the past two seasons for the Raptors, because of various injuries, prompting the June 29 trade. Bargnani said no matter what Anthony says, there always is pressure as a Knick.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Forget 57 regular-season wins for the Nuggets. That's not going to happen. But here is the real goal for the local NBA team: No more wimpy basketball. The Nuggets have a new way to play. "Smashmouth basketball," new Denver coach Brian Shaw said. I asked Shaw to define his terms. What qualifies as smashmouth basketball? "Smashmouth means that you are literally going to get your mouth smashed if you're going against us for a rebound or a loose ball," Shaw said. "We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively." Shaw is not a smarter coach than his predecessor, George Karl. But here's betting Shaw will be a tougher coach than Karl. Karl beat cancer. Twice. So props to him for a huge personal victory. In Denver, however, Karl's teams looked for a soft spot to land in the playoffs, and set up excuses to all but guarantee an early exit from the postseason would happen. … The Nuggets of Karl were soft. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are hard. If you can't win with the talent of LeBron James, you had better be mean. Welcome to smashmouth basketball.
  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Monty Williams said Tuesday he has been thinking about distribution of playing time for this group since it was assembled this summer, but seems set on having Evans, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith come off the bench with the second platoon, leaving open the point guard spot for either Austin Rivers or Brian Roberts. "I think it will become more clear as we see certain guys on the floor in practice and how they jell," said Williams. Rivers said he's not fearful about his place in the rotation, nor the amount of minutes he'll play. "You look at our team, and don't take my word for it, but I think Tyreke is going to come off the bench and I think I'm going to come off the bench," he said. "Depending on how Eric feels, I could be starting at the two. I could be starting at the two, or coming off the bench with Ryan Anderson and Tyreke. That's not a bad second group. I'm not really worried about my minutes. Me and Jrue were talking about this at dinner. Our second group is just as good as our first group." It's evident that whatever discomfort Rivers might have experienced in June has dissipated, as has any uncertainty about his place on the court. "I love my coach. I love the coaches, the new facility, new name, new team," he said.
  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: Royce White knows he’s not physically where he wants or needs to be. But after not playing in any NBA games during his rookie year with the Rockets, at least partially due to an anxiety disorder and fear of flying, White is grateful to just be setting picks and finding open teammates at 76ers camp. “At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp,” White said. “So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.” White doesn’t know what his role with the Sixers will be. He ran with the second team during Monday’s scrimmage. But he plans to fly to Northern Spain with his Sixers teammates Thursday in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game against Bilbao. For him, that’s a start. “To me, the most important thing is making it to the first preseason game and being here for the team,” he said. Sixers coach Brett Brown has been encouraged by what he’s seen from White through four days of camp.
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If third-year center Bismack Biyombo feels threatened by the Charlotte Bobcats adding big men Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller, you wouldn’t know it from his approach. Biyombo started 80 of 82 games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. After the season, the Bobcats used the fourth pick on Zeller and signed Jefferson to a 3-year, $40.5 million contract. Biyombo likely isn’t starting this season, but he doesn’t see himself as extraneous. “My job is the same as it was last year – be a defender, protect the paint, rebound, block shots. Nothing is going to change,” he said after the first practice of training camp at UNC Asheville. The Bobcats drafted Biyombo seventh overall in 2011. He’s a long athlete and tough guy, but he arrived in Charlotte from the Spanish League with minimal offensive skill. That hasn’t changed much. New coach Steve Clifford has told Biyombo not to fret about what he can’t yet do.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Jimmer Fredette would have to fend off rookie Ray McCallum just to be the third point guard behind Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez. Things aren't easier for Fredette at shooting guard by Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore. There are possible three-guard lineups but it won't be easy cracking the rotation, regardless. What would help Fredette would be having a defined role. "We didn't know what the rotation was (last season)," Fredette said. "Guys didn't know if they were going to play one game and not the next so you just had to try to stay ready and prepare as much as you can. It's hard for players to be able to do that but you're professionals so that's what you have to do. Hopefully this year we'll have more of a set rotation so we'll know when we're going to play and who we're going to play with."
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The immediate inclination is to compare Vitor Faverani to Fab Melo. Both are from Brazil and are within an inch or two height-wise, and, hey, those are some simple dots to connect even for a sportswriter. But after a brief look at this year’s model and several conversations with Celtics types at the first day of training camp, the notion was rejected. With authority. The two are said to be miles apart at this stage. “Vitor’s a player,” we were advised. “Fab’s a project.” The Celts gave up on Melo after just one year. While there may have been some salary cap concerns in his trade to Memphis, they would have held onto him if they thought he could be what they hoped. Same for the Grizzlies, who released Melo. He’s now in camp with Dallas. And while Melo reigned mainly in D-League Maine last season, Faverani could easily make his way into the Celtics rotation right away. Teams have a way of finding a place for people who shoot well and like to hit people.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Tap. Tap. Tap. It was a little after midnight when the knock on the hotel door arrived. Nicolas Batum was tired. He was frustrated. He was anxious. And he was just about ready to call it a night. But it was the evening before the European Championship title game and it was a curious time for a visit, so Batum swung open the door to see who was standing outside his room in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Staring back at him was Tony Parker, his teammate on the French national team and one of the NBA's premier point guards. Batum's friend wanted to chat. "I had messed up in the semifinals — had a baaaad game — and he came to me before the final," Batum said, recalling the unexpected face-to-face. "He said, 'Tomorrow's game is going to be your game. We need you. If we're going to win, you've got to lead us.' When a guy like that comes to you, before the biggest game of your life, and says 'you have to show the way, you have to be the man,' it gives you a lot of confidence." It was the latest in a long line of mentoring moments by Parker, and it was perhaps the most meaningful. A day later Batum answered the challenge, recording a team-high 17 points, six rebounds and two steals — while playing tenacious defense — as France beat Lithuania 80-66 to claim its first major championship
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Samuel Dalembert hopes to do this season for the Dallas Mavericks what Tyson Chandler was able to accomplish during the 2010-11 campaign. Chandler joined the Mavericks on July 13, 2010, via a trade with the Charlotte Bobcats. The fiery, athletic center came to Dallas as a wounded warrior, having navigated his way through a series of injuries and saddled with lingering questions about his health. However, Chandler used his hustle, grit and determination to change the Mavericks’ culture with his tenacious defense and ability to protect the rim. His contributions were extremely instrumental in the Mavs winning the 2011 NBA championship. Fast forward to Dalembert, who left the Milwaukee Bucks via free agency over the summer. While surveying the NBA landscape, he knew the Mavericks would become a perfect fit for his style of play. In essence, Dalembert (6-foot-11, 250 pounds) realized he was the right player to fill the role Chandler once occupied. “I just looked at things from last year, and this team just needed one more ingredient,” the 32-year old Dalembert said after Tuesday’s first practice of training camp. “We can score — scoring is no issue for us. “It’s just the defense and giving up second-chance opportunities.” Small forward Shawn Marion welcomes a player such as Dalembert, who can protect the rim. … Power forward Dirk Nowitzki also sees value in the Mavericks signing Dalembert to a two-year, $7.5 million contract in July.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Power forward Tristan Thompson acknowledges that there's no blueprint for switching his dominant hand from left to right in the middle of his career. He even joked about learning more about who he is. "I'm 22,'' he said during media day on Monday. "I'm trying to figure it out.'' He said he actually is ambidextrous, writing, eating and golfing left-handed while bowling, and now shooting, right-handed. Why did he ever think he was a left-handed player? "Because I wrote with my left hand, and I thought if you write with your left hand, you've got to shoot with your left hand.''
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Rudy Gay had off-season PRK laser eye surgery, and while it was only a 10-minute procedure, it was a big deal for Gay who sees clearly now. He just doesn’t know how long it has been since his vision went. “I don’t know at all,” he said when asked what his vision was corrected from. “I just know I could barely get my license, so it was pretty bad and I didn’t know it. Obviously I feel a lot better going into the season a little bit more confident.” … For now Gay is downplaying the eye procedure and how it has changed things for him. His fear is that people are going to automatically credit a 10-minute surgery for the improved shooting he fully expects fans will be witness to this season. Gay says he worked too damn hard in the off-season on his shooting for that to be the case. He says that on a light day he was putting up 300 shots but said it was an everyday thing for him. “I worked a lot,” he said. “Every day I was committed to becoming a better shooter.” Casey is of the firm belief that eye surgery is only going to be part of the reason Gay comes back and improves on the .416 shooting percentage he had a year ago, down from .455 the previous year.
  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Kendall Marshall will tell you that there is “no question” in his mind that he can succeed in the NBA. He’s got about one month to convince the Suns, who selected him with the 13th pick of the 2012 NBA draft. And Marshall has no time to waste, beginning at training camp, which opened Tuesday in Flagstaff, and during the club’s seven-game preseason schedule, which begins against Maccabi Haifa on Monday night at US Airways Center. Lance Blanks, the general manager who drafted Marshall, is gone. There also is a new coaching staff. And there is a Suns roster loaded with point guards and “combo” guards — players who can play off the ball or in a playmaking role. For Marshall, the witching hour falls on Halloween. That’s the NBA deadline for teams to exercise a team option in rookie salary-scale contracts for players drafted in the first round the previous year. First-round picks get a four-year deal, but only the first two years are guaranteed. So, teams must decide before a player’s second regular season begins whether to guarantee a third year. If the Suns don’t see enough from Marshall in the next month, they aren’t likely to exercise the option.

The Sixers start over

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
4:05
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
video
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie got the to job in Philadelphia, and seemingly within minutes, had essentially won draft night by somehow amassing a collection of four lottery picks -- the same number of lottery picks that, for instance, the Thunder used to turn their franchise around. Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are already here, and in the mighty 2014 draft the Sixers will have their own pick, and, quite probably, an excellent pick from the Pelicans.

The youth movement is underway. And for all the love people have for Noel and Carter-Williams, and knowing the Pelicans pick has protections, it's clear the only way this team will get a "next LeBron" or "next Durant" type player -- Andrew Wiggins, for instance -- is if it comes from the Sixers' own pick.

As in, the crazy high pick the whole NBA expects they will be awarded for the wretchedness of losses they are about to unleash.

Look around the gym Friday at the Sixers' media day at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (where the team rents a gym in lieu of a practice facility). Noel is dribbling between his legs, smiling for the camera. Carter-Williams wears a Cat in the Hat hat shooting a reading promotion. A posse of season-ticket holders in the corner are hanging on forward Royce White's every word. Everyone is happy, because the losses are not yet wearing everybody down.

Who knows if it'll work. But it just might be that Hinkie's four-pack of lottery tickets is exactly how a contender is born. Sixers fans have been famously morose essentially forever. But now their familiar sludge of doom comes with a shot of espresso. There's a new roster, a new GM and a new coach, and a flotilla of talented youngsters. The Sixers may be as doomed as ever, but now they're doomed with a plan. Which is such a better way to be doomed.

A beat writer takes it all in then declares to his colleagues: "Everything's just so great right now. But you know it's only downhill from here."

Because anyone who has taken a moment to analyze Philly's current predicament realizes fans mostly value wins, while this team is valuing losses, and the roster reflects it. This team is going to be terrible, for a season, at least, in the name of rebuilding.

Jason Richardson is one of this team's rare veterans. I asked him what feels different about this season. "All the young faces!" he declares. "We was a young team last year. This team is really young. Three or four guys are really veterans, and everybody else is like rookies. It's going to be fun to see, because those guys are going to learn a lot this year."

The gym was full of players, being grilled about the upcoming season, and no one had any bravado. This season, there are no rivalries, no playoff aspirations, none of the normal "just maybe, if the stars align" thinking.

There are also no autograph seekers -- you could walk into this event off the street without a credential, as it happens -- because there are no stars. Who's the team's best player? Evan Turner? Thaddeus Young, maybe? Based on his high potential and cheap contract, Noel may be the key asset, but there isn't even much confidence Noel will play anytime soon -- projected as the top overall pick, the defensive big man fell to the sixth pick because he's coming off major knee surgery.

What the team has, maybe, are a few strands, ideas, mainly, that could -- if Hinkie and new coach Brett Brown are lucky as well as smart -- emerge into this thing called "winning culture." In other words, just maybe this season, in addition to a great pick, can deliver a way of approaching the job of playing in the NBA in a way that will pay off over the long-term.

Brown is from the Spurs, which is no small part of his qualifications. The Sixers don't need wins right now, but they do need a foundation for big winning down the road.

Malik Rose calls games for Sixers TV now, but for eight years he played for San Antonio, and for much of that time Brown was the coach he dealt with most. How long has Rose known the Sixers new head coach? "Too long!" he insists, laughing.

I've always kind of wondered if "culture," in terms of ideals, or things people say to each other, is something that really translates consistently to wins. So I ask Rose if there's really something, a real thing, Brown can actually transport from San Antonio to Philadelphia. (If you don't bring Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with it, does it still exist?) Is "winning culture" real?

"YES. Oh. Absolutely. There's a culture." Rose is emphatic. "I know it's going to work here, too. Guys are held accountable. You're at the highest level of basketball in the world. That means keeping your mind, body, spirit -- everything -- ready to do your job. And if you're ready to do your job you're held accountable. And it goes from the future Hall of Famer to the 12th man."

What does it mean to be held accountable? Would you be fined?

"We never really found out what that meant," says Rose. "Knowing that those were the repercussions, you came into camp ready. You never had to worry about guys not coming into camp ready. It was just a way of life. Everything was about winning. Everything was about basketball. All other things, contracts, endorsements, even to a certain extent, family issues, if it wasn't anything life-threatening, or health-related, that stuff got pushed back when November came around."

I start to say that I recently learned that in the military, research shows the best motivation, by far, is ... Rose finishes the sentence: "The guy right next to you." Right. When the team culture is good, you work hard so you don't let that teammate down. That's how this ideally works.

Encouraging: Carter-Williams' comment about Brown was that "I can tell he really cares about us."

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It is about love, according to the military research. And it is about work. Knowing Duncan and Parker would be in great shape kept Rose in great shape.

Hinkie is like a broken record on that topic. Nothing impresses him about a player more than a "great capacity to work." That is the foundation of the culture, and Brown, who was unpaid when he began with the Spurs, has lived it.

"He was just the grunt on the team," remembers Rose. "There to rebound. There to run drills. He started from the bottom. If ever you wanted to reach him, you looked in the gym."

"Coach Brown is a really unique coach. And it's his first time. It's awesome and exciting for me," says Royce White, a former first-round pick of the Rockets who has yet to play a regular season game because of complications of mental health issues. White has been in town working with Brown for two weeks, and says "it kind of feels like when I played for another coach who was doing this for his first time in [Iowa State head coach Fred] Hoiberg. It feels like that first time. Building that culture. And I'll hopefully be able to let him know that I'm loyal to him. He's a great guy."

Brown is also articulating the new vision for the franchise through an accent thick with the timbre of New England, where he grew up, and Australia, where he lived much of his adult life and met his wife. (Brown calls it "Bostralian.")

"For the most part I can understand him," says White with a laugh. "More so than being able to hear exactly what he's saying, you can feel him. Sometimes I don't know exactly what he's saying, but I'm like I feel you. I feel you. I feel the energy. It's a good thing."

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