For those anticipating the demise of the San Antonio Spurs, you may have to wait a bit longer for that to occur. Perhaps a decade or two.
San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford targeted this offseason as the one that would resuscitate the franchise, providing not only youth to an aging team but an established veteran in his prime.
San Antonio has never been an attractive destination for premium free agents but Buford focused on the right one at the right time.
The Spurs made the blockbuster move of signing this summer's most sought-after free agent in four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. They also re-signed franchise cornerstone Kawhi Leonard and 3-point specialist Danny Green, then added veteran David West to retool for the short- and long-term future.
San Antonio's activity this summer was perhaps the most surprising element of free agency. The Spurs have signed moderately priced players in the past and then re-signed their own free agents. This time, they scraped up enough salary-cap space to make a run at Aldridge, a Dallas native whose desire to win trumped any interest from the Lakers or Knicks.
Buford, an unassuming mastermind, expressed satisfaction over the organization's improvement.
"At this point with our franchise, we knew we had some big decisions to make — not for ourselves but for the players who have been the core of our group for a long time," Buford said. "At the same time, the free agent market had some people that may consider San Antonio, which is closer to their home. That won't happen every year and this was our chance to see if we could make it work, and fortunately for us it did."
The Spurs' brass strategically planned for this summer when Aldridge, who spent the past nine years in Portland and never reached the Western Conference finals, was going to be available.
San Antonio sold Aldridge on its culture of winning and the opportunity to return and be a hero in his native state. The Spurs have won all five of their NBA championships with Tim Duncan as their anchor but he's 39 years old. They needed another cornerstone.
"This summer was targeted as much because of the potential fits for our organization as opposed to just trying to anticipate the end of our group," Buford said. "But what those players and people and [coach Gregg Popovich] have established is the foundation that gave us this opportunity. Our players and our coach put us in the position where people know who we are and what's important, and it's got to work for them. That group has done really terrific things to let people know who we are."
There was no guarantee that Duncan would return, but he gave a major hint when he took an active role in recruiting Aldridge. Veteran sixth man Manu Ginobili was also undecided about playing next season until the other additions were made. Duncan is likely to be the team's fifth-highest-paid player behind Aldridge, Leonard, Tony Parker, and Green.
To make salary-cap space for Aldridge, Buford allowed Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph, and Aron Baynes to sign elsewhere. He also dealt Tiago Splitter to Atlanta.
"I think they take pride in what they've built and what they've established," Buford said of the incumbent players. "Danny was a part of this. So were Aron and Cory and Jeff Ayres and Marco. We'll miss those guys terribly. We're happy they've been rewarded for their work and what they've built in San Antonio.
"It's very difficult [to lose guys] but you're proud for the opportunity that awaits them. They've been a big part of our success and also our culture and that's hard to replace."
Duncan is a legend in San Antonio, certain to have his number retired and certain to be remembered as one of the greatest power forwards in league history. Because of reduced minutes, a rigorous workout schedule, and good fortune, he has been highly productive in his later years. In 77 games last season, Duncan averaged 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots.
"It's hard to fathom but when you see how he takes care of himself, when you see how much he loves to play, when you see how much he enjoys being with his teammates, it's not surprising," Buford said. "The proactive nature of [Popovich's] approach, the management of our seasons, the management of those guys' careers, it's reaping benefits for [us and Duncan]."
There have been comparisons to the impact of the tandem of Duncan and Hall of Fame center David Robinson, who was 32 when the Spurs drafted Duncan, and the potential impact of Duncan and Aldridge, who turns 30 Sunday. Buford refrained from making any projections.
"It's impossible to anticipate how they will work out," he said. "David was very gracious and supportive of Tim's transition into our group and I anticipate Tim to be the same type of host in welcoming him into our group as he has welcomed others the last two decades. LaMarcus will be a different player and person than we've had in the past but in the time I've been able to observe them together both as teammates and competitors, I think there's been a proper respect for each other and the anticipation of a really powerful relationship."
Cuban, Mavericks try to turn corner
Several days after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan spurned the Mavericks' maximum contract offer after verbally accepting the deal, Dallas owner Mark Cuban was more reflective than angry. But make no mistake, he was still angry.
The Mavericks restructured their payroll and roster to accommodate Jordan, and they were left scrambling when he made the shocking decision to return to Los Angeles.
Commissioner Adam Silver said the Jordan flip-flop was a "not a good look" for the league, but during the Board of Governors meeting last week none of the league's owners suggested a better idea than the current nine-day moratorium before players can sign free agent contracts.
So the NBA considered Jordan's change of heart an exception, and Cuban, who nabbed center Zaza Pachulia from Milwaukee and then added point guard Deron Williams, is trying to concentrate on the future.
"No, I don't give a [expletive]" was Cuban's response to whether he would push for changes to the moratorium system. "It's not relevant to anything. There was a lot of gamesmanship that went on. You just don't know. I don't think the system was wrong in any way, shape, or form. We have rules and if rules are broken then punishment is coming, and if it's not, it's not."
Cuban wouldn't mention Jordan by name and said he has no plans to complain to the league about losing a player who made a verbal promise to sign.
"There's nothing wrong with the system. I pick my nose at the table," he said. "I don't give a [expletive] about etiquette. This is business. This is the real world. You move on, you know? There's lots of guys that haven't played for the Mavericks that are in the NBA. You're either with us or against us."
Cuban continued his passive-aggressive rant. "There's nothing to talk about," he said. "Until you get them to sign on the line that is dotted, nothing happens."
Cuban's focus has most been on officiating in the 15 years he's been the Mavericks' owner, and he appeared more adamant about adding game officials than changing the free agent system.
"Four refs," was his simple answer. "I think it will make for a smoother game. I think there will be less hidden behind the scenes. Guys will just play basketball, a lot less flopping. I think there will be a lot of upside to it."
Regardless of how much he tries to camouflage his disappointment with Jordan's decision, Cuban understands that he has a 37-year-old potential Hall of Famer in Dirk Nowitzki who accepted less money so the Mavericks could build a championship contender around him.
Now, Dallas's chances of competing with Golden State, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City in the Western Conference have been dashed. The additions of Williams, Pachulia, and Wesley Matthews aren't likely to compensate for losing out on Jordan. The Mavericks are likely headed for mediocrity.
"We have said all along that we want to grow a younger core and we brought in Wes, that's a huge step in the right direction, and we'll keep on adding to that core," Cuban said. "And we've got some vets who know how to play, so I think Zaza takes care of a big chunk of the center position. If we can go a little bit further there, we can be better than we were last year."
But not likely good enough to contend.
Crawford hopes to improve image
The NBA can be a judgmental league. One clash with a coach, open complaint over playing time, or a practice scuffle can lead to a reputation that is difficult to shake.
Such is the case for former Celtic Jordan Crawford, who is on the Mavericks' summer league squad after spending last season in China and the NBADL.
Crawford is just 26 years old and has consistently shown the ability to score by averaging 12.2 points per game. Yet he is hardly guaranteed a training camp invite come September.
Crawford is trying to erase a reputation that he is a selfish player who only cares about his offense. Instead of being lauded for his scoring ability, it has been considered a negative, which has sent Crawford looking for NBA work after stints with four teams.
If you recall, Crawford's last great NBA stand was in Game 7 of the first round of the 2013-14 Western Conference playoffs with the Warriors. The little-used Crawford was thrown into early action by coach Mark Jackson and he scored 12 points in 12 minutes but was not used in the fourth quarter of the 126-121 loss.
Crawford was not re-signed, nor did he sign with another team as a free agent. He played five games in China and then returned to play for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBADL, averaging 22.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.
"You can't control everything," he said. "You've got to stay faithful and be able to make the right decision out of that. I'm blessed to be here healthy, my family healthy, so I'm all right."
Crawford has averaged 8.8 points and shot 33 percent in the Mavericks' first five summer league games. The goal, of course, is to procure a training camp invite. Talent has never been an issue for the former first-round pick, but a difficult tenure in Washington, followed by the Celtics dealing him to Golden State in their youth movement, has turned Crawford into a vagabond and a player considered more consumed with numbers than defense. He is trying to change that perception.
"Just making an effort on the defensive end and being a good teammate," he said of his summer goals. "Showing teams that I'm here to stay."
Asked why he has such a soiled reputation, Crawford said, "Because I kind of got a little swagger about me. It kind of rubs people the wrong way. I walk in the building and people are kind of scared to come talk to me, but I'm actually an easygoing guy. But that's the reason I'm so misunderstood, I don't really talk to nobody."
Crawford's best stop was Boston, where he played for Doc Rivers and Brad Stevens. He was a solid locker room presence and played hard. When he was traded to the Warriors in a three-team deal that netted the Celtics Joel Anthony and two draft picks, Crawford thanked the Celtics on Twitter for giving him what he considered a fair opportunity to play without judgment.
"Yeah, I enjoyed it a lot," he said of his time in Boston. "I love how the fans get together and rally for their sports teams."
Crawford's primary goal this summer has been not only to score baskets but garner respect from teams and adjust his image.
"I've got to change [my reputation] from my end because I've got to build better relationships with people," Crawford said. "The thing in DC, whatever happened wherever I was at, it was never as bad as it seemed. But through no relationships, stuff don't get explained. It's all right. I'm ready to explain myself."
Former Celtic Vitor Faverani has spent the past few weeks in Tel Aviv and is close to a deal with European power Maccabi Tel Aviv. Faverani is finally healthy after missing most of last season following two knee surgeries. He was waived by the Celtics in a roster crunch and was not on any NBA summer league roster. Faverani has skills that tantalized NBA teams but his work ethic has been questioned. The 6-foot-11-inch, 260-pound center is only 27 years old and has the potential to emerge as a standout for Maccabi . . . Why did the Hornets move 19-year-old Noah Vonleh after just one injury-plagued season? Because they tried to move former fourth overall pick Cody Zeller but found no takers. The Hornets were looking to lighten their frontcourt with the addition of Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky and found Vonleh, a Haverhill native, carried more value than Zeller. Vonleh has been impressive for the Trail Blazers in summer league, making the deal even more curious for the Hornets . . . With starting point guard Ty Lawson having been arrested for a second DUI in six months — the first arrest in Denver caused him to miss a game against the Celtics last season — the Nuggets don't appear inclined to bring him back. Rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has been stellar in summer league action and new coach Mike Malone has never coached Lawson. Denver has been trying to move the troubled point guard for weeks but has found little interest and that should decrease given Lawson's off-the-court issues. Once considered one of the league's rising guards, Lawson's stock has dropped dramatically as the Nuggets have undergone major changes in management. Lawson, who has entered a private rehab facility for a 30-day alcohol treatment program, may have played his final game for the Nuggets . . . Roxbury native and former UConn standout Shabazz Napier overcame a hernia to come back and play in the Heat's summer league games in Las Vegas. Napier could become the primary backup point guard to Goran Dragic now that the Heat are open to moving Mario Chalmers. Napier was inconsistent as a rookie last season but displayed potential. Also, the Heat's patience may be running short with swingman James Ennis, who they believed could develop into a rotation player. He struggled mightily during summer league games.
Center of controversy
While the Mavericks were busy putting the full-court press on DeAndre Jordan and addressing other needs in the wake of his verbal agreement to sign, the market on centers dried up. After Jordan doubled back to the Clippers, the Mavericks had slim pickings: