Capitals

Duncan back to chase 5th ring alongside same Spurs

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Duncan back to chase 5th ring alongside same Spurs

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tim Duncan didn't re-sign for three more years just to start over. In fact, the San Antonio Spurs are back with nearly the entire roster that dominated the NBA for most of last season.

``We were right on the verge of the Finals,'' Duncan said. ``Hopefully we can build on that.''

For that to happen, something has to change.

Otherwise, the league's winningest team the past two seasons - without a championship to show for it - risks winding up back where the Spurs found themselves in the Western Conference finals: a perennial contender still among the elite, but unable to reach another title.

So far starters, All-Star Tony Parker arrived at training camp with one idea - keep up what coach Gregg Popovich memorably implored the Spurs to do against Oklahoma City, before their season ended in an astonishing collapse.

Keep showing their nasty side.

``A lot of people see us as the nice Spurs. We need to play like we're hungry, like we want it,'' Parker said. ``We have to stop saying, `Oh, we won a lot of championships, we'll come back next year.' We have to play with more attitude.''

There's little fault to find in San Antonio's decision to keep the team intact. On May 29, the Spurs were an invincible combination of champion-forged savvy and depth who hadn't lost in 50 days, rolling on a 20-game winning streak and up 2-0 on Oklahoma City. Their first NBA Finals trip since 2007 seemed inevitable.

Their season was over less than a week later.

The unraveling was swift, accelerated by an eroding defense, an offense that went from the NBA's second highest-scoring to sputtering, and their celebrated bench wilting. And that's to say nothing of the Thunder, whose superstar core of early twentysomethings appear poised to dominate the West, as the Spurs' now 30-and-older Big Three did the previous decade.

Throw in the Los Angeles Lakers restocking with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and the Spurs' chances look bleaker than what the West's top seed the last two years might otherwise command. Even Popovich, sizing up the new landscape of the conference, said: ``There are others, but (the Thunder and Lakers) hit you in the face pretty quickly.''

Literally hit in the face this summer was Parker, who nearly lost his left eye that he says was cut by glass during a New York nightclub fight before the Olympics. Parker said he was just trying to get out of the way; Duncan joked it's just what they need.

``That's what this summer was all about. Trying to get street cred,'' Duncan said.

Like last season, the Spurs will only go as far as Parker carries them. Popovich, who is also team president, eagerly signed the 36-year-old Duncan to a new deal this summer and will face a similar situation when Manu Ginobili's contract expires after this year. But the Big Three era is now steered by Parker.

He averaged 18.3 points and a career-best 7.7 assists in the most complete season of his 12-year career. Duncan (15.9 points, 9.0 rebounds) will be his usual steady presence in his 16th NBA season, while the Spurs showed last season they finally had the depth to avoid catastrophe should the 35-year-old Ginobili become injured again.

Boris Diaw (4.7 points, 4.3 rebounds) is back at center and guard Danny Green (9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds) seems likely to reclaim the starting job he lost during the Thunder series after a miserable shooting stretch.

But short of attitude giving the Spurs a boost, who they might be really counting is second-year swingman Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs regard Leonard, their highest draft pick (No. 15) since Duncan in 1997, as their next star - someone to bridge the gap as the Big Three continues their decline.

Leonard averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds while playing in a system that didn't demand much of him besides guarding the opposing team's star player. This year, Popovich has already said the 21-year-old will handle the ball more, and Duncan wants to see if Leonard is ready to carry a bigger burden.

It's championship-or-bust as always for the Spurs. Yet with June still seven months away, Popovich set a more modest goal after coming back to work in October.

``If we can become a good defensive team,'' Popovich said, ``I'll be happy with our season.''

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

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What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE