Posts Tagged ‘Gregg Popovich’

Another big bang of free agents on tap

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Most scientists believe it was roughly 14 billion years ago when a single point exploded to create the universe. Of course, it was a more thoroughly documented Big Bang four years ago that blew a hole in the NBA space/time continuum, sending the celestial bodies of LeBron James and Chris Bosh south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Two championships and four Finals trips for the Heat later, the potential for another explosion is on us.

Carmelo Anthony’s declaration that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks was the first stick of dynamite ahead of the July 1 start of the annual free-agent scramble. Then, Tuesday, LeBron told the Miami Heat that he was going to test the waters, too.

You can feel the ground quiver as the movers and the shakers in the league start to do their thing …

Who has the space?

There are a lot of big-name free agents on the market — or there will be July 1. But the number of teams who have enough space under the salary cap that would enable them to sign some of those big-money players … well, that’s a lot smaller. Here’s a list:

Miami Heat: Up to $55 million, assuming virtually everyone opts out of contracts.
Dallas Mavericks: Up to $32.4 million
Utah Jazz: Up to $29.6 million
Philadelphia 76ers: Up to $29.0 million.
Phoenix Suns: Up to $28.4 million.
L.A. Lakers: Up to $28.2 million.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Up to $23.4 million.
Orlando Magic: Up to $22.2 million.
Detroit Pistons: Up to $22.0 million.
Charlotte Hornets: Up to $19.5 million.
Atlanta Hawks: Up to $13.9 million.
Milwaukee Bucks: Up to $13.0 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: Up to $12.0 million, if Zach Randolph opts out of his final year.
Chicago Bulls: Up to $11.3 million if they use their one-time amnesty on Carlos Boozer.
Boston Celtics: Up to $9.3 million. (more…)

Duncan comes back for the fun of it


VIDEO: Tim Duncan opts to return

Tim Duncan has said for several years now that he would stop playing basketball when it was no longer fun.

Did you see Duncan in the Game 5 clincher against the Heat? Making buckets, making plays and making sure that he nodded appreciatively at his teammates.

Did you see Duncan after Game 5 and the fifth championship was complete? Standing as the confetti rained down from the rafters, helping Kawhi Leonard adjust his one-size-fits-all cap like a proud big brother, hugging and dancing and laughing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, exchanging that knowing look with coach Gregg Popovich.

It’s still fun.

That’s why there was never really a doubt that the 38-year-old would exercise the contract option and return in the fall for his 18th NBA season. Thoughtful, introspective and deliberate, Duncan knows that these are the kind of experiences that he’ll never be able to duplicate once he takes off that Spurs jersey for the final time and steps outside the locker room.

The sports landscape is filled with stories of the athletes who stayed too long and did damage to their reputations at a time when their skills had faded. That was the thought behind those who suggested that Duncan could and should go out on top.

But it’s easy for us on the outside to say that enough is enough and it’s time for a player of Duncan’s stature to simply walk away from a game that has given him so much pleasure, such sheer joy and satisfaction for the largest part of his life.

If there is a plain and simple goal, it is for Duncan to come back with his teammates and try to do the one thing that has eluded the Spurs in their 15-year span of excellence — go back-to-back. Take one more shot and claim one more Larry O’Brien Trophy next June and the Spurs will slam the door shot on even the last bit of criticism from the nitpickers about their worthiness to be called a dynasty.

However, there is also the matter of just not wanting to leave one last drop of that shared camaraderie in the bottom of the bottle before walking away.

In his wonderful biography on Michael Jordan The Life by Roland Lazenby, the author tells the story of coach Phil Jackson asking each of the Bulls to write down a thought, a memory, a poem, anything about their experience and bring it to the team’s final practice at what they all knew was the end of the road in 1998. After each player stood up and spoke his memory, Jackson gathered all of the slips of paper, put them in a can and lit them on fire with a match.

“They’re ours,” he told the Bulls.

That’s what ties a true team, the shared work and sweat and practices and games and unique bonds that can make a champion. And no matter what successes Duncan — or any of them — can accomplish after their playing careers are through, it will never be this.

If Duncan was concerned with his age and the sharp edges coming off his game, he would have walked away in 2011 when the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by Memphis and Duncan looked tired, spent.

Instead, he rededicated himself to getting back into shape, a different kind of shape. He changed his body, shedding weight and making himself more lithe. Then he returned to a Spurs team where Popovich asked him to change his game, moving out from an existence in the low post and giving up his role as the centerpiece of the offense to Parker.

It was still a challenge, still motivating, still a reason to get up in the morning. Still doable, as the fifth championship attests.

Look at the photos of Duncan all through the Spurs’ march through the playoffs and tell me he was ever going anywhere but back to the locker room in October.

It’s still fun. The only reason that matters.

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

***

No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

***

No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

***

No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Morning Shootaround — June 19


VIDEO: The San Antonio Spurs celebrate their championship at the Alamodome

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celts may be on outs for Love | Anthony discusses meeting with Jackson | Young willing to give Lakers hometown discount | West calls Popovich ‘best coach’ he’s ever seen

No. 1: Report: Celtics may be on outs in any Love deals — From the moment Kevin Love visited Boston on vacation a few weeks ago (and shared a brief hello with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo at a Boston Red Sox game), the popular sentiment around Boston was that it had the inside track on landing Love. But according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the team’s chances of landing the somewhat-disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves power forward isn’t looking too hot:

The reality, however, is that this may be not be a blockbuster summer for the Celts. They may very well be left with a slower and steadier option as they seek to rebuild from their most recent run as a contender. And it may be their best choice.

The latest sparkler to be dimmed came when it was learned the Timberwolves are looking at other allegedly more palatable offers than that of the Celtics when considering a trade for Kevin Love. League sources from multiple sides told the Herald that Minnesota is seeking a player of substance as well as draft picks, if they are to part with their best player.

Those same sources cited Golden State and Denver, with others in the running, as well. The Celtics have expressed strong interest in Love, and they will continue working on a package that may entice the Timberwolves. But word is even a selection of picks, led by Nos. 6 and 17 overall this season, and either Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk isn’t going to be enough.

Is there a chance that Minnesota changes its opinion on the type of rebuild it wants to do and begins to look more favorably on the Celtics’ assets? Possibly. But a week out from the draft, the Wolves were hoping for something different.

At this point, the Celts are looking to find out more precisely what it will take to get Love, so they can see if they can cobble together the proper pieces.

“Minnesota looks at it that the team who gets the best player wins the trade,” one source said. “If they do make this deal, they know they’re going to be giving up the best guy in Love. So the picks they get will be nice, but they also want to get back a guy they know can play, a guy with some kind of track record.”

To meet Minnesota’s apparent need, the Celts may have to get more creative and involve at least one other team. If the Wolves are not enamored of what the C’s have to offer for a player, Danny Ainge could try to find such a player on another club and tailor the transaction to get him to Minnesota.

There is all evidence from league sources that the Celtics are already looking at these possibilities.

But all signs point to next week’s draft being the most likely time the Wolves make a move with Love. If they realize they are eventually going to have to build without him, it makes sense to start the process now and take advantage of this draft.

That may also be the Celtics’ position a week from tonight. And it may be the best course of action if they hope to build a team that gets into the championship equation and has the kind of depth to stay there a while.

And, Bulpett also tweeted out these interesting nuggets (if you mind the pun) about Denver getting in the thick of the Love chase …

(more…)

Hang time podcast (episode 165) featuring NBA.com Draft guru Scott Howard-Cooper


VIDEO: NBA’.com’s Draft Yoda Scott Howard-Cooper joins the Hang Time Podcast for an update a week before the Draft

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Before we can get to the NBA Draft and the future of the league and guys like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, we have to talk about those players and teams dominating the league in the here and now.

The San Antonio Spurs are on top of the basketball world right now, and rightfully so after blasting the Miami Heat off the court in the final three games of The Finals.

The results put the futures of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into question (at least as a trio), while solidifying the legacies of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich in the annals as some of the best we’ve seen in their respective roles and positions.

Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast provides us with an opportunity to review what we saw in The Finals in both San Antonio and Miami (where the first annual Hang Time Pigcast, thanks to Genesis Rodriguez and family, was a rousing success) and to preview what’s to come in the Draft and beyond with NBA.com’s Draft Yoda, our main man Scott Howard-Cooper.

Who are the Draft’s risers and fallers? Who goes No. 1? And is there a franchise savior among the bunch? We answer all of those questions and more, along with some drowsy analysis from a certain someone who decided an all-night drive to Las Vegas to clear his mind after The Finals was the only way to deal with what lies ahead this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 165 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

A jab at Phil and Spurs uniqueness

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Peter Holt talks with GameTime after Spurs win title

SAN ANTONIO – Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.

The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…

“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”

Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”

Take that, Zen Master.

Jackson never seems to miss an opening to tweak the Spurs franchise and their loyal fans about winning the title in a lockout season shortened to 50 regular-season games and failing to collect rings in consecutive seasons. Funny, here they stand yet again, with Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich still commanding their posts, with another opportunity to snap up the final carrot out there.

How does Holt feel about their chances?

“Kawhi’s 22, Patty’s 25, Tony’s 32 and Tim and Manu are going to play until they die,” Holt said. “So I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Sounds like Holt believes Duncan, 38, has no plans to ride his latest trophy into the sunset. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard sits on the cusp of stardom and Patty Mills, a key role player, is a free agent but could be  back. Tony Parker has already announced that he won’t play for France in the FIBA World Cup later this month, which has to be music to Holt’s ears, and Manu Ginobili, who turns 37 in a month, played this postseason as if 27.

The credit for the Spurs’ sustained success cascades from Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to Popovich and his staff to the Big Three and the revolving role players over the years that surround them. Holt says his franchise is filled with “unique individuals.”

That uniqueness is found in the Big Three re-signing with the Spurs over the years for less than the market would bear elsewhere; in accepting Popovich’s adamancy to begin limiting their minutes seasons ago; to sacrificing roles and buying into wholesale changes in playing style and philosophy that ultimately has kept the Spurs a step ahead of the rest of the league.

“We’ve protected guys for many years minutes-wise,” Popovich said. “And I’ve said before I’ve often felt guilty because their lifetime stats are going to be worse than everybody else’s because of the way I’ve sat them over the years.”

Some players might balk, some might complain. Some might seek to find a way out. But that’s not the Spurs way.

But why?

“Because all three of us see the big picture; we want to win championships,” Parker said. “I think that’s the big key of our success here in San Antonio all those years is Timmy, Manu, myself, we never let our ego [get in the way], it was the team first and that’s the most important. I always trust Pop’s judgment. I trust the way he sees, you know, for our team the big picture to win at the end.

“So I don’t care about all that stuff, as long as we get the ring at the end, and so far he’s right.”

Blogtable: Are Spurs the faves in 2015?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What to do in Miami | Spurs faves in 2015? | Who wants to be Lakers’ coach?



VIDEO: The champion Spurs have some issues to address in the offseason

> If San Antonio’s Big Three all return, and even if sparkplug free agent Patty Mills leaves, given how they played in The Finals, are the “old” Spurs automatically favorites to repeat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First of all, Patty Mills needs to talk with Gary Neal before he commits to another team with the idea he’ll be as effective – and have as much fun – as a non-Spur. The cash might be greener but the grass seldom is. But no, I think there will be a fairly even distribution of No. 1 predictions in the West – Spurs, Thunder, Clippers – along with Miami as class of the East and therefore a championship threat. San Antonio won’t have the right-that-wrong motivation next season and, logistically, coach Gregg Popovich will have to manage everyone’s injuries and playing time just-so again. The players will have to respond at a best-case level, and so on. In other words, way too many variables to just anoint the Spurs as easy favorites.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: At this point the Spurs never go into the season as THE favorite to win it all. That’s simply a matter of Tim Duncan being 38 and Manu Ginobili 37 by the start of training camp. Even with Gregg Popovich managing their minutes, there is no guarantee that their bodies will hold up. But the Spurs have shown consistently for nearly two decades that they’ll always be a contender and, if they’re healthy next April, then they’re the team to beat.

Patty Mills (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Patty Mills (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll be shocked if the Big Three aren’t back, and, yes, I’ll make the Spurs my early favorites to repeat (even though I had a healthy Oklahoma City team beating them in the West finals). The motivation for this group is to get the lone accomplishment still out there: Back-to-back titles. They’re toughest competition in the West will continue to be OKC with the Clippers and Houston likely to come back stronger.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI wouldn’t say automatically, but they would have to be the favorites — at this point. The answer could change completely before the first day of training camp, depending on what other teams do in the summer. But, yes, if the most the defending champion losses is one important reserve while no one else adds anything, they are the favorites until further notice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call them the favorites, but I wouldn’t take them over the field. They’re the most complete team in the league – no team ranked higher in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season – but it still takes some luck (with health) to get to The Finals. And there are a handful of other contenders with room for improvement.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Barring a breakup of your core group, a championship teams enters the next season as the favorite in almost every instance. And these Spurs, with or without Patty Mills, will enter the 2014-15 season as my front-runner pick to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. They’ll have to survive a rugged Western Conference, as always, but they have the components needed to do so better than anyone else. The Clippers move into that No. 2 spot to me and Thunder would follow them on my list of teams coming out of the West and thus becoming championship contenders. But the Spurs remain in that No. 1 spot.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The New Adventures of the Old Spurs was something of a revelation in the Finals. The way they shared the ball and played team defense was brilliant, so much so that you feel like they discovered another gear they didn’t know they had. And once Pandora’s Box is open, I don’t know how they put that back inside. The other thing is, if I’m a Spurs fan I don’t worry so much about losing a player, particularly a bench player, because you know the franchise is so great at finding and then developing players to fill these roles.

Spurs belong with all-time elites


VIDEO: Tim Duncan on the court after winning his fifth championship in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – If you ask the San Antonio Spurs about the greatest sports dynasty of our time, they’ll probably caution you not to rush to judgment.

After all, they might not be finished.

When the Spurs put the finishing touches on the destruction of the Miami Heat on Sunday, with one last whipping in Game 5 of The NBA Finals, maybe the only thing more impressive than their sheer dominance of the two-time defending champion was the simple fact that the Spurs, inexorably, keep on winning.

Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ taciturn forward who was named The Finals MVP, was only 7 years old when his teammate Tim Duncan raised the same trophy over his head in 1999, when the Spurs won their first title by beating the New York Knicks. Through the interim, the Los Angeles Lakers have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again, and now lie in a ditch so deep they might need more than a long rope to climb out. The Boston Celtics resurrected their past glory for a few shining seasons but have now fallen on hard times. The would-be contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, have changed cities and, in one case, changed names.

The Spurs have changed, too, from a deliberate, rugged team built on a foundation of tough, unyielding defensive chops to a work of offensive artistry that emphasizes quickness, ball movement and 3-point shooting.

What’s stayed the same is an organizational philosophy that promotes professionalism, selflessness and sacrifice. It is those core beliefs, and the way they have been carried out over so many years, that have produced the five championships that solidify San Antonio’s case as one of North America’s greatest sports dynasties ever.

When asked by ESPN’s Stuart Scott the biggest difference between the two titles, 15 years apart, Duncan gave the simplest and most accurate answer: “Fifteen years, probably?” (more…)

Game 5: The Wrap


From NBA.com staff reports

Kawhi Leonard is the youngest player to win an NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson after the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 5 series-clinching victory over the Miami Heat. The win sealed San Antonio’s fifth NBA championship since 1999 as The Spurs avenged their 2013 Finals loss to Miami in convincing fashion. Here’s a quick recap of NBA.com’s complete Game 5 coverage:

Game 5 Coverage: Spurs 104, Heat 87NBA Finals

Analysis

NBA TV: GameTime

Video Highlights

Postgame News Conferences

Photos

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Spurs and Heat help prove that defense wins championships


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with the GameTime crew after the championship clincher

SAN ANTONIO – Entering the 2014 Finals, the 2000-01 Lakers were the last team to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.

They still are.

The 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs, who — in a season between championships — allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, were one of the best defensive teams in NBA history. The Spurs’ D continued to rank in the top three over the next four years, but could only go downhill after that incredible 2003-04 season. And it proceeded to go downhill every single year for eight years, until it dropped out of the top 10 in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (see table below).

Out of the top 10 is not where you want to be. Over the last 37 years (since the NBA started tracking turnovers in 1977-78), only three teams have won a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. Twice as many champs have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

And though their offense had developed into a beautiful machine that ranked in the top two those two seasons, the Spurs knew they had to get better defensively.

“We thought that’s what was missing against Oklahoma City [in the 2012 conference finals],” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said a year ago, “that we couldn’t make stops when we needed to. We would call them ‘stops on demand.’ In fourth quarters and big games you have to be able to do it.”

You can’t just flip a switch in the playoffs. Habits have to be built throughout the season, so that when the time comes, you can fall back on what you have developed.

“We slipped a little bit,” Tony Parker said, “and we knew if we wanted to get back to the top, we needed to get back to where we were [defensively] when we were winning championships.”

So the Spurs went back to the drawing board in the summer of 2012. And as a team that has embraced analytics, they dug into the numbers and realized that being a great defensive rebounding team (which they were) didn’t matter if you didn’t defend shots well enough (which they didn’t).

“What we found,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told NBA.com last week, “were that teams who weren’t as effective defensive rebounding were still ranking incredibly high in defensive efficiency. The areas that they were focused in appeared to us to be field goal percentage defense. So we felt like we needed to go back to parts of our system that would improve our defensive field goal percentage.”

Basically, they needed to better contesting shots, both inside and outside. Easier said than done, but some shifts in personnel certainly helped. Tiago Splitter had two years in the Spurs’ system under his belt, Kawhi Leonard had one under his, and both have played bigger over the last two seasons.

In that time, the Spurs allowed just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in 1,907 minutes with Leonard and Splitter on the floor, the lowest on-court DefRtg of any two-man pair in the league that has played at least 1,200 minutes together over the last two seasons. The tandem of Splitter and Tim Duncan has protected the paint as well as any big man combination in the league. And Leonard has quickly become one of the world’s best perimeter defenders.

Their teammates and coach were quick to point out the importance of those Leonard and Splitter, but also said that there has just been a better collective focus on the defensive end of the floor over the last two years.

“[It was] just coming in here from day one in training camp and making it a priority,” Duncan said, “making them understand that every game, every film session, everything else, this is what we’re going to hang our hats on.”

“We just worked at it,” Popovich added. “I mean, it’s basketball. There is nothing magic about it. You know, we worked at it and the guys committed to it, and we got better defensively.”

With better defenders and a better focus, the Spurs went from 11th in defensive efficiency in both ’10-11 and ’11-12 to third last season. Not coincidentally, they got back to The Finals for the first time in six years and came within six seconds of winning a championship.

This season, they brought back their core (and the best defensive lineup in the league) with one more year together in their system. Though no player averaged 30 minutes per game, they again ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. And in the Western Conference playoffs, they got those “stops on demand,” holding the offenses of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder well under their regular season efficiency marks and setting up a Finals rematch.

The Miami Heat have gone in the opposite direction in the last two years. After ranking in the top five defensively in their first two seasons together, the Heat ranked seventh last season and 11th this year.

Dwyane Wade‘s “maintenance program” — he played just 54 games in the regular season — had something to do with this year’s regression. But so did bad habits. The Heat’s defensive scheme can overwhelm offenses when it’s sharp, but can also get broken down pretty easily when it’s not. It was inconsistent all season, pretty darn awful at times (especially in January), and finished just outside the top 10.

It got better in the playoffs, but the champs never really put 48 minutes of great defense together. In the conference semifinals and finals, they allowed both the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers to score more efficiently than they did in the regular season. Getting through the first three rounds was about how good the Heat were offensively, especially in the fourth quarter, than an ability to get consistent stops.

That wasn’t enough in The Finals. The Heat finally ran into a team that was great on both ends of the floor. And they got slaughtered.

The Spurs’ offense, of course, was a thing of beauty. And once it got going, the Heat could do nothing to stop it. They didn’t have a great defense to fall back on. They couldn’t get stops on demand.

Their not-top-10 defense, those bad habits and that inconsistency, had come back to bite them.

“We were always trying to conjure something,” Shane Battier told Bleacher Report after Game 5. “But you can’t win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn’t the case for us this year.

“We just didn’t have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed.”

But you don’t get the largest point differential in Finals history (70 points over five games) with what happens on just one end of the floor. The Spurs didn’t just eviscerate the Heat defense, they shut down what had been a ridiculously good offense through the first three rounds, particularly in Games 4 and 5, when they held the Heat under a point per possession.

“We felt confident coming into the series that we were going to be able to score,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Maybe not as much as we typically are used to, but coming off of some very good defensive teams and series in the Eastern Conference, we felt we could rely on that. But they shut us out of the paint pretty consistently.”

Don’t let anyone tell you that “defense wins championships” is just a cliché, because it has plenty of evidence — including the result of the 2014 Finals — to back it up. These were two great offensive teams. But only one had been defending at a high level all season.

As a result, they’ll be holding a parade down the Riverwalk.

Spurs defense, Tim Duncan era

Season DefRtg Rank Lg. OffRtg Diff. Playoffs
1997-98 96.2 2 102.0 -5.8 Lost conf. semis
1998-99 92.1 1 99.2 -7.1 Won Finals
1999-00 95.7 2 101.2 -5.6 Lost first round
2000-01 94.9 1 100.2 -5.4 Lost conf. finals
2001-02 96.5 1 101.6 -5.1 Lost conf. semis
2002-03 96.6 3 100.7 -4.1 Won Finals
2003-04 91.6 1 100.0 -8.5 Lost conf. semis
2004-05 95.8 1 103.1 -7.3 Won Finals
2005-06 96.9 1 103.4 -6.5 Lost conf. semis
2006-07 97.4 2 103.7 -6.3 Won Finals
2007-08 99.5 3 104.7 -5.3 Lost conf. finals
2008-09 102.0 6 105.4 -3.5 Lost first round
2009-10 102.0 9 104.9 -2.9 Lost conf. semis
2010-11 102.8 11 104.5 -1.7 Lost first round
2011-12 100.6 11 101.8 -1.2 Lost conf. finals
2012-13 99.2 3 103.1 -4.0 Lost in Finals
2013-14 100.1 4 104.0 -3.9 Won Finals

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions