Three months later, it’s still remarkable that the San Antonio Spurs were able to win the 2014 NBA title. The team had the talent enough, that’s for sure. Top to bottom, they were probably the deepest team in the NBA, and easily the best squad in the NBA when it came time to thinking on its collective feet and anticipating all manner of movement from opponents on either end of the court. They weren’t gifted a title, they earned one – in spite of the disparate ages and stylings of its core players. No, the Spurs’ 2014 championship was remarkable because of what happened some 12 months before. San Antonio fell in the final two games of its 2013 season, losing the NBA Finals along the way, in a production that was as galling as anything we’ve seen since Bill Russell’s final championship win over a shocked and reeling Los Angeles Lakers squad in 1969. Perhaps more galling, one supposes, because the 2013 Spurs were supposed to act as the modern-day Celtics in this matter – all full of security and sound moves down the stretch. Instead, they folded; with both players and coaching staff making serious mistakes late in losses in Game 6 and 7 against Miami. How coach Gregg Popovich managed to rally his players initially is one thing, any coach can get the juices flowing after a massive disappointment for a short stretch. How Gregg Popovich managed to rally his players for a training camp, an 82-game season and 23-game playoff run stretched out from early October until mid-June? It may just have been the greatest coaching achievement in NBA history. Even if Tim Duncan is on your side. Coach Pop’s motivational technique was as tangible as well as ethereal. From Buck Harvey’s feature on Popovich in the San Antonio Express-News : If you took a right out of Gregg Popovich's office in the practice facility last season, and you walked past the offices of the assistant coaches, you couldn't miss it. Straight ahead, prominently displayed on a wall, was a framed picture of the Game 6 scoreboard. […] The picture didn't display the final score. It didn't freeze time at 28.2 seconds. It showed a moment late in the third quarter — when the Spurs led by 13 points. That’s a coach burn, right there. Don’t fixate on Ray Allen’s three-pointer or the half-full Heat arena celebrating the win after the final buzzer. Focus on the 12 and a half minutes’ worth of things that went wrong on Miami’s way toward outscoring San Antonio by 13 over the rest of regulation on its way to an overtime win. You’d call that typical Coach Pop, until you move on to read what else he and Harvey talked about , as Popovich readied to welcome his players back from a summer spent celebrating that hard-earned championship. On Miami’s mindset, heading into Game 3 of the 2014 Finals, working with a 1-1 series tie and home court advantage : “When they won Game 2,” he said, “they probably didn't handle that win real well. They were probably thinking that we got lucky in Game 1, with the air conditioning issue, and they thought they were just going to do it again. As two-time defending champs, it was natural. This had become their place in the world.” Combine the two attitudes, and the result was a stunning, overwhelming exhibition of basketball excellence. Even now, when Popovich watches the last three games of the Finals, he comes away amazed. “I'm thinking, 'Who are these guys?'” he joked about his players. “'Did they all have lobotomies?'” Popovich, in his own way, is always trying to surgically tweak brains. It's not manipulation as much as it is a search for the clearest, most honest message. He doesn't want to do what the Heat did, which is not handle success well. This is killer stuff. For one, the Heat can’t rightly respond. They don’t have LeBron James at their side anymore, so while Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and (especially) coach Erik Spoelstra can take all the offense they want to the insinuation that hubris got in the way of a third consecutive Heat title, they’ll still have to work through Cleveland, Chicago, and possibly a few other Eastern upstarts if they want a way to make Coach Pop eat his words in the FInals. This isn’t about the Miami Heat, though. You know that. This is about Coach Pop expecting his Spurs to have a mindset that combines the best of the 2013-14 combination of patience and execution, while learning on the fly how to do something that Pop’s Spurs teams have never been able to accomplish. That would be defending a title all the way until they’ve won another one. Finding a way to add to what was already a crystal clear focus in the wake of the 2013 disappointment, while understanding that no longer are the San Antonio Spurs considered the respectful-if-fogeyish mainstays that are to be admired but not feared. Nope, they’re the champs. And with bling, comes burden. - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have carried the NBA's top two-way, two-guard torch for 30 years, but Klay Thompson's agent says his client just staked claim to the top of that mountain, and that might be more of a commentary on the league's shooting guards than an inflammatory statement. Bill Duffy, who just so happens not to represent any other contenders for this title, told USA Today's Sam Amick that Thompson isn't just better than Bryant, but everybody else that plays the position. "I don't want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there's some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season)," Duffy told USA TODAY Sports. "But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it's pretty clear." As long as we're basing Bryant's current abilities on six games worth of production last season, then an awful lot of shooting guards can claim they're better than the five-time champ at this point. Kobe may be 36 years old, no longer elite defensively and coming off two major injuries, but he's still Kobe Bryant — 15-time All-NBA and 12-time All-Defensive selection — so any time somebody knocks him down a peg, it will raise eyebrows, especially when that someone hasn't even made his first All-Star Game yet. But this isn't just somebody saying this; it's Thompson's agent, and did we mention the 24-year-old is entering the final year of his rookie contract? Duffy's currently demanding a max contract from the Golden State Warriors, whether in the form of an extension by Oct. 31 or as a restricted free agent come next summer, so it behooves him to label his client as the NBA's top two-way performer at his position. If Thompson's USA Basketball teammates DeMar DeRozan and James Harden — the latter of whom actually dubbed himself " the best all-around basketball player in the NBA " this summer — were Duffy's clients, the uber-agent would have a tougher time walking that tightrope. Same goes for over-30 two-guards Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili, who have combined to win seven titles during Kobe's career. In reality, Thompson isn't the best two-guard on his own team, as fellow Splash Bro Stephen Curry showed in securing the starting spot on Team USA this summer. Heck, another Warriors teammate, Andre Iguodala, earned First Team All-Defensive honors as a guard/forward this past season. But Curry plays the point and Iguodala small forward for the Warriors, so the amalgamation of positions — combo guards, wings, point forwards, etc. — makes naming someone the best at one in particular all the more difficult in the increasing absence of prototypical shooting guards like Jordan, Bryant and, yes, Thompson. Recent young All-NBA selections Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Goran Dragic (another Duffy client) might also lay claim to that honor had they primarily played the position. Still, few two-guards enoyed a better year than Thompson, who averaged 18.4 points on 41.7 percent 3-point shooting, assumed the unfortunate responsibility of defending Chris Paul in Golden State's first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and bounced back with a gold medal for Team USA. (For the record, CP3 had a sublime series opposite the defensive effort Duffy is touting for Thompson.) Throw Bradley Beal, Lance Stephenson and Jimmy Butler into the conversation with Thompson, DeRozan and Harden, and it should be a fun battle for Bryant's shooting guard torch in the 25-and-under crowd. But there's no obvious heir apparent, and that allows Duffy to throw his client's hat into the ring. Not that Bryant will be releasing his grasp on the title any time soon, since it took Jordan until the age of 40 to officially step down from atop the NBA's shooting guard mountain.
What seemed like a frightening inevitability earlier in 2014 , thankfully, never came to fruition. The Los Angeles Lakers have let the stretch provision deadline pass on Steve Nash’s contract, ensuring that the future Hall of Famer will not have to retire in the face of having to relocate his family in order to join another NBA team. The Lakers did not announce the non-move so as not to embarrass either party, the team merely let the deadline pass over the weekend. Nash is owed $9.7 million in the final year of a sign-and-trade deal he agreed to in the summer of 2012, and he’s missed 99 out of a possibly 164 games as a Los Angeles Laker, suffering from a variety of crippling leg, back and nerve issues. When it became apparent that the Lakers interest in the provision was a reality, Nash discussed the possibilities in a borderline-harrowing (as far as sports go) video from last winter : The summation was simple. If the Lakers waived Nash, he would be loath to pack up his family and suit up for another team. Though Nash wanted to play in 2014-15, a release from the Lakers would effectively force him into retirement. And though the last two years have been tough, nobody wants to see that. Save for some Laker fans, of course, that wanted Nash’s contract completely off the books (a retirement would allow for that) as the team attempted to rebuild around Kobe Bryant’s whopper of a contract . Using the stretch provision would act as an unholy compromise of the two, as the Lakers would be on the books for Nash’s guaranteed money, but they’d be allowed to divide his deal into three yearly parts, saving the team nearly $6.5 million in potential cap space for the free agent summer of 2014. Late in 2013-14, however, it became apparent that the Lakers were leaning toward keeping Nash and his contract for this season, effectively taking them out of the free agent race before it even began . With Bryant’s contract, various cap holds, Kobe’s long-stated preference that Pau Gasol be offered a contract to remain in Los Angeles (one he eventually turned down), and a high end lottery pick salary slated to be on the books alongside Nash, the Lakers were never really players in the market. When July came and went and the Lakers were left with a re-signed Nick Young and Carlos Boozer to their, um, credit , that assumption played out in reality. The Lakers were never really going to be major players this summer, though, they knew as much the minute Kobe Bryant put pen to paper. What is certain is that, even with Bryant on board for what is likely one final season in 2015-16, the team will have cap flexibility moving forward in the 2015 and 2016 offseasons, and even a reduced portion of Nash’s stretched-out salary (just over $3.23 million) could still get in the way of another shot at attempting to sign help. This is why Nash is around for one more year . The Lakers are still paying the sins for the 2012 offseason, one that had the rest of the NBA red with anger as they acquired Dwight Howard and put together an on-paper backcourt for the ages. They’re also paying, literally, for the basketball sin of choosing personal over pragmatic reasons in extending Bryant to such an outsized rate. Their money, not ours. Nash was always going to get his money, and now he’ll get one last chance at going out on his terms. If anything, we should be thanking the Lakers for that. - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
|Adrian Wojnarowski||Los Angelesin 7||The 2-3-2 format is such an advantage to the home team. Just don't see a way Kobe doesn't close out in a Game 6 or 7 at Staples. Chance for epic series between these two teams full of great players and great winners.|
|Marc J. Spears||Los Angelesin 7||The Lakers have no one to slow down Rajon Rondo, but Kobe Bryant is playing on a higher level offensively than anyone in the postseason.|
|Johnny Ludden||Los Angelesin 7||For all the injuries he's dealt with, Kobe looks remarkably fresh. He'll need to trust his teammates more than he did in '08, but they'll also give him more of a reason to do so.|