The title contending Spurs are dead. Long live the Spurs.

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This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
—Jim Morrison, The Doors

We’re going to miss the Tim Duncan era Spurs.

Yes, likely will get one more win in their first round series, Wednesday night at home. They are fully capable of that. But it will be fools gold — just like this entire season. This was the season the Spurs seemed to reinvent themselves as a savvy, offensively-focused team. A team that relied on two quick players out on the perimeter in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Tim Duncan could still do enough in the middle to make it work. The role players were better.

It didn’t work. Make no mistake, this series where the Memphis Grizzlies have pushed the Spurs around like a cat with a ball of yarn has signaled the end of the Duncan-era Spurs as a championship team.

Technically the era will linger on for another season or two before it’s broken up and sold for parts. But those seasons will feel a lot like a sadder version of the past couple seasons, where you had the feeling San Antonio was not a contender. On paper you thought they could recapture the magic of the 2007 title run, but when you watched them play you were not so sure.

Now you watch and you’re sure. It’s not happening.

Even the brilliant Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell recognizes it. There was one play in this series, where the usual spark of the team Ginobili didn’t even try to close out on a corner three where it hit them this team is no longer that title team.

Those title teams defended like mother wolverines protecting their young. These Spurs — all season long — have played just enough defense to get by.

We bought into the fool’s gold that was the 61 wins and the up-tempo offense that came out of the gate on fire this season. We wanted to believe, because the Duncan era Spurs were not boring — as some uniformed columnists wanted to say — they were pure, efficient basketball. They made the smart plays, the good basketball plays. Consistently. Every time down. They did the right thing and knocked down the look when they got it. If you love basketball you had to love the simple purity of their game.

But these Spurs do not play good defense. And in the payoffs, where they used to be the physical team that could push you around, now they are getting punked inside. Duncan is getting what he can out of his aging body, but DeJuan Blair just doesn’t have the size and Matt Bonner doesn’t bang. Tiaggo Splitter tried in Game 4 but it was too little, too late.

The Grizzlies look more like the title Spurs teams — they are controlling the paint, contesting shots on the wing and getting the offense from whatever matchup they can exploit (usually Zach Randolph against anyone).

Duncan looks his age now. He has all season but it was masked by tempo and wins, and we didn’t want to see it. But all season long when the Spurs ran into the league’s big front lines — like the Lakers — Duncan struggled. Memphis is big up front. Contenders always are.

Duncan has taken years of physical pounding in the post and he’s not the player he once was — still very good, but not dominant. And there is nobody anywhere near David Robinson’s quality around him in the post. He has no help.

The Spurs as contenders are done. The Grizzlies have put the nails in the top of that coffin. San Antonio may again win 50+ regular season games next season. There may be flashes of the old magic. But we know that they cannot sustain it for seven games against a quality opponent.

It’s over for the Spurs.

Someday all basketball fans hopefully will look back at their cool efficiency on the way to four titles and realize just how special those teams were.

But for now, for today, we’re just sad about he end of an era.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.