NBA Finals legacy battle: Spurs try to solidify theirs, Heat try to build one

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When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night legacies will be on the line.

The Miami Heat have made no bones about it since the day LeBron James and Chris Bosh said they were joining Dwyane Wade in South Beach — they want to be one of the best teams ever. But they need to hang banners to do that. Not one, not two….

The San Antonio Spurs already have a legacy of winning — four titles between 1999 and 2007. One of the best teams of its generation, led by all-time great power forward Tim Duncan and the fantastic Gregg Popovich. Yet while we give lip service to that idea, the Spurs are overshadowed because they are steady and fundamental — they don’t bring the highlights of Kobe Bryant, the drama of Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. They don’t sell themselves like Lob City. It’s not a show. They get overshadowed. Yet they just win, and you couldn’t ignore a fifth championship in 14 years.

This year’s NBA Finals isn’t just about trying to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and having a parade. It’s about how each of these teams — and their best players — will be thought of a decade from now and beyond. Winning changes it for both.

Only one franchise has been able to repeat as champions since Michael Jordan retired — Kobe’s Lakers (once with Shaq, once without). If the Heat win a back-to-back titles by knocking off the Spurs then we can start to discuss just how good they were — three straight trips to the finals, two straight rings. (And if they can win a third, then they really reach a new level.)

LeBron will undoubtedly have two finals MVPs if the Heat win, and with that he keeps climbing the tiers up to the all-time greats.

We really should think of the Spurs as already being on those upper tiers. Tim Duncan is regularly mentioned s the greatest power forward ever to play the game. They have four rings

Yet that’s not the common perception of the Spurs — we never mention them with the legends of the game. They are so solid, so reliable, so sound that we take them for granted. We overlook them because they rely on smart passes and not alley-oops made for highlights. Television ratings suggest nobody goes out of their way to watch them, when really basketball fans should savor them. They play a smart, elegant game we will miss someday.

Instead they get ignored. But you couldn’t ignore Duncan’s fifth ring. He has to get talked about with Kobe in the “greatest of his generation” conversation.

That is what this comes down to — the chance to solidify a legacy on one side, the chance to really start building one on the other.

One of these two teams is going to take another big step into the history books in these Finals. However it ends.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.