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Spurs’ run finally over? An annual question

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Tim Duncan is 37. Manu Ginobili is 35. Tony Parker, the youngest of the Spurs’ famed trio, is 31. All three have significant mileage from NBA regular seasons, long playoff runs and international play.

Are they over the hill to the point San Antonio’s run finally ended?

It sure seems so, but I also realize the Spurs were a minute away from a championship this season. San Antonio was certainly good enough to win, but so were the Heat, and the breaks went in Miami’s favor. Credit the Heat for coming out ahead, but also realize the Spurs were right there.

Also realize declaring the Spurs dead has become an annual tradition since they won their last championship in 2007.

Fran Blinebury of NBA.com when the Spurs lost to the Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Finals:

Forget the back-to-back sweeps of the Jazz and Clippers in the first two rounds. Going out by losing four straight in a reverse sweep and blowing the largest halftime playoff lead in franchise history in the finale says the Spurs might be lucky to slide a razor through that window crack next October.

How many times can Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford beat the bushes to drum up supplementary talent such as Gary Neal or Danny Green or Boris Diaw or Jackson to give Duncan, Ginobili and Parker one more chance? How many times can the big three avoid ankles and elbows and knees that break down before the playoffs even begin?

How do the Spurs replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle good fortune of winning Hall of Famer Duncan in the 1997 Draft lottery that has produced 15 years of stability and elite contender status for the small-market franchise?

On a night when the painful realization of what lies ahead had to run deep, Popovich chose the Novocain of praising OKC for running the table against Dallas, L.A. and San Antonio, the teams that had ruled the Western Conference for the past 13 seasons.

“I think it’s pretty cool for them,” he said.

However, when Parker was asked what went so horribly and suddenly wrong for the Spurs, he shrugged and replied, “It might be too early.”

It might already be too late.

Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk (sorry, boss) when the Spurs lost the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2011 playoffs:

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.

Bill Simmons of ESPN when the Spurs lost the Suns in the second round of the 2010 playoffs:

To the Duncan-era Spurs: Four titles, 13 straight 50-win seasons (I’m including the stupid lockout season) and a boatload of fantastic memories. OK, not really. But we got to watch Duncan (the best power forward ever), Ginobili (the best international guard ever if you’re not counting Nash, and you shouldn’t, since Canada isn’t really “international”), Parker (who perfected the celebrity relationship), Popovich (the best coach of the past 15 years), and two really fun rivalries (Spurs-Suns, Spurs-Mavs). Look, you can’t stay on top for more than a decade without getting a top-three lottery pick or having Chris Wallace trade you a top-three lottery pick. That’s just the way this league works. So hold your head up high, Spurs. Fantastic run. When players are bawling in their locker room because they finally beat you (like Nash did after Game 4), you know you accomplished something great. And you did.

John Hollinger of ESPN when the Spurs lost to the Mavericks in the first round of the 2009 playoffs:

End of the season … or end of an era?

It’s not just that four-time champion San Antonio lost a first-round playoff series for the first time this decade Tuesday night. What’s shocking is the manner in which it lost to a team that, let’s face it, wasn’t that good.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this series was the dreadful performance of the Spurs’ roster, other than Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. A decade of drafting 27th will do that to you. San Antonio’s supporting cast was so ineffective Dallas couldn’t guard the Spurs’ best player and it didn’t matter.

Worse yet, two of the Spurs’ three stars had physical problems this season, and one wonders how they will affect the club’s fortunes going forward. Manu Ginobili missed half the season with ankle injuries. While he’s still capable of playing at an extremely high level, he’s no longer somebody you can pencil in for 80 games.

More worrying, perhaps, are Duncan’s knee problems. With 30 points Tuesday, he showed he still can be a capable player even with the injury. The problem is, this isn’t an “injury” so much as a chronic condition, and it’s limiting his ability to be a defensive dominator. He blocked one shot a game over his final 20 contests this season, after averaging well more than two for his career, and his rebounding also has slipped.

This much is clear: Without a major infusion of talent and youth at some point in the next two years, the Spurs’ quasi-dynasty of the past decade will come crashing to an end. We’ve had it in the back of our minds for a while, but this series, and Tuesday night’s game in particular, hammered that point up to the front.

The Associated Press when the Spurs lost to the Lakers in the 2008 Western Conference Finals:

San Antonio’s elimination might signal the end of its era of dominance. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs won championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, but with a rotation made up solely of 30-something players except for the 26-year-old Parker, the future seems uncertain.

So, as much as I think the Spurs are finished, I won’t declare them dead. They were good enough to win a title this year, and although they fell short, they came much closer in 2013 than those who’d written them off previously ever would have imagined.

Besides, I wouldn’t want someone quoting my foolish words in a blog post about San Antonio’s 2014 NBA title.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.