Tony Parker’s injury highlights Spurs’ unique depth

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Two years ago, the Charlotte Bobcats – on their way to the worst record in NBA history – waived Boris Diaw. He was out of shape and out of favor. Less than a month from turning 30, he appeared to have a short future in the league.

Saturday, he led the San Antonio Spurs in scoring during a closeout game of the Western Conference Finals.

Diaw scored 26 points – his most since Charlotte and most in a playoff game in eight seasons – in the Spurs’ 112-107 Game 6 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili return to the Finals – to face the Miami Heat once again – but the Spurs’ big three has gotten this far due to teammates like Diaw, Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard (can we call him a role player anymore?).

Parker (ankle injury) left the game at halftime with San Antonio down seven. But Joseph stepped up with a couple big plays, and Mills proved steady enough down the stretch.

I repeat: Cory Joseph and Patty Mills proved instrumental, at the pivotal point guard position no less, in a closeout conference finals game. The only reason that doesn’t sound crazy is because it’s the Spurs.

This was San Antonio’s progressive philosophy paying off. All season, Gregg Popovich trusted his role players, starting them and sticking with them in crunch time. He used 30 starting lineups, and he limited everyone to fewer than 30 minutes per game. No other team promotes depth to that extent.

And quite possibly, no other team would have won like the Spurs did Saturday.

Make no mistake: The Spurs are better with Parker. They’ll almost surely need him in the Finals, forcing the action against Mario Chalmers. But they sure made Parker look expendable in the final 29 minutes against Oklahoma City.

It seems no matter who San Antonio plugs into its system, it works – though, that’s obviously because the the Spurs are selective about who they plug into their system.

They saw more in Diaw than the Charlotte did, and they were proven correct. Matt Bonner once again started, pulling Serge Ibaka from the paint and throwing Oklahoma City’s defense off balance. But the Spurs really took off when Diaw – a better player – took Bonner’s stretch-four spot. Diaw can draw defenders outside, but he can also batter players in the post when the opponent goes small. All the while, he makes impressive passes and keeps the ball moving.

Leonard (17 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) had another energetic and effective game, but he really belongs mentioned with the Spurs’ big three at this point. Heck, he’s better than at least one of them, though he takes a backseat in perception.

Not that the big three has fallen off a cliff (at least as long as they’re healthy).

Ginobili made a huge 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in regulation, and Duncan (19 points and 15 rebounds) scored seven of San Antonio’s overtime points.

Yet, the Spurs only put those two in position to make the big shots thanks to their heralded role players. And those role players were only ready to meet the moment thanks to San Antonio empowering them all season.

Of course, the Spurs were afforded this luxury by the sustained excellence of their big three. San Antonio always knew, whatever its role players did, it could fall back on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

The Spurs want to be deep. They also had a setup conducive to being deep.

But when Popovich smelled blood in Game 6 – the best opportunity either team has had all series to win on the road – he didn’t hesitate. Duncan, Leonard, Green, Ginobili and Diaw each played series-high minutes during regulation alone. Duncan played this much overall (39:01) just three times all season.

The Thunder closed ranks, too – but out of necessity.

It took more than 34 minutes for an Oklahoma City player other than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson to score. Those four finished with 102 of the Thunder’s 107 points.

Oklahoma City got here and wanted to win. San Antonio has been prepping for this level all season.

Teams want to rely on their star players in the postseason. They often can.

But when a Tony Parker goes down, very few teams can overcome that on the road in a tight series.

There has never been a team like these Spurs.

Yet, these Spurs are like so many Spurs teams before them – back in the Finals

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili led them here. Diaw, Joseph, Mills and Leonard are following not too far behind.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.