LeBron may not worry about legacy talk, but a lot on line for him, Duncan in Finals

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SAN ANTONIO — When LeBron James retires someday he will go down as one of the greats to ever play the game. Exactly where in that pantheon, where on that scale he lands remains to be seen. He can call the talk of his ultimately legacy “kind of stupid” as he did Wednesday, but the fact remains that’s kind of where his career is at right now — he is in legacy building mode. Whether he wants to admit it or not.

Whenever this Spurs era ends — and no matter the outcome of these NBA Finals that start Thursday night in San Antonio — this franchise’s legacy is going to be set as one of the best teams in the post-Jordan era. It has sustained excellence spanning three decades now, from the late 1990s to today. We will call it the Tim Duncan era but it will be more than that, it will be David Robinson and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and most of all Gregg Popovich.

They may not want to talk about it, but both of the participants in the 2014 NBA Finals in some way have secured a powerful legacy.

And yet both have a lot on the line with their legacy in this series. Particularly LeBron.

Which is part of what makes these Finals so compelling. This is more than just another rematch, there is more than just pride and another ring on the line for these guys.

Especially LeBron — the stakes are highest for his legacy. Whether he cares about it or not.

Win and LeBron will have led a team to a three-peat, something Jordan did, something Shaq and Kobe Bryant did, but not something legends like Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain or Larry Bird ever did. Fair or not, Jordan is the bar LeBron is compared to now. Win this title and LeBron will have led an aging, declining team to a third straight title — past the immortal Duncan (twice), past Kevin Durant, past every peer he faced at his peak. That is how legends and legacies are made.

Lose, however, and LeBron is 2-3 in Finals and suddenly it’s a long road to Jordan’s 6-0 Finals record. LeBron will have been felled by Dirk Nowitzki and Duncan — two legendary players, but if you are an icon those are the titles you are supposed to win. Because that’s what we saw Jordan do. Again the standard may not be fair, but that’s where the bar has been set.

Lose and LeBron will someday go down as maybe the greatest physical specimen ever to play the game, but there will be questions about how much he got out of that talent. Doesn’t matter if he thinks that is fair, doesn’t matter how many MVPs he has or who the teammates were around him.

He may say that this kind of talk is stupid as he is 29 years old, but this is the same guy who has said in the past he wants to be on the NBA Mount Rushmore, that he is driven to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Remember he called his key jumper late in Game 7 of the Finals last year his “MJ moment.” He cares about his legacy, about how he will ultimately be remembered. And with that there is a lot on the line in these Finals.

Tim Duncan will go down as the greatest power forward ever when he steps away from the game sometime in the next few years. That is secured. We will debate him vs. Karl Malone on the pantheon, or whomever else you wish to put at the four spot, but Duncan has secured that place in the conversation.

However, win a fifth title and he will have done something more.

Win and these Spurs can lay claim with their sustained 15 years of excellence to the “greatest team in the post-Jordan era” title. It’s them and the Lakers, who have five titles to the Spurs four right now. If San Antonio gets a fifth — spread 15 years apart, where they won 50 games or more every one of those seasons (save for the lockout year there were just 50 games) — and they rightfully can try to snatch that mantle away from Kobe. You may say that the title still belongs to the Lakers (this is essentially a bar stool debate anyway) but the fact is the Spurs deserve to be respected and part of that conversation.

A win helps cement the Tim Duncan era as one of the great runs in the history of the NBA. It bookends it with 1999. It brings it into a new era and shows that ball movement, cutting off the ball, and just playing smart, playing fundamentally sound basketball will always be able to win. Even if you’re no longer the most athletic of teams.

That’s a huge legacy.

As it would be for LeBron if he wins.

The players, trying to focus straight ahead on the games may find the talk “stupid” but for both the 2014 NBA Finals is about their ultimate legacies.

Report: Rockets becoming “increasingly serious threat” to sign Chris Paul

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The Houston Rockets are one of only a handful of teams in the NBA with a legitimate ability to add a couple of key pieces and try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors.

Chris Paul would be that kind of piece, and the Rockets are ramping up efforts to land him.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have emerged as an increasingly serious threat in the chase for soon-to-be free agent Chris Paul, according to league sources.

The Rockets still have work to do in terms of clearing sufficient salary-cap space to make a representative offer for Paul, but sources told ESPN that Houston star James Harden has been advocating hard in favor of the Paul pursuit and has made his interest in teaming with the Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard known directly to Paul.

Sources say Houston also remains at the heart of the trade hunt to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, despite the fact George is only under contract through next season and is known to be angling to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in July 2018.

The challenge in all of this is the Rockets have just about $10 million in cap space this summer, which is about a third of what it will take to land Chris Paul. That means they need to trade Ryan Anderson and his $19.6 million owed next season and take no salary back, and while there are a few teams in a position to be able to take on that salary — Philadephia, Brooklyn, Sacramento and others — they are going to want a young player or first-round pick as a sweetener. The Rockets also are considering moving Lou Williams and his $7 million salary, or Patrick Beverley and his $5.5 million. However, even moving both of the later two is not getting near the salary Paul will demand.

Chris Paul met with the Clippers front office on Tuesday to talk about the future, but he’s expected to meet with a number of teams in free agency, with the Rockets and Spurs being key suitors. The question is, will any of these teams bring him closer to toppling the Golden State Warriors, and is it worth it to take less money for that chance? Especially after he got the CBA changed so that as of July 1 the “over 36” rule becomes the “over 38 rule” so the Clippers can give him one more five-year max contract.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.