Tim Duncan, after winning his fifth championship, faces retirement questions

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Tim Duncan jumped into David Robinson’s arms.

Just like 1999, when they celebrated their first championships.

Just like 2003, when they celebrated another title and Robinson’s retirement.

In 2014, it’s too late for any more beginnings. Is this another end?

Long after Robinson closed the Spurs’ Twin Towers chapter, Duncan is still celebrating championships with him.

Duncan has transcended eras, winning with Robinson as his partner in crime then with a guard attack led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and now with Kawhi Leonard winning Finals MVP. Robinson, meanwhile, is enjoying retirement and showing up for closeout games in San Antonio.

It’s a blessed life for both.

When Duncan entered the NBA in 1997, Robinson mentored him. Duncan was such a quick learner and skilled player, Robinson was the last of Duncan’s teammates to carry more-impressive credentials than him. That’s why Robinson holds such a special place to Duncan.

Might Duncan follow his mentor again now?

Robinson was the last Hall of Famer to retire after a championship season, going out on top in 2003. Duncan could do the same this year.

Asked whether it would be difficult to walk away from such a strong team, Duncan said, “Uh, yeah.” But he quickly shut down the discussion.

“I’m guessing you’re leading me into a question that I’m not going to answer,” Duncan said. “So, I will just go ahead and avoid that one.”

Unlike Duncan – who faces a June 24 deadline to exercise his player option – Robinson announced his retirement before his last championship season. Well before he celebrated in 2003, everyone knew that was the end.

If Duncan never plays again, that would be a huge surprise.

Like Robinson, Duncan remained a reliable contributor through his most recent season. Robinson hit several career lows in 2003, but dropping from such a high peak, he remeained a reliable starter. Of the nine Hall of Famers who won a championship in their last season,* none had played as effectively in their final season in more than 30 years.

*David Robinson (2003 Spurs), Mitch Richmond (2002 Lakers), Robert Parish (1997 Bulls), Sam Jones(1969 Celtics), Bill Russell (1969 Celtics), Tom Heinsohn (1965 Celtics), Clyde Lovellette (1964 Celtics), Frank Ramsey (1964 Celtics) and Bill Sharman (1961 Celtics)

Robinson went out on top, but he also went out still playing well.

I suspect that Robinson did so is the main reason so much speculation exists about Duncan following suit. (And the fact that Duncan is 38.)

But Robinson backed himself into a corner – perhaps for the very purpose of not giving himself a chance to second-guess the decision – by announcing his retirement so far in advance. Duncan has not, and as he admitted, it would be very difficult to walk away from all this.

Throughout his post-game interviews, Duncan gave somewhat-conflicting hints about his future.

Asked why he was especially emotional after this title, he said “Just the close of a career. I know it’s coming to an end. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to do this again.”

But he also said, “I’ve always said, as long as I feel I’m going to be effective, I’m going to want to play. And I still feel effective.”

Duncan has now become just the third player to win titles 15 years apart – and the only to do so with the same team.

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Parish retired after his final championship, but by then, he was a bench-warmer with the Bulls.

Abdul-Jabbar returned for one more season after his last title and again reached the Finals. His Lakers were swept by the Pistons, but he received one last standing ovation on the game’s biggest stage as he exited for the final time.

I suspect Duncan will be back next season – and not for the sendoff.

For another championship.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.