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Tim Duncan is the greatest gift to coaching

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Something crystallized a bit for me in the final minutes of San Antonio’s destruction of the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals this year. It’s probably obvious, but I had never thought about it before. Tim Duncan was out there playing his usual fierce basketball though his Spurs were up by 20 or so and had the thing wrapped up. At one point, he went to the floor after a loose ball and another time he raced down the court to join the fast break, all with the game decided. It was so typical Duncan that it’s almost impolite to bring up that surely no other 38-year-old man has ever played so hard for so little reason. That’s just Tim Duncan.

But here’s what I thought: Duncan has never been easy for us to categorize. Mark Jackson has been calling him “the greatest power forward in the history of the NBA,” and that’s certainly fine with me. But is Duncan really a power forward? Maybe. He’s a 7-foot (or so) shot blocker who plays much of the time with his back to the basket. His game doesn’t resemble many of the other great power forwards in NBA history — it seems silly to compare him to Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dolph Schayes, James Worthy or Bob Petit. If he’s a power forward, doesn’t that make Bill Russell a power forward too?

Look, it’s fine: Duncan might be more power forward than center but, realistically, he doesn’t play ANY position. He plays Tim Duncan. The rest works around him.

There are those who rank Duncan in the top 10 all-time — and that’s fair but unfulfilling. He’s unique. We can sense intrinsically that there’s something that separates him from everyone, including the others in the Top 10. There are those who call him the most fundamental player ever — and that might be true, but it’s boring. And, by the way, it also might not be true, the game has had brilliant fundamental players — Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuowon, Larry Bird and plenty of others.

More: Spurs owner, Tony Parker expect Tim Duncan will return next season

Anyway, it was while watching those final minutes that this thought occurred to me.

If you are a coach, and you could take any player in NBA history — you would be smart to take Tim Duncan.

I know that sounds like I’m saying Duncan’s the greatest player in NBA history. He’s not, and that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if you are a COACH, he’s the guy you should take. I’m saying that Duncan is the closest thing to a coach’s perfect player that we have ever seen.

Think about all the things you would want from a player if you were an NBA coach. The first thing you would want is talent; that’s obvious. A basketball coach once told me that if he had the choice to pick two teams and the only thing he knew about them was that one team was “coachable” and the other team was “talented”, he would take the talented team every single time. “You take the coachable team,” he told me. “You’ll have a bunch of good kids to have dinner with after you lose.”

That might be true in the larger picture, but Duncan has amazing athletic talent — it sometimes gets overlooked. He’s tall with long arms and yet he can handle the basketball. He has great touch around the basket and he can make the 17-footer pretty consistently. He still can outrun many big men down the floor. And then, there are those amazing hands — Duncan catches everything.

After talent, the next thing you’d want is probably consistency — you want to know the player will show up game after game. Those players who are great one night, lousy the next, they drive coaches crazy. Well, everyone knows Duncan would be first-team All-Consistency. He never changes.

The Dan Patrick Show: Charles Barkley on Tim Duncan’s place in NBA history

Look at his per-36 minute numbers:

As a rookie (1997-98): 19.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 2.5 assists.

In his first championship season (1998-99): 19.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 2.2 assists.

In his first MVP season (2001-02): 22.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 3.3 assists.

In his second MVP season (2002-03): 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 3.6 assists.

The year he turned 35 (2011-2012): 19.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 2.9 assists.

This year (2013-2014): 18.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 3.7 assists.

More: Bill Russell ranks Tim Duncan ‘right up there at the top’

That’s just insane — he doesn’t change. He needs more rest as he gets older. He will miss a few more games with nagging injuries. But for 17 years he has been the exact same basketball player; only a handful of players have been so consistent for so long.

So you have talent and you add consistency. And then, on top of that, you throw in all those intangibles that coaches adore. Name any attribute coaches prize, he has it. Works hard? Yes. Is a good teammate? One of the best. Takes criticism? Like no one else. Holds grudges? Nope. Complains in the press? He hardly even talks to the press. Wants special treatment? Nope. Loyal? The guy has stayed in San Antonio his whole career.

What other great player in any sport had all of these?

The Spurs have won 70 percent of their games with Duncan, including playoffs, and have never had a winning percentage lower than 60 percent in a season. So much of this, as everyone knows, is coach Gregg Popovich, who is famous for perfectionism and his ability to adapt to the game. There is no doubt about his greatness. But how possible would Gregg Popovich even be if Tim Duncan wasn’t Tim Duncan? How well would his intense coaching work if at any point Duncan turned and said, “Um, what’s your name again?” How many championships would he have won if Duncan had ever gone to the owner and said, “Look, I’m sorry, I can’t play for this guy.”

This is what stars do. All the time.

But Duncan went the other way. He accepted that Pop knows more basketball than he does. He took the blame when Pop heaped it on him. He listened. He learned. If he was angry, he turned it inward into his play. If he was bitter, he let it go.

The other players saw this. Of course they saw. What could they do when Pop came down on them but follow Duncan’s lead? Popovich is a fantastic coach, the best in the business … but there are a lot of great coaches who have been ignored by stars or worn down by players’ unwillingness. Tim Duncan was the greatest gift a coach could get.

And maybe that’s how we should think of him. It is fun to pretend you are a coach and you can choose an all-time NBA team to coach. Most people would choose Michael Jordan No. 1 — but remember Jordan ran off a coach before he won a championship. LeBron hasn’t always been easy to coach, Magic wasn’t always easy to coach, Kobe wasn’t always easy to coach and neither was Shaq. Wilt was pretty tough. You might take one of those great stars and find yourself fired before the team even started winning.

Don’t misunderstand: There have been other great players who were great to coach too. But I still say that as a coach who gets to choose any player in NBA history, you’d want to take Tim Duncan. There have been players who scored more, rebounded more, intimidated more, who passed out of the double team with more panache. But no one ever made a coach look as good.

PBT Extra: How the Spurs won their fifth NBA title

Report: Tom Thibodeau, Brian Shaw wants Knicks’ job

Tom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring Luke Walton or Brian Shaw.

At least one of them is interested.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Derek Fisher just got fired this morning. A source close to Brian Shaw has no chill.

But he’s not the only one swarming.

Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

Shaw probably has an easier time getting the job thanks to his relationship with Phil Jackson, but Thibodeau is the better coach. For all his shortcomings, Thibodeau is an elite tactician, and he’s not woefully inadequate at communicating with his players. Plus, Jackson could potentially help Thibodeau find better balance with the drive that helps him succeed as a coach but also grates over time.

Thibodeau makes sense on paper – if Jackson is willing to go out of his comfort zone, which I find unlikely.

Shaw has the potential to do better in another stint as a head coach. I’d just want to see real evidence he has learned better communication skills before I’d even consider him. His passion for the job wouldn’t move the needle.

And if all else fails, Dennis Rodman:

Rajon Rondo on signing with Knicks: ‘The triangle’s not really a good look for me’

Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo, left, saves the ball from going out of bound as New York Knicks center Robin Lopez, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Mike Conley threw the point-guard-needy Knicks a bone, saying he’d consider New York (and everyone else) in free agency.

They better hope that’s more than lip service.

This free-agent class doesn’t run deep, especially at point guard. And the second-best unrestricted point guard – a one-time target – doesn’t sound interested in the Knicks.

Kings guard Rajon Rondo, via Mike Mazzeo of ESPN:

“The triangle’s not really a good look for me, I don’t think,” Rondo said.

“[The] coach. And style of play. The biggest thing for me is the style of play,” he replied before the Kings were destroyed by the Nets, surrendering 18 3-pointers and 55.8 percent shooting in a 128-119 loss. “I wouldn’t want to go to a system where I don’t really have the ball in my hands and they have you stand in the corner and shoot 3s. That’s not my style of play. … The style of play is the biggest thing, and then obviously personnel on the court and coaches.”

This is the drawback of Phil Jackson’s triangle attachment. The Knicks know what they want to do, but that also means they lack the flexibility to acquire players who don’t fit their scheme. To their credit, the Knicks have bent more this season – but not enough to change perception of their methods.

If they want to change Rondo’s mind, they weren’t going about it by flattery.

Just ask former Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played for Jackson’s Lakers that beat Rondo’s Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals (and conveniently ignore Boston winning the same Finals matchup two years prior).

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

Rondo has earned a big raise with a bounce-back season. The Kings will likely pay him, but if not, he’ll have other suitors – likely including the Knicks’ crosstown rivals, the Nets. I doubt this tiff with the Knicks will affect him.

New York, on the other hand, faces grimmer prospects. Conley seems to legitimately enjoy playing for the Grizzlies. After Rondo, the Knicks could make a longshot offer to restricted free agent Jordan Clarkson, but the Lakers would likely match. Then what? Brandon Jennings? He’s alright, but he also might leave New York wishing its system accommodated choosing from a wider pool of players.

Hey, maybe firing Fisher will change Rondo’s perception of the Knicks. Then again, its essentially impossible to see Jackson hiring a coach who won’t run the triangle.

Tony Parker to play with France despite wife’s pregnancy

AP Photo/Michel Spingler
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PARIS (AP) San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker says he has found a deal with his wife that will allow him to take part in France’s Olympic qualifying tournament this summer.

Parker had raised the possibility of missing the tournament from July 4-10 and the Olympics – if France qualified – because of the expected birth of his second son in July.

But Parker told L’Equipe newspaper Monday that he will be available for both events, saying: “I will be at the Olympics if we qualify.”

Parker says his wife is making a “big sacrifice” by letting him go and has warned him he “should better bring a medal back home.”

The Olympic basketball tournament in Rio de Janeiro will be held from Aug. 6-21.

Rumor: Lakers would fire Byron Scott for Luke Walton

Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, left, walks off the court with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The Warriors won 111-77. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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The Lakers reportedly view the rest of the season as a tryout for Byron Scott.

Unless Warriors assistant Luke Walton wants the job. Then, Scott is out.

So says a notable Lakers rumormonger.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN LA on Scott:

I’m hearing he’s gone if Luke Walton wants to come in and take the job next season, that if he wants to do that, that obviously they would move beyond the Byron Scott era and bring in Luke Walton, that Luke Walton, however, as much as he loves the Lakers and California, may not find that to be an attractive job unless they position themselves to acquire somebody like a Ben Simmons. That is what I have heard.

I have also heard that it’s very, very possible that Jeanie Buss is going to keep her word and fire her brother Jim Buss – thank the good lord – and that Mitch Kupchak may very well not be safe as well.

How definitive that is remains to be seen. But that is the chatter in NBA circles.

Walton played for the Lakers, and Kobe Bryant still respects him. Though Kobe will retire after the season, his endorsement could still carry weight – especially as it speaks to players’ perception of Walton.

The Golden State assistant impressed while filling in for Steve Kerr as acting head coach. He has already been linked to the Knicks and Suns, and he could get other offers.

If the Lakers keep their top-three-protected first-round pick, they’d have an intriguing job with D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, a promising rookie, matching rights for Arenas-provision-limited Jordan Clarkson and tons of cap space. If the Lakers lose their pick, the job would look a lot worse. Either way, staying in California and leading one of the NBA’s premier franchises could appeal to Walton.

It’s this interest that makes me believe Scott’s “tryout” is little more than a courtesy for a former player who helped the Lakers win championships. If they’d fire Scott for Walton, how many other replacements would warrant dumping Scott? My list would be long enough to ensure he gets canned.

As far as Jim Buss, his deadline for turning around the team or losing his job has been a source of contention. But even Jeannie, who gives him less time than he gives himself, said he had until the summer of 2017.

Lakers fans might have to settle for exercising one one of their demons.