Tim Duncan is the greatest gift to coaching



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: Lakers want to keep Metta World Peace… as assistant coach

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits for an interview during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four primary candidates:

  • Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
  • Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
  • Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
  • Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.

The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.

World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.

More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.

Heat reportedly not shopping Goran Dragic, tell him trade rumors are untrue

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Heat and Kings reportedly discussed a trade that would send Goran Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay and Darren Collison.

Could such a deal happen?

Miami is clearly sending out word from its end: No.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Dragic on Erik Spoelstra, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:

“He just said those rumors, they’re not true.”

Reminder: Mario Chalmers said the Heat told him they would keep him shortly before they traded him.

Teams get the most from players when they’re happy, and job security pleases most people. So, teams often assure players they won’t be traded. If a team violates that trust by dealing a player anyway… that’s no longer the team’s problem. The player is fuming elsewhere.

I don’t know whether the Heat will trade Dragic this season. Their assurances and signals mean something, but only so much.

I do know Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and has a long-term contract that makes little sense on a rebuilding team.

Report: Cavaliers in advanced discussions on trade for point guard

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 5: Kay Felder #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots over C.J. Watson #32 of the Orlando Magic during the second half of a preseason game at Quicken Loans Arena on October 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Magic 117-102. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers should be fine at point guard in games that matter.

Kyrie Irving is an excellent starter. When Irving rests, LeBron James – in addition to his minutes at forward – can serve as primary ball-handler with an extra wing on the floor.

But Cleveland wants to limit LeBron’s and Irving’s playing time to preserve them for another long playoff run, which means finding a more traditional backup point guard for the regular season.

The Cavs have Kay Felder, but the transition from the Horizon League to the NBA is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a 5-foot-9 rookie who was drafted No. 54 overall. Mo Williams is somewhere between injured and retired. They might like to add Mario Chalmers, but he’s not healthy enough yet.

Another option: Trade.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The Cavaliers are pursuing a trade to acquire a backup point guard and are hoping to make a deal before the season starts Tuesday, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs are in advanced discussions with at least one club, according to a source, and could make one or multiple trades to fill the one, glaring need on a team otherwise built to defend its 2016 championship.

Whom are the Cavaliers targeting? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whom could they trade? That’s much easier to predict, but far from certain. Shumpert could be the odd man out, especially since J.R. Smith re-signed. Cleveland will probably drop one of Jordan McRae, Dahntay Jones or John Holland before the regular season, but I doubt any of those three would return much. The Cavs also have multiple trade exceptions and draft picks, though they have already dealt some picks.

This situation was predictable as soon as the Cavaliers let Matthew Dellavedova leave for Milwaukee. Did they not see it coming, or do they have an ace up their sleeve at the last minute?

Watch Pelicans’ Anthony Davis drop 33 in his return to court


Anthony Davis missed a chunk of the preseason after spraining his ankle in a game against the Rockets during the league’s tour of China. He was considered questionable to return for opening night.

He came back faster than that, in time for New Orleans’ final preseason game Thursday night — and he looked good doing it. Very good.

Davis had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists’ in the Pelicans’ 114-111 overtime loss to Orlando. He was red hot from the start as he scored 16 points in nine minutes of the first quarter.

This is a good sign for the Pelicans, who are going to need Davis (and rookie Buddy Hield) to carry the scoring for the team to start the season as they are without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for an extended period.