The title contending Spurs are dead. Long live the Spurs.

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This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
—Jim Morrison, The Doors

We’re going to miss the Tim Duncan era Spurs.

Yes, likely will get one more win in their first round series, Wednesday night at home. They are fully capable of that. But it will be fools gold — just like this entire season. This was the season the Spurs seemed to reinvent themselves as a savvy, offensively-focused team. A team that relied on two quick players out on the perimeter in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Tim Duncan could still do enough in the middle to make it work. The role players were better.

It didn’t work. Make no mistake, this series where the Memphis Grizzlies have pushed the Spurs around like a cat with a ball of yarn has signaled the end of the Duncan-era Spurs as a championship team.

Technically the era will linger on for another season or two before it’s broken up and sold for parts. But those seasons will feel a lot like a sadder version of the past couple seasons, where you had the feeling San Antonio was not a contender. On paper you thought they could recapture the magic of the 2007 title run, but when you watched them play you were not so sure.

Now you watch and you’re sure. It’s not happening.

Even the brilliant Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell recognizes it. There was one play in this series, where the usual spark of the team Ginobili didn’t even try to close out on a corner three where it hit them this team is no longer that title team.

Those title teams defended like mother wolverines protecting their young. These Spurs — all season long — have played just enough defense to get by.

We bought into the fool’s gold that was the 61 wins and the up-tempo offense that came out of the gate on fire this season. We wanted to believe, because the Duncan era Spurs were not boring — as some uniformed columnists wanted to say — they were pure, efficient basketball. They made the smart plays, the good basketball plays. Consistently. Every time down. They did the right thing and knocked down the look when they got it. If you love basketball you had to love the simple purity of their game.

But these Spurs do not play good defense. And in the payoffs, where they used to be the physical team that could push you around, now they are getting punked inside. Duncan is getting what he can out of his aging body, but DeJuan Blair just doesn’t have the size and Matt Bonner doesn’t bang. Tiaggo Splitter tried in Game 4 but it was too little, too late.

The Grizzlies look more like the title Spurs teams — they are controlling the paint, contesting shots on the wing and getting the offense from whatever matchup they can exploit (usually Zach Randolph against anyone).

Duncan looks his age now. He has all season but it was masked by tempo and wins, and we didn’t want to see it. But all season long when the Spurs ran into the league’s big front lines — like the Lakers — Duncan struggled. Memphis is big up front. Contenders always are.

Duncan has taken years of physical pounding in the post and he’s not the player he once was — still very good, but not dominant. And there is nobody anywhere near David Robinson’s quality around him in the post. He has no help.

The Spurs as contenders are done. The Grizzlies have put the nails in the top of that coffin. San Antonio may again win 50+ regular season games next season. There may be flashes of the old magic. But we know that they cannot sustain it for seven games against a quality opponent.

It’s over for the Spurs.

Someday all basketball fans hopefully will look back at their cool efficiency on the way to four titles and realize just how special those teams were.

But for now, for today, we’re just sad about he end of an era.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.