It Matters That San Antonio Spurs Will Never Fly Under the Radar Again

SAN ANTONIO — The last three years have been a reintroduction of sorts for the San Antonio Spurs.

After two opening-round defeats in 2009 and 2011, the Duncan-Popovich era appeared destined for decline until 2012′s march to the Western Conference Finals. A 2013 Finals appearance and 2014 championship restored a legacy that had all but been proclaimed a thing of the past.

It’s been a gradual and eventually irrefutable reemergence.

Even after 2013′s remarkable collapse in a seven-game series against the Miami Heat, there remained a very real sense that San Antonio had finally run out of gas after one last, admirable quest for glory.

And such is existence for the Spurs, no matter how thoroughly they destroy their competition,” Hardwood Paroxysm’s Andrew Lynch wrote in Nov. 2013. “They’re constantly winning, yet rarely celebrated. Hell, forget celebrations—they’re hardly even acknowledged.” 

Consider 2014 the Great Acknowledgement, a year in which we were all reminded what an exceptional and enduring story Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have quietly authored since they came together in 1997.

On the heels of a five-game series decided by the widest margin of victory in Finals history, this especially deep roster of Spurs has turned doubts into expectations.

Recently named the best organization in all of the four major professional sports in ESPN’s Ultimate Team Rankings, there’s suddenly a prevailing belief that San Antonio isn’t finished just yet.

The Spurs were more recently voted most likely to win the 2015 Finals by NBA.com’s 2014-15 survey of league general managers.

In a landslide, 46.2 percent of the GMs picked the Silver and Black to win it all, a sizable margin over the 15.4 percent who chose the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As you might imagine, the franchise hasn’t taken those expectations to heart—even as back-to-back championships remain the one thing standing between these Spurs and Phil Jackson’s definition of a real dynasty.

“Why haven’t we repeated? Because we haven’t,” Popovich said at the team’s media day in September. “If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on and everything’s cool.”

“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in the sense of winning ‘X’ number of games or this year is our year to win a championship,” he added. ”All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice and it’s a building block sort of thing.”

It’s a predictable talking point from the process-oriented skipper.

The Spurs are renowned for never getting too high or too low, and they certainly aren’t ones to get too far ahead of themselves. This season’s primary objectives will look like every other’s. There’s always room for in-house improvement.

So while this franchise encounters a hype rarely afforded understated, small-market teams, the Spurs themselves will make every effort to ignore media-driven narratives. They’ll say as much as they have to say, and they’ll do their jobs without asking for credit.

When confronted with choices about what kind of players they want to be, they’ll probably ask themselves what Duncan would do.

San Antonio’s standard operating procedure is as indebted to the two-time MVP as it is to Popovich’s regime.

As ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz put it in June,

The most gifted players have every right to leverage their talents into power and have a voice in where and with whom they want to work. Duncan claimed that authority and chose to spend his capital on establishing a culture. He wants pro basketball to be about the work and to sell itself on the strength of the game’s actual appeal rather than the atmospherics or drama. That’s Duncan believing in the craft of basketball.

That rejection of theatrics will be tested this season.

The Spurs have been good before—perhaps great—but they’re more interesting now. The motion-based offense has become a thing of selfless beauty. For the first time in league history, no one on last season’s roster averaged 30 or more minutes per game. Everything that happens on and off the court is defined by seamless execution.

While there are no contract controversies or off-court distractions grabbing headlines, this team still makes for a good story. It draws attention in spite of itself.

All the more attention as Duncan and Popovich pursue a sixth title together.

Following up last season’s masterpiece won’t be easy. Whereas the 2013-14 Spurs were motivated to avenge Ray Allen’s clutch three-pointer in an unforgettable Game 6, this season’s group is coming off a historically one-sided achievement.

“I’m worried for one reason,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-NewsBuck Harvey in September. “They are human beings. They are going to feel satisfied.”

If there’s a source of inspiration guiding this season’s effort, it may be that Duncan and Popovich won’t have many more opportunities to do this. The latter signed a multiyear extension this summer, but the former is in the last year of his contract—and could conceivably retire in 2015.

Popovich could very well outlast his legendary big man, overseeing the emergence of Kawhi Leonard and whatever’s left of Tony Parker’s career, as he told reporters this month:

That’s very possible. I always said that [he'd leave with Duncan], because it’s kind of a funny line. It seems pretty logical and smart to do that. I know where my bread is buttered.

But I basically made the same commitments to Manu [Ginobili] and to Tony that when they signed contracts, they wanted to know if I’m going to be here and I tell them I am, so it’s pretty tough to go ahead and leave.

Popovich will turn 66 in January, and the Spurs should remain a force so long as he’s around. Leonard is only beginning to come into his own after being named Finals MVP a season ago. With a timely addition or two, there’s nothing stopping this team from contending at the outset of the post-Duncan era.

In any event, we probably shouldn’t be surprised if they do—irreplaceable as Duncan is.

It’s the kind of predictability we’ve come to expect given general manager R.C. Buford’s track record since 2002. The front office’s penchant for savvy decision-making has made success a norm even as so many faces have changed over the years.

We’ll continue caring about the Spurs for the foreseeable future—even if they prefer otherwise.

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Thad Matta has LeBron James Jr. on his radar

He could play for Ohio State in nine years or so.

      
 

 

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Ohio State’s Thad Matta Says LeBron James Jr. Will Be on His Radar

Ohio State Buckeyes basketball coach Thad Matta is keeping his options open.

The head coach admitted that Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James’ son will be “on his radar” for recruiting when that day comes, according to Eric Seger from The Lantern:

LeBron James Jr. is only nine years old, but the kid has clearly gotten some skills from his dad judging from this video.

[YouTube, Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Lakers Rumors: Chandler Parsons on team’s radar?

One year later, could the Los Angeles Lakers essentially “trade” Dwight Howard for Chandler Parsons? It appears to be a possibility this summer.
According to Marc J. Spears from Yahoo Sports, Parsons could be on the Lakers’ radar this summer after the Houston Rockets declined the 25-year-old’s $964,750 option for next season, thus making him a restricted free agent. This means the Rockets can still match any offer Parsons receives and force him back to Houston, though it’s not clear whether they’d be willing to match a maximum contract offer.
“I feel like I’m in a win-win situation because it’s happening a year early,” Parsons said of his free agent status. “I think a lot of teams could be interested. With the way I play and my versatility, I feel I can pretty much help any team.”
The Lakers’ prime targets are rumored to be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, though the purple and gold could choose to focus on Parsons if they miss out on the aforementioned players.
Spears says that th

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Mid-Major Radar: Can Green Bay make the NCAAs as an at-large team?

The Horizon League hasn’t had the same flare it once had when Butler was in its heyday.

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Mid-Major Radar: Could Gonzaga miss the NCAA tournament?

It’s not crazy to suggest we could see the ‘Zags finally sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

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Are Houston Rockets Beginning to Fly Under the Radar?

After signing Dwight Howard to a max-level contract this past summer, the Houston Rockets have been subject to an overwhelmingly high level of hype. Signs of their vincibility have tempered the championship chorus, but did we get sick of their story before it got interesting?

Are the Rockets now sneaky title contenders?

The fact of the matter is that there is no true top banana in the congested competition of the Western Conference. Whoever advances to the NBA Finals will be, above all, the beneficiary of favorable match-ups in seven game series. The conference’s seeding hasn’t even been consistent, as teams four through eight are separated by only four games in the standings.

If the playoffs began at this moment, the Rockets would square off against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, and the San Antonio Spurs if they advanced. Both teams are beatable (especially by Houston).

If the right injuries occur, so are the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors… so is everyone. 

And this is how our evaluation of the Rockets’ potency should look. Despite any number of lazy efforts and their general inconsistency, is there really an impossible match-up for these Rockets?

No. The fate of the league’s glory is decided all too much every year by the chaos of injuries,  suddenly surging teams and breakout players for us to make such a definitive statement in January.

The Rockets are treading water with the rest of the creme of their conference. For all practical purposes, they’re shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the top competitors, and only the forthcoming sprint will determine whether they’ll beat the pack to the finish line.

Chief among the illusions that have had the Rockets written off is the nature of their defensive performance thus far.

Meme-friendly footage of James Harden’s lesser nights have made for easy talking points. And while the clips do suggest something extra to be desired from Harden both as an individual defender and team leader, they’re likely not indicative of what Harden will bring to the floor in the playoffs.

Critics have suggested that Houston is not yet well-formed enough to be utilizing the on-off switch seen in Harden’s (and the team’s) fluctuating level of intensity. There is certainly something to that line of thinking, as no primary Houston lineup has logged even so much as a season together, and they may need more time to gel.

It seems unlikely that a “microwaved” contender, lacking the continuity and comfort that their peers boast, can make it all the way to a title.

But proving the microwave theory wrong would not make for an unprecedented development. As recently as 2011, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title with Tyson Chandler as their center, in his first (and last) season with the team. That group won 57 games in the regular season, a number that doesn’t scream champion favorite, and also a mark the Rockets aren’t far behind.

Relevant comparisons between these Rockets and those Mavericks end there—the point is that championship lightning has recently been trapped in a bottle, and that the best team in the league is not always looking you in the eye, telling you who they are, holding your hand through a predictable season. 

They’re often just the best puncher in the crowd.

And the Rockets have more than enough weapons to qualify as an outlier title contender this year. They showed that they’re on an accelerated learning curve in last year’s hard-fought playoff loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder, as their bevy of shooters was more accurate than usual and James Harden was able to lead them through many nail-biters.

That was before they had one of the best paint men of the modern NBA in Howard. Those watching Rockets games specifically for half-court mechanics see just how much he’s opened up the floor for his teammates, even if the results aren’t consistent enough to show numerically. Simply put, his presence both widens their margin for error and expands the number of turns any possession can take.

That should be a scary thought for rivals who already had a difficult time stopping their unpredictable offensive blitzing.

Are they the favorites to win the NBA championship?

No. But only an entire cohort of dangerous teams known as “the field” can be the favorite to win it all this season. And regardless of how much they have or haven’t met fans’ expectations, the Rockets are in that select cluster.

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Nash: Lakers will fly under radar

With Dwight Howard’s decision nearly a month in the past and their roster beginning to fill out, the Lakers have fallen a bit out of the spotlight in recent weeks. The attention will be back, for certain; future points of debate range from Kobe Bryant’s health to the team’s first matchup with the Rockets to its coaching situation.

If the Lakers play well, it will be a story. If they play poorly, it will be a story. If they’re mediocre, it will be a story.

They’ll be scrutinized, just as they always are, but for now, Steve Nash seems to think his team is flying under the radar. In an interview with NBA.com’s Lang Whittaker, the veteran point guard said that he thinks people are counting his team out, which, he said, is just fine. He continued:

“We’ve got a lot of new pieces, we’ve got guys coming off injuries, myself included. So we’ve got to find out where everyone’s health is, and then figure out each other and play together, and hopefully we can surprise some

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5 Dangerous NBA Teams That Are Flying Under the Radar This Offseason

This offseason in the NBA has been eventful to say the least. Some big time free agents shopped the market, and there were some huge trades that shook things up.

Everyone knows that Houston won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and that Detroit showed Josh Smith the money. We all know that Brooklyn made the formidable trade to bring in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce just so they can lose to the Heat (but that’s an article for another time). Everyone is aware that the Clippers brought back Chris Paul and a plethora of other helpful role players.

Every offseason there are big headlines, but there are also many terrific moves that go unnoticed. While the world was distracted with Dwight’s decision and other big moves, some teams have quietly been improving their team.

Here’s a look at five under-the-radar teams that have made smart moves and are sneakily heading in the right direction.

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Report: Carmelo Anthony On Lakers Radar in 2014 Free Agency

LeBron James isn’t the only NBA superstar the Los Angeles Lakers have added to their 2014 free-agency shopping list. Carmelo Anthony is on there too.

According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, ‘Melo may prove more attainable than The King, prompting the Lakers to engage in some of their own Melodrama:

Armed with massive cap room, the Lakers will go shopping in 2014.

The franchise would love to lure LeBron James from Miami—but after his second straight title, and given the craftiness of Heat President Pat Riley, it may prove a futile hope.

Another high-scoring forward may be more attainable—New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

Phil Jackson even gives his endorsement of such a pursuit later on the report.

“For [the Lakers] to be able to move and to adjust to the process that goes on in the NBA, you have to have flexibility,” Jackson said.  ”The [way] the league is structured with its new CBA and how it penalizes teams—you can’t make moves. [With] guys like Carmelo and LeBron in a couple of years, you’ve got to be capable of making a challenge for those kinds of players.”

Both ‘Melo and LeBron have the ability to opt out of their current contracts next summer and become unrestricted free agents. As of now, Steve Nash is the only member of the Lakers under contract at that time. Los Angeles will have more than enough money to sign one (maybe even both).

Resting all their eggs in LeBron’s basket is a risky play, though. Some wouldn’t hesitate to call it inane.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh struggled during the Miami Heat‘s most recent postseason run, but LeBron still has two rings to show for his efforts in South Beach. If he winds up winning or comes even remotely close to winning a third, prying him from Pat Riley’s clutches isn’t going to be easy.

That’s another thing to consider—Riley. The ever-crafty front-office sage has a knack for putting the right pieces in place. Even if the Heat fall short next season, there’s always the chance he brings in a swarm of new talent to keep LeBron in Miami.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers to think about. Hiring Mike Brown suggests that they’re not all LeBron everything next summer, but Cleveland is LeBron’s “home.” Seeing him spurn the Heat in favor of the team he abandoned in the first place is not out of the question.

Up against those types of obstacles, the Lakers need to have a Plan B that may inevitably need to become Plan A, hence their purported interest in ‘Melo.

Unlike Riley and the Heat, the Knicks don’t have a propensity for putting the right talent around ‘Melo. New York is currently a mixture of one superstar (‘Melo), two injury-prone big men (Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire), a promising youngster (Iman Shumpert) and a foray of fillers.

If and when the Knicks fall well short of winning a title once again, ‘Melo may be tempted to leave his “home” in search of something greater, like a potential pairing with Kobe Bryant.

“I would actually like to play with Melo,” Kobe told Alex Kennedy of Hoopworld back in 2011.

Let rumors of collusion commence.

The Lakers were one of ‘Melo’s suitors back in 2011, when he was planning his escape from the Denver Nuggets. He wound up with the Knicks instead, where he is still equally as ring-less as he was then.

“I know I’m going to be here for a long time,” Anthony said during exit interview, according to Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York. 

Forced to endure through another finish like the Knicks just had, perhaps ‘Melo will be singing the same tune for the Lakers next summer.

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