NBA@2: Last Stand For Spurs, HEAT?
Not so long ago it looked as if the road was all but paved for the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami HEAT to collide in the 2012 NBA Finals. The Spurs were on a 20-game winning streak, the HEAT were mowing down an Eastern Conference field that was without Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, among others.
At least, that was how things stood two games into each team’s conference finals run.
The change of venue that comes with Game 3 of the conference finals usually brings with it a swing in momentum, and this year was no different. The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics got back into their respective series by defending home court, but that was little more than what was expected. The fun doesn’t really begin until someone wins on the road, something both the Thunder and Celtics did in Game 5 of their series.
Now, instead of talking about the Spurs and HEAT going to war, the conversation has begun to change to what a Thunder/Celtics Finals would look like, and the buzz around San Antonio and Miami is about to what extent their teams will be dismantled before next season.
The issue in San Antonio, of course, is age. How much longer can a team featuring and aging core of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili expect to compete at an elite level? Is it time for Duncan to retire and for the Spurs to start thinking about rebuilding? Conventional wisdom might say yes, but then conventional wisdom has had the Spurs dead and buried for a couple of seasons now. Despite that, they have been one of the Western Conference’s top teams over the last two seasons, owning the West’s best record in 2010-11 and in 2011-12.
Duncan has taken a smaller role, Tony Parker has taken over the team, and the Spurs have done their usual brilliant job of surrounding their primary players with the perfect complementary pieces. Duncan had a knee procedure over the summer and lost 20 pounds and has every intention of playing for a few more years. Rest assured, he will spend whatever time he has left as a professional basketball player in a San Antonio Spurs uniform. It makes a great deal of sense to let Duncan continue to play with Parker and Ginobili as his primary teammates for at least another year or two, especially given the team’s penchant for finding the right supporting cast. There’s no reason to believe that the Spurs can’t continue to compete at an elite level for another season or two.
The situation in Miami is entirely different. The core of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are all in their primes, and have formed one of the more dominant regular season teams over the last two seasons, but another issue has arisen that threatens their union. The economics of the NBA changed significantly when the league adopted the new collective bargaining agreement, effectively bringing to a close the era in which a team could afford to pay three players $60 million per season. The luxury tax gets prohibitively expensive over the next couple of seasons, and Miami won’t be able to afford to commit their entire cap to just three players. The odds are that when the curtain goes up on 2012-13 one of Miami’s big three will be gone, most likely Chris Bosh. For more on that, read HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler’s piece on Breaking Up The HEAT.
Of course, there is a lot of basketball to be played yet, and it’s far too early to write off the Spurs and HEAT just yet. Coming back from a 3-2 deficit is difficult, but not impossible, and both teams have plenty of veteran experience to help them focus on the immediate task at hand. Still, as we watch the next two games, with the Spurs and HEAT fighting for their playoff lives, we have to wonder if this is the last time we will see these two teams in their current forms. Is this the end of an era for both squads?
If so, the Spurs will go down as one of the best teams in NBA history, while the HEAT will go down as one of the biggest disappointments.
NBA Draft: Memphis Tigers’ Will Barton
Memphis Tigers guard Will Barton has been in Houston working with John Lucas in preparation for the 2012 NBA Draft. His stock is on the rise as he has added ball-handling to his repertoire while working with Lucas, and he talks with HOOPSWORLD about that process, making the transition from college to pro, beating out others who might be considered better than he is, and more in this exclusive interview.
Mike Woodson Talks New York Knicks
When the curtain dropped on the New York Knicks’ postseason run, speculation was rampant that the team would seek out Phil Jackson as their next head coach. Instead, they re-signed the man who took them from a lottery team wannabe to a (brief) postseason run. Woodson believes making the playoffs helped him keep the job.
“When I was asked to take over the team, that’s what it was about at that time,” Woodson said in a recent interview with 98.7 ESPN in New York. “My only concern was trying to get the team into the playoffs and how far we could advance once we got in. Once we got into the playoffs, (team owner) Mr. Dolan came up to me and expressed that he wanted me to come back and we negotiated a contract and I am back for next season.”
Making the playoffs, however, was not Woodson’s biggest concern when he took the reins.
“No. Not really. That wasn’t my concern. It really wasn’t. The concern was getting this team to play well and getting our team back in a position to push for the playoffs which we were able to do and then we just happened to run into a great team: The Miami HEAT. We weren’t able to escape that series, but I’m very pleased and happy with the way the season turned out in terms of where we are and where we are going. We got a lot of work to do this summer to get ready for next season, but I think the future looks bright.”
At the time, reports surfaced that the Knicks insisted that Woodson fire his agent before they would negotiate with him. Woodson emphatically denies that report.
“That’s so untrue. I tried to set the record straight once I signed my contract that Mr. Dolan had nothing to do with me changing agents. That was strictly Mike Woodson’s decision, which I have that right to make that decision and I thank Joe Glass and his son, Keith, for everything they have done over the years, but it was time for me to part ways and I respect everything they have done and will continue to respect what they do as agents. I have a great deal of respect for Joe.”
As for Phil Jackson, Woodson was relieved that the Knicks didn’t try to convince him to take the head coaching position.
“Well, I am glad they didn’t,” says Woodson, laughing. “I’ve got a great respect for Phil and what he has done over the years. He’s an excellent coach, but again I don’t call those shots. Mr. Dolan made the decision to bring me back and that’s how it was. I was able to negotiate a fair contract. I’ll be back coaching the Knicks next season.”
In talking about what the Knicks need to do to be better next season, Woodson said the focus should be on getting everyone healthy and retaining key free agents.
“Well, we’ve got to stay healthy. That’s the name of the game. This summer is very pivotal for guys like Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields and all of our young players to improve in terms of getting better. We have to talk amongst ownership with Glen Grunwald about Steve Novak’s future and trying to get him back in a uniform, as well as J.R. Smith. All of those things come into play in order for us to get where we are going next year and who knows, we may add a piece or two. You never know down the road. I liked the team we ended with, but it’s gotta be a healthy team. That’s what is important, and injuries I thought played a role in how we played, but the team never quit and I was very, very excited and happy with the way we played.”
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