Is This Team Championship Bound?
My favorite Western movie is Tombstone, with Kurt Russell playing Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer masterfully playing Doc Holliday. The larger in number, more aggressive, Cowboy gang underestimated Earp and Co., as they took out part of Earp's posse, but got their eventual comeuppance in the end, when Earp and Holliday took out the crew determined to end their existence.
And so it will be for anyone who has all but guaranteed that the Los Angeles Lakers will walk into the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year!
We all know Tony Parker is a pending free agent that has a spot reserved for him in New York, among several destinations. His less-than-very talented actress wife has let it be known she would prefer the Big Apple for her career (and possibly his), with a much brighter media spotlight shining on the talented Frenchman. I have to think Raymond Felton is not a big fan of hers right about now.
Point Guard George Hill is a ready-made replacement for Parker, should he be moved before or during the season, and many are ready to concede that to be the inevitable case. However, there are two issues to be aware of.
One, Parker has announced that he wants to stay in San Antonio. True, he may have said it just to reduce his own personal stress from looking like a lame-duck player, where every bad game, shot or body language will be scrutinized as that of a player looking to get out and sign his next long-term deal. But what if he really means it and plays like it? His ability to score, pass and run the team cannot be downplayed. He DID win the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, you know.
Two, Parker has got three championship rings, while Hill has none. That makes him the infinitely better candidate to run the team in my humble opinion. And this year has truly been set for Championship or bust as the destination.
The wing positions also have to be determined. We know Richard Jefferson should start and look more like the confident All-Star he was in New Jersey than the unsure, non-shooting alien double that wore his jersey last season. He knows the system and what's expected more so this year than last, and he has his contract situation squared away. Veteran Bobby SImmons was signed to be his primary backup for relief. That leaves the other wing to be manned by...
Manu Anderson? James Ginobili? I think that between the veteran Manu Ginobili and the rookie James Anderson, the SG spot will be manned very well for Coach Greg Popovich. I think starting Anderson will preserve Ginobili's minutes and keep Anderson mentally a a sharp level, knowing he's matched up against Kobe one night, Stephen Jackson the next, with Brandon Roy coming to town two nights later.
Because he was in school for three years, I believe Anderson has the mental makeup to step right in early, while Manu comes in for the home stretch. By the way, don't discount the signing of FIBA baller Kirk Penney, formerly of Wisconsin. Coach Pop has always played whoever gets the job done, rookie, undrafted free agent or lottery pick, be damned.
Also up front, Duncan will have more help this year, than any year since the 2002-03 championship season. With Tiago Splitter, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner logging minutes, Duncan will be able to monitor his minutes and still produce efficient, if not great, numbers. Until the playoffs start, that is.
That's because Duncan has come into camp even lighter this year than last year. Pop was interviewed recently and said that Duncan is even slimmer now than last year, when he dropped 15 pounds in the off season. Duncan will be better equipped for the long season carrying fewer pounds than before. The over 100 games-long season leaves the heavier, older players more worn down come rounds 2 and later, so Duncan's slimming down makes him better prepared for the inevitable showdown with...
The Los Angeles Lakers, Of course, the Lakers are the prohibitive favorites coming out of the West again this year. But if it's reviewed objectively, the Spurs have positioned themselves to be their top contenders. There is a mature depth in place in the form of McDyess, Simmons and Bonner; young wildcards like Hill, Splitter, Blair and Anderson ready to make their mark in the annals of the NBA and championship vets like Duncan, Parker and Ginobili looking to add yet another ring to their collection.
Sure, there are other teams in the Southwest division and Western Conference like the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trailblazers looking to contend, but this season will be a two horse race out West (lest the Mavs or Nuggets figure out their shortcomings).
My prediction? The Spurs will race out early with the young guns, maintain in the dog days due to their veteran contributors from the bench, and finish strong because of the Championship Trio.
Final Record: 61-21, Home court advantage in the West and Western Conference title, coupled with an NBA Championship, going five for five in Finals trips.