“We can no longer say that we're playing for a championship.”
R.C. Buford’s next move: a thank you card?
Parker was not sipping from a spiked cup of juice when he rendered San Antonio’s championship hopes extinct. The reasons he offered to a French newspaper made sense. This columnist all but declared the Spurs’ window-shopping for a fifth Larry O’ Brien trophy finished after the Memphis ouster. Maybe they’ll just loiter now.
Or maybe Parker’s harsh comments, in a strange way, can help this franchise mimic the Dallas Mavericks for a final push.
Who projected a Dallas-Oklahoma City conference final as training camps opened in late September?
The Mavericks now sit three wins away from a stunning NBA Finals return that could net a forlorn, bridesmaid organization the crown it craves.
If a roster much older in average age than the Spurs can dispatch the Portland Trail Blazers, extinguish the two-time defending champions’ flame and hang with the adolescent Oklahoma City Thunder, shouldn’t the Big Three get another shot before we bequeath them a tombstone?
Did anyone hesitate to bury the Mavericks after the seventh-seeded Spurs eliminated them last spring?
Most saw a 38-year-old Jason Kidd, a perceived history of choke jobs and a dearth of youth as inhibitors. Bill Simmons was not preposterous in referring to Dallas’ core as “the 2004 All-Stars.” Kidd, Shawn Marion and even Caron Butler had seen better athletic days.
Even more yawned when Donnie Nelson dealt Erick Dampier’s expiring contract to fetch Tyson Chandler.
That’s all you got for a coveted trade chip?
This columnist thought otherwise. I knew Chandler was a game-changer when healthy. With a deep bench and a rejuvenated Kidd, Jason Terry and a re-signed Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler re-emerged as one of the league’s finest post defenders.
That was all Dallas needed to contend again. Rodrigue Beaubois did not contribute as expected. Dominique Jones was too inconsistent to crack the stretch run rotation. Brendan Haywood became a free-throw-bricking, $55 million mistake. And none of that mattered.
A Kidd-Chandler alley-oop connection here. A lot of zone defense there. Enough perimeter threats to open up the middle.
The Mavs may still flame out this round. If James Harden and the OKC bench brigade continue the Game 2 onslaught, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pour in the points and Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka supply a few baskets, the Thunder have enough on both ends to advance and face the East champ.
Even if that happens, isn’t winning two rounds better than losing in the first?
The legacies of Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili remain unthreatened and unscathed. Parker is in the thick of his prime. So doesn’t an additional banner qualify as gravy for this group?
Richard Jefferson was exposed as a diaper-soft quitter. His contract, which bumps up his salary each year, ranks as one of the least tradable in sports.
Duncan, at best, still played like a declining all-time great in his mid-30s. At worst, he played like he was 45 instead of 10 years younger.
Antonio McDyess will retire, and the Spurs will miss his championship thirst, his versatility and his physicality.
George Hill regressed after a Most Improved Player-worthy sophomore campaign.
DeJuan Blair’s motor stayed parked on the bench in the final two contests of the Grizzlies series. Is he too small and bulky to make a consistent difference at this level?
Manu Ginobili again injured something just before the playoffs. A right elbow brace hindered his mobility as much as Tony Allen.
Forget those hurdles for a moment.
What if Buford stays at 29 and drafts 6’10” JaJuan Johnson and he becomes the weak-side shot-blocker missing since David Robinson’s retirement? The Spurs need another active, athletic 4, not Bill Russell.
San Antonio, unlike its I-35 brethren, is loaded with developing, young talent. Who says Hill and Blair won’t bounce back?
Tiago Splitter will take many more charges, swat the occasional layup and finish Ginobili’s pick-and-roll passes even better than Fabricio Oberto. The act of affording a 6’11” impact big a larger role should make a difference.
Parker will not appear a step slower against less competent help defenses. It bears mentioning again that Memphis executed schemes maybe five or six other teams in the association could envision and manage.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol also tormented the Thunder, and Allen and Shane Battier made Durant and Westbrook work for every half-court make. A triple-overtime victory allowed Oklahoma City to dodge the same daunting 3-1 deficit that sunk San Antonio.
A Houston sports talk show personality quipped Thursday that the Rockets could overpay marginal players and “Memphis compete.” He doesn’t understand professional basketball or what made the Grizzlies go.
That eighth seed, if it answers most of its offseason questions with check marks, can contend for a title.
What if Danny Green and Da’Sean Butler marinate this summer and become key rotation figures that help Popovich repair his shoddy defense?
What if James Anderson builds on a promising rookie start, in which he showed both scoring prowess and defensive aptitude?
What if a work stoppage erases half of the 2011-2012 campaign and Duncan’s legs welcome the extra rest?
That may seem like a lot of questions. Just remember all the ones the Mavericks faced when they exited the AT&T Center court one year older as first-round losers for the third time in four years.
Too old? Too slow? Too many jump shooters?
Dallas survived its 2010 humiliation and now has the chance the Spurs veterans wanted.
Maybe Parker’s divulgence allows the team to escape the radar altogether in the aftermath of a 61-win, opening-match flop that downgraded this group from a blip to blah.
Maybe what sounds brash and abrasive now, even when printed on another continent, is what ownership, the front office and his teammates need to hear.
And maybe they will thank Parker later by exceeding his dreary expectations.
He’ll welcome the payback. Just as Nowitzki did, in a different way, with the Mavs.