Last week was an eventful one for the NBA. LeBron James made his Decision 2.0 to return home to Cleveland, and like clockwork the rest of dominoes fell accordingly. Carmelo Anthony not-so-surprisingly followed suit (and money) and chose to remain in his home state, Chris Bosh semi-surprisingly chose to return to Miami (albeit for a 5-year max contract) instead of going to Houston, and so on.
Now we have a general feel for what league will look like next season, aside from some smaller free agent tracking. The West should look relatively similar to last season, while the more "interesting" stories will be coming from the East (obviously Cleveland's resurgence, the healthy Chicago Bulls plus Pau Gasol, Miami's recovery, etc).
The Spurs will once again fade into the background until they receive their championship rings on opening night, and then we won't hear about them again until the playoffs. Such is life. Until then, here's a few thoughts for everyone to ponder while we wait for the long summer (or winter, for our friends down under) to end so we can get back to the real task at hand: defending our championship.
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Are the Spurs a Dynasty?
Anyone who has any idea what an actual dynasty is would agree that yes, they are. Still, there are others out there, spearheaded by none other than Phil Jackson, who believe that a team cannot truly be considered a dynasty until it repeats championships. While I can see their point (championships speak the loudest), they're still wrong, and here's why.
A true dynasty must last and survive through trials and war. It must rule for an extended amount time to truly be respected, feared and revered. The Spurs are all those things, and no other team can claim a longer period of sustained excellence than the Spurs. The Lakers, Celtics and Bulls are all dynasties, but they are also in huge markets that naturally attract big names, and even then they've seen much less consistency with much deeper valleys than the Spurs.
My personal opinion is that most who feel that the Spurs are not a dynasty are simply grasping at straws after eating some sour grapes. They claim that their team is a dynasty simply because it has repeated championships, but here's what they won't admit: they only wish their team could be the Spurs. Who else can claim as much success as the Spurs over the Tim Duncan era? The Lakers? Somehow I get the feeling you don't want to be a Lakers fan right now. There's too many peaks and valleys to deal with over there.
Ultimately, my response to these fans (and Phil) is the following: I'll take "not being a dynasty" but remaining in contention with continued success spanning decades over being a dynasty for just three to five years any time. Don't tell me you don't wish your team was in the Spurs position over the last 17 years, because no one can match it. 17 straight years in the playoffs, 15 straight 50-win seasons, five championships...personally, I'll take being the Spurs over the Heat, Lakers or anyone else during this era every day of the week, "dynasty" or not.
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Did the Spurs Influence LeBron's Decision More than Meets the Eye?
While LeBron's decision to return to Cleveland was somewhat of a surprise, especially with Dan Gilbert still hanging around, I can 100 percent see why LeBron did it. Home (in this case, Ohio) is where the heart is, he got what he wanted from Miami (rings), and it was the only other place he could go without receiving another round of back-lashing criticism and damage to his legacy. Quite honestly, bringing a championship to the down-on-its-luck city of Cleveland will help his legacy more than anything he ever could have accomplished with Miami.
So, with all that being said, where do the Spurs come into all this? We've already heard the basics: the Spurs showed him that depth matters, the aging Miami Heat as-constructed could no longer challenge the ever-rising West for championships, Dwayne Wade is on the downswing, etc. However, there might be more to that aspect than just what we saw on camera during the NBA Finals.
Over the last two seasons the Spurs have taught LeBron how to both win and lose with grace and humility, two things he highly lacked beforehand. Before winning his first championship, he was known for responding to losses by storming off the court without shaking hands. Although the Spurs went through the two most heartbreaking losses imaginable in last year's finals, they still all remained on the court to hug and congratulate the Heatles before retreating to the locker room and a summer of sadness. This year, LeBron stayed to congratulate every Spur and expressed admiration for his adversaries like the adult he now is.
Make no mistake, basketball did play a heavy role in his decision. At this point the Cavaliers have plenty of young talent around him with three other top picks, and that's something the Heat just couldn't offer after being exposed by the deep Spurs. Also, this summer's free agent class is pretty top-heavy and otherwise lacking in quality FA's willing to take a pay cut and come off the bench. Odd as it may sound, the future is simply brighter in Cleveland than Miami.
Still, it can't be overlooked that the Spurs also showed him how being a family is a vital part of winning championships and may have played a larger role than implied in swaying his heart and mind back to Cleveland. For that, a nice "you're welcome" is in order for any Cavs fans who take the time to send a hearty thank you our way.
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The Red Mamba is Back, so what about The Big Banger?
One thing I noticed during the trophy ceremony and parade was Matt Bonner. On this rare occasion he looked emotionally lost. He seemed thrilled to win the championship but also sad and worried that this might be the end for him in San Antonio. He wanted nothing more than to return, and I saw all this in his eyes throughout the days of celebration (or at least that's what I want to believe).
For as much criticism as he receives, fair or not, the fact is he's a favorite among his teammates and an excellent locker room presence, and that's why he was resigned for a 1-year veteran's minimum. No one can claim he's overpaid now. Even if he isn't you want him to be as a player, his presence can and does make a difference both on and off the court, and he's always ready when called upon with no complaints.
Still, I think there's more to his re-signing than sheer loyalty; I think he might be an assistant coach in waiting. Sean Marks has already said he might leave the sideline and go back to player development or the front office, so it could be possible that Pop wants to put Bonner in a player-coach position and see how he does. Everyone knows that Matt is an extremely smart guy and has all the knowledge and leadership qualities of a coach. Only time will tell what the true motives behind his signing are, but don't overlook this possibility.
As far as the affect his signing has on the roster itself, it leaves just one spot open, and if anyone gets left off from last year's squad it will be Aron Baynes. While the Big Banger has a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, the Spurs tend to leave that last spot open. While I don't see the Spurs leaving him hanging if no one else puts in an offer, I can just as easily see them letting him go if that offer is matched. A team like Houston could use him to back up Dwight Howard after they traded Omer Asik and missed on Chris Bosh.
I do think Baynes is important to this roster, but with Jeff Ayers already signed he's not a necessity (although I'd take Baynes over Ayers almost any time). His main competition for that last spot appears to be Bryce Cotton: a scoring point guard who could be the third stringer while Patty Mills is out. Another option is to sign Baynes and rotate guys like Cotton, Kyle Anderson and Austin Daye between the Spurs and Toros to get them some reps. Either that or find a way to trade someone like Ayers or Daye for picks to clear up a spot or two. We'll see what happens, but I for one will miss Baynes if he ends up gone.
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What does the West Look Like Next Year?
Overall, it looks like the West will be very similar to last year with most changes coming on the fringe teams. The Phoenix Suns looked promising enough last year, and they could challenge for a playoff spot once again with additions like Isaiah Thomas. Another team to watch out for is the New Orleans Pelicans. They showed promise in spurts last year, and as Anthony Davis continues to grow they should only get better. The addition of Asik plus a healthy Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson will also help. While both these teams would be lower seeds at best, they could be prime upset material with the right match-up.
Per usual the Southwest Division looks to be the toughest in the league, although the Spurs should have no trouble winning it again. Along with the rising Pelicans, Memphis appears to have gotten some more perimeter help with the addition of Vince Carter, who can handle their slow-as-molasses pace. Chandler Parsons, overpaid or not, should be an upgrade from Carter in Dallas, and Tyson Chandler is back to protect the rim. Houston seems like the only team on the downswing after trading Asik and Jeremy Lin, losing Parsons and missing on Bosh with only the addition of Trevor Ariza to show for it, but they're still a playoff team.
The Spurs, Thunder and Clippers once again appear to be the true contenders who will be vying for a spot in what will likely be an extremely winnable Finals series. The Clippers are very close but are still waiting for that break-through year, while the Thunder are basically the same team as last year with possibly even less depth. (Then again, what does it matter if Scott Brooks won't play his bench?)
If everything goes according to plan I'd expect another Spurs-Thunder showdown in the Conference Finals, and as long as the Spurs play within themselves like they did in Games 1, 2, 5 and 6 they should be favored to go on to the Finals once again. Alas, that's still a very long way away, so until then enjoy your summer/winter and stay safe!