IT'S A LONG ARTICLE BUT IT IS VERY INTERESTING..... SB
It's about him. It's all about him.
Tim Duncan knows it. When he looks over and sees the Los Angeles Lakers trading for Pau Gasol, and the Phoenix Suns trading for Shaquille O'Neal, he knows the intent is to knock him off his perch as NBA champion.
"I would guess so," Duncan said after scoring 23 points and 9 rebounds as the Spurs defeated the Washington Wizards, 85-77, last night. "Obviously, you don't want to say that - it's to make their team better - but I got to imagine that's the point of it."
I should've known Phoenix wasn't going to keep trying to guard me with little dudes like you, Boris. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
The San Antonio Spurs have vanquished the Suns in two of the past three seasons, and ever since O'Neal guided the Lakers to the last of the franchise's 14 NBA titles in 2002, Duncan has won three of the past five NBA championships.
If Derek Fisher hadn't nailed that incredible fadeaway with 0.4 seconds left in the conference semifinals in 2004, and Manu Ginobili hadn't fouled Dirk Nowitzki in the conference semifinals in 2006, Duncan might have been five for five (with one of those titles coming against Shaq's Miami Heat).
Duncan was asked if he was honored that so many teams are making major moves because of him. "No, I'm not honored in any way. I'm a little [ticked] off," Duncan said, jokingly.
Duncan is also a bit stunned when he looks at the standings and sees that the Spurs (31-16) are not only third in the Southeast Division behind Dallas and New Orleans, but they are also the fifth seed in the Western Conference. "It's weird, but it's early," Duncan said.
When the calendar year ended, the Spurs were 21-8 and sitting pretty with the best record in the conference. They hit a rough patch in January, leading some to speculate that they wouldn't even make the playoffs.
The Spurs improved to 3-2 on their infamous nine-game Rodeo Road trip last night. They also played their fourth straight without Tony Parker, who is out indefinitely with a heal injury. Duncan realizes the Spurs can't just try to maintain without Parker; they have to win.
No way, Tony. Eva wants to hook me up with a Desperate Housewife? I'm playing with you, Pop. Oh, really. I'm not laughing, Tony. You're out indefinitely. Go home. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
"It's crazy right now," Duncan said. "We went through a slump for 10, 12, 15 games, when we thought we had a good lead on the pack. Then we slid right in the middle of it. Now everybody is fighting for position. A loss here, a loss there changes things dramatically."
But while the competition out West was once simply on the court, the Lakers and Suns have made it a game of can-you-top-this wheeling and dealing. "I think they both deserve credit for being creative, thinking about of the box, especially Phoenix," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.
Earlier he had praised the move by the Lakers, while questioning the reasoning of the Memphis Grizzlies, who handed an all-star caliber talent to a contender for little more than cap space and draft picks. "What the Lakers just did made it tougher," he said. "It was a miraculous move, confounding in other ways how something like that would happen, why the [heck] something like that would happen. What the [heck] were those guys thinking? [The Lakers] just got whole real quick. I think they are going to be just dynamite."
The Spurs are the league's oldest team - 11 of their 14 players are over age 30 - and they just got older with the recent signing of 34-year-old Damon Stoudamire, who landed on their porch as a gift from the Grizzlies (Pop can't be too mad at Memphis over Pau. The Grizzlies are helping everybody they can; losing games, selling talent). San Antonio probably needs some youth and athleticism to keep up with some of the younger, deeper teams in the West, but Duncan said the Spurs really just need some health more than a seismic trade.
Nothing feels better than a champagne shower. Ah! (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
"For us, we've had one of our three out the entire season," said Duncan, who missed four games this season with a sprained right ankle. "Absolutely, it always goes through your mind [to make a deal] when there are such moves as in the last week. But the deal with us is, if we can get healthy - get Manu healthy and Tony and myself healthy -we've got enough pieces. We feel that we don't see anybody that we can add right now that can put us beyond what we have."
The past five years, the Spurs big in-season trades have been acquiring Nazr Mohammed and Jamison Brewer from New York for Malik Rose in 2005, and Melvin Ely last season. Mohammed helped San Antonio win a title and Ely won a ring despite never leaving the bench. Asked why he hasn't made many big trades during the season, Popovich joked, "I'm not that clever."
The minor deal for Ely had little affect on the Spurs, but ironically, it followed Popovich's statement that he wasn't going to make any deals. He isn't making such declarations this season. "I thought that was pretty cool last year," Popovich said. "It was an appropriate statement. This year, I haven't felt the need to make that statement."
Popovich, however, said he wouldn't make a knee-jerk reaction to keep up with the Lakers and Suns. "I never feel pressure to make a deal," Popovich said. "We talk to everybody like the other 29 teams. Making deals because you feel pressure is a recipe for failure."
Duncan was asked if the thought Suns fans should wake up this morning feeling good about having O'Neal. "It all depends on how healthy Shaq is," Duncan said. "It all depends on his health and his durability. If he's healthy and durable, absolutely."
When Shaq was introduced to fans in Phoenix last night, he rubbed his hand over his ring finger. O'Neal and Duncan have combined to win eight of the past nine championships. O'Neal has long desired to be recognized as the greatest big man of his era, but after Duncan matched him with his fourth championship last summer, that will be up for debate.
Shaq, you sure you want to come back to my conference for more of this? (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
They both have put up incredible statistics over their careers - Duncan has career averages of 21.7 points, 11.9 rebounds; O'Neal has career averages of 25.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. They both have three NBA Finals MVP trophies. Duncan has won the regular season MVP twice, while Shaq has just one (which is criminal, considering how great he was the first part of this decade). And, they've both won an inordinate number of games. But Duncan, almost four years Shaq's junior at 31, said he isn't competing with O'Neal, or in some sort of race to get a fifth championship.
"I want the fifth. I don't care about him," Duncan said, laughing. "I don't care who has what. It's all about winning. Everybody always asks, 'You've got four rings, what's your motivation to do it again?' It's because you want to do it again. You've been there and you've enjoyed being on top of the league. There is no place like it."
And that's why everyone wants to take it from him.