|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
|The West's No. 1 seed is on the verge of an early playoff exit. Is this the end of an era in San Antonio?|
Let's put it this way: We're not counting out the Spurs, Sixers and Nuggets, but TNT is getting the fishing boat ready.
Before these teams exit the stage, or before they start digging themselves out of 3-1 holes, we want our writers to have their say on these three pleasant surprises.
Here's our take, 5-on-5-style:
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: For Spurs fans, the first four games of the playoffs have obviously been a disappointment. But many people thought the Spurs wouldn't win 50 games this season, much less 60. The team has wildly defied expectations and, no matter what happens Wednesday night, that's something both the players and fans should be proud of.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Watch some game film from January to get your heads straight, get your ball movement going, add some misdirection to counter the aggressive D, keep fighting. (I'm shocked by all the Spurs obituaries already. This series could easily be 3-1 Spurs, and isn't over. Game 6 in Memphis will decide who ultimately wins this series.)
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Thank you. You taught this generation of basketball fans how to both love and hate consistent success. The championships and your savvy on and off the court demand respect. Thanks for everything you've brought the NBA, and everything you still will in the twilight seasons to come.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Thank you. My life and the lives of the entire "serious" basketball world are richer thanks to your contributions. Your integrity, attention to detail, talent and, most of all, love and respect for the game I've devoted my life to will be appreciated by thousands for as long as the NBA exists, and by me for as long as I'm breathing.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Co.: We had such a good year until you started getting bullied in summer school. I know the year is not ending the way you wanted it to, and it has been a long time since you were student of the year, but try to remember the good times and no matter what happens, stay cool! Knibb High football rules!
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: After giving extensions to Richard Jefferson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the past 15 months, the Spurs aren't in a position to do much. They might as well relax this summer and give it a go one more time next season with the same core, for old times' sake.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: San Antonio needs to find a way to play big again. The Spurs are fairly capped out, and committed to their core, so Pop needs to work his magic beans to get a second-season improvement out of Tiago Splitter, who was as productive and accomplished as Marc Gasol in the Spanish League. The Spurs must have more from Splitter next year.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: For next season, make value signings, develop James Anderson and integrate Tiago Splitter. San Antonio has big salary commitments, so improvement will need to come from the pieces in-house. Rearranging the furniture may not seem like much, but don't underestimate Gregg Popovich's sense of feng shui.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Too early to punt, after such a strong season. It's time to bring in a new frontcourt, including a power forward who can shoot, and a more agile center, and let Duncan and Blair come off the bench to form a great second unit foundation. The Spurs know Europe well, plus Splitter may be an answer.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Co.: Hang on to the past and reload for another run. Parting with Tim Duncan would sound the death knell of the era that saw the Spurs remain perennial contenders. Try to find some more size and hope the Texas Big Three can remain as healthy next season as they were this season.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Two things: Re-sign Thaddeus Young, and avoid adding another unwieldy contract to the books. If they can make a low-cost improvement at any position, it's obviously welcome. However, it's more important that they don't jeopardize their long-term success in an attempt to capitalize on their short-term success and give into the urge to overpay for a player again.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: The Sixers are in a quandary: They have multiple quality 23-or-under players, but can't truly contend to win the East in the near future with the present roster. Philadelphia might need to deal Andre Iguodala for improvement in the long term, though it could be a serious short-term hit to lose one of the league's best wing defenders.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Secure Thaddeus Young, don't give Spencer Hawes the benefit of the doubt with an extension, and hope for internal improvement. The Sixers' books are pretty cluttered, and if there's a market for Elton Brand's bloated deal, I know not of it. Philly should let Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Louis Williams and Marreese Speights incubate and see what happens.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Punt. Doug Collins has wrung all that could be wrung from this roster. They have too much money tied up in guys who are just too flawed to anchor a 55-win team. Time to move them, but try to keep Holiday and Young in the process.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Co.: Pray that Evan Turner can improve enough after a disappointing rookie season to help the Sixers challenge the Hawks and Magic for home court in the playoffs, while counting down the minutes until Elton Brand's contract expires in June of 2013.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: I'm sure the Nuggets would love to retain Nene Hilario, Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo, but overpaying for any of them -- in particular, Chandler -- could limit their ability to ascend to contender status. But it's important they retain their depth and leave themselves options during the next trade season. A trade, not a signing, will push this team over the top.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Build around the core of Ty Lawson-Afflalo-Danilo Gallinari-Nene. Definitely lock up free-agent Nene. Probably re-sign mercurial J.R. Smith ahead of playoff washout Chandler. Possibly deal Raymond Felton in a package for frontcourt help if Kenyon Martin can't be re-signed to a reasonable deal, though it would hurt to see the often-electric Lawson-Felton tandem broken up.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Don't let Nene leave town, and don't be afraid to part with Martin, Smith or Chandler. The Nuggets can go in a handful of directions with their versatile roster, but Nene's presence should be mandatory. Denver's other pieces are largely interchangeable, and it makes little sense to overpay for Martin, Smith or Chandler, valuable though they may be.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Denver is primed to make progress this offseason. The Nuggets can make surgical strikes to upgrade specific areas, such as moving a few quality players to get a new power forward. I like Felton and Lawson together, if Felton will buy into Lawson starting but both playing a lot and finishing. They can be contenders next year, if they keep Nene.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Co.: The No. 1 priority should be to sign Nene to an extension. The desire to prove to the world they could win without Carmelo Anthony held a team together, even with multiple free agents and players not seeing as much court time as they wanted. This summer Denver must thin the herd a bit, figuring out which players are in the long-term plans and seeing what they can get for the rest.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: A "gentleman's sweep" is a term Hardwood Paroxysm's Matt Moore and I have for a series in which a team wins comfortably but still graciously allows its opponent to win one game. It was gentlemanly of the Grizzlies, Heat and Thunder to leave their opponents with a bit of pride, but all three will close out their series Wednesday.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Philly has too much heart to lay down, but the Heat's talent will prevail. The Spurs will be buoyed by the home crowd to force a critical Game 6. This Nuggets season has been such a wild ride that I'll pick them for a Game 5 surprise, though maybe I'm just being hopeful to see these two exciting teams play more.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Three more series come to a close. Miami, Memphis and OKC all smell blood in the water, and though San Antonio may deserve the benefit of the doubt, I don't see the Spurs fully recovering from Memphis' blitzkrieg in order to make the necessary adjustments. Philly and Denver, meanwhile, were merely delaying the inevitable with their Game 4 victories.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Miami plays with more urgency and wins. San Antonio, with the fearlessness of an underdog, plays its best game of the playoffs. It still may not be enough, but probably will be. I think OKC has the best chance at losing. Denver is better than Memphis or Philly and has not yet played a great/complete game. I think they have one in them.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Co.: I would be surprised if the home teams do not walk off the court victorious. I cannot picture a world in which the Spurs cannot win an elimination game at home against Memphis. Oklahoma City nearly pulled out a win in Game 4 despite the Nuggets finally having a hot-shooting fourth quarter. Look for them to close out Denver in Game 5.