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NBA Sunday: Huge Stakes For Game 5?

The Spurs and HEAT could look very different next season if Spurs win Game 5 … Timberwolves preparing to trade Kevin Love on draft night?

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There’s always plenty at stake when two teams meet for an elimination game in the NBA Finals. To get to the Finals, the two teams involved have had to overcome many obstacles and even be a little bit lucky to get the chance to compete for a championship. Every team will tell you winning a championship is their ultimate goal every season, but few are actually positioned to do it. This season the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami HEAT appeared to be destined to square off for the second straight year, but with so much more at stake than a mere championship.

For Miami, the legacy of the “big three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh hangs in the balance as they face elimination in San Antonio tonight. They promised fans in Miami multiple championships, and they have delivered that, but in an era where the Eastern Conference is the weakest it has ever been, just making it to the Finals four years in a row isn’t enough. They need a third title to truly legitimize their legacy. All three of Miami’s stars can be free agents this summer, and win or lose it makes a great deal of sense for the youngest – LeBron – to seek greener pastures, emphasis on greener. A younger team like Cleveland, with a budding star in Kyrie Irving and the top pick in this summer’s draft could prove a tempting destination for LeBron, and the Los Angeles Lakers would certainly love to make him the richest player in the league as a reward for donning the purple and gold (keep dreaming). If LeBron leaves, Miami is back to square one and in full-on rebuilding mode, no matter what Wade and Bosh choose to do. History will then decide if two titles was enough to justify the money and the hype expended in Miami.

For San Antonio, the stakes are considerably different. Gregg Popovich’s tenure as coach, coinciding nicely with the brilliant career of All-Star power forward Tim Duncan, will never been seen as anything but historic. The team has four championships and now six trips to the NBA Finals, and if they take home the trophy this week it will make Duncan the first player to ever accomplish that feat in three different decades. The Spurs’ selfless style of play and true team concept has made them the talk of the basketball world, a world that would generally prefer to label them “boring”, “old” and write them off. The key to the team’s sustained success, however, has not just been the strong play of Duncan, it has been the front office’s uncanny ability to land perfect complementary pieces, draft well, and trust Popovich to do as he sees fit with his team. Tony Parker’s rise as one of the best floor generals in the game aided the Spurs’ ongoing dominance, and the more recent emergence of Kawhi Leonard has Miami completely stymied in their efforts to slow down the Spurs’ offense.

The question floating around in the electronic cloud known as the internet is whether or not Duncan might just hang up his adidas if his team wins championship number five and whether or not Popovich might just ride off into the sunset with him.

Rumors have surfaced to the effect that a mutual retirement ceremony could accompany a Spurs championship parade this summer, but those rumors are premature and unjustified. It’s hard to believe that two fierce competitors like Duncan and Popovich would want to leave at a time when their franchise is as good as it has ever been. Most of all, it’s hard to see them walking away from a chance to repeat as champions for the first time and add a coveted sixth championship to the franchise’s credit.

For now, what’s at stake is the 2014 NBA Championship, and that’s plenty to focus on today. The HEAT have always been at their best when backed into a corner, and they have never been backed into a corner as narrow and cramped as the one they face today. Following two blowouts on their home court it’s hard to believe they could turn the tide in what promises to be a loud and enthusiastic (and, hopefully, air conditioned) AT&T Center. The entire city of San Antonio is bursting at the seams, and the way their team has approached this series makes a Spurs title inevitable. The NBA Finals has seen one team take a 3-1 lead 31 times before this year, and in all 31 instances the team that went up 3-1 won the series.

There is plenty at stake for both sides as Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals gets underway today, but for now, having the most points at the end of 48 minutes is the sole focus of both teams.



Draft Night Gets Even Bigger?

Kevin Love has already been a part of a huge draft night trade, and this year it sounds like he might be part of another. Love was dealt on the night he, himself was drafted into the NBA, as the Memphis Grizzlies sent him to Minnesota in exchange for O.J. Mayo back on June 27, 2008. That trade seems especially lopsided now, as Love has become an All-Star and Mayo struggled to find a role on a lottery team this season. This time around the Timberwolves expect him to draw much greater value in trade.

It is widely believed that the Timberwolves will look to deal Love on draft night, thus saving themselves the drama of the nightly conversation being about Love’s status and not what the team is doing on the basketball court. Of course, trying to ascertain what’s real and what’s not will be difficult with Love’s agent throwing all kinds of rumors out there, but the interest in Love around the league is very real.

The teams that are expected to field offers for Love are fairly obvious, as most of them have been connected to interest in Love through the rumor mill already. The Los Angeles Lakers were hoping to throw a big offer at Love next summer in free agency, and they will want to have a discussion with Minnesota now if a trade is the final answer. The Houston Rockets would like nothing better than to add Love to their front court alongside Dwight Howard and completely dominate the glass next season. The Golden State Warriors have already been involved in trade rumors, supposedly offering David Lee in a trade for Love. Lee certainly would give the Timberwolves a similar talent and skill set at power forward.

The best move for Love, in terms of joining a team set to contend, might be to head to Chicago, where K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bulls would be interested in sending Carlos Boozer’s ending deal to Minnesota. That might not be the best offer the Timberwolves get, but it would give them significant cap space during the star-studded free agency class of 2015. The Cleveland Cavaliers are also rumored to be interested in Love, but it’s not as easy to see how he would land there. Cleveland has the top overall pick, of course, but the opportunity to add a franchise-changing rookie to the mix is likely to be more appealing than adding Love at the expense of a run at LeBron James.

If the Minnesota Timberwolves do, indeed, put Love on the market with the intent of moving him on draft night, there will be plenty of suitors. Some have already been identified, but the chance to land a player like Love will no doubt draw interest from some additional parties between now and then. As much as the basketball world will be glued to the results of the draft itself, the potential of a Love trade would make this year’s highly-anticipated draft even more interesting.


NBA Chat with Bill Ingram
In case you missed my last NBA chat, find it by clicking here! You can also go ahead and submit a question for this week’s chat, which you can find here! I make an effort to answer every non-repeat question, and early questions are virtually guaranteed to be answered, so drop yours in now!

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Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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