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Spurs paid price after running into confident Grizzlies at wrong time


Special To The Japan Times

The beauty of the NBA’s best-of-seven playoff format is the best teams almost always advance from the first round.

As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich underscored in his post-series news conference, intimate observers of the Western Conference realize the eighth-ranked (not “seeded” . . . the most misused word in print and on TV next to Charles Barkley’s portrayal as an analyst) Grizzlies’ victory over league-leading San Antonio is not an upset.

As things turned out, once the exceptional success rate of the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks leveled off for whatever reasons — ailments, aging, apathy, inability of reinforcements to assume bigger roles — and their five closest competitors upgraded, stabilized and/or gained confidence the West’s pack became practically inseparable.

For the most part, Popovich noted, they split their play dates with each other. None in the elite eight dominated the top tier teams. However, by the time the Grizzlies met the Spurs, they were so full of themselves from such a forceful four-week finish that their skilled big men, overgrown gymnasts and impeccably designed/implemented defense were too much to handle.

Even for a properly prepared, suitably motivated, championship-coated team featuring the best of intentions.

The imperfection of the NBA’s playoff format is the subsequent rounds aren’t best-of-13. Well, one of them anyway . . . if for no other reason than to read daily injury stories about Shaquille O’Neal. Can’t get enough of that funky stuff.

To keep you current, Shaq is now being listed as “Derby Day-to-Derby Day.”

You had to feel sorry for Richard Jefferson; exiled to the bench for the second half of Game 6, his knee never stopped twitching. Don’t see him ever regaining Pop’s confidence.

To think Spurs owner Peter Holt traded Luis Scola and the illustrious Jackie Butler to Houston on July 12, 2007, to save several million dollars and now he’s stuck with Jefferson’s three-year, $30 million tab. His salary next season ($9.3 million) is one-eighth of the reason suggestions about the team rebuilding over the summer (one Pop post-series inquisitor used “overhaul”) is seriously specious.

First of all, the Spurs already began renovations. George Hill, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter are exhibits A, B, C and D.

Secondly, they’re capsized ($72,963,000), exceeding the present league limit by $14 million; and that’s before contentious CBA negotiations centering around radically reducing salaries even get under way. Should Antonio McDyess follow through on plans to pull a canopy over his splendid career then the Spurs recover $5.72 million of cap space.

What’s Rich DeVos to do?

He’s stuck with more bad contracts than most civil service outfits?

I suspect the owner and his valued consultant Dwight Howard shall have much to discuss.

So much uncertainty engulfs the Blazers.

Will Brandon Roy ever again be capable of putting up game-winning numbers in back-to-back games?

Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are here today but may be gone later today. Letdowns by Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez against the Mavericks were startling.

The squeamish should look away; incredibly, four years after drafting Greg Oden No. 1 overall, Portland’s primary pothole is in the pivot. The good news is, Yao Ming wants to re-sign with Houston.

With so many money issues yet to be resolved by the league and the players’ union, I can’t imagine Denver’s Nene exercising his escape clause and forfeiting guaranteed $11.6 million to become a free agent.

Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke is on the lookout for a genie who can wish away Al Harrington’s remaining four-year obligation. Half of his final two years ($7.378 million) is non-guaranteed, meaning he’s assured of banking $21 million during that span.

Of Denver’s four free agents management must re-enlist Aaron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler and have enough room to sign one established big man, maybe two. That’ll be tough to do with $17 million to invest, that is, unless Kenyon Martin is welcomed back at a rational wage. He’s triggered so much trouble during his tour so I wouldn’t be surprised if the relationship is over.

Are J.R. Smith’s scoring binges worth the chronic aggravation he causes and the powerful scent of mortification hiding in the tall grass?

I suspect not.

In Chris Paul’s exit interview with the media, he said all the right things about the Hornets, New Orleans, the fans, the food, and the beads.

Still, who genuinely doesn’t believe the Lakers’ series was the last time he represented the whole shebang?

Once the league sells, relocates or disbands its play thing within the next few months.

The Jazz moved Deron Williams before he became a rising free agent and gained the leverage to dictate his travel itinerary.

The new owner, if such a person/corporation exists, would be wise to do the same thing with Paul unless he’s agreeable to re-up instantly upon completion of the purchase.

Hold on a second, first things first, unless free agent David West is re-signed, there’s no way Paul will even entertain an offer.

The 76ers, meanwhile, will have to muddle along minus Jason Kapono. I suspect not even the prospects of pocketing another $6.6 million would entice the free agent-to-be to anchor Doug Collins’ bench. Oh, yeah, Thaddeus Young also hits the meat market July 1, except he’s restricted.

Regardless of rule changes he deserves to strike it rich; rest assured, somebody is going drive up Young’s price and make Comcast pay.

Did I read that right?

Did Larry Bird really say interim coach Frank Vogel earned the right to be interviewed first for the opening?

The anonymous assistant took over Jim O’Brien’s 17-27 mutinous team, transformed it into a harmonious, hardcore defensive unit by coming to Roy Hibbert’s emotional rescue, exhuming Tyler Hansbrough, George Paul and Dahntay Jones, finished with a 20-18 flourish and had the Bulls sweating through their five-game series.

Most people would judge that to be an award-winning interview. The Pacers’ president should hope he fares half as well in his pending meeting with owner Herb Simon about whether he’s coming back.

Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.