Sonics @ - May 1, 2002

May 1, 2002 (column #x)

This . . . changes . . . everything

It isn't every day that I write columns about the Sonics for on consecutive days. No, it takes a momentous event -- Calvin Booth signing with the Sonics, or mounting Gary Payton trade rumors, for example -- to precipiate such a quick follow-up. And today's news, the death of Tim Duncan's father, which will keep the San Antonio star out of game four, certainly qualifies. If you have not yet read my column from yesterday, please do so first to keep things in chronological order.

For the rest of you, talk amongst yourselves. Here's a discussion question: Will the name LeBron be common for boys born in the next decade or so?

How would you describe the feeling of that? Might the word pessimistic come to mind? Well, I went to bed last night feeling like the Sonics' chances of merely sending this series back to San Antonio were slim to none, let alone winning the whole thing.

Then I woke up, and everything changed as I read on SonicsCentral that Duncan's father had passed on.

Of course, for the Duncan family, basketball is not likely of primary importance right now. And, unimportant as it may be, my condolences and sympathies go out to Duncan and his family on their loss. Hopefully, he will be able to settle this affair before turning back to the business at hand.

Game four will be played Wednesday, Duncan or not. And suddenly, the Spurs will have to play with a lineup that only vaugely resembles the one they used throughout the regular season's 82 games. Not only will Duncan be absent, so too will David Robinson. Reserve forward Danny Ferry is also doubtful for game four. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time since Duncan was drafted by the San Antonio franchise in 1997 that the team has played without both he and Robinson.

The uniqueness of this situation makes it difficult to accurately predict what San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich will do. Under the assumption that Ferry is out, let me break down how I see the rotation for game four. Bryant should replace Duncan in the starting lineup. That leaves four healthy reserves: Terry Porter, Antonio Daniels, Charles Smith, and Cherokee Parks. Both Smith and Parks should play increased roles in game four -- well, any role would be an increased role, but they should be part of the rotation.

To me, the key question for game four is whether the Spurs can create offense without the big guy underneath scoring 27 and drawing double-teams. Although I've never believed it, the age-old argument for why a given player deserves the MVP is that, if the player were removed from the team, they would decline precipetously. Most everyone out there seems to feel that Duncan is no worse than third on their MVP ballots, and he'd be first on mine. Does it not then stand to reason that the Spurs will no longer be anywhere near their 58 win selves without Duncan?

Of course, San Antonio is not only without Duncan, they're also without their second-best player, Robinson. This is not a Shaq-less Lakers still having arguably the NBA's best guard in Kobe Bryant. Instead, the Spurs must rely heavily on the contributions of Tony Parker, Steve Smith, and Malik Rose, along with Antonio Daniels off the bench. These are the four players on the roster who are really capable of creating offense for themselves or others. At least two of these players must have very big games -- at least 20 points -- if the Spurs hope to end this series Wednesday.

The Sonics are helped on both ends of the court strategically. Without Duncan, the Spurs can no longer run the pick and roll that was so effective in game three. A switch that leaves Rose with a defensive mismatch just isn't quite as frightening as a smaller player on Duncan. On the other end, the Spurs no longer have any dominant shot blockers patrolling the middle with both Robinson and Duncan out. That should aid Brent Barry and Payton as they attempt to reinvigorate the Sonics' offense by driving the lane.

As I said to conclude yesterday's column, this eventually comes down to pride, even moreso now. The Sonics will have been given every chance to make a series of this, and if they don't send it back down to Texas now, it will be a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise-fine season.