No signs of stopping
Spurs are set up to make another title run next season
Posted: Friday June 15, 2007 2:34PM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 3:02PM
CLEVELAND -- Gregg Popovich is going to laugh about this one: His San Antonio Spurs will enter next season as favorites to win their fifth title in 10 years.
It's funny because this time last season the standard assumption was that his Spurs were too old, having lost their second-round series to the younger Dallas Mavericks. With several contributors on the wrong side of 30 and the spry Phoenix Suns also in contention, Popovich heard time and again that his team's window had closed.
This is what Popovich was telling me in January: "I look back at last year and people say, 'You know, you didn't get by Dallas.' Well, if not for one ill-advised foul [by Manu Ginobili at the end of Game 7, we do get beyond Dallas. And if we do, then people wouldn't speak about us being old. They would say, 'Dallas still couldn't get over the hump against that experienced, executing bunch of Spurs.' But since that foul in the seventh game, you're old.
"So I try not to put us in a category. I think that we've got to grind it out like we usually do, play the way we play. I think being healthy at the end of the year, we'll be able to play with anybody.''
What are their chances of doing it again? This time next year Tim Duncan will be 32, Ginobili will be 30 and Finals MVP Tony Parker will be 26. Parker will be approaching his peak, and Ginobili looked as good as ever this season. As for Duncan, his four years in college may help extend his career. Though he has extended nine of his 10 NBA years by a postseason month or two, Duncan has played a total of 883 games. That's still 91 fewer than Kevin Garnett -- who is the same age -- has built up during his 12-year career.
Duncan also saves mileage thanks to his style: He's an SUV with a hybrid engine.
"He hasn't been blessed with great quickness, but he does have agility and mobility, he runs really well and he runs really efficiently,'' Popovich said. "And more importantly, he plays with an economy or an efficiency of movement. He knows when to exert energy and when not to, when to move and when not to move. Over a game and a month and a season and a decade, it adds up when you know when you need to put it on and take it off -- and he's really smart about that.''
No coach is better at pacing his players over the regular season and peaking them for the playoffs than Popovich. So long as Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are healthy, they should remain at the top of the contenders list next season.
A more delicate issue will concern the futures of premier defender Bruce Bowen, who is 36, starting guard Michael Finley (33) and reserves Robert Horry (37) and Brent Barry (35). The Spurs have long talked about getting younger: Two years ago they almost dealt Barry for young guard J.R. Smith, and there were rumors of more trades approaching the February deadline this season. The team coalesced and improved after it became clear that Popovich wasn't going to make any trades this year.
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