He had just written a triumphant coda to his brilliant career, but David Robinson still had time for everybody. Wearing a white NBA championship T-shirt and about half a bottle's worth of champagne, the Admiral strode down a hallway in the SBC Center. He was being hustled to a photo shoot, but as always, Robinson, who'd willed his 37-year-old, Advil-dependent body into scoring 13 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, stopped along the way to share the love. He posed for snapshots with team employees and other well-wishers; he wrapped one of his cartoonishly muscular arms around p.r. assistant Cliff Puchalski and thanked him for all he'd done this season; he gleefully waded into a throng of fans, slapping high fives like a home run hitter returning to the dugout.
Think there's any chance the Spurs will miss this guy? "David is, and I mean is, the Spurs," says San Antonio guard Steve Kerr. "He embodies the whole organization and its love affair with the city." Filling the void left by Robinson—interior presence, team spokesman, philanthropist and all-around tremendous human being—will require more than finding an athletic big man. "When David leaves," says Spurs owner Peter Holt, "it will change the backbone of the team, what the team has become relative to character."
Core players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Malik Rose and Manu Ginobili are back next season, however, and their best years are ahead of them. Thanks to judicious salary-cap management, the Spurs will have $14 million or so to spend this summer, probably on a replacement for Robinson in the post, where the 6'7" Rose is their best holdover. Holt covets Indiana Pacers free agent Jermaine O'Neal, 24, a 6'11" All-Star forward who would team with Duncan to create a dominant frontcourt for the foreseeable future. If O'Neal re-signs with the Pacers. San Antonio will set its sights on a second-tier big man such as the Minnesota Timberwolves' Rasho Nesterovic, a good fit because he can knock down the 17-foot jumper, freeing up space for TD inside.
The Spurs could also throw their money at point guard Jason Kidd, who craves a championship and doesn't appear sanguine about the Nets' chances of getting one, then trade Parker to fill their hole up front. Even if Kidd stays, assistant coach Eddie Jordan may leave New Jersey to take over at Philadelphia or Washington. Other potential issues: Forward Kenyon Martin is eligible for an extension in August, reserve guard Lucious Harris's contract is up and G.M. Rod Thorn can only offer exceptions of $4.5 and $1 million to potential free agents. After retaining Kidd, Thorn says his priorities include a backup point guard and an outside shooter, noting that the team's poor marksmanship was exposed in the Finals. Inside help may come if 19-year-old Nenad Krstic, the 6'10", 231-pound center whom the Nets took with their first-round pick in 2002, is released from his contract with Partizan Belgrade in time to attend training camp.
While New Jersey will struggle if Kidd departs, San Antonio should enter next season as the title favorite. The key for the Spurs will be creating an identity not centered on the Admiral, who was so universally respected that, when he left the podium after his final interview on Sunday, the media burst into applause. Asked how he would feel taking the floor without his longtime partner, Duncan said, "I can't imagine it, honestly."