Amid a flood of regret and a few tears, the question felt unseemly. Now is not the time to talk about the future of the San Antonio Spurs.
Even if everyone is thinking it.
To discuss and dissect the future of a franchise that’s been on the last of its title legs for six years now almost robs the Spurs of this moment. This is a time to celebrate what they’ve done, not only for their quiet and proud South Texas outpost, but for the league in general and basketball as a whole.
“I couldn’t love our guys more,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after a gut-wrenching Game 7 defeat. “What they accomplished this year is something nobody would have ever expected. And they showed a lot of mental toughness and a lot of good play to get where they got. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Spurs are good for the game. Their professionalism and graciousness and talent have graced The Finals stage across NBA generations. They’ve bridged the gap from Jordan to Kobe and now to LeBron, winning four championships along the way.
This group, led from the start of this run by Tim Duncan and Pop, may never get its fifth. The reality that no one wanted to talk about, as Thursday night turned into early Friday, is staring the Spurs in the face.
“I’m not going to think about next season,” Popovich said. “I’m going to enjoy what they accomplished this season and feel badly about the loss all at the same time. I don’t know how you do that, but I’ll figure it out.”
San Antonio reached The Finals for the fifth time since 1999 going through a watered-down West, as potentials foils like Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, especially Westbrook, fell by the injury wayside.
The stars aligned for one last magical run. Trouble was they had to go through Miami, both the team and its homecourt. The Heat won 66 games. They won 27 in a row. They made up five points in 28 seconds.
“It’s no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team,” Popovich said. “And you can live with that as long as you’ve given your best. And I think we have.
“We just didn’t play well. And a lot of that had to do with their pressure, their defense, a lot of contested shots. Their athleticism was just tough for us to handle. And it finally showed a little bit in the seventh game.”
The aging of the Three Amigos was inevitable. Duncan is 37 and has carried the franchise for 15 years. Manu Ginobili hits 36 next month and is without a contract for next season. Tony Parker is the trio’s youngster, but does any 31-year-old have more mileage than the French point guard?
If the Spurs believe it’s time to reinvent themselves, the process can begin this summer and over the next couple while squeezing the last productive drops out of Duncan, Manu and Parker. Kawhi Leonard, as Pop said, “is a star in the making. He’s just beginning to feel what he has.”
With Leonard as a starting point and the emergence of Danny Green — try to look past Games 6 and 7 — San Antonio has a solid foundation of wings to build around. Though Tiago Splitter was a fish out of water in The Finals, he has a place against the bigger frontlines in the West. Nando De Colo and Cory Joseph are all upside at this point.
But what if Pop’s competitive drive is gone this fall? Duncan said after Game 7 he’s not ready to retire — his contract runs through 2015 — but so did Jason Kidd’s. On the bright retooling side, the Spurs have serious cap room this offseason and, depending on Ginobili’s future, even more going forward. Maybe Danny Granger slips nicely into silver and black in 2014.
But that’s down the road. As for the immediate aftermath of the 2013 Finals, it’s bittersweet at best.
“To be at this point with this team in a situation where people kind of counted us out, is a great accomplishment to be in a Game 7,” Duncan. “Or to be in a Game 6 up one and two chances to win an NBA championship and not do it, that’s tough to swallow.”