LAS VEGAS — Gregg Popovich admits it. This offseason for the San Antonio Spurs was quick and painless.
“Lots of times you don’t have a choice because of contracts, numbers or whatever,” Popovich said earlier this week from NBA Summer League. “This year we were just able to do everything and stay under the [luxury tax threshold] at the same time, which was a goal. We wanted to stay under the tax and just try to do a good job business-wise.
“Signing Timmy and Danny and Boris and Patty Mills, we felt fortunate we were able to do all that and stay under the tax. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to do it.”
Tim Duncan, 36, is on board for another three years, ensuring the future Hall of Fame remains a “Spur for life.” The Spurs didn’t give up on last season’s feel-good surprise, Danny Green, despite his disappearance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.
Boris Diaw and Mills, a pair of in-season pickups, can be viewed as San Antonio’s offseason free-agent haul. They’ve just had a two-month head start in the Spurs’ program. But the key to it all fitting and the Spurs making a title run is Duncan.
Contract talks with No. 21 turned, well, testy. Just ask Pop.
“He was just a big a pain in the neck as he was when he almost went to Orlando,” Popovich smirked. “He toyed with me, he lied to me, he intimidated me, he threatened me and, in the end, it worked out. But I had to take much abuse to get it done.”
There might not have been an easier superstar negotiation in Spurs’ history than Duncan’s latest deal, which pays out $36 million through 2015. Duncan’s career rebirth last season is equal parts his dedication to remaining in tip-top shape and a deliberate plan to monitor his minutes.
Duncan logged a career-low 28.2 minutes per game during the lockout-compressed 66-game campaign. He averaged 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds, improving in both categories from 2010-11.
The other two-thirds of the Three Amigos are still performing at a level that assures the Spurs remain in the title discussion. Tony Parker, recovered from bottle service gone awry, and Manu Ginobili are both headed to the Olympics.
The big issue with Duncan, Ginobili and Parker is health. They’ve accumulated 36 years worth of NBA miles and getting through a season unscathed is becoming more elusive the older they get. The Spurs need all three rested and ready come April.
The supporting cast is what convinced Popovich to stand relatively pat this offseason. Kawhi Leonard has assumed the familiar Bruce Bowen role defensively, with offensive upside. Leonard, fresh off a stint with the USA Select Team that battled Team USA in practice for a week, is being featured this summer with the ball. He’s on his way to being something special.
Green found a home after, as Pop put it, “schlepping around” the league for years. Same goes for sharpshooter Gary Neal. Nando De Colo, a 2009 second-round pick, comes over from Europe with the Pop scouting report of being a “poor man’s Danny Ainge.” (Yes, that’s a compliment.) The only significant subtraction would be the disgruntled DeJuan Blair, though no decision has been made yet about the burly center.
In all, the Spurs are pretty content. The last time they had this much roster continuity came after their last championship in 2007. Even after falling two wins shy of the Finals, the Spurs are convinced they have enough to add a fifth banner to AT&T Center rafters.
“We had a very good year and went a pretty long ways, and liked to have gone further, but we’d like to keep that group together,” Popovich said. “Boris just arrived, basically Danny’s first year, Kawhi’s first year and I think we can get better. We’re going to stick with the group and see how it goes.”