LAS VEGAS — The San Antonio Spurs are bringing the band back together after an ensemble run to their fifth NBA championship.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t looking for another lead guitarist.
The dalliance with Pau Gasol proves the Spurs weren’t satisfied with just standing pat. Adding perhaps the league’s best-passing big man to the best-passing team might have eliminated the need to dribble next season.
"Pau would be a great player for a lot of teams," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said from Summer League. "The opportunity to be considered by that type of player was an honor, but he’ll be tremendous for the Bulls."
As for the LeBron James chase?
"For whatever reason, we weren’t much of a factor," Buford quipped.
While the Spurs certainly would have made good use out of Gasol in their quest for their first repeat, Gregg Popovich’s rotation returns virtually intact. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are on board for at least this upcoming season. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard isn’t going anywhere, though is first post-rookie contract figures to get a nice boost after the deals signed by Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward.
San Antonio’s in-house priorities of re-signing Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Matt Bonner this summer were also swift and painless. The only current wildcard from last season is restricted free agent Aron Baynes.
"It was a team that played well and there wasn’t any reason to try to recreate something that worked," Buford said. "Both of those guys [Diaw and Mills] played in a style that fits us. Situationally Matt has been very good for us for a long time. I think Pop was able to take advantage of how they fit with our group at the right time in different series.
"This is a group that had great chemistry, that had success playing together and within a style that fit group. We hope that we can bring that group in a similar circumstance, but we’re all starting over from scratch now so that’s really over."
And that’s starting over in an even tougher Western Conference. In the Southwest Division alone, there’s a strong case to be made for Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis making significant improvement. Houston is the only squad that appears to have taken a step back.
"Dallas has done a good job of rebuilding their team," Buford said. "Houston still has [James] Harden and [Dwight] Howard, and I don’t know how you say those two guys would put them in position to do the opposite direction. I’m not buying that. New Orleans is better. Memphis is better. Our division is going to be full of difficult teams, as it is every year."
The Spurs know the drill. The NBA’s model of consistent excellence proved with its first title since 2007 that staying the course and remaining committed to its system pays off.
"It’s a testament to the fortitude of our players, to the significance of the people who’ve worked with our players to help them get better," Buford said. "But as much as anything it’s a result of hard work that our guys put in."
Buford has put in two decades of work alongside Popovich and a host of other executives either still in San Antonio or scattered in leadership positions across the league. Buford, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, returned to San Antonio in 1994 to join the front office with Popovich.
"Our ownership group has allowed us to be around a long time, probably against their better judgment," Buford said. "We’ve got great support and to think that you’re going to around in one place in professional sports that long, it’s an honor but it’s also an anomaly."