“The End of an Era”
Those papers were then burned a year later when the Spurs won their final 10 regular season games and their first 10 playoff games. Then when the Oklahoma City Thunder won four straight games to eliminate the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the same headlines were printed and published again.
When the Spurs made it back to the NBA Finals for the fifth time in franchise history this season, these folks didn’t know what to think. But after the Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, that same thought crossed many minds once again. Now that Game 7 is over and set to “haunt” Tim Duncan “for a long time,” that headline is actually true.
That’s not to say the Spurs are done, because they’re not. Heck, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan will probably be back again next year. But even then, the torch has passed. But not to another team — to another player.
Starting in the 2013-14 NBA season, Kawhi Leonard will be the main man in San Antonio. He won’t lead the team in scoring and he won’t get any media attention, but he’ll be the Spurs’ MVP, just like he was in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Leonard was born to be a Spur; he has the fundamentally-sound game, the defensive mentality and the mental toughness that it takes to be successful in the model organization for all of sports. Aside from Duncan, Leonard fits the San Antonio mold better than any other player and that’s why he’s the future of this franchise.
Many have long though the Spurs would be average at best after the Big Three era, but that age is slowly transforming into the next one and has been for almost two years now, beginning with the trade for Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft. Tiago Splitter, Danny Green and Gary Neal are all young, up-and-coming players with worlds of potential. With Parker and Leonard as their leaders, they will one day be the core for the Spurs after Duncan and Ginobili are gone.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once said he’ll retire when Duncan retires and No. 21 has two years left on his contract and he says he’s going to play them out, so at 39 years old, he and Pop will theoretically be gone. But even then, the slow, subtle transformation will still be taking place.
Pop’s coaching tree is so vast already and it’s growing all the time. Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro, PJ Carlesimo, Monty Williams, Mike Budenholzer and Jacque Vaughn are just a few who coached and/or played under Pop and have since gone on to make names for themselves. So when he’s gone, you can bet he’ll have a dynamite replacement ready to take over the reins and keep the Spurs rolling just like they always have.
The 2013 NBA Finals will always haunt the Spurs’ faithful because if the young and old guys been just one year closer in age, San Antonio would have won in six games at the very most. But the Spurs won’t ponder “what if?” once the 2013 season begins. Leonard is now ready to take his game to the next level and that will include leading this team, especially in the postseason.
The world will write off the Spurs as finally done once again this year, but they’ll be back and don’t be surprised if they’re just as good — or even better — than ever.