If you’re a San Antonio Spurs fan still looking for some closure to the soul-crushing end to what was supposed to be the grand finale of an incredible dynasty, welcome to the club. Over the past four days I’ve looked at everything that has to do with the Spurs this year except game film from the 2013 NBA Finals to try and ease the pain and it’s slowly starting to numb. I hope to offer you a suggestion that has helped me through the heartbreak — the same thing that got these Spurs to within five seconds of a fifth title: the words of Gregg Popovich.
After the Spurs’ lost to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Finals, Pop told the players he hoped that was the worst thing that ever happened to them. That applied directly to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who likely had their final shot at another ring torched with Ray Allen‘s game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 6. Ginobili is a free agent, be he’ll likely be back for another round as an aging role player. Parker is still in his prime, but he can’t carry the team the way Duncan did at times over the past 16 years. At 37, the ageless wonder’s new job is to make sure the Spurs continue their winning tradition when he’s gone.
Let that marinate for a minute. I know it hurts, but ponder on it and then read on with a clear mind.
The Spurs will be a high-seeded playoff team again in 2013 with the Big Three still intact, but with the Miamis and Oklahoma Cities of the NBA world along with any other elite teams that develop through free agency this offseason, the torch has passed. Anything more than that in the upcoming season will be a pleasant surprise like this last hurrah of a title run was.
The Spurs have a ton of young, talented players who really could have used another year of experience under their belts before this title run, but the cards San Antonio was dealt this year just didn’t stack up perfectly. Now Duncan and Popovich must groom the likes of Tiago Splitter, Danny Green and Gary Neal (if he re-signs) to carry on the Spurs’ winning ways.
They have a good foundation because at 31, Parker will be around for probably another half-a-dozen years as the older superstar alongside Kawhi Leonard, who is the future of the Spurs. Aside from Duncan, Leonard best fits the mold of a San Antonio player better than anyone. Put simply: he was born to play for the Spurs.
That will make the job easier before Pop and Duncan ride off into the sunset. Their age and wisdom are required for players like Splitter, Green and Neal to develop into the next generation of Spurs core players because passing the torch to new veteran leadership now would be premature. Pop sticking around another year and enduring another playoff loss with these youngsters will do the franchise a world of good while also giving him more time to choose an appropriate successor.
Of course, it’s hard to replace one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, just like it’s hard to replace the most fundamentally-sound player to ever touch a basketball. But if there’s anyone up for the task of making sure the Spurs are ready for the future — one that doesn’t include these two legends — it’s Pop and Duncan.