SAN ANTONIO – Tim Duncan conducted his postgame interview flanked by his two children. Someday soon he may decide that they, and not Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, will be his full-time running mates.
Duncan’s eventual retirement – whether it’s next week, next summer, or after the next championship – probably won’t end of what’s been a 15-year run at or near the top for the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio appears to be positioned to keep rolling along.
The Spurs looked better than ever in demolishing the Miami Heat in five games for their fifth championship, finishing it off with a 104-87 victory Sunday that set off a horn-honking celebration that lasted deep into the night.
With good players in place and perhaps unmatched leadership at the top that will find more, the Spurs don’t figure to go away, even when their big man in the middle finally does.
“I think I said it many times. There was not one season since I’m in the NBA that I really didn’t truly believe that we could have won it,” Ginobili said. “Every year we were up there. Sometimes we were No. 1 and we lost in the first round. Some other times we were seventh and we had a shot at winning it.
“But playing with the teammates I’ve always played, coached by the guy that is coaching us, I always felt that we had a shot, and I truly never believed it was the last shot.”
This probably wasn’t, either.
True, the 38-year-old Duncan realizes the end is near, though won’t say and perhaps doesn’t know how close it is. Ginobili will be 37 next month and may be entering the last stage of his career as well.
But Parker shows no signs of slowing down, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard looks ready for an even bigger role, and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford, whom Commissioner Adam Silver called “perhaps the greatest GM-coach combination in all of sports,” have shown they can find good players and make them better once they don the silver and black.
“My secret is these guys behind me, Coach Pop and R.C. That’s my secret,” owner Peter Holt said. “It doesn’t start at the top, it starts with them. And it’s a wonderful group to be with.”
The only prediction about the future Sunday night came from Popovich, and it was about the Heat. Though the former champions are heading into an uncertain summer with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all eligible for free agency, he said Miami would be back.
It wasn’t long ago people had stopped saying that about San Antonio.
Beaten in the first round by rugged Memphis as the No. 1 seed in 2011, the Spurs didn’t look strong enough. Ousted by Oklahoma City the next year after building a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, San Antonio didn’t seem quick enough.
Yet the Spurs made the necessary tweaks, and when it wasn’t quite good enough last season against the Heat, they came back even more focused and left no doubt this time.
“We’ve adapted and come out here and been able to win another championship,” Duncan said. “So proud. It’s unbelievable.”
Popovich’s ability to manage minutes in the regular season, keeping his stars fresh and providing valuable experience for his role players, could position San Antonio for another lengthy playoff run. But there will be eager challengers ready to pounce, particularly if the Spurs just don’t have the same hunger after being driven through this season by the pain of last year’s finals loss.
Right within their own state, Houston or Dallas could change the balance of power by adding Carmelo Anthony. And of course James could stay in Miami with much stronger pieces around him, or join another club that would become an immediate title threat.
So the league could look very different. But with the Spurs on top again, it sure seems familiar now.
“The Spurs continue to get better. Obviously they kept those three guys intact, but they continue to put guys around them, high basketball-IQ guys around them, high-energy guys around them that fit into the system of what Pop wanted to do,” James said. “Obviously, it’s not just about the Spurs, it’s about the whole league. The whole league is excited about returning next season and we’ll see what happens.”