SAN ANTONIO — With the Big Three of Old Man Riverwalk, 32-year-old Tony Parker and 36-year-old Manu Ginobili, the San Antonio Spurs are considered unlikely to add to their five championships in a decade and a half, without a top to bottom rebuild.
But the truth is there’s a young Big Three in place: Kawhi Leonard, 22, Danny Green, 26, Patty Mills, 25.
Leonard was MVP in the NBA Finals for playing his renowned small-forward adversary, LeBron James, almost evenly, as the Spurs beat Miami in four of five games. Green during this postseason established himself as one of the sharpest distance shooters in the league (better than the often off-balance Manu). Mills played well enough backing up Parker (19 minutes per game in the playoffs) to draw interest from the New York Knicks as their starter.
The Spurs can surmount the free-agency loss of Mills because they have another rising triggerman in Cory Joseph, 22, their first-round draftee in 2011.
General manager R.C. Buford, NBA Executive of the Year, will continue spanning the globe to find talented young players to fit roles in the ultimate equal-opportunity team machine.
And it’s not like Tim Duncan hit some sort of wall at 38. While he’s no longer an MVP-caliber titan, he put up numbers worthy of a future Hall of Famer: 15.1 points per game, 9.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 blocks. The Big Fundamental can slip a notch next season and still be an asset worth more than his $10.3 million salary.
The Spurs dynasty grew out of the alliance of the 6-11 Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich. In 1997 Duncan joined a team coming off a 17-47 season, Pop’s first as coach. Immediately Popovich schmoozed the rookie, confiding and trusting in him to support his coaching philosophy. Duncan was needed not to be a major scorer but to pass, rebound and defend. And most of all, to lead the culture of selflessness and dignity established in the previous era of David Robinson.
Duncan is as taciturn as his coach, rarely saying anything memorable. But when he does say something, it hits with the impact of a lightning bolt from Zeus. With his team viewed as an aging, outclassed underdog that would lose to the Heat as in the previous Finals, Duncan rallied the spirit of this rather sleepy little city with the simple and somber declaration: “We’re gonna do it this time.” And so they did, and in the aftermath it’s the Miami Heat who look like the declining power, even though the great LeBron is but 27.
As King James was noncommittal on continuing his reign in Miami, Pat Riley, president of the Heat, issued this public challenge: “This stuff is hard. And you got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
It’s difficult to imagine Popovich using that sort of language with Duncan, questioning his courage. And it’s not surprising Duncan showed no hesitation to opt in for next season in the Alamo city.
Click here for San Antonio’s Michael Erler (KSAT.com): “Who’s responsible for Kawhi Leonard being so good?”