(SportsNetwork.com) - You'll forgive the San Antonio Spurs if they haven't
completely put the heartache of last season's NBA Finals, specifically Game 6,
It was on that night, when San Antonio could've clinched its fifth NBA
championship since 1999, Ray Allen of the Miami Heat hit a crazy, off-balance
corner three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
Miami prevailed in the extra session of Game 6, outlasted the Spurs in Game 7
and walked off with back-to-back titles.
The Spurs were a measly five seconds away from a title. A desperation shot
crushed the hopes of San Antonio.
"Suffice it to say, I've thought about it every day," admitted head coach
Gregg Popovich, speaking more than three months after the shot. "I'm wondering
if it'll go away. I'm anxious for it to happen, but it hasn't happened yet."
That just shows how devastating such a loss can be that a hard-nosed, Air
Force academy graduate like Popovich hasn't let go of the loss.
"I don't dwell on it every day," said Tim Duncan. "Obviously it's painful, the
whole end of that series is painful, but I try not to dwell on that daily."
Luckily the Spurs are the most veteran, battle-tested franchise in the NBA. If
a team can respond from the heartbreak of what happened in June, it's the
Their nucleus, while another year older, remains intact.
Duncan enjoyed a career rejuvenation last season and returned to the first
team All-NBA. Tony Parker was heading to serious MVP consideration until an
injury derailed his campaign late in the regular season.
Kawhi Leonard looks like a superstar in the making. Danny Green hit three-
pointers at a historic clip in the Finals.
The Spurs are still the elite of the Western Conference and the NBA.
2012-13 Results: 58-24, first in Southwest; lost in NBA Finals to Miami
ADDITIONS: G/F Marco Belinelli
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Tony Parker
SG- Danny Green
SF- Kawhi Leonard
PF- Tim Duncan
C- Tiago Splitter
KEY RESERVES: G Manu Ginobili, G/F Marco Belinelli, C Boris Diaw, G Patty
Mills, G Cory Joseph, F Matt Bonner, C Aaron Baynes, G Nando de Colo
FRONTCOURT: Duncan was a revelation last season. After dropping some weight in
the offseason, and playing fewer games (69) in the regular season, The Big
Fundamental averaged 17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.7 bpg, which was his highest
block average since the 2003-04 season. He said at Spurs media day he took
almost a month off after the Finals setback and continued rest through the
season will help.
Leonard really emerged during the Finals. He averaged 14.5 ppg and 11.1 rpg
and had the task of trying to stop LeBron James. Leonard registered four
double-doubles, including big games in the final two. Leonard's role in the
offense could be expanded this season and his coach believes he's ready to
take a gigantic step.
"I think Kawhi is the new Parker, Ginobili, Duncan kind of guy. He's going to
take over as the star of the show as time goes on," Pop said.
Splitter's numbers went up across the board last season (except for field-goal
percentage) thanks to increased minutes. His reward was a four-year, $36
million contract, which is high, but the cost of doing business.
BACKCOURT: Parker continued to be the most unheralded true superstar in the
NBA. He posted marks of 20.3 ppg, 7.6 apg and shot a ridiculous 52 percent
from the field. While no one on earth was going to stop James from the MVP,
Parker had a legitimate claim for consideration. He injured his ankle in March
and missed time. During the offseason, the Frenchman played a lot of
international games and a tweaked knee in August was cause for concern.
Green set a Finals record with 28 made three-pointers. It was no fluke as
Green averaged 10.5 ppg last season and hit on 42 percent from beyond the arc.
He's also a plus-defender, so Green is a fixture in the Spurs backcourt.
BENCH: Ginobili is still the key to this unit and he has to atone for his poor
play in the postseason. He only managed 11.5 ppg during the Finals, but he got
a two-year contract out of it. Ginobili's numbers have declined the last two
seasons as age and a lot of tread in the tires are catching up.
Belinelli was brought in to bolster the bench. He's a good scorer, versatile
combo player and above-average three-point shooter. Popovich seems impressed
Diaw is another multi-dimensional guy that Pop loves. Bonner is a great
shooter and players like Baynes, Mills, de Colo and Joseph will receive larger
roles with Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair elsewhere.
Sam Young is a natural small forward and could spell Leonard.
COACHING: Popovich is a two-time Coach of the Year and finished fourth in
voting last season. He is a Hall of Famer in waiting and is the best in the
This season will be a little challenging for Popovich. He lost long-time lead
assistant Mike Budenholzer, who took the Atlanta Hawks head position, and
another long-time coach, Brett Brown, who will helm the sinking ship known as
the Philadelphia 76ers.
Lucky for Popovich, he has such a veteran-laden squad he can help his new
assistants integrate themselves into the San Antonio way.
OUTLOOK: The Spurs are the best-equipped team in the league to overcome the
brutal, soul-crushing setback that was last season's Finals. Pop and crew
could even use it as motivation.
"We're going to let it fester for a little while," said Duncan. "We're going
to continue to think about it."
The team is relatively healthy and Pop is the best in the sport, especially at
giving his core guys the rest they need for the long grind. His bench is
thinner than years past, which will mean Green and Leonard could see major
San Antonio had the second-best record in the Western Conference last season.
The Spurs held first a good chunk of the way before the Oklahoma City Thunder
With Russell Westbrook out for four-six weeks of the regular season, the Spurs
should probably finish atop the conference. Another trip to the Finals is very
possible and a fifth title is well within reach.
There aren't many teams that can boast the claim as legitimate NBA
Championship material. The Spurs are one of them.
The Sports Network