Only a week ago it looked like the Spurs were the only team likely to pose a real that to stop the Golden State Warriors from a title repeat. Playoffs Lamarcus Aldridge was back and dominating teams, while the Kawhi superstar breakout continued. After building a 2-1 lead against the OKC Thunder, most believed the savvy and experienced Spurs were likely to take the series and face the defending champs in the Western Conference finals. Until the 2 Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook finally decided to wake up and both play like the top 5 best players in the world they were supposed to be. The last 3 games were a showcase of how everyone imagined the Thunder would be, with 2 superstars dominating in every way. Physically and talent wise, the Spurs had no answer as Russ sliced through the defence time and time again, finishing at the rim, starting fouls or dishing out for an open shot. Then KD just kept shooting and shooting over the best defense the Spurs could throw at him, including the Defensive Player Of The Year Kawhi Leonard. In some ways OKC winning this series was a triumph for hero ball over team play for once. It was KD and Russ telling the Spurs…You can keep zipping around good passes and sweet looking plays, but we’re just going to take over and over owe you 2 on 5.
One late play in the game was particularly symbolic, when Serge Ibaka completely denied Tim Duncan on the way to the hoop for a layup, knocking him down to the floor and leading to a lightning quick fast break the other end. It was a final statement in the game, youth and athleticism had beat out old and experience. Tim Duncan’s as got up on his feet said it all, the Spurs season was over, and so was his career. It wasn’t the best way we’d wish for a tremendous career to end, but that’s probably how Duncan wanted it, giving everything on the court until it was clear he had nothing left to give.
This time or probably truly is the end of the Spurs dynasty. A historic run which saw 5 championships, 1 best power forward (Duncan) of all time, several other all time greats (Ginobili, Parker), and some of the most beautiful basketball we’ve seen, the Duncan dynasty will be remembered fondly by most basketball fans. But this time it is the end for real. Duncan will quietly retire some time in the off-season without making too much of a fuss. There’ll be no farewell tour like Kobe, and he’ll most likely since it with a shout letter while on a fishing trip somewhere, and that’s why we loved him in the first place.
Some may say the next Spurs dynasty has already begun, with Kawhi and Aldridge leading the way. Sure, that’s probably still be good enough for 55 to 60 wins every season, but are they really a threat to beat OKC and the Warriors in the West, if Manu and Parker follow Duncan out the door? Those 3 clearly played diminished roles this season, but provided multiple clutch plays that changed the results of games time and again, without having to clock huge minutes or put up gaudy stat lines. To assume they wouldn’t be missed just because they didn’t play much this season would be misguided.
The new guard of Kawhi and Aldridge is a solid start. But help is needed. And there are no Tim Duncans in the draft to save them, not that the Spurs had a high draft pick to begin with. A replacement for Tony Parker in Mike Conley is a solid and safe move, but Conley is more of a role player and never quite capable of taking over the way Parker did in his prime.
Going after the guy who knocked them out of the playoffs this year might be a good start, but they’ll be competing against almost the entire league in trying to sign KD. The Spurs could go out and sign former all stars hunting for a ring at bargain contracts again, like David West. But that didn’t payoff this season, and would players still take less if they no longer see the Spurs as their best chance to win a title next year, not to mention the huge leap in salary cap.
In the end, unless they pull off one of the biggest free agency coups since Shaq signed for the Lakers and grab KD, the Spurs may be in for a longer rebuild than most think. Nonetheless, we can look back and be thankful to have witnessed the beautiful basketball they played for the last two decades, and rewatch and appreciate highlights of Duncan’s many ‘boring’ but clutch plays in his hall of fame career. It has been one of the greatest runs in the history of basketball. (#3 for me behind the Jordan Bulls and Showtime Lakers).