Steve Kerr couldn’t even be around for the 2017 Western Conference finals, such as they were. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, expert assessor as ever stood, called his absence “a crap situation.” He speaks for all of us.
The former Spurs deep reserve and Golden State Warriors coach has missed 10 games since the persisting symptoms of his botched 2015 back surgery got in the way of his standing on the actual sidelines. In his place in conquest was Mike Brown, as close to a Mr. Spur as any from 2000 through 2003 and again at times in 2015-16, but Mike Brown never scored 12 points in a fourth quarter, as a Spur, in a Western-clinching contest. He wasn’t the one trading expert complaints about the once-incoming and now presiding Trump administration with Coach Pop all season.
Kerr wasn’t there, and Kawhi Leonard mostly wasn’t there, and former Warrior David Lee wasn’t around for all of it, and Tony Parker still isn’t here. The Spurs were swept in four games by the Warriors in what should have been an all-time classic series. Gregg Popovich wasn’t bluffing or acting canny when he accurately relayed Kawhi’s left ankle injury limitations before Games 2 and 3, with every contest acting a coronation with the MVP candidate sidelined for the Spurs.
Golden State outscored the Spurs by 87 points in the three-plus games following Leonard’s injury, Games 2 and 3 had less the air of a one-sided playoff game, feeling more like an exhibition affair from October, still somehow scheduled on TNT opposite the baseball playoffs. Luckily, Game 4 was securely Manu Ginobili’s night in the spotlight, prior to what we hope is a 100-plus game sendoff in 2017-18.
Beyond that, the 2017 Western Conference finals were lost in a whiff. A puff that seems as if it comes just hours after the Spurs were up 20-odd points and dominating the rusty Warriors, in Oakland, in Game 1. This was to be a series for the ages, or at worst a damn good back-and-forth, and instead the crap situation sustained.
Tony Parker’s injury in the second round was to be explained away, Parker has been playing deep into the postseason since 2002 and it was the NBA’s worst-kept secret that the Spurs may have been better with the 35-year-old on the bench. Kawhi Leonard’s season-ender, an ankle injury that dumber teams and dumber players would have possibly played through in years past, just looked cruel. Nearly a year’s worth of anticipation, expectation only slightly obscured by what will be a historic 2017 Finals, lost in a Sunday afternoon.
The NBA has given us some dull, forgettable Conference final contests over the past decade, even during the league’s great rebirth, but severe extractions along these lines are thankfully rather rare. The Spurs had the league’s top defense and a top-ten offense in 2016-17, but this was still a star-less squad beyond the player many chose as a star without equal in 2017. And the team lost the star, in a much-replayed instant.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 23, 2017
“We had some bad fortune, which happens to all of us at some point in our lives.”
The Spurs didn’t look steeled in anticipation of defeat, though the franchise had plenty of time even before Game 1’s end to see the writing on the wall. The team just looked effortless in its interactions, once again, and they looked like a team anxious to get back to the norm, to get back to letting expensive dinners and outrageous wine tabs pick up where the postgame showers left off.
In the off day following his deadening Game 2 defeat, Coach Popovich reminded dirty play-weary media of the legendary trips to the carb-maker that helped settle the sting of the team’s 2013 Finals defeat, and buttress the bubbles from the champagne they swallowed in 2014. Those team-wide, postgame dinners are key. After one of his best games in a pro, prior to a contract summer, Patty Mills was already on to fretting over “deciding where to eat tonight, whoever has the best wine I guess.”
He’s a free agent this summer, same as Manu Ginobili, and same as upstart Jonathan Simmons. Otherwise, the Spurs appear to be on a path to stay tactfully intact, the byproduct of a few extended commitments in the hopes that it all might come together, as it appeared to have done so briefly for moments in Game 1, and in ways James Harden had nothing to do with in Game 6 of the semifinals win.
LaMarcus Aldridge is sure to make over $21.4 million next season, Pau Gasol nearly $16.2 in a player option he’s just as sure to pick up. Tony Parker is in for one more year at $15.4 million, coming off a major quadriceps injury, while Danny Green will return at a fair $10 million. Mills is set to enter his prime at age 29 this August, but his weird mix of gifts only seems suited for a certain number of teams, the Spurs chief among them. Expect a sustained partnership, even as the Spurs try to move gobs of space around on the off chance that securing a star point man is feasible via trade and/or signing.
This is the team that has no problem saying goodbye to a central casting addition like Boris Diaw, if only to bring in a younger or more potent brand of extra-Spursy types.
David Lee may decide to pick up his player option for $2.3 million after his frightening Game 3 injury, though after a year spent both in and out of the starting lineup, big man Dewayne Dedmon may choose to decline his option and find a raise upon his $3.2 million player option for 2017-18. Dejounte Murray, a 20-year old that the Spurs may see Antonio Daniels in, is on one of the more affordable rookie deals in the league.
Simmons, at age 27 a prospect no more, will stand as a restricted free agent and a conundrum that Popovich, general manager R.C. Buford and the Spurs haven’t seen in terms familiar to the public since Stephen Jackson’s decision to move on to Atlanta following the 2003 championship, or the team’s season-long dalliance with Derek Anderson in 2000-01. Simmons doesn’t gobble up possessions like those two, but there will be offers and the Spurs minds should be racing.
Presuming they go blind in the face of these sorts of things:
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) May 23, 2017
“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective.”
The team’s 2016-17 run wasn’t an exercise. These guys weren’t in it for a journey, they’re pissed off that Zaza Pachulia ran up under Kawhi Leonard’s foot and they’re angry that Game 5 won’t tip off on Wednesday. With the right mix of timing and luck, the Spurs could have escaped California with a split and an MVP in full lather heading back to San Antonio. A great usurper, not unlike those old Knicks in 1973, getting in one more ring with a whole lotta gestalt and next to zero defensive fouls.
Instead, three rounds are done and it’s not even June. Not even a week away. Instead of trying to determine San Antonio’s next duck-and-cover in regards to the too-tall, too-slow frontcourt, or if Kevin Durant is still a year away from happily playing with blinders on in Golden State’s offense, we’re talking about Dewayne Dedmon’s player option.
Or, of more importance, possibly a basketball legend’s final game in the NBA:
“One is to keep playing in this league at this age, enjoying every day, playing the sport I still love. The other one is to stay at home, be a dad, travel more, enjoy my whole family. It’s two unbelievable options. There is no way I can be sad. Whatever I decide, it’s going to be great.”
Manu Ginobili, faced with nearly 100 games and 12 more months’ worth of work just to get back to where the Spurs were a few days ago, still didn’t walk away. He didn’t want to commit to passing on returning for yet another seven-to-nine month slog at age 40. Basketball seasons are hard. Players are right to want to quit the game between quarters. It’s not a fun gig to think about, just minutes after the last game of the season. Everyone wants to retire, at that podium.
And yet Manu just wants a few weeks to figure it out, if you wouldn’t mind.
It is fading, you can tell. Ginobili might not be back and Parker probably won’t ever be the same. The first year without Tim Duncan (the first since Jamie Feick’s pre-fame, pre-New Jersey years) reached only the limits May 14 predicted for it, when the Warriors started the post-Leonard era with a 58-32 run to close Game 1. San Antonio can tinker or it can somehow find a way – as it nearly did in 2003, as it appeared to do in 2015 – to go big, but even adding an All-Star type like Kyle Lowry or even Chris Paul is no championship guarantee.
The Spurs never signed up for any. Not in 2003 when they jumped the teaching curve and ran toward the title, not in 2014 when they somehow dragged their way to a cinema finish, and not in 1999 when they grew up in full view while the squabbling Lakers took their time getting an act together that we weren’t already tired of. The Spurs just rolled in, counted the many blessings, and did their best to stay healthy come spring.
Some springs don’t work out, but in San Antonio you’re always going to get another one.
Other teams that are gone until November:
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