San Antonio was, rightfully, all smiles as it celebrated its well-earned 2013-14 NBA championship on Sunday evening. These aren’t levels that should be really be judged, but it was hard to recall a giddier Finals champion than these Spurs, even counting their combatants from Miami – who in one fell swoop downed the doubters and kept their expected longtime adversaries from Oklahoma City at bay in winning a ring in 2012.
Oklahoma City was supposed to return to the Finals for the next, oh, seven or eight years following that, but it has been the Spurs who have represented the West in the two seasons since. San Antonio was so, so close to downing the Heat last season, and it makes sense their cheeks hurt from smiling on Sunday night as they climbed all the way back to avenge what could have been a career-altering set of the bummers in the wake of missing out on the 2013 title.
A brand new set of bummers doesn’t exactly await these Spurs, but they do face some tough questions heading into the 2014 offseason. Tim Duncan hasn’t fully (much less legally) signed off on playing through the final year of his contract for next season, and even though Duncan’s legacy is secure and he’s not in it for the money, it’s hard to see him walking away from $10 million. Especially once one considers the fact that Duncan, even at age 38, is still very much worth $10 million next season if things hold up or (as expected) decline slightly.
Unless Gregg Popovich has some nasty reaction to the way Tony Parker started Sunday’s Game 5, missing his first 10 shots along the way, the Spurs will secure the final year of his deal in which he’s set to make $12.5 million, while Manu Ginobili ranks as the team’s fourth-highest paid player with a guarantee of $7 million for next season.
Comparing the relative pay cuts each of San Antonio’s Big Three took in order to keep this thing together to Miami’s potential for pay cuts for LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade isn’t fair. With the possible exception of Parker over Wade on some evenings, Miami’s trio is better, and they’re already to be commended for taking smallish pay cuts during the 2010 offseason to make this work. San Antonio may have a 15-year dynastic run and they may have just topped the Heat in five stunning games, but Miami has made four straight Finals – something San Antonio wasn’t able to do during its 2010-14 run, or any other span.
San Antonio already has the edge over Miami in terms of flexibility, but once again Miami has the space to try something spectacular over its offseason. If the Heat’s stars are really serious about pay cuts, they could scare people all over again.
The Spurs? They’re the champs and to be respected as such, but things won’t be as boffo.
Once again, San Antonio will have to trim around the edges in order to find the sort of depth and versatility needed to play 7 1/2 months of killer basketball once again. Assuming Parker and Duncan stay, the Spurs will have to have the sort of respectful free-agent negotiations they enjoyed with their stars as they talk to Boris Diaw, a free agent who could make more elsewhere as the Spurs attempt to re-tool. San Antonio’s best hope is that potential free-agent suitors might be scared off at a less-enthused Diaw playing for more money away from Parker and coach Gregg Popovich’s system, which could lessen his market value. San Antonio can’t exacerbate that and potentially hurt his feelings by throwing too low an offer at a big man who at times seemed to save their season.
Free agent Matt Bonner, sadly, is probably out, Austin Daye’s contract will probably be declined, and San Antonio will once again hope that internal development from Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter could put this team over the top in 2014-15.
Then, we have the Patty Mills Question.
San Antonio stuck with Mills as he figured out a role in this league as a shoot-first point guard off the bench, and his style of game figures to translate better to different teams more than Diaw’s would, and his skills (he can handle the ball and chase guards away from the ball defensively when motivated) would also seem to work in other environments better than the somewhat combustible ex-Spur Gary Neal’s did. Mills will get offers.
And San Antonio, frankly, should play along. The guy can score, he’s been improving month by month since entering 2013-14 with a slimmer frame, and in a way he’s the anti-Diaw – a guy who is (rightfully) only looking for his own shot once the play breaks down.
San Antonio, technically, will have just about double-figure cap room entering this summer, but they also have Diaw, Mills, a guaranteed first-round draft pick (provided they don’t deal it for a spate of seconds), the respective cap holds for those players and a few other roster spots to fill out. And, as it was last year and in just about every season since we started wondering if the team’s legs could make it until June, we’ll just wait things out.
Good thing we never get tired of waiting for these guys to come back. Enjoy your summer, champs.
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