Thursday , May , 25 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Spurs Loss is no Surprise

It’s tough to say too much about the Spurs management. They really do a magnificent job in every aspect of running their organization. They draft well, they don’t give bad contracts, they don’t break up the core, and because of those reasons they have one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. After winning last year against Detroit the talk of back to back championships started immediately, since they had all their guys returning, and they added former all star Michael Finley and the sharp shooting Nick Van Exel. All signs pointed to a Spurs back to back, unless you looked at the next season after the Spurs had won their previous championships.

With Tim Duncan as their leader, the Spurs have lost in the second round every year after winning the championship. They were also 2-5 in games where they were facing elimination, one win was expected as they wouldn’t have been facing elimination had Duncan’s mom not passed away, and the other big one in game 7 last year’s finals after letting game 6 slip away. As if history wasn’t enough, this has really been a tough year for the Spurs, despite winning a very impressive 63 games.

The Spurs never really got rolling. Sure, they won all those games, but they never reached that championship level, where guys like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were impossible to guard, and the role players did exactly what they were supposed to. Duncan’s plantar fasciitis bothered him during most of the season, while all the driving into traffic and taking punishment in the lane began to take its toll on Manu and Parker. Last year’s great mid season pick up Nazr Mohammed, who was a huge part of their championship run, lost all of Popovich’s confidence and his spot in the rotation.

Because of his large buyout top forward over seas, Luis Scola, didn’t sign with the Spurs and they had to settle with Fabricio Oberto.. Scola would have been another big man that the Spurs could have thrown at Dirk, and with his length and athleticism could have given him some trouble that the much smaller Bowen and much slower Duncan couldn’t give him. Not only that, but he would havegiven some more scoring to a Spurs bench that sorely needed more than just two points in game 7. Michael Finley was supposed to be the scorer off the bench for the Spurs, but because Popovich had to adjust to Avery’s game plan, Finley became a starter.

Even though history and all the current injuries that were against them, the Spurs did a great job of battling back from being down 3-1, although some of that is thanks to Jason Terry going nuts. These aren’t the soft and mentally weak Mavericks that were coached by Don Nelson; Avery Johnson has instilled a new mentality into this team. The Mavericks were simply the better, deeper, and more confident team. Dirk Nowitzki, who has the opposite type of game were accustomed to seeing from a seven footer, could not be guarded by anyone Popovich threw at him.

Dirk’s inability to guard anyone wasn’t exposed as most of the series he was guarding Bruce Bowen, who he could play off some somewhat, which led to lots of rebounds for Dirk. What really helped the Mavericks was that they brought guys like Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris, and Keith Van Horn off the bench for most of the series. Harris’ quickness was something the Spurs had no answer for in two Mavericks victories, while Van Horn brought offensive versatility and six more fouls to use on Duncan along with Dampier and Diop’s six. While Avery had four to five guys he was comfortable bringing off the bench, Greg Popovich was stuck with three struggling veterans in Brent Barry, Robert Horry, and Nick Van Exel. There was just too much stacked against the Spurs for them to pull off the miraculous come back.

Now the Spurs, who have just the 58th pick in this year’s draft, have to sit back and look at what they’re going to do this off season. The core is in tact, and they’ll likely replace Nazr by using the MLE on Luis Scola. Reports have them interested in Marcus Banks, but with Udrih there and only big men other than Duncan being Rasho, Oberto, and Horry, Scola is the bigger need. Revisiting the possibility of trading for J.R. Smith may be a good idea, to jolt some youth into an aging team.

What the Spurs need the most though, is rest. Their anchor, Duncan will get plenty of it this summer and should be able to come into camp 100%, however it’s not the same for the others. Manu Ginobili, whose already won an Olympic gold medal for Argentina, will definitely be asked to represent his country in the World Basketball Classic this summer. Manu, whose erratic play is already beginning to have an effect on his health, would be best off not playing and resting this summer, but it’s unknown what he’ll do. Oberto and Scola however, should definitely be playing. It’s unlikely that Tony Parker passes on playing with good buddies Ronny Turiaf, Mikael Pietrus, and Boris Diaw for the France national team, taking away more resting time from him.

Don’t expect much from the Spurs this summer, other than Scola. They’ll be one of the early favorites for the 2006-2007 championship, but with their aging players and the international competition going on this summer, don’t be surprised if health is a big issue next season too.