SAN ANTONIO (AP) — San Antonio’s unexpected and abrupt end to the season brings on another stressful summer that begins with what has become an annual quandary.
Will Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili return?
“I really don’t know what they’re going to do,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Friday, a day after the Spurs’ season-ending loss at Oklahoma City. “But when they do decide to move on, sometime between now and the next five years – that’s a little bit of a joke – it will feel a little differently walking into the gym.”
The Spurs did not expect their offseason to begin so early.
San Antonio appeared revived and renewed after re-signing Kawhi Leonard and adding marquee free agent LaMarcus Aldridge during the offseason. But after winning the series opener by 32 points, the Spurs suddenly looked old and thin in comparison to the Thunder’s size inside and athleticism on the wings.
Still, the Spurs hope for the return of two of the franchise’s greatest players ever.
Duncan, 40, and Ginobili, 38, both have player options on the two-year contracts they signed last summer, but neither has given any indication what he plans to do.
Duncan said he would “get to that after I get out of here and figure out life” when asked about his future following San Antonio’s 113-99 Game 6 loss. Ginobili said he would “take my time as always.”
Duncan has played 19 seasons, leading the Spurs to each of the franchise’s five championships. Ginobili has been a part of four of those titles over 14 seasons.
Popovich joked one thing is certain, the veterans won’t be turning to him for advice.
“I haven’t talked to Timmy in about 11 years and Manu stopped talking to me about three or four years ago,” Popovich said. “So, I doubt it highly. They are just going to come in and say, ‘Pop, this is what I’m doing.’ And then whatever they say, that’s what I’ll do.”
It would officially mark the end of an era if either one retires, although San Antonio’s reliance on its Big Three came to a close this season.
Aldridge and Leonard became the focal point of the Spurs, helping the team transition for the future with All-Star seasons.
Leonard led the team in scoring for the first time in his five-year career, averaging 21.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 forward also won Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first non-center to win the award in consecutive seasons since Dennis Rodman in 1989-91.
“Kawhi’s just improved every year, become more confident, a bigger part of the offense every year,” Popovich said. “Obviously plays at both ends being the Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a special young man, deserves a lot of credit for the work that he puts in. He’s just going to get better. There’s more room for him to grow.”
After some early struggles adjusting to a new system, Aldridge developed into the offensive threat the team hoped for when it signed him in the offseason. He averaged 18 points and 8.5 rebounds, and his mid-range jumper proved an ideal complement to Parker’s pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets and Leonard’s drive-and-kick.
“He’s fit in quicker than anybody we’ve ever had for a first-year guy,” Popovich said. “Especially with such an experienced team and him trying to figure where his place was. I thought he was phenomenal in that regard.”
Aldridge and Leonard guided San Antonio to a franchise-record 67 wins in the regular season, including matching the league mark for best home record at 40-1.
That success made losing to Oklahoma City all the more disappointing.
“It’s the same, It doesn’t matter if you win 50 games or 67,” Popovich said. “There’s only one team that is happy at the end of the year and everybody else at some point is sad, but you get over it. You get over it.”
The Thunder’s Steven Adams and Enes Kanter took advantage of the Spurs’ interior limitations, and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant also exposed how thin San Antonio was on athleticism and energy.
“I think when you look at the team, having a little bit more quickness and youth is definitely part of the equation,” Popovich said.
San Antonio also will look at shoring up its depth, which has long been a strength for the team, but didn’t work out very well against Oklahoma City.
Ginobili, David West, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills excelled during the regular season, but all struggled to various degrees against the Thunder.
“The playoffs weigh heavily on our decision making, I’ll put it that way,” Popovich said. “We’ve relied on our bench almost every year as long as I can remember because you need to do it. If you look at the team that you lose to, usually you’ll find that more players played well than on your team.”