SAN ANTONIO — Unless Tim Duncan decides he wants to retire, it will be more of the same next season for the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
The big man has a player option worth $10.3 million on his contract for next season, and he said throughout the postseason run that he didn't know yet whether he'll be back.
"I know he's got one more year on his contract, and he loves being with us, loves playing basketball," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "Either way, whatever he decides, I'll support him. But if I have to choose, obviously, I would love him to keep going. I love playing with him."
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's future is forever tied to Duncan's, of course, as he has always made it clear that he'll be right behind his big man if he heads for the exits. San Antonio does have significant role players who will become free agents in small forward Boris Diaw, point guard Patty Mills and forward Matt Bonner, but the core is intact.
But the potential for a return remains, just as it did after losing the Finals last year.
"At the beginning of the season, I stepped back on this court knowing we wanted to get back to this point and we had the opportunity to and we had the team to, if we believed and if we fought through and let all that go," Duncan said after winning in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night against the Miami Heat.
"With a team like this, and guys like this, everything's changed, and we adapted and to come out here and win another championship for these fans, it's unbelievable."
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Duncan's legacy most certainly reaches a new level with this title, as he has now tied the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson (among others) with his fifth while managing to head an elite team for a longer stretch of time (Bryant's first and last championships were separated by a decade while Johnson had eight years between his).
Popovich, meanwhile, has become one of five coaches to win at least five titles, with the others being Phil Jackson (11 with the Lakers and Chicago Bulls), Red Auerbach (nine with the Boston Celtics), John Kundla (five with the Minneapolis Lakers), Pat Riley (five with the Lakers and Heat). But what makes Popovich's unique is in the sustained success, the 15 years that separated his first and last title with the same team is easily the best among that bunch. Both then and Sunday, they did it their way.
The Spurs' way is not easy to define. Selflessness and sacrifice are important elements, but their special formula goes well beyond that. And as Spurs general manager R.C. Buford reminded reporters Saturday, this powerful program started well before the drafting of Tim Duncan in 1997.
"We played at a really high level, defensively and offensively, making the moves, attacking the seams," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said after Game 5. "Everybody contributed. It wasn't about Tim Duncan or Tony Parker. It wasn't about Kahwi (Leonard) or Danny Green. It was about team, and that's what makes it so, so nice."
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Had former Spurs head coach Larry Brown never invited Gregg Popovich to leave Division III Pomona-Pitzer and become a Spurs assistant in 1988 — the two having connected as coaches in the mid-1980s and gone on to become the best of friends — then this generation's version of Red Auerbach and Bill Russell would likely never have been united.
"I've been very blessed and very lucky to play with Timmy and Manu and coach Pop," Parker said. "He's unbelievable. I know he doesn't like when we talk about him to I'm not going to say nothing. We're a great team and we do it together."
Brown had everything to do with the basketball philosophies that remain until this day, the "play the right way" approach that he taught Buford when he was an assistant coach for him at Kansas from 1988 to 1991 and then as a Los Angeles Clippers assistant under Brown.
"The Spurs way has been different over the course of this time, and I think it's been built to fit the strengths of our team," Buford said. "But we both (himself and Popovich) grew up under coach Brown, and he thinks that there's a wino on the street corner who has got the perfect out of bounds play, so he'll listen to anybody. That rubbed off on us. ... We grew up under that burden."
As it turns out, Pop — whose affinity for adult grape juice is so well-chronicled — was that wino.
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