Saturday, May 15, 2004
Updated: May 18, 1:45 PM ET
Spurs' troubleshooting starts with shooters
By Marc Stein
LOS ANGELES -- It was just 10 days ago that the whole Lone Star Philosophy, set against the Lakers and their Four Cornerstones, was looking pretty sound.
It was actually up until the final half a second Thursday night that riding a Lone Star still seemed like a good way to win one more championship. No matter how loaded the other guys are.
Which is why the San Antonio Spurs, suddenly the NBA's dethroned champions, don't intend to abandon their belief system about deliberate, selective team-building around Tim Duncan.
"I'm not going to sit here and just say I felt outnumbered," Duncan announced late Saturday, even though that's pretty much how it has looked since Game 3, when the Lakers found a resolve and unity faster than even they thought possible.
"You've got a situation where you're up 2-0," Duncan continued. "We were doing all right then. We were happy about it then. ... We play as a team more than as individuals. That's what we're about."
Now you know, with certainty, that the Spurs indeed missed David Robinson this season. Or at least in this series, when Admiral Dave certainly would have helped Duncan against a rejuvenated Shaquille O'Neal more than Rasho Nesterovic did.
Now you also know why Duncan and his general manager, R.C. Buford, were pushing so hard for Jason Kidd last summer.
It's not because Duncan or anyone else in the Spurs' hierarchy suddenly doubts the potential of Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. As Buford said in the aftermath of Saturday night's devastation: "It's my duty try to make those guys retire as Spurs."
Yet the reason they wanted Kidd so badly is simply because they liked how it felt to beat the Lakers and then win a championship, and they didn't want to have to wait long to do it again. Parker or Ginobili -- or maybe both -- might well become the fully-fledged Second Star that the Spurs seek for the long-term, since even they'd rather not be a Lone Star operation every year. In its dreams, San Antonio saw Kidd as the one guy closer to the Shaq-and-Kobe Bryant level who'd be a perfect team-first partner for Duncan while Parker and Ginobili develop.
Barring an higher-than-expected rise in the salary cap, that'll be fairly impossible this off-season. Re-signing Ginobili is priority No. 1, which should consume a meaty chunk of the Spurs' eventual cap space. Chances are slim, at best, to suggest that there will be money left over to pursue another player of star stature. Especially with an extension for Parker probably coming soon, too.
The intention, then, is to hang onto the foreign-born guards and keep developing them while filling in the holes around them and Duncan. Holes that should be pretty obvious if you watched the Lakers complete just the eighth comeback in NBA history from a 2-0 series hole.
"Probably we'll talk a little bit about shooting," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quipped.
Shooting from the line will remain a constant concern until a capable free-thrower like Duncan addresses his issues, but someone who can consistently knock in a jumper is an even bigger need.
With Steve Kerr sitting courtside as a TNT analyst, and Stephen Jackson watching on TV somewhere, San Antonio exited the tournament needing either one of them desperately. The Spurs missed 21 of their 24 attempts from three-point range.
In the biggest game of the season, wingmen Hedo Turkoglu and Bruce Bowen combined to shoot 0-for-10, with zero points between them.
Because there were no other options, Devin Brown out of the University of Texas-San Antonio ended the season as Pop's go-to shooter.
"That was really our demise," Pop said, referring not to Brown's gutty play out of nowhere but San Antonio's dreadful showing from outside.
Consistent shooting is the one thing on a basketball floor Ginobili doesn't give you at his position. Parker, nominated for instantaneous Hall of Fame induction after the first two games, was manhandled by L.A. in Game 3 and never rejoined the series. His exit was the ugliest: Parker totaled just nine points in Game 6 on 4-for-18 shooting. He also had six turnovers and missed all five of his threes.
When the Lakers emerged from the desperation of two-nil down to produce four games' worth of unseen defensive dominance, the kids weren't ready to respond without Admiral Dave to help steady them, even though Parker and Ginobili had already won a championship. That explains why San Antonio lost the third quarter every time, going 0-for-6 by a combined total of 50 points.
You might recall how the Spurs started this rematch with the Lakers by running the fogies off the floor. Their edge in fast-break points, after two games, was 35-7.
Once the fogies got serious -- making Duncan work for every morsel and taking the lane away from Parker and daring all the non-shooters to beat them -- San Antonio's running game disappeared. The Spurs didn't register a single fast-break point Saturday night.
Don't write the system off, though. In spite of their offensive shortcomings, Duncan's right. Two games into this epic showdown -- and really five games in, if Derek Fisher's miracle swish bounces out or gets waved off -- the Spurs' way wasn't far off from toppling the mighty Lakers again.
The system made Brown, heretofore a total unknown, the best Devin or Devean in this series. The system plugged in two new starters and a virtually all-new bench and still made San Antonio as dangerous as ever. The Lone Star System took the Spurs within a half-second of a 3-2 lead that would have, at worst, earned them a Game 7 on Wednesday night. "Lady luck smiled on us," Phil Jackson conceded.
Don't forget, furthermore, that the guys who run the system, Popovich and Buford, are the guys who convinced Duncan to make the Alamo City home for life ... and the guys who found Parker and Ginobili in the first place. I'm betting on them to land that shooter and score more pieces to aid TD.
"We need some pieces, absolutely," Duncan said. "But I'm happy with the nucleus of the team."
Duncan, who has never betrayed even a hint of how badly he wished Kidd had become a Spur, made it clear that his satisfaction extends to Parker.
If there was any solace for the Spurs in blowing their 2-0 lead, it's that the Lakers probably won't have a full complement of Four Cornerstones next season ... and that Parker came away vowing to come back next season as Star No. 2.
"It's hard," Parker said. "It's going to be a long summer, trying to understand what happened.
"Next season, we're going to have a lot of motivation. I know I'm going to be motivated."
Why is that, Tony?
"I owe my teammates," he said.
The Lone Star, most of all.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.