Monday, May 10, 2010
Spurs' Popovich expects quiet summer
SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker went through injuries this season like the San Antonio Spurs went through lineups. Both helped explain their situations Monday.
For the Spurs, it was shrugging off being swept in the playoffs by Phoenix and 'fessing up that their overhauled roster -- the one that added players to the Big Three of Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili -- never became championship material.
For Parker, it was facing questions about his future in San Antonio.
"It would surprise me if Tony hadn't played this year with some kind of health ailment that we would even be having this conversation," general manager R.C. Buford said.
Both Parker and the Spurs head into summer with unmet expectations. Coach Gregg Popovich joked last July that he should be fired if the revamped Spurs didn't win a fifth title, but on Monday he dubbed this the most challenging of his 14 years in San Antonio.
Parker, meanwhile, never came close to his All-Star form in 2009 while battling injuries. The 27-year-old has one year left on his contract, but both Buford and Parker tempered rumors that the Spurs might let him go.
"The speculation on Tony is [based] outside of our organization, not internally," Buford said.
Parker said his heart remains in San Antonio.
"I trust Pop and R.C. to make the right decision for our team," Parker said. "They've been great for our team over the years. I really trust them."
As usual, the Spurs will be scrutinized over whether their aging core can reach that level again. Ginobili turns 33 this summer and Duncan will turn 35 when the playoffs roll around next year.
No longer the dominant player in his prime, Duncan had a brilliant start to the playoffs but leveled off in the Phoenix series. He'll likely take an extra month off again this summer to rest up, particularly the left knee that he protected with a brace all season.
Popovich and Buford had liked their chances with this bunch. But instead of reclaiming their spot atop the West, the Spurs finished with the worst regular season in the Duncan era and needed a late surge just to lock up the No. 7 seed.
Upsetting Dallas in the first round had the Spurs thinking they'd finally figured it out. But after getting booted by the Suns in four games -- the first time San Antonio has been swept in a playoff series since 2001 -- the Spurs made some tough admissions.
"Everybody could tell it wasn't enough. That we were not ever, probably, a championship-caliber team," Ginobili said. "We were close. But we never made it to that level."
The Spurs looked like the winners of the NBA offseason a year ago when they landed swingman Richard Jefferson in a lopsided trade and signed veteran Antonio McDyess. So long as Parker, Ginobili and Duncan stayed healthy, the Spurs figured they could contend again.
But it never went that smoothly. Jefferson, who averaged 22.6 points two years ago in New Jersey, struggled adapting to a new role in a new system. His 12.3 points per game scoring average was the lowest since his rookie year.
Jefferson is due to make more than $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. He did not speak with reporters Monday at the Spurs practice facility, but teammates defended his underachieving Spurs debut and spoke like they expected him back next season.
"Every new player that we had since I been here in San Antonio has always sucked the first year and they play better the second year," Parker said.
Popovich said he'd be surprised if the Spurs were as active this summer as a year ago. The Spurs believe they have an emerging star in George Hill, and high-energy big man DeJuan Blair will work on his shooting this summer rather than play in the summer league.
One of the biggest summer subplots is whether the Spurs can finally bring 6-11 center Tiago Splitter into the fold. The Spurs drafted Splitter in the first round in 2007 but he has remained in Europe ever since.
"We needed to try to get younger, more athletic. And we did, but probably not enough," Popovich said. "We need to work more in that direction."