SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs are facing their most uncertain future ever under Gregg Popovich.
San Antonio has only five players under contract for next season. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have not decided whether they will return or retire from their Hall of Fame careers. Potential franchise cornerstone Kawhi Leonard is expected to be back, but he is a restricted free agent coming off winning Defensive Player of the Year just one season after earning NBA Finals MVP honors.
It is all leading to the most upheaval in Popovich's 19 years as coach of the league's model franchise for consistency.
And Popovich can't wait.
"I wish practice started next week," Popovich said. "You do this for so long; you know already the kind of film you want to show them to start in September and the things you want to work on. It's just the way a coach's brain works, but it's probably best to take a break for a while and not do anything, so, I'll try to do that."
Popovich was jovial, nostalgic and thoughtful Monday during his season-ending news conference for the five-time champions.
The Spurs' defense of their latest NBA title came to an end Saturday night in the finale of a thrilling seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team everyone has grown accustomed to seeing "will probably look considerably different" next season, Popovich acknowledged.
Along with Duncan and Ginobili, the team's list of free agents includes Leonard, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes. The only players under contract are starters Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter along with key reserves Boris Diaw and Patty Mills and rookie Kyle Anderson.
While Leonard is expected to remain under a max contract, Duncan and Ginobili's returns are not so certain.
"We haven't talked to the guys about that," Popovich said.
And he wasn't going to start discussing the trio of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker in the past tense.
"I'll address their legacy when it's appropriate," he said. "They're still players as far as I know."
While Ginobili's production has declined over the last few seasons, Duncan's has inexplicably surged. The 39-year-old power forward averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in the regular season and had a double-double in all but one game against the Clippers. He also had four games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the series.
"I continue to be amazed by Tim Duncan," Popovich said. "He was our most consistent player in the playoffs at 39. He needed a little more help and I feel badly that he didn't get it, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. To watch him is pretty spectacular in of itself. Even our players shake their heads at his performance at both ends of the floor."
His consistency was especially important as San Antonio struggled to find its rhythm while using 23 different starting lineups because of injuries during the season.
"I almost hesitate to answer to that question because it sounds like an excuse," Popovich said. "The bottom line is, it was a real difficult year for us in a lot of ways, but injury and schedule kind of coincided to put us behind the eight ball a little bit. We recovered at the end of the year, but had to dig down pretty deep to finish as well as we did. I think going into the playoffs, we certainly weren't as healthy as we wanted to be. (But) during the first round, we needed to get some better performances from three or four people, very frankly.
"But that happens. When you do, you win championships."
Now general manager R.C. Buford will look to again restock the roster. Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge could be a target in free agency.
"My complete faith and trust in R.C. is never going to change because of the track record that he has in thinking not just for next year or next two years, but thinking for the next three years, for the next seven years," Popovich said. "Nobody does it better."
The end of the Spurs' Big Three era could happen next season or the following, but it will eventually happen.
"Over the last couple of years I've thought about it a lot," Popovich said. "How much I would miss it when they're all gone, it's like your family."
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