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How Odd? Spurs Gone

It was an innocent enough question, but Tim Duncan was offended. I was in San Antonio last October and I was talking to Duncan about the young big men in the NBA -- specifically Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden. I followed my question by saying, "Aren't you glad that around the time those guys enter their prime and are beating up each other, you'll be on your way out?"

When did I get old? (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

"Are you calling me old?" Duncan asked me, looking quite agitated.

I tried to explain to Duncan that I wasn't calling him old, it's just that when those young guys enter their primes in about six or seven years, he'll either be retired or nearing retirement. Duncan ignored what I had to say, and before discussing the young centers, he told me, "They'll be old one day, too."

About five minutes later, I was talking to Roger Mason Jr. and Duncan interrupted our conversation to say, "He just called me old!"

We all laughed as Duncan walked away, but even though he was kidding with me, he was obviously a little annoyed.

Why do I bring that up? Because Duncan this season finally began to show some serious tread from 12 NBA seasons that have resulted in six trips to the conference finals and four championship rings. The first 10 times Duncan reached playoffs, he always made it at least to the conference semifinals (the Spurs lost in 2000 when Duncan was out with a knee injury). But on Tuesday night, Duncan was unable to carry his team beyond the first round, as the Spurs left this postseason in a feeble five games to the Dallas Mavericks after a 106-93 loss at AT&T Center.

Duncan scored 30 points and Tony "Parisian Torpedo" Parker had 26 points, but the two-dimensional Spurs had too little help once again. The moment Manu Ginobili was lost for the season, the Spurs' hopes of extending their streak of odd-numbered year championships was dashed. The three-headed monster of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined to win rings in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

But as the third seed, they still were favored to defeat the Mavericks -- until the teams actually started playing. By then, there was no doubt which team was better. The Mavericks have won 11 of their past 14 games overall and Dirk Nowitzki is once again resembling the player who led Dallas to the NBA Finals in 2006 and won the league's most valuable player award in 2006-07. Josh Howard also decided to remind people that he once got attention for being an all-star instead of behaving like a pinhead.

Duncan and Parker simply had no support, and some nights it was a Parker one-man show. Mason, the former Wizard, had an excellent regular season and delivered several game-winning shots. But he vanished in the postseason, scoring just eight points on 3 of 11 shooting in the final three games of the series. The other supporting players were either too old (Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen), overmatched (Matt Bonner) or simply not ready (George Hill). Drew Gooden, whom the Spurs signed after the Kings bought him out, didn't even play in the finale. .

What more can I do? (Getty Images)

The Spurs have been called old for the past 10 years, it seems. But age has finally caught up to them, primarily because it has caught up with two of the most important players -- the 33-year-old Duncan and the soon-to-be 32-year-old Ginobili. The Spurs believe that they can still compete with the conference's elite as long as the Big Three is healthy.

But this is the second year in row that Ginobili's ankle betrayed him. And, General Manager R.C. Buford and Coach Gregg Popovich will have figure out how they will continue to build around their all-star studded trio. Plucking unknown talent from overseas isn't enough anymore (almost everybody else has done it). Will it be enough to fill holes with aging vets like Rasheed Wallace?

Buford recently told the New York Times that he has no intention of blowing up the team and starting over. It surely doesn't help that the young legs that could've helped kept the championships rolling in are playing elsewhere. Howard, a player the Spurs passed over in 2003, came back to haunt them. Luis Scola, a player they swapped essentially for cap space in the summer of 2007, has the Houston Rockets one win from the second round for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon was dream-shaking.

The early exit might provide Duncan and Ginobili the rest and motivation they need to come back stronger and healthier next season. Either way, Duncan will probably return a little grumpier and bit more cantankerous in his pursuit of that elusive fifth championship ring. The old man will surely need a better, possibly younger, supporting cast to get it.

By Michael Lee  |  April 29, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
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The veteran supporting cast finally let Duncan down. Ginobili's ankle has to be as worrisome to the Spurs management as Gil's knee is here.

But with Duncan and Parker at the core, they can probably rebuild on the fly. A lot of the vets are coming off the books so they'll be active. And they still have Splitter parked in Europe.

Posted by: flohrtv | April 29, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

it was as simple as Manu being out. They need a 3rd scorer and they simply didn't have it.

Posted by: WizardsExtreme | April 29, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Where are all those Mason fans. Many Wizards fans have been upset all year that EG let him go. To me it was no big loss. With him this year the Wiz may have won another game or two. While everyone was admiring all those game winning shots this year, I was still thinking about the 1-10 outing in Game 6 against Cleveland last year.

Posted by: 33dgriffin | April 29, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

or he can force a trade and play with us

Posted by: CBell29 | April 29, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Spurs and Piston will need major changes if they want to stay in the upper echelon. One thing I noticed in the playoffs is the improved team play of the Bulls, 76ers, Hawks and even the Heat. I don't see them declining in the next season. That means the Wizards must step up their game big time if they want to compete with them for the 4-8 seed.

Posted by: Dave381 | April 29, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

"it was as simple as Manu being out. They need a 3rd scorer and they simply didn't have it.Posted by: WizardsEx"

Dallas was a big surprise. We're focusing on the losing team when the winners played much better than anybody expected. The series wasn't terribly close, and Nowitzki wasn't the big factor.

So what's different about the Mavs? Please don't tell me they've become defensive aces. Jason Kidd led them in assists, but he was also their 3rd leading rebounder. Yep, ahead of Josh Howard.

Maybe that Kidd trade wasn't as one-sided as many think.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 29, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

"Where are all those Mason fans. Many Wizards fans have been upset all year that EG let him go"

Here I am. Mason would have helped the Wiz a lot. But I sure don't blame him for going to San Antonio. Think of all the fun he missed.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 29, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Kidd definitely had a bigger impact this season than last. Overall, I think he benefited from 3 things: 1) A full training camp with the Mavs, 2) The coaching change from Johnson to Carlisle (which resulted in the team's offense being taken out of the straitjacket AJ had around it and allowed Kidd to play his game), 3) The overall lowered expectations surrounding the team. No one expected anything from the Mavs this season, which meant they were operating pretty much pressure free. They played loose and didn't tighten up like they had the last couple years when they were in the spotlight.

All that being said, unless they win a title with Kidd, they still would have been better off keeping Harris.

Posted by: kalo_rama | April 29, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Right on 33dgriffin! I was at the last playoff game last season when Roger Mason, Jr., did his disappearing act... so it did not surprise me do see him fade from view again in the Spurs-Mavericks series... I continue to think he is a good 8th or 9th player, but anyone who thinks he is going to be Mr Clutch when things are really, truly on the line is going to be disappointed.

Let's stop moaning over his departure already.

Posted by: khrabb | April 29, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Mike, I don't think this question that you posed Duncan would put you in the running for the Pulitzer.

Duncan has what, 3 rings, and you pose a question like that? It's really insulting, and a guy like him has tremendous pride.

I guess you're lucky you didn't pose the same question to Shaq b/c you would have Kazaam chopped you between the eyes.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | April 29, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

"All that being said, unless they win a title with Kidd, they still would have been better off keeping Harris.Posted by: kalo_rama"

And I don't think they're going to win that title. And I doubt they would have won it with Devin Harris, either.

I think they missed their moment, like Phoenix did. And (I suspect) Utah, too.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 29, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Well Kalo_rama, thats a mighty good explanation you just gave on them Dallas Mavs'.

Wish you coulda' said that when I said that Dallas had finally gotten back there Offensive Mojo and that the Spurs were done when Dallas went up 2-1.

Instead, you kinda did not agree that San Antonio was done.

You see what I am seeing in this Playoffs this year is Teams with some serious Offensive play with good Defense.

I am loving every bit of it and this new era of Playoff basketball that we are seeing now bodes well for any good Team.

I am liking the Wizards chances of proving that they will be a first rate Team and proving a lot of you Naysayers Wrong.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | April 29, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

The Spurs are an old team and their dominance in the league is now coming to an end.
Thornhill dentist

Posted by: jae_cho08 | May 3, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

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