Behind veterans, Spurs will be favorites to repeat
Popovich, Duncan seem ready to return for another season
SAN ANTONIO – They never felt obligated to explain themselves in great detail, the San Antonio Spurs' coach and the best player in franchise history.
However, Gregg Popovich and forward Tim Duncan were pretty clear about something the last few days. Neither is ready to retire, which makes the Spurs a good bet to successfully defend the NBA championship they secured Sunday night with a 104-87 victory over the Miami Heat.
A day earlier, Popovich, 65, said "I'd like to continue to coach."
On Sunday night, Duncan said, "As long as I feel I can be effective, I'll continue to play."
Popovich and Duncan won their fifth championship together, again earning the Spurs the respect and admiration of their peers.
Still, one thing the Spurs have not done is win titles in successive seasons.
Now, remarkably and unexpectedly, they have another chance. Duncan is 38. Guard Manu Ginobili turns 37 on July 28. Guard Tony Parker is 32. It was years ago that Popovich said his team was "older than dirt," but general manager R.C. Buford surrounded the core veteran with younger players, including developing star Kawhi Leonard, a forward who is a mere 22.
The Spurs won the two games in Miami by an average of 20 points, prompting Parker to say, "That's the best basketball we've played in the last five or six years."
As the Spurs head to the offseason, Popovich and Buford have one major question: Can they re-sign their key free agents, forward Boris Diaw and guard Patty Mills?
Their chances seem better with the 32-year-old Diaw, a gifted complementary player who revived his career in San Antonio after a bad experience in Charlotte.
Mills, 25, might be tougher to sign. He flourished this season as Parker's backup, so he should receive some nice offers from other teams.
Even so, the Spurs have fewer concerns than other top teams, including Miami, which won the previous two NBA championships.
The Heat's Big Three -- forward LeBron James, guard Dwyane Wade and center Chris Bosh -- all can opt out of their contracts and become free agents. Several role players, including guard Ray Allen and forward Rashard Lewis, are free agents.
Even if everybody returns, it might not be enough. James had no reliable help as Miami lost in the Finals four games to one. He needs more support.
After Sunday's game, James gave no indication of how he is thinking.
"You guys are trying to find answers; I'm not going to give you one," James said. "I'll deal with it when it gets to that point."
AN EARLY LOOK AT TOP CONTENDERS FOR 2014-15
1. San Antonio Spurs -- The emergence of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is a major development for the Spurs, but the young forward needed a nudge from his coaches and teammates to become assertive on offense. Will he do that without prodding next season? Even he doesn't, if the Spurs can keep forward Tim Duncan and guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healthy, and maybe add some size around the basket, they will be good to go.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder -- Many regarded the Thunder as the second-best team in the NBA this season. Forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook are among the best players in the league, but the team does have some issues. Keeping Westbrook healthy and under control when he has the ball are among them. Durant could use a low-post game to take advantage of his height and length against smaller defenders. At times, the Thunder rely too much on Durant and Westbrook.
3. Los Angeles Clippers -- The Clippers also have two of the best players in the league -- forward Blake Griffin and guard Chris Paul -- and one of the top coaches, Doc Rivers. They had a tough, six-game, second-round series with the Thunder. However, Paul failed to come through at times in the clutch. He will need to be better in those situations.
4. Miami Heat -- Assuming forward LeBron James returns, the Heat must be taken seriously. But James needs more help than he received this season, and guard Dwyane Wade is an old 32 with bad knees. The Heat could use an infusion of youth and depth.
5. Three main candidates for this spot: the Houston Rockets, if they can sign free-agent-to-be forward Carmelo Anthony; the Golden State Warriors, if center Andrew Bogut avoids injuries; and the Indiana Pacers, if center Roy Hibbert and guard Paul George become more consistent and guard Lance Stephenson grows up.
Distributed by Internet Broadcasting and The Sports Xchange. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.