OAKLAND, Calif. — For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been the NBA’s constant. One great team after another has come and gone, and all the while the Spurs have been ever-present at the top of the NBA standings for more than two decades.
It is that metronomic quality that has come to define this franchise that has made the past week — and this entire season — so strange. By the time San Antonio was eliminated by the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, there was almost a sense of relief around this franchise.
It also felt like the end of an era.
Duncan retired two years ago. Parker and Ginobili are both free agents and could find themselves playing elsewhere next season or retiring, respectively. Popovich hasn’t been with the team for the past week as he copes with the death of his wife, Erin. And Kawhi Leonard remains in New York, rehabbing his injured quad and preparing for his murky future.
All of it leaves the Spurs — for so long the picture of stability — adjusting to the reality the rest of the NBA has always known as they stare at an offseason full of uncertainty.
The biggest domino, of course, is Leonard. San Antonio must decide whether to offer him more than $200 million in a designated veteran player extension, which would make him the cornerstone of the franchise.
If the Spurs decide not to — which, given the relationship between his camp and the organization this season, is a real possibility — then he’ll almost certainly be traded.
Then there is Ginobili, the ageless Argentine. Ginobili will be 41 in July but still remains a highly effective bench player — as he was Tuesday night, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and seven assists in just less than 25 minutes. He said he’ll take a month or two to think about his decision, as he has in past years. And he said whether the Spurs can be a contender will have nothing to do with it.
“A lot of things have got to change for that to factor with my decision,” Ginobili said, when asked whether other personnel decisions would affect his decision. “It’s just a matter of if I see myself as an ex-player or not.
“If I see there is enough or not, and if I see myself as an ex-player or not. I don’t think it depends on other factors.”
The same thoughts don’t apply to his friend and longtime teammate, Tony Parker. The Frenchman was adamant Tuesday — as he has been for weeks — that he will play next season, and that his preference will be to play in San Antonio. But Parker, who will be 36 next month, isn’t likely to get a huge offer from the Spurs. Unlike Ginobili, he wasn’t all that effective in a bench role. He isn’t worth much more than a minimum deal. If he’s looking for more minutes, or more money, he might have to go elsewhere.
Three other Spurs — Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne — have player options, and Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans will be restricted free agents.
Turnover also is possible on the coaching staff. Three of Popovich’s assistants — Ettore Messina, James Borrego and Ime Udoka — will be interviewing for head coaching jobs. Of them, Messina is the most likely to latch on somewhere this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising if at least two of them were running their own teams next season.
That’s an unthinkable amount of potential change for a team with so many familiar faces. Popovich has been San Antonio’s coach for more than two decades. Parker and Ginobili have played there 17 and 16 years, respectively. Green has been in San Antonio for eight seasons. Leonard has played there for seven, as has Patty Mills.
The franchise projects calm and serenity in a league full of madness and player shuffling in 29 other cities. This season, though, has changed all of that. Drama such as that surrounding Leonard isn’t just uncommon in San Antonio — it’s unheard of. The thought of Parker or Ginobili not being in a Spurs uniform is unthinkable.
Yet all of it is possible. All good things must come to an end someday. That goes for NBA dynasties as well.
San Antonio has held off Father Time longer, and better, than any team before it. The Spurs have shifted seamlessly from David Robinson to Duncan to Ginobili to Parker to Leonard, winning five titles along the way and creating the model that virtually every team in the league has tried to emulate.
The Spurs held off the reality of life in the NBA for so long, it felt like they might have created their own reality in San Antonio. This season, though, proved they had only expertly delayed the inevitable.
Now, it feels as if the inevitable has finally arrived.