Spurs Big Three set for likely last ride

Agence France-Presse
Spurs Big Three set for likely last ride
The trio have become the winningest threesome in post-season history with 117 playoff game victories along with 4 championships together

LOS ANGELES, USA – Even tough-talking San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can sound a little misty contemplating the end of the road for the team’s superstar trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Fortunately for “Pop” – and fans of basketball excellence everywhere – the ageing warriors are tackling one more campaign, seeking in the 2014-15 season one achievement that has eluded them: back-to-back NBA titles.

Since joining forces more than a dozen years ago, the trio have become the winningest threesome in post-season history with 117 playoff game victories.

They collected their fourth championship together in June, beating the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA finals to cap their rebound from a crushing loss to the Heat in the 2013 championship series.

For Duncan, it was a fifth title with Popovich and the Spurs. After widespread speculation that he’d depart on that high note, the 38-year-old Duncan exercised his $10 million option to return for an 18th season.

Ginobili is signed through next season and Parker is under contract through 2018.

All three – who are among just five current NBA players who have spent their entire careers with the same team for at least 12 seasons – have passed up chances to leave, foregoing greater money they could command elsewhere to give the Spurs room to add younger talent and stay competitive.

“It means a lot, that’s why I’m still coaching,” Popovich, who has often joked that he’d be out the door right after Duncan, told the Washington Post this month.

“Loyalty is huge, because it gives you a trust factor, it gives you a sense of peace that you can just do your work and not have to worry about other things.”

Likewise Popovich has no concern that his veterans will turn the upcoming season into “a victory lap,” expecting them to be as well-prepared and eager as ever.

And with Popovich adroitly managing their minutes — unrepentantly absorbing a $250,000 fine in 2012 for resting all three for a marquee game — the trio again figure to be a dominant force. 

Duncan still striving

Parker, 32, professed himself fresh and ready when he joined the team for a pre-season game in Turkey, having opted out of international duty for France at the World Cup in Spain.

Noting that he’d represented France for nearly a decade, Parker said he felt he owed it to the Spurs to take the summer off “come back fresh, and try to repeat last year’s success.”

Duncan, as usual, spent the off-season keeping in shape with a regimen that includes sparring with Texas prize-fighter Jesse “James” Leija.

Duncan says he’s “just trying to survive” against a league constantly welcoming young, hungry players.

But he has also never stopped striving to improve. This off-season he focused on honing his mid-range shot, after his effectiveness from about 20 feet from the basket dipped last season.

Ginobili was less sanguine about missing Argentina’s World Cup campaign.

He played through a stress fracture in his right leg last season but was still irked that the Spurs barred him from participating in the World Cup.

The team’s tough-love seemed to be paying off in October’s pre-season games when Ginobili said he was playing pain-free, even though he was “way behind, basketball-wise.”

Expect those skills to sharpen as Ginobili and his longtime colleagues methodically work their way through what could be one last season together.

Popovich doesn’t really want to think about the eventual departure of Duncan and the break-up of the trio.

“I’ll think about it when it happens and it’ll be tough,” he told the Post. “But until then I’m not going to start being unhappy now.” – Rappler.com

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