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Aging stars need support from young talent

The Sports Xchange
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Are the Spurs slipping into afterthought status? They last brought home a title in 2007. They were knocked out in the first round last season by Memphis.

San Antonio looked old and slow against the Grizzlies. That's been the knock on the Spurs for the last couple of seasons, as the years keep piling on Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Parker is the young pup out of that trio and he's already logged 11 years of NBA mileage. Duncan and Ginobili are in their mid-30s.

But the Spurs did field the Western Conference's best record last season. That's got to count for something.

"What we are lacking in some ways -- the youth, fresh legs -- we're getting in the corporate knowledge that we talked about," Ginobili said. "You always gain something, lose something on the other side, so hopefully we use it to our advantage and we play with this."

Ginobili was pointing to his head as he finished out that thought. There's no discounting the Spurs' brainpower, as well as their commitment to Gregg Popovich's system.

But the Spurs aren't all graybeards. The front office has introduced young talent over the last several seasons, with DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter joining the rotation. Rookie forward Kawhi Leonard is the highest draft pick of the Duncan era.

The youngsters need to take on significant roles if the Spurs are going to match their regular-season success in the playoffs.

"I think Pop is going to manage Manu's minutes and Timmy's minutes, so we're definitely going to need them to play very well and consistently," Parker said. "A little bit like when I first came in, when Manu first came in, we had to contribute right away. I think all our young guys have to do the same thing this year."

COACHING STAFF
Head Coach -- Gregg Popovich, 16th year overall, all with Spurs (797-383). Assistants -- Mike Budenholzer, Don Newman, Brett Brown, Chip Engelland.

LAST SEASON, REMEMBERED: 61-21 (1st in Southwest), lost to Memphis in Western Conference first round.

THIS SEASON, PREDICTED: 44-22 (2nd in Southwest), Western Conference semifinals.

POSSIBLE CHANGES, PREDICTED: If Tiago Splitter develops as expected, look for the Brazilian to step into the starting lineup alongside Tim Duncan and restore San Antonio's traditional Twin Tower look. Richard Jefferson survived amnesty, but may not be able to hold off rookie Kawhi Leonard.

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