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The Spurs were great champions, but the farewell may be premature

MIAMI -- It's tempting to absorb the gut-wrenching way the Spurs lost in the NBA Finals for the first time, view the anguish on the faces of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and write the obligatory ode to the Spurs.

What a run, what champions, what a classy organization -- from top to bottom, in victory and in defeat.

All of that is true. The ode to the Spurs, however -- the farewell to an era of beautifully sustained success -- may be premature.

Gregg Popovich said before Game 7 on Thursday night that when it was over, he'd travel with his family, walk around the city streets somewhere, and eventually get to that place where it's time to compete again. Pop does this every year. I don't know if he's done it for 17 years, but I know he did it in 2011, because I saw him taking a walk on 63rd Street in Manhattan during the lockout -- a block from the boutique hotel where the negotiations were taking place. Thus, Pop became one of the random celebrity sightings of the lockout, along with Bill Murray and Betty White.

Gregg Popovich, man of the people.

When it was over on Thursday night, he congratulated the Heat -- from Micky Arison to Pat Riley to Erik Spoelstra, from LeBron James to Dwyane Wade. "Great crew," Pop said. "I'm happy for them."

Then Pop went into father-figure mode, taking care of everybody. At a Miami restaurant where the Spurs gathered for a postgame meal, Pop made sure everything was just so. He'd personally arranged for the wine and the buffalo mozzarella and all the accompaniments. It's what he does. Coach, consoler concierge.

Earlier, Duncan had been inconsolable in his first losing postgame press conference in the Finals after four titles. Ginobili was beating himself up again, still blaming himself for letting his team down in Game 6. Parker's answers were short and painful. They were all asked if everyone would be coming back, if the Spurs would keep this together and make another run.

"Back for what?" Duncan said.

"Next season," he was told.

"I have a contract that says I am," he said.

Duncan, 37, has two years left on his deal and wouldn't entertain the possibility of retirement. "Not right now," he said.

"It's not the moment," Ginobili said. "I'm very disappointed, upset. I really can't say anything."

Ginobili, 35, is San Antonio's key free agent, and he was mostly sideways in this series -- his brilliance shining through only once, in Game 5. Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and seldom-used DeJuan Blair are the others. Matt Bonner has only $1 million guaranteed.

All told, the Spurs have a maxiumum of $16.9 million in cap room this summer, sixth most in the league behind Atlanta, Utah, Cleveland, Detroit and Charlotte. Kawhi Leonard, a revelation in this championship series, turns 22 in a week. Danny Green, record-setting 3-point shooter until a dismal 1-for-12 performance in Game 7, is about to turn 26. They're both signed for two more years.

Duncan, an all-time great no matter what he decides, has some soul-searching to do. But after coming off back-to-back monstrous performances in Games 6 and 7 of his fifth Finals, the floor is his for one more run if he so chooses.

The Spurs have been written off as too old and past their expiration date for years. The success they've sustained, the continuity of method, purpose and leadership, has been taken for granted before. Let's not do that now.

"In all honesty," Popovich said, "I'm starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back."

Their first loss in the Finals couldn't have been more brutal, more cruel. Once they walk it off, once Popovich and his group take the time they need to assess what comes next, here's hoping they realize that it doesn't have to end.

 
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