Spurs move on from last season's heartbreak
You'll forgive the San Antonio Spurs if they haven't completely put the heartache of last season's NBA Finals, specifically Game 6, behind them.
It was on that night, when San Antonio could've clinched its fifth NBA championship since 1999, Ray Allen of the Miami Heat hit a crazy, off-balance corner three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
Miami prevailed in the extra session of Game 6, outlasted the Spurs in Game 7 and walked off with back-to-back titles.
The Spurs were a measly five seconds away from a title. A desperation shot crushed the hopes of San Antonio.
It just shows how devastating such a loss can be that a hard-nosed, guy like Gregg Popovich hasn't let go of the loss.
Luckily the Spurs are the most veteran, battle-tested franchise in the NBA. If a team can respond from the heartbreak of what happened in June, it's the Spurs.
Who's In/Who's Out
Additions: Marco Bellinelli, Jeff Ayres
Losses: Tracy McGrady, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal
Their nucleus, while another year older, remains intact.
Duncan enjoyed a career rejuvenation last season and returned to the first team All-NBA. Tony Parker was heading to serious MVP consideration until an injury derailed his campaign late in the regular season.
Kawhi Leonard looks like a superstar in the making. Danny Green hit three- pointers at a historic clip in the Finals.
The Spurs are still the elite of the Western Conference and the NBA.
The Best in the West?
Rocketing Up the Standings
Fighting For A High Seed
Up and Coming
Duncan was a revelation last season. After dropping some weight in the offseason, and playing fewer games (69) in the regular season, The Big Fundamental averaged 17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.7 bpg, which was his highest block average since the 2003-04 season. He said at Spurs media day he took almost a month off after the Finals setback and continued rest through the season will help.
Leonard really emerged during the Finals. He averaged 14.5 ppg and 11.1 rpg and had the task of trying to stop LeBron James. Leonard registered four double-doubles, including big games in the final two. Leonard's role in the offense could be expanded this season and his coach believes he's ready to take a gigantic step.
Splitter's numbers went up across the board last season (except for field-goal percentage) thanks to increased minutes. His reward was a four-year, $36 million contract, which is high, but the cost of doing business.
Parker continued to be the most unheralded true superstar in the NBA. He posted marks of 20.3 ppg, 7.6 apg and shot a ridiculous 52 percent from the field. While no one on earth was going to stop James from the MVP, Parker had a legitimate claim for consideration. He injured his ankle in March and missed time. During the offseason, the Frenchman played a lot of international games and a tweaked knee in August was cause for concern.
Green set a Finals record with 28 made three-pointers. It was no fluke as Green averaged 10.5 ppg last season and hit on 42 percent from beyond the arc. He's also a plus-defender, so Green is a fixture in the Spurs backcourt.
Ginobili is still the key to this unit and he has to atone for his poor play in the postseason. He only managed 11.5 ppg during the Finals, but he got a two-year contract out of it. Ginobili's numbers have declined the last two seasons as age and a lot of tread in the tires are catching up.
Belinelli was brought in to bolster the bench. He's a good scorer, versatile combo player and above-average three-point shooter. Popovich seems impressed immediately.
Diaw is another multi-dimensional guy that Pop loves. Bonner is a great shooter and players like Baynes, Mills, de Colo and Joseph will receive larger roles with Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair elsewhere.
Sam Young is a natural small forward and could spell Leonard.
What To Expect
The Spurs are the best-equipped team in the league to overcome the brutal, soul-crushing setback that was last season's Finals. Pop and crew could even use it as motivation.
The team is relatively healthy and Pop is the best in the sport, especially at giving his core guys the rest they need for the long grind. His bench is thinner than years past, which will mean Green and Leonard could see major minutes.
San Antonio had the second-best record in the Western Conference last season. The Spurs held first a good chunk of the way before the Oklahoma City Thunder trumped them.
With Russell Westbrook out for four-six weeks of the regular season, the Spurs should probably finish atop the conference. Another trip to the Finals is very possible and a fifth title is well within reach.
There aren't many teams that can boast the claim as legitimate NBA Championship material. The Spurs are one of them.