NBA Preview 99
Weekly lineup

 Tuesday, October 26
San Antonio Spurs
Clubhouse/schedule | Stats: Preseason / 1999 | Roster
Last year: 37-13, tie-first place in Midwest
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Arena: Alamodome (20,557)
Last NBA title: 1999
Record the last 5 years/NBA rank: 234-144 (T-6th)

Pos Player Key Stat Skinny
PG Avery Johnson 7.4 APG Limited, but proved detractors wrong
SG Mario Elie .866 FT % Elie, Jaren Jackson provide outside game
SF Malik Rose 6.0 PPG Former Drexel star on way up
PF Tim Duncan 21.7 PPG Doesn't feel any pressure, just plays
C David Robinson 49 games Great team player, but for how long?
SG Terry Porter 10.5 PPG Can't forget lost title chance with Blazers
PF Samaki Walker 5.9 PPG Free from Don Nelson, watch him emerge
SG Chucky Brown 8.5 PPG Been around, but coming off nice year

I still the Spurs are the best team in the league. But can they effectively replace Sean Elliott? I think the answer to that is yes. They have a lot of options capable of doing that, like Mario Elie, Jaren Jackson, Samaki Walker, Chucky Brown and Malik Rose. The Spurs could start Terry Porter at the two, which wouldn't hurt them a bit. Popovich has a lot of options, but the essentials -- David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Avery Johnson -- are there. This team is very focused on winning. There are no egos. Duncan will play even better, as will backup point guard Antonio Daniels. And Porter's influence should be strong, because he is a great team player and locker room presence. He is a perfect personality match for the Spurs. The Spurs could be even stronger this year. They were the best defensive team in the league last year. With the new rules limiting physical contact, it makes the presence of the shot blockers even more influential. Duncan and Robinson averaged five blocks a game last year. I would expect them to have more this year. The Spurs will get some strong challenges out West, but I expect them to win another title.
Get to know them
Key newcomer: Terry Porter
Will be missed: Sean Elliott
The Star: Tim Duncan
Underrated: Avery Johnson
Rising: Malik Rose
Falling: David Robinson
If things go well: Referendum passes
If things don't: Duncan's outta here

By Ed Suarez
Basketball News

The San Antonio Spurs exorcised the demons of postseasons past with a stunning 15-2 run in the playoffs, capping it off in New York with their first NBA title.

The question now is whether the Spurs can avoid becoming the first NBA championship franchise since the mid-'80s Boston Celtics to fail to win consecutive titles.

The task was complicated after Sean Elliott's kidney transplant, which will likely sideline him for the season. But as long as the Spurs have the one-two punch of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, they still have to be considered favorites to reach the promised land again.

November 2 will be the most important day in franchise history. That's when area residents decide on whether or not the Spurs will get a new arena-and get the chance to lock up Duncan's services for the next six years. Should voters reject the referendum, Duncan likely will leave after his contract runs out in 2000, and more ominously, the franchise will probably be sold and moved elsewhere.

The upcoming season could be the beginning of a dynasty, or the team's last chance to grab the brass ring.

Player to watch

Terry Porter

After a few title runs in Portland, and one Michael Jordan nightmare, Terry Porter thought his move to Miami before last season would be the one. Now Porter is in San Antonio, still searching for that elusive title. If Porter is as good a leader and outside shooter as advertised, he may get another shot. Porter, Jaren Jackson, Mario Elie and Steve Kerr need to keep defenses keying on Tim Duncan honest.

Point guard
It was only fitting that Avery Johnson hit the deciding shot in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. For years, AJ was considered a liability from the perimeter, but he's developed a reliable jumper from 12 to 15 feet. Johnson knows how his bread is buttered: by feeding Duncan and Robinson in the low post on offense and funneling his opponents into the Twin Towers on defense. At 34, "the Little General" keeps himself in top shape and is the team's unquestioned leader on the floor.

Terry Porter was stolen away from Miami in the offseason. The 14-year veteran immediately becomes the team's best three-point shooter and is a tough defender. As long as Porter isn't asked to play extended minutes, there won't be any dropoff when he's on the floor.

Porter's arrival was not a good omen for Antonio Daniels. The former lottery pick provided much-needed athleticism for the squad after being acquired from Vancouver a year ago. His decision-making is still spotty, which frustrates head coach Gregg Popovich, but he's still scratching the surface of his potential and may see some duty at shooting guard. Daniels is also one of Duncan's best friends on the team, and how he's treated by management could go a long way in determining whether Duncan will decide to stay in San Antonio.

Shooting guard
Mario Elie did everything that was asked of him in his first season in San Antonio. He brought an element of toughness that was severely lacking in the Spurs, he played the inspired defense that Popovich loves, and he dropped enough three-pointers to keep opposing defenses from sagging in on the Twin Towers. Elie will turn 36 early in the season, so how much he has left in the tank is subject to question. His leadership and winning ways, though, are not.

Jaren Jackson is another in the long line of journeymen who've finally found a home in San Antonio. He started at the beginning of the season but eventually lost the job when the Spurs struggled out of the gate. By the postseason, Jackson was invaluable: His long-range shooting killed the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference semis and likewise against the Knicks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

In his debut campaign for the Spurs, Steve Kerr won a ring for the fourth straight season. That was about the only highlight of the season for Kerr, who struggled in the Spurs' low-post offense after flourishing in the Bulls' triple-post the previous five seasons. Even though he has four years remaining on his contract, Kerr could find himself packaged as trade bait as the team continues its search for a small forward.

If Kerr departs, his spot could be taken up by Derrick Dial, the Spurs' second-round pick in the 1998 draft. He spent the past season in Greece, where he averaged 18.7 points. At 6-5 and 185 pounds, Dial still needs to bulk up his frame for the rigors of the NBA.

Small forward
The loss of Elliott is devastating. Despite undergoing a kidney transplant this summer, Elliott is vowing to return sometime this season. The team isn't counting on a return, and Elliott's future is cloudy at best.

Elliott will prove difficult to replace. He is a solid shooter-remember the Memorial Day Miracle against the Blazers in the conference finals?-and he spent the 1999 postseason defending the likes of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Rasheed Wallace and Latrell Sprewell. It's hard to imagine the Spurs finding someone who combines Elliott's explosiveness to the basket and all-around solid play.

Malik Rose is the front-runner for the job. His hustle and grit at the 4- and 5-spots made him a fan favorite last season. He dropped 20 pounds during the offseason and worked on his outside shot to prepare himself for the opportunity to play small forward, but it's still too early to tell if he is ready for the jump.

Chucky Brown is another possibility at the 3. After 10 seasons in the league and numerous stops, he is what he is, a journeyman who fully understands his role.

The Spurs talked with the likes of Shandon Anderson and Lamond Murray and came up short in signing them. Look for the team to pull a trade to bolster the position at some point this season.

Power forward
Tim Duncan is the best basketball player in the world in the post-MJ era. With his drop-step, spin move, soft jump-hook and bank shot, Duncan possesses the complete low-post arsenal. He's also become a nifty passer out of the double-team. He also was named to the NBA's all-defensive team, so he's the complete package. The Most Valuable Player award is his to lose this year.

The NBA's brightest star is keeping his options open after his contract expires, but it's well-known that Duncan likes San Antonio and if the team secures a new area, the odds are strong that he'll stay.

Samaki Walker escaped from the Dallas Mavericks by signing a two-year deal during the offseason. He's already provided a glimpse of what his potential is on both ends of the floor. The 6-9, 260-pounder may even see some action at small forward.

David Robinson erased 10 years of disappointment in Madison Square Garden by finally winning an NBA championship. The Admiral subjugated his offensive game to Duncan to concentrate on defense and rebounding. How he was overlooked for the all-defensive first team is still a mystery.

With Will Perdue's defection to Chicago, the Spurs signed foul magnet Felton Spencer to a one-year deal. His role is clear: to provide size and brawn while Robinson is on the bench.

After a 6-8 start in February, Popovich's job status was in question. The players had lost confidence in his system, and his rapport with the players was at an all-time low. But the Spurs went 46-7 the rest of the season, including the playoffs, to secure his future. Popovich is smart enough to coach to the team's strengths: defense and Duncan.

That style is effective, but it remains to be seen if the team can sustain a grind-it-out style over an 82-game season.

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