| ||Tuesday, October 26|
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)
By Ed Suarez
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Material from Basketball News.