SAN ANTONIO -- As he climbed the dais and settled into a metal chair to face reporters after Sunday night's conference semifinals-clinching loss to Phoenix, Spurs coach
"This season was rough for us," he said.
Indeed, the 2009-10 campaign was the most challenging of Popovich's 14 years on the bench. Expectations were high when a productive -- and expensive -- offseason yielded two new starters in
"Everybody could tell it wasn't enough,"
The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is an overhaul.
For starters, dismantling this group is no easy task. Duncan is untouchable. Ginobili signed a three-year, $38.9 million contract extension last month. McDyess, 35, has little trade value. Jefferson's contract expires after next season, but many NBA executives believe the looming lockout in 2011 will cool the rush of teams looking to collect expiring contracts. And you can forget about Jefferson's exercising his opt-out this summer, not with $15 million coming to him and no guarantee he will make a cent in 2011-12.
Besides, despite an 11-year low of 50 wins this season ... the Spurs still won 50 games. And they did it without Parker for 26 games because of injury. They did it after having to simplify the offense to accommodate Jefferson, who never looked comfortable in their read-and-react system. And they did it after pairing Duncan with a perimeter-oriented frontcourt mate (McDyess) for the first time in his career.
A complete overhaul might be unnecessary; a few minor tweaks could do. Several general managers believe the 2010 draft will be the deepest in years, and with the 20th pick -- the highest San Antonio has selected since it landed Duncan at No. 1 in 1997 -- the Spurs will be in position to get a quality big man. DraftExpress.com projects the Spurs to pick Connecticut forward
They also have a former first-round pick marinating overseas. Since the Spurs drafted
Past success has created a high standard in San Antonio, one that is measured only in championships. A few smart moves and the Spurs could still live up to those expectations.