SAN ANTONIO — There’s a new “NBA champions 2014″ banner hanging near the ceiling at one of the practice facility. But except for a snow white beard on the face of coach Gregg Popovich, little else has changed since the last time the basketball world saw the Spurs. Not that it ever does.
Tim Duncan is back. Manu Ginobili is back. Tony Parker will be in a day late. In fact, every member of the team that wrapped up the fifth championship in franchise history in June will return when the Spurs receive their rings on opening night (Oct. 28) against the Mavericks.
“We had a pretty good year, so I didn’t see any reason to kick them out of town and make trades and change them,” Popovich cracked as the team gathered for media day. “Plus most of them were under contract and that makes it more difficult.
“That’s a pretty good crew. They’ll come back and, as usual, do their best and we’ll either lose in the first round, second round, conference finals or win it all. Who knows?”
What Popovich does know is that making a bid to go back-to-back for the first time in franchise history will not be what specifically or artificially drives the Spurs.
“We’ll talk about it a little bit,” he said. “You guys will write articles. It’s all the same every year. ‘Why haven’t we repeated?’ Because we haven’t.
“If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on, everything’s cool.
“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in a sense of winning X number of games or this year is our year to win a championship. We’ve never talked about it. We’ve never known what’s gonna happen at the end of the year or said this is what we want to happen.
“All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team that we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice. It’s a building block sort of thing and then we hope that we can be healthy and fresh at playoff time. Those are the only goals we’ve had every single year, including last year and it will be no different this year.”
What the Spurs have learned from the past is that even the best preparation doesn’t end with balloons and confetti falling down on your head.
“A lot of times winning a championship, people don’t believe it…Good fortune plays a huge role,” Popovich said. “What’s good fortune? It’s a guy off the bench having a helluva series. It might be a call or a non call by an official. It might be an injury. It can be a lot of different things. The way the ball bounces, which is normally wouldn’t do in this or that circumstance.
“When we lost to Dallas here in Game 7 in the second round a few years back, we were a pretty darn good team and we were capable of winning a championship. Or the year that (Derek) Fisher hit the .4 on us. We were a pretty good team and I think we were capable of winning a championship.
“So those teams that did win, something happened on the opposite end of the spectrum fortune wise that helped them get there. It’s just the way it is. In Game 6 in the second half against Oklahoma City last year, you wouldn’t have predicted we’d win that game — down nine going into the second half without Tony. And it happened, because it’s a game and everything isn’t preordained.
“So winning championships has something to do with fortune and circumstances. That repeat thing just hasn’t gone our way in that sense. So this year obviously it will be in their mind that they would like to do that, but it will not be a mantra. Not we gotta do this. This is about your legacy and you’re not a great team if you didn’t do it’ and all the gobbledygook psychobabble. We won’t go into any of that.”
This is, however, a difference in playing as the defending champs, according to the veteran of 17 NBA season and the four previous titles.
“I think the biggest thing I recall is how big the game is every night, no matter where you go and who you play,” Duncan said. “It’s a big game for them, and that wears on you over a season. I think it’s about us finding a rhythm, finding a consistency and trying to deal with that and not be worn out by the end of the year.”