NBA Finals Are San Antonio Spurs' Farewell and Welcome Party

Garrett Jochnau@@GarrettJochnauCorrespondent IIJune 10, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 06:  Danny Green #4, Patty Mills #8, Manu Ginobili #20, Tony Parker #9 and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate after defeating Chris Bosh #1 and the rest of the Miami Heat 92-88 during Game One of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs last reached the NBA Finals in 2007, when they swept the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

Six years later, the Spurs and James are locked in another battle for glory, with both looking to reap the benefits that coincide with a Finals victory. The previous meeting between the two should be all but forgotten, because the sequel bares very little resemblance to its predecessor.

LeBron is much better than his 2007 version. 

The league itself has evolved monumentally over the past six years.

But most importantly, the Spurs are an inconspicuously different team compared to the one that took the court six years ago.

The core for San Antonio has remained untouched. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are still the heroes for the Spurs and Gregg Popovich still calls the shots from the sidelines.

In 2007, however, there was little indication that any rapid change would soon consume the San Antonio atmosphere. Ginobili had not reached 30 yet and Parker was only 25. Duncan had just turned 31.

Just two years following their championship against the Detroit Pistons, the Spurs entered 2007 with the mindset that their dynasty was still fully intact.

Now, that dynasty—the very one that had been constructed from scratch and had dominated the NBA for over a decade—is on its final legs.

Ginobili's injury woes are incessant and Duncan is in the home stretch of his illustrious career. This 2013 title opportunity is likely the last that Spurs fans will experience under the complete Big Three, although it doesn't simply mark the end of the acclaimed era.

In addition to the eventual fan farewells for Duncan and Ginobili, the two veterans' looming retirements have paved the way for a new chapter in San Antonio. While the nucleus of their past remains on the court, the NBA Finals provide onlookers with a peek into the future of Spurs basketball.

Parker is the constant between two very distinct eras, and unsurprisingly, he has been the star during this transition. From the beginning of the 2011-12 season, it had become clear that the Spurs were his team. Now, in the midst of San Antonio's series against Miami, Parker is once again orchestrating the offense, and nobody can argue his position among the league's best.

Aside from Parker, however, the Spurs' roster lacks players in the prime of their careers. On one end are veterans like Duncan and Ginobili making a final run at a title. The rest of the team is composed of younger talents. These players, such as Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, are on the rise and preparing for their time to shine in the next chapter of San Antonio basketball.

The eventual retirements of Duncan and Ginobili will be bittersweet. Duncan—despite his age—is performing at an All-Star level. His 2013 resurgence ensured that when the Big Fundamental decides to hang it up, he'll be exiting the same way that he entered—as a star.

Ginobili has been a bit different, as injuries have stymied his play during the past few seasons. Still, he is undoubtedly capable of turning in a fantastic performance now and then, and is the same wild and explosive guard who entered the league in 2002.

Despite their successful battles against Father Time, the decline of Ginobili and Duncan is prevalent and it would be foolish to assume that their careers will last forever.

Within the next two years, both will play their final games on NBA hardwood. It is also entirely possible that they are experiencing their final few contests in an NBA championship.

Both will go down as two of the league's best ever. Each is a Hall of Famer and neither will be forgotten. Having already brought a total of four titles to the city of San Antonio, their impacts have been massive and they're looking to make it even greater.

Though there is always next season, this is likely their final shot to further enhance their legacies. Spurs fans are witnessing what may be Duncan and Ginobili's final great acts and the last defining moments of their careers.

Luckily, the departure of both players who defined the Spurs' franchise won't leave the team helpless. Parker, though a seasoned veteran, is still in the prime of his career. His showcase performance throughout the playoffs has erased any doubts about his leadership abilities, as the French point guard has excelled in every way imaginable.

Of course, he won't be able to keep San Antonio on the fringe of contending alone. Fortunately, he won't have to.

Leading the charge of the next generation of Spurs stars will be Leonard. The sophomore out of San Diego State University has exceeded expectations since arriving in San Antonio following a draft-day trade with the Indiana Pacers. He was initially labeled as a lockdown defender and not much else. However, Leonard has since become a two-way monster.

Defensively, he has been as good as projected—if not better. On the other end, Leonard is transforming into a legitimate scoring threat. He has become a stud from long range, as well as a superb driver and a stellar finisher. His passing and ball handling have improved drastically over the past year, and his rebounding and overall hustle cannot be praised enough.

Popovich dubbed him as the team's next great player in his Mailbag on the Spurs' website, and Leonard hasn't disappointed.

 I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he’s coachable, he’s just like a sponge. When you consider he’s only had one year of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he’s going to be something else.

In just his second year, Leonard has become one of the Spurs' top players. He is also recognized as one of the league's most tenacious defenders. His Finals assignment of LeBron James will be difficult, to say the least, but he has stepped up and limited the league's reigning MVP significantly. 

Leonard's potential has been applauded in San Antonio for quite some time, but the spotlight will be on him against Miami. He has proven himself a legitimate talent for quite some time, and at 21, he's only going to get better. 

Alongside Leonard, Danny Green and Splitter have shown flashes of brilliance. Green was initially cut by Cleveland as well as San Antonio. However, he was given a second chance, and Popovich has molded him into one of the most lethal deep threats in the league.

Green's Game 2 performance against the Heat ensured that everybody knew his name. Scoring 17 points on perfect shooting, Green proved that he has the makings to be a fantastic scorer. He is also widely lauded for his on-ball defense, making him a primary contributor on both ends. 

Splitter (28) isn't as young as Green (25), but he is just as inexperienced. Having journeyed overseas in 2010, the Brazilian big man took time adjusting. Eventually, as Ken Rodriguez noted in a column, Splitter was able to adjust and his contributions have been monumental.

The difference between this season and the last two? Splitter uses an illustration to explain. After arriving from Europe, Splitter felt like an occupant in a stranger’s house. A little tight. Seldom relaxed. After two seasons adjusting, Splitter feels like he’s back in Spain. In familiar surroundings. Comfortable.

“Like when you are in your own house,” he says.

Splitter began his NBA career as an inconsistent, soft big man. Now, he bares little resemblance to the lost player of yesteryear.

As an inside presence, Splitter makes pivotal contributions on both ends. His passing is phenomenal and his overall growth has been huge. Whether 2012-13 was simply a watershed season or a sign of the consistent growth that Splitter will undergo, one thing is clear—Tiago Splitter is the real deal.

He's not young, but he has plenty of room to grow, and one can confidently label him as the future anchor to the San Antonio frontcourt.

Then there is Parker.

Once an excruciatingly inconsistent guard, Parker has become the team's best player, as well as one of the best players in the league.

He opened strong against the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs and has continued to prove himself as the postseason has progressed. By Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Parker had solidified the notion that he was capable of leading the Spurs to glory.

Having carried the team thus far, he'll look to do it once more and unlike Duncan or Ginobili, Parker has more than a handful of seasons remaining to try it again.

So whether you're focusing on the dramatic closure to the successful, Hall of Fame careers of Duncan and Ginobili or the anticipated initiation of San Antonio's next wave of stars, all eyes should be on the Spurs as they attempt to bring down the reigning champions.

It's the median between two distinct eras, and the fact that it is the NBA Finals only enhances how special this series truly is for the Spurs and their fans.


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