The Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs were both conference runners-up this past season.
The Spurs lost the Western Conference finals 4-2, while the Celtics dropped a tough 4-3 series to the eventual champs, the Miami Heat.
The Spurs and Celtics are both anchored by aging big men.
San Antonio features Tim Duncan, the top pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, winner of the 2002 and 2003 NBA MVP Awards, MVP of the 1999, 2003 and 2005 NBA Finals. Duncan has been a key part of four NBA Championship teams with the Spurs.
The Celtics are led by Kevin Garnett. Garnett was selected directly out of high school with the No. 5 overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft.
He won the 2004 NBA MVP, and the 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. He was also a key part of the Boston Celtics 2008 NBA Title.
Both men,are 36-years-old. both were free agents when the NBA offseason began, and both have been re-signed by their respective teams.
Are these guys too old to continually lead their respective teams on deep playoff runs?
The smart money says "no," they've still got enough gas in the tank.
What makes the two men, and their spots on their teams so interesting is how each team's coach so clearly understands the needs, physically and mentally of both aging stars, and has fashioned a team and a team strategy to fit around those needs.
Gregg Popovich and Spurs' general manager R.C. Buford have seen that Duncan is in decline. To offset that they've surrounded him with depth, some youth,as well as proven veterans he knows and trusts, such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The results? Decreased statistical production from Duncan, but a team that still wins and still contends. No team gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a tougher test in the Western Conference playoffs last season than the Spurs, and there doesn't appear to be any reason to expect a significant drop-off in wins or the team's ability to contend in the next few years.
In Boston, head coach Doc Rivers took a difference path to maximizing the abilities of both his most prized big man, Garnett, and his team, the Celtics.
Boston lacked the depth of San Antonio, and they also lacked other big men to surround Garnett with on the court.
So Rivers shifted Garnett, a longtime power forward, to the center position. Once the move was made, Garnett's play increased. It started to increase as the regular season came to a close. Luckily for Boston it just kept increasing through the playoffs.
The move to center didn't result in a coveted NBA title, but the Celtics surprised many people, including their fans by extending the eventual champs, the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Garnett averaged 19.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game in the 2012 playoffs. He was the only player on the final four teams to average a double-double in points and rebounds, in the postseason.
Now both men are back with their respective teams.
Both men are returning to familiar systems, with familiar coaches, fan-bases and for the most part teammates.
When one surveys the fairly vast wasteland of NBA big men, it is easy to see why Garnett and Duncan were brought back for three years and eight figure salaries. The list of big men that much better than Duncan and Garnett is not that long, especially considering their advanced age.
Factor in the amount of big men who are actually available via either trade or free agency and your list really shrinks.
Neither the Spurs or Celtics were going to land Dwight Howard, neither team has the pieces needed to trade for someone like Andrew Bynum.
Brook Lopez is a great scorer, but he has never averaged more than nine rebounds a game in his career. Duncan has a career rebounding average of 11.3, Garnett is at 10.6.
The Spurs and Celtics both know that defense and rebounding will win championships. Last year the Spurs didn't have enough defense, and the Celtics didn't have enough rebounding.
Those shortages were not the faults of Duncan or Garnett. Both will be back next season, expect both the Spurs and Celtics to contend, not just next year, but probably through the duration of the two men's contracts.