It's easy to do that for any team. But for a Spurs squad that came within a half-minute of taking home their fifth NBA championship on the AmericanAirlines Arena floor on Tuesday night, and then again, saw the Larry O'Brien Trophy slip from their grasp in Game 7 on Thursday—the twinge of regret has to be palpable.
There are an innumerable amount of individual moments Gregg Popovich could point to as title swingers—not that he would, of course, because those questions demand his triteness.
But for others? The individual moments will be easy—especially in Game 6. Pop's decision to keep Tim Duncan out of the game down the stretch, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard's missed free throws down the stretch and countless other small moments adorn those final minutes and overtime on Tuesday. And on Thursday, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Spurs lose if Danny Green even gives a decent facsimile of his early-series performance, and Duncan will forever remember his missed layup over Shane Battier in the final minute.
Harping on those moments would be the definition of inane. There are plenty of these moments for both sides. It just so happens San Antonio lost. This was a series between the NBA's best teams, two great, great teams. Games 6 and 7 were among the two greatest NBA Finals closers in history, taking this series to a stratosphere that puts it with the all-time best of this generation.
The "what if," or more appropriately the "what happens," that actually matters for San Antonio is a familiar one: What happens next for this team? It seems the proverbial we have been kicking dirt on this Spurs core's grave for the better part of a half decade, waiting for that final shoe to drop.
I think we're all smart enough to never count this team out now. But the inalienable fact remains that this roster is on a wobbly foundation. Duncan is 37 years old. Tony Parker won't be able to run through six picks a possession forever. And, perhaps most saliently, Manu Ginobili might be past the point where he can reliably contribute to an NBA championship contender.
On Thursday, there were glimpses of the old Manu. He scored 18 points, had five assists and grabbed three rebounds, all of which are totals that eclipsed Parker. At times, Ginobili was the whirling dervish of playmaking Spurs fans came to know and love. Others, he was an out-of-control hindrance on the team—particularly in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Each of Ginobili's four turnovers came in the fourth quarter, including an inexplicably bad cough-up in the game's final seconds to clinch it for Miami.
It will ultimately depend on the type of person you are on how you remember Ginobili's Finals. The more wistful and sentimental will look back fondly on those 18 points in Game 7 and his complete throwback 24-point, 10-assist performance in Game 5's victory. The more masochistic Spurs fans will remember Ginobili's four-turnover fourth quarter on Thursday and his absolutely dreadful eight turnovers in Game 6.
Even with Ginobili's two good games thrown in, his overall contribution looks rather pedestrian. He scored 11.6 points on 43.3 percent shooting, adding 4.3 assists and 2.1 rebounds nightly.
One has to wonder, with Ginobili's inability to push on a nightly basis, how would San Antonio have fared if Danny Green didn't become a video game for much of this series? Again, we're not going to get into that. But it's a question Ginobili will have to ask himself and the Spurs organization will have to ask this offseason, when the Argentinian hits the open market.
Let's be clear about one thing: Barring a catastrophe, Ginobili will either retire or be back with the Spurs next season. We're talking one side would have to throw a shoe at the other or something in negotiations for Manu to head elsewhere.
Remember, it's no guarantee that the soon-to-be 36-year-old will look into the mirror and decide he wants to come back for his 12th or 13th NBA season. Earlier in this series, Ginobili openly talked about his internal struggles with retirement, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:
"For three quarters of the season, it was the physical part," Ginobili said. "I'd say, 'No, I can't deal with this anymore. I'm tired of rehab and trying to be in shape all the time.'"
"But at this point, I'm fine physically, so you are a little more optimistic. But you know, it's been 18 years doing this. You kind of get tired and you want to enjoy a little more time at home sometimes. You go back to Argentina to see your people, and you think about it. I'm going to have time for that, too."
Assuming he comes back—which he seemed to indicate was likely later in the Shelburne interview—it will be interesting to see how the situation plays out. San Antonio is loyal enough to overpay a bit for its superstars—remember that Tim Duncan's three-year, $30 million deal looked like a legacy deal last year—and Ginobili is equally tied to this franchise.
"We'll address everything after the end of the season," general manager R.C. Buford said. "But our hope is for Manu to play through his career with the Spurs."
What that entails, though, will be something to watch. It's unclear whether Ginobili even remotely plans on putting his feet into the free-agency waters, or whether he'll exclusively negotiate with the Spurs. No matter what, Ginobili and his representation will have to come to grips with the fact they'll be negotiating a "declining player" contract, not one for a franchise guy scoring one last big deal (e.g. Duncan).
Just look at Ginobili's declining numbers over these past couple years:
While he was in the lineup, Ginobili was fantastic in limited minutes in 2011-12. But he pushed through a glass ceiling during last year's playoffs and it collapsed in on him, and it was clear throughout this past regular and postseason that the Manu of old is gone. And that's just fine; he's not actively taking away anything on the floor (offensively at least), and defenses still have to keep an eye on him at all times.
What this season saw was Ginobili's full transformation from lethal bench scoring threat to a pseudo-backup point guard. Of the Spurs' lineups that saw at least 25 minutes of court action during the regular season, four of the nine featured Ginobili without Parker. Now, Ginobili and Parker still shared the court a ton, and the Argentinian was in his more traditional role in the playoffs.
What will happen with Manu Ginobili this summer?
But it's noticeable that as Ginobili's physical skills wane and he's having to rely more on his shot creation ability for others, his role is shifting as well. Credit Popovich for part of that and Ginobili recognizing where he can be most effective.
As cold-blooded as this sounds, though, that change in role will affect Ginobili's contract negotiations. San Antonio is a notoriously frugal team, one that understandably keeps its costs away from the luxury tax if at all possible.
Considering his role changes and playoff struggles, it's safe to say Ginobili will be seeing a marked pay cut from the $14.1 million he made this season.
The question, as it always is in these negotiations, is how much? Well, that will all depend on just how these negotiations get. Loyalty means everything in San Antonio and for Ginobili, but don't be surprised if these contract talks become a game of "who blinks first?"
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