Are the San Antonio Spurs Gearing Up for Their Last Title Run?

Jeremy DawsonContributor IIIJune 4, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 21:  Tony Parker #9 Manu Ginobili #20 and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder n Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 21, 2014 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The date was December 23, 1996 and the Spurs were up against the Miami Heat. The San Antonio Spurs were on a three-game win streak, sparked by the return of their star center David Robinson.

Robinson had missed the first 18 games of the season with a back injury and the team had only managed to scrape up three wins without him.

The team had another star in Dominique Wilkins, and the combination of him and Robinson—many thought—would have been enough to surge a comeback in their season.

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 16:  David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs warms-up prior to the start of Haier Shooting Stars part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 16, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressl
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

That game against the Heat, however, would change their plans and the Spurs organization forever. After playing 26 minutes and scoring 18 points, Robinson broke his foot.

The Spurs were in a hole already and now without their best player, the team would fall down, hard. The team had 20 wins all season, and the year went down as the worst season in San Antonio history. The Spurs coach, Bob Hill, was fired and the vice president of basketball operations, Gregg Popovich (sound familiar?), named himself as the new head coach.

The Spurs are the only team to be able to have their best and worst season at the same time. Robinson’s injury was a blessing because the Spurs were rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick.

With the first pick in the 1997 NBA draft, the Spurs selected Tim Duncan. The team was quickly put on Duncan’s shoulders as he garnered Rookie of the Year honors right out of the gate.

25 Jun 1997:  Center Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs shakes hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern during the NBA Draft at the Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mandatory Credit: Craig Jones  /Allsport
Craig Jones/Getty Images

One year removed from the worst season in franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs were back in the playoffs. In fact, the team never missed the playoffs again.

Fast-forward to today, 17 seasons and 17 playoff appearances later, and the Spurs are preparing to play in their sixth NBA title series during the Tim Duncan era. For the last 12 seasons, the team has also had the assistance of NBA All-Stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs finished the 2013-14 season with the best record in the NBA riding on the backs of their 38-, 36- and 32-year-old playmakers.

Now the Miami Heat, who are entering their fourth NBA championship in a row, are hoping to have a three-peat and for the second time in three seasons, defeat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Tim Duncan has played more minutes in the NBA than big men such as Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen, Bill Russell, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley, so it’s safe to say that this could be the last year for Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili is 36, so he could be on his way out as well. The team will be Tony Parker’s to lead.

At 65 years old, you have to wonder if head coach Gregg Popovich will hang it up at the same time as the player who has been with him for all 17 of his full coaching seasons.

In 2014, the Spurs finished the season with their second-best record in franchise history. The team has gone from a 20-win team in 1997 to a 20-loss team in 2014.

The team is playing so well right now that there are obviously other pieces outside of the three veterans who have been big contributors.

The next star for San Antonio appears to be Kawhi Leonard. At only 22 years old, the small forward, per game, has averaged 10.6 points, .505 FG%, .803 FT%, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals in his three seasons. His best performances have come in the playoffs, averaging an even better field-goal percentage, more points and more rebounds.

Another player who has flourished in San Antonio is Danny Green. He has led the team in three-point percentage throughout the playoffs in 2014 with 48 percent and has averaged over two threes per game.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 19: Kawhi Leonard #2 and Danny Green #4 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrate during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 19, 2014 at the AT&T Center i
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Leonard and Green have both also been extremely effective for the Spurs on the defensive end of the floor. Green has averaged over one steal per game in the playoffs. Leonard has been able to guard the best players in the league effectively and was rewarded by being named to the 2014 NBA All-Defensive Team.

Leonard and Green have to learn how to play at another level if the team wants to fight to keep their playoff streak alive. They also need to start right now in order for the Spurs to be able to give Tim Duncan his fifth NBA title before he hangs it up.

The stars are aligning for a change in the Western Conference. With stars like Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry on their way to NBA stardom and the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan nearing the end, the NBA is about to get a major shift.

The San Antonio Spurs have missed the playoffs only four times in the team’s 41-season history. That incredible statistic is going to be put to the test very soon.

One game against the Miami Heat in 1996 may very well be the reason the Spurs have Tim Duncan, as well as four NBA titles. Now the Heat are the team who has prevented them from obtaining a fifth and could be the last team Tim Duncan ever faces.