Spurs have low draft pick to go with aging roster

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Associated Press

Posted on June 26, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 26 at 4:01 PM

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have enjoyed a remarkable run since drafting Tim Duncan first overall in 1997.

They have made the playoffs in all 16 seasons with Duncan, winning 10 division crowns and four NBA championships. They were 28 seconds from a fifth title in Game 6 against Miami last week before the Heat rallied and won the finals in seven games.

The only downside to all that success: low picks in the draft. The Spurs have the 28th selection Thursday night, or one below their average spot since taking Duncan.

Not that they drafted poorly without high picks. They still ended up with stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and even produced another starter in center Tiago Splitter.

But now general manager R.C. Buford and his staff are tasked with reinforcing a team with an aging roster, a couple of key free agents and a supporting cast that suddenly looked suspect in the final two games against the Heat.

"They'll do something smart," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They always do."

Duncan is 37 and Ginobili is a free agent who turns 36 next month, but both are expected back. The Spurs have reached the conference finals the past two seasons, which is why no major roster changes are expected regardless of what happens in the draft.

"We had a team that did really well this year," Buford said. "We were within a few seconds of having an incredibly successful season. Historically, we've always been asked, 'When is it time to break the team up,' and I don't know. It's just a function of figuring out the time. It's a function of what's your alternative."

Mock drafts have the Spurs choosing between shooting guards Brandon Paul of Illinois and Tony Snell of New Mexico and small forwards Tim Hardaway Jr. of Michigan and Glenn Rice Jr. of Georgia Tech.

It makes sense to add depth at Ginobili's position because the star from Argentina is well-worn through years of international competition, and might have shown it with several playoff games marred by poor shooting and too many turnovers, including eight in the Game 6 loss to Miami.

"We have a lot of glaring needs, but the more immediate needs may be more subtle," Buford said. "But we've got to recognize there is going to be a time when Tim and Manu are not here and that's going to be a lot to replace."

San Antonio has established a culture of nurturing young talent with assistants Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier. In the case of players such as Cory Joseph, Nando De Colo and Aron Baynes, the Spurs also send them to their developmental league team to hone their talent.

The Spurs also had playoff success with castoffs Gary Neal and Danny Green, who set a finals record with 27 3-pointers but faltered in the last two games.

"(Buford) deserves a lot of credit for bringing people into the program that either nobody else thought about or wanted," Popovich said. "Chip and Chad have helped develop those guys so I think we will just stay on course with the way we do things."

Free agency could impact how San Antonio looks next season more than the draft.

Ginobili and DeJuan Blair are unrestricted free agents, Splitter is restricted and Boris Diaw is mulling a player option. All are expected to return except for Blair, whose playing time has dwindled the past two seasons.

Ginobili will probably see a pay cut from $14.1 million, and cost will be a consideration with Splitter, the 6-foot-11 post from Brazil who made $3.9 million this season and is reportedly drawing interest from other teams.

"I think we approach every decision that we make as, 'OK, here are our opportunities with Tiago, here are our alternatives and what are the opportunity costs that go along with both either signing and keeping Tiago or facing the alternatives,'" Buford said.

The Spurs put salary-cap considerations ahead of sentimentality in the past. Two years ago, they traded fan favorite George Hill to Indiana for the rights to Kawhi Leonard, who was the 15th pick in the draft.

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