By ALAN FERGUSON, Associated Press
Tony Parker insists the San Antonio Spurs' veteran core has at least one more championship run left.
With Tim Duncan also back and Manu Ginobili re-signed, the Spurs begin their quest to atone for last season's heartbreaking title-round defeat Wednesday night against the team they eliminated in the Western Conference finals, the Memphis Grizzlies.
With Duncan, Ginobili and Parker having already played a combined 39 NBA seasons, there are questions of how long the Spurs can keep the three on the court and continue the franchise's run of excellence. Duncan is 37 years old, Ginobili is 36 and has missed significant time the last two years due to injury, and Parker is 31 but entering his 13th NBA season.
"I'm so excited to start with the Spurs and try to win a championship," Parker said when training camp opened. "I get another opportunity to get Timmy out with a championship. I'm ready to go."
San Antonio hasn't won fewer than 50 games in a non-lockout season and hasn't missed the playoffs since going 20-62 in 1996-97, a record that helped it take Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick in the subsequent draft. With help from their star forward, the Spurs have won four NBA titles and came within seconds of a fifth crown this past season until Miami's Ray Allen hit a tying 3-pointer late in Game 6.
San Antonio (58-24) again came up short in the deciding game against the Heat, leaving some to wonder if that was the franchise's last chance at a title with its current roster.
"I don't think it's time to heal all wounds yet," said Duncan, who averaged 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds in the NBA finals. "We're going to let it fester for a little while, we're going to continue to think about it because it's going to continue to hurt whether we talk about it or let it go or not. But once the regular season starts and the ball goes up, we are going to be focused on a whole 'nother season."
The Spurs did their part to keep their core together by signing Ginobili to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. They also signed center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal this summer, and will keep Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph around through the 2014-15 season after picking up their fourth-year options Monday.
With help from those players, the Spurs will try to win a fourth straight Southwest Division title but might get a challenge from their opening night opponent, among others.
Thanks in part to one of the league's best defenses, Memphis went a franchise-best 56-26 in 2012-13 - finishing two games behind San Antonio - and advanced to the conference finals for the first time. The Grizzlies' run, however, ended with a sweep to the Spurs.
Memphis chose not to keep coach Lionel Hollins and will instead turn to former assistant Dave Joerger to lead the push toward an NBA title.
"We want to make a statement and make history, and that's what we set out to do each and every year," point guard Mike Conley said. "This year's no different. I think we just got to learn from our mistakes last season."
The Grizzlies have made a few moves to try to help that run, most notably re-signing one of their top defenders in Tony Allen. The swingman, inked to a four-year contract worth $20 million, got one more vote than LeBron James for the league's all-defensive team.
Center Marc Gasol earned the NBA's defensive player of the year, and Conley joined him on the all-defensive team after helping Memphis allow a league-low 89.3 points per game.
The Grizzlies added 3-point specialist Mike Miller, part of two title-winning teams in Miami. Memphis averaged a league-low 13.5 3-point attempts in 2012-13.
The Grizzlies also acquired Kosta Koufos from Denver to serve as Gasol's backup and lured guard Nick Calathes away from Europe to make his NBA debut four years after leaving the University of Florida.
"In order to take another step, you're going to have to be a little better," Gasol said. "Every step now really does take a lot of work from everybody. I mean everybody got to play a little better.
"Everybody got to be on the same page, which we already are."
Top scorer and rebounder Zach Randolph also returns for the Grizzlies, who will try to snap an eight-game losing streak in San Antonio that includes four playoff defeats. Randolph was limited to 11.0 points per game on 30.2 percent shooting in the conference finals.
The Spurs split four regular-season matchups with Memphis in 2012-13 as Parker averaged a team-best 25.5 points. He scored 24.5 per game in the teams' playoff series.
Conley averaged 18.0 points against San Antonio during the regular season but scored 15.3 per game on 38.3 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was held to nine points on 4-of-13 shooting in Game 4.
Some observations I came away with:
Kawhi was comfortable anywhere on the floor whether it was splitting defenders or shooting from the outside.
Danny Green had some mental errors on offense but his defense was stellar.
Parker seemed to lift himself out of his preseason funk in the second half.
The second unit was awesome without Parker in the game. Maybe teams will not be able to focus on him so much as the head of the snake this season.
Manu had only 1 turnover and slashed and finished like the Manu of yesteryear.
Belinelli has a long way to go to be effective on defense but he was a true compliment on offense. His stats don't show it because he was usually doing the 1st or 2nd pass and not the assist but he was an integral part of the setup to scoring the basket.
Patty Mills worked the paint on offense and was not just a perimeter shooter. His pesky defense was effective as well.
Diaw impressed me with his defense in the paint. He is now looking for rebounds and blocks.
Pop seems to be teaching the other players how to best utilize Splitter when he is on the court.
- Everyone looked a bit rusty (but it's the first game)
- Tp/Kawhi had a nice little 1-2 game working for little spurts (both were driving and assiting/creating thier own shots and forcing the defense to collapse on them)
- Manu and Marco worked well together in short spurts
- Manu actually looked decent and was driving well to the left. Had a couple of teardrops and layups over the Grizzlies bigs, which was encouraging
- Bench looked AWESOME!!!!! I really liked how the Spurs built up a big lead with thier starters resting, it was nice to see
- Diaw looked good and was holding his own against the Grizz bigs, if Duncan/Splitter/Diaw stay healhy and fresh, I think the Spurs just might have enough bigs to compete with anyone
- Bonner still sucks on defense....Ayres was serviceable!
I think he's going to be a star. And as time goes on, he'll be the face of the Spurs, I think.--- Coach Pop on Leonard
I didn't comment on Ayres because he has so few NBA minutes let alone Spurs minutes but I expect to be making positive observations of him as well when he gets used to the system and the team. Baynes likely gets used in certain matchups or back-to-backs but I guess it is not his time yet.
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