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kriD
05-24-2006, 10:32 AM
Spurs need fast infusion of youth

By DWAIN PRICE
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- On the surface, the San Antonio Spurs appear poised to return next season and reclaim the NBA championship that got away from them this season.

Not so fast.

Unless the Spurs tweak their roster and get a little younger and more athletic, they're going to run into the same problem next season.

On Monday, the Mavericks stepped into the Spurs' noisy arena and walked away with a 119-111 overtime victory in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

In the three Game 7s in the NBA conference semifinals, the Spurs were the only home team that lost.

And they looked old and tired doing so.

"This is the best series I've ever played in," said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who has won three championships. "Both teams gave it their all. It went down to the wire.

"It was about the ball -- whether the ball bounced one way or another. And the result is just how it bounced."

The ball will continue bouncing the wrong way if the Spurs don't do something to keep up with the athletic players the Mavericks and Phoenix Suns have assembled. Because of the no hand-check rule, the game now favors sleek players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Jason Terry, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa and Devin Harris.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili fit that bill for the Spurs, who also have one of the game's most dominant players in Tim Duncan. But the Spurs count on too many players who are on the downside of their careers -- such as Robert Horry, Nick Van Exel, Michael Finley and Brent Barry.

Of the Spurs' regular players, center Nazr Mohammed and Van Exel are the only ones who will become free agents July 1. But the Spurs also have already committed nearly $61 million in player salaries for next season, which means being a major player in free agency is out of the question.

The Spurs, the oldest team in the NBA this season, also have to be concerned about the age of their players. Of the Spurs' top 10 players, seven -- Barry (34), Bruce Bowen (35), Duncan (30), Finley (33), Horry (36), Rasho Nesterovic (30) and Van Exel (34) -- will be 30 or older when next season starts.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, in some ways, playing the Mavs is like playing against his own team. But, after a lot of wheeling and dealing by owner Mark Cuban, the Mavs have more quality players than the Spurs have.

"Dallas has got arguably the best depth in the league and is talented right down the line," Popovich said. "They've got a lot of scorers...,and Avery [Johnson has] done a fantastic job in bringing defense into the equation and making it a priority for that group.

"He's added bodies. [DeSagana] Diop and [Erick] Dampier do a good job inside for them, so he's got some shot blockers and defense there. Both with personnel and with strategy or system, he's changed it around."

That's precisely what the Spurs need to do. Change it around.

Or else they could be facing a similar fate against the Mavs or Suns next season in the playoffs.