The end of the line?

by

Zach Randolph likes to beat the drum like war.

For the fourth consecutive season the San Antonio Spurs lay among the conquered, and for a third consecutive season they lay among the ravaged and conquered.

When it comes down like this, what does one say? The Memphis Grizzlies were the better team. Lionel Hollins was the better coach. Zach Randolph was other-worldly. It sounds so canned, but there it is, and it’s true. The Spurs lost. There is no asterisk.

The Spurs have lost other playoff battles, but this one tastes different. Some questions suck the oxygen out of the room, and certainly tonight’s question does. Have the Spurs lost or have the Spurs finished?

Gregg Popovich is fond of reminding people that having a great record is not necessarily indicative of having a great team. Who could doubt him? I’d like to add that having young players is not necessarily the same thing as having a young team.

The Spurs are old warriors, and tonight they were more old than warrior, though they were very much warriors.  No one doubts their effort. After Memphis jumped on them in the first quarter, the Spurs didn’t fold. They kept coming back, but they could never come back all the way.

And that’s really the question we’ll have to spend the weekend considering: have the Spurs drifted too far from the champions circle to make it back again? Or, put more precisely, have these Spurs drifted to far from center?

The Spurs are well-positioned to remain competitive, even in the tight Western Conference. They’ve managed their cap well, they have useful young pieces, trade options, and their management is particularly skilled at making the most of free agency and the draft. But is anyone in San Antonio — whether fans, players or personnel — eager to play the role of playoff fodder? We’re all too spoiled for that.

Someone in the Spurs organization once told me the Spurs would be happy to win a couple championships every decade. I scoffed. How awesome would that be? There are only a few teams in all of sports who would set such lofty aspirations. But those are the standards the Spurs have set for themselves, and those are the standards we’ll hold them to. How then should the Spurs go about the business of their first championship this decade?

Perhaps it’s time to turn the page on the last decade and begin thinking more earnestly about the current one.