By RAUL DOMINGUEZ
SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ The San Antonio Spurs are facing their most uncertain future ever under longtime coach Gregg Popovich.
The team has only five players under contract for next season. Tim Duncan and Argentine star Manu Ginobili have not decided whether they will return for another season or retire. Kawhi Leonard is expected to be back, but he is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a big pay rise after winning the Defensive Player of the Year award and Most Valuable Player honors in last year’s NBA Finals.
It is all leading to the most upheaval in Popovich’s 19 years as coach of the league’s model team for consistency.
And Popovich can’t wait.
“I wish practice started next week,” he said. “But it’s probably best to take a break for a while and not do anything, so I’ll try to do that.”
Popovich was jovial, nostalgic and thoughtful Monday during his season-ending news conference for the five-time NBA champions.
The Spurs’ defense of their latest NBA title came to an end Saturday in the finale of a thrilling seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers. And the team “will probably look considerably different” next season, Popovich said.
Along with Duncan and Ginobili, the team’s list of free agents includes Leonard, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes. The only players under contract are starters Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter, along with key reserves Boris Diaw and Patty Mills and rookie Kyle Anderson.
While the Spurs are expected to offer Leonard a lucrative new contract, Duncan and Ginobili’s returns are not so certain.
While Ginobili’s production has declined over the last few seasons, Duncan’s has inexplicably surged. The 39-year-old power forward averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds this season and had four games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the playoff series against the Clippers.
“I continue to be amazed by Tim Duncan,” Popovich said. “He was our most consistent player in the playoffs at 39. He needed a little more help and I feel badly that he didn’t get it, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”
His consistency was especially important as San Antonio struggled to find its rhythm this season while using 23 different starting lineups because of injuries.
“We recovered at the end of the year, but had to dig down pretty deep to finish as well as we did. I think going into the playoffs, we certainly weren’t as healthy as we wanted to be,” he said. “(But) during the first round, we needed to get some better performances from three or four people, very frankly.”
Now general manager R.C. Buford will look to again restock the roster. Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge could be a target in free agency.
The team’s core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker may not break up until next season or the following, but it will eventually happen.
“Over the last couple of years I’ve thought about it a lot,” Popovich said. “How much I would miss it when they’re all gone, it’s like your family.”