Stampler's Take on the end of the Spurs' 2013 season

Pop, I'm telling you, it's possible to build a time machine. I've been talking to some people... - USA TODAY Sports

Well, that went about the way you figured it would. Dammit.

You're all much better, and much braver, Spurs fans than I. I'm a coward. I worked last night, didn't watch the game. Haven't watched it still. I strongly doubt I ever will.

Before the game I asked to be scheduled off the nights of the games, all seven of them, but there was some manager switch midway through the series and the new scheduling guy didn't give me Game 7 off. Up 3-2, I didn't mind this so much, thinking the series would happily end in six games anyway. And well, if it didn't, then Game 7 would pretty much play out like what y'all saw last night. In my defense I did release my shift online after Game 6, so I technically tried to get out of it, but I didn't try very hard, and I'm not at all upset I wound up missing it.

Still the point remains, I'm chicken, I'm weak, I'm a terrible fan, and whoever reading this is not. So you have my respect for that.

* * *

Now that it's over, and by "it" I mean this magical postseason run, not the Spurs as we know them (I'll get to that in a second), I can tell you that while I'm unspeakably sad about how things unfolded, I'm not nearly as down as I thought I would be. (He wrote with tears welling up in his eyes).

The one thing --the only thing-- that's good about a Game 6 ending the way it did is that it steels you emotionally for the end. As we've seen time and again with the '86 Red Sox, the '02 Giants and the '11 Rangers, you just don't come back from a crippling Game 6 loss where you had the game done and dusted only for cruel fate to intervene. And you certainly don't do it on the road. It's the biggest gambling lock in sports: Home teams win Game 7's of the Finals. It's why I annoy you every year about how important home court is and rail on Pop for not valuing that.

Anyway, the point is you can only get your heart ripped out once. After Game 7 I felt more numb than sad. Maybe it's because I didn't watch it, but I really don't think much would've changed if I had. Maybe if it was a similar ending, where they had it won again only to cough it up, that would've been terrible, but that wasn't the case. They fought to the bitter end like you knew they would, they played like proud warriors (I always hate using war metaphors in sports, but what else can you say?), and they were just one or two plays away from pulling off the impossible.

You can't do anything but respect them forever, respect their opponents, and just shake your head at the myriad "what-ifs."

* * *

Not to be a sore loser or anything, but I hope everyone here realizes that the Heat weren't any better than the Spurs. Heck, San Antonio outscored them by five points over the seven games. It just didn't didn't work out in the right permutations. I won't be hyperbolic enough to suggest that the Spurs are better, by any means, but these teams are as close to evenly matched as possible. Just a couple of bounces here and there tipped it. Obviously they're not children and nobody is going to split the trophy in half or hand out participation ribbons here, but the point is there's no reason to hang your head or feel sorry for the Spurs. They sure don't want our pity and they certainly don't deserve our scorn. They weren't second-best. They weren't screwed by the refs or by the league. They just got unlucky. It happens. They could've just as easily beaten the Heat by a bucket in Game 7 and we'd all be crowing about how much better we are and Duncan's legacy vs. LeBron's legacy. It's all trivial bunk. There's no difference between them, at least in their 2013 forms.

* * *

Oddly enough I feel more optimistic about the 2014 Spurs now that this season ended than I did about the 2013 Spurs after last season ended. For a few years now I fell into the trap of underestimating Tim, Tony and Manu (as well as Pop and R.C. Buford) and prematurely, foolishly buried them, saying, "That's it, they missed their last chance, it's over."

Well I'm not doing it this time, and the main reason I'm not is because of a 21-year-old who's a fellow Aztec. The 2013 Finals were Kawhi Leonard's coming out party on the big stage, and like I wrote after Game 6, I think he's already a star now and will be an All-Star for many years to come. He is, in every way, the perfect Spur. Not only did he fill a glaring need on the roster when he was drafted (a long, defensive-minded small forward who can hit corner threes) but his temperament, the way he shuns fame and the media spotlight, the way he's never impressed with himself or daunted by the stage, it's like he was born to play for Pop. Hell, I think Pop might coach for a few years longer than he planned, just because of him.

If the big three all regress just two or three percent, and if Leonard continues his exponential growth, then there's no reason why the Spurs can't seriously contend for the title again. They just need to stay healthy in May and June (no easy task, that) and for Leonard to become if not their best player than a close second. Obviously everything changes if Tim and/or Manu retires, but the former made it pretty clear during his dejected post-game presser that he's not planning on it and even though Ginobili may be teetering, I think Pop and the guys will talk him into giving it one more go.

The bigger question in mind is Tiago Splitter. This is a second straight season he was marginalized at the end by Pop. I'm not at all suggesting that he didn't deserve it. He was soft and inattentive on defense in these Finals, but at the same time it's almost impossible to think that we can get through a regular season and playoffs without him. Hopefully his poor play at the end will lower his market value enough to where the Spurs can re-sign him at a reasonable number without some other team throwing a crazy offer at him, but I wonder if Splitter himself will want to return after being disrespected like this. I wouldn't, but I don't have the mentality to be a Spur. What I do know is that if some GM thinks he's going to pull a fast one on Pop and R.C. by throwing insane money at Splitter, thinking that the Spurs will be forced to match and blow out their cap in doing so, will be in for a rude awakening when they don't. Boy will that guy have some explaining to do to his owner for giving eight figures a year for four seasons of 13 points and 8 rebounds.

That isn't to say I'm being mocking or unappreciative of Splitter. I would like to see him return, at the right price. I'd like to see almost all of them return, really, even DeJuan Blair, if he's actually serious about his craft. I really do love this team.

* * *

In that vein, I really hope this isn't the end for Manu.

I'm happy he got some measure of redemption in Game 7, at least as far his scoring goes, but I saw on the play-by-play sheet that he had four turnovers in the final quarter. I asked J.R. Wilco if he was the goat of the game and he replied that he was "goat-ish."

Fantastic.

Whatev, you know? Mr. Boxscore has Ginobili finishing at +6, and I'm guessing it's probably fair to speculate that he was our third-best and third-worst player all at once on Thursday night. In the end they lost so it doesn't really matter who did what. The big three are all on scholarship anyway. Nothing they do will ever, ever tarnish them in my eyes and if any of you feel differently than I don't want to hear about it.

(That reminds me, I'm never going on Spurstalk again. Lots of terrible things said on there. If there's any good news about the Spurs not winning it all --and there's not-- it's that none of them deserved a championship anyway.)

I think Manu's role has to change a bit next season. I hope he spends his whole off-season shooting threes and really getting that down to where it was in 2008. He can't be this backup point guard anymore. He's just lost too much speed. What he needs to be is a better version of Gary Neal, a microwave off the bench. More of a shooter than a creator. He needs to think shoot first and have people play him that way so that the pass catches them more by surprise.

What Manu needs is to play with a real point guard. Is that Cory Joseph? I don't know. It could be Nando De Colo, but he turns it over a lot too. Hopefully he'll be better with a year of seasoning.

* * *

I hope this series ended the notion, for all but the stupidest pundits and talking heads out there, that the Spurs got to the Finals thanks to Russell Westbrook's knee injury. The Thunder lost in five games to the Heat last season and mailed in the last game to an embarrassing degree. The Spurs came within an eyelash of beating them this year and were down to the wire with them in Game 7 as well. And the Thunder didn't even have James Harden this season! There's no question the 2013 Spurs were far superior to the last season's OKC squad, let alone this year's version.

Ironically, and I guess the opponent had the most to do with this, I think the Spurs gained more admirers losing in these Finals than they ever received from winning the previous four. People saw that Duncan, even at 37, is still a basketball deity. They saw Leonard's all-around beastly play and Green's deadly marksmanship. They saw Parker's dogged determination and complete All-NBA point guard game and even Ginobili's desire and will to keep fighting to the bitter end, no matter how badly his body was betraying him.

A lot of people around the country were rooting for the Spurs, again because of the opponent, and in doing so I think they realized two things: a) Rooting for the Spurs isn't like rooting for the IRS and b) say, these guys aren't too boring after all.

I'm sure ESPN will try their best to marginalize them again, heck from what I've heard they were already throwing dirt on their coffin after the game, but maybe a handful of people out there will be smart enough to see through their BS and to appreciate and respect the Spurs for who they are, what they stand for and the beautiful basketball they play.

* * *

While we're here, I think this is a good spot to tell you all that I'm quitting watching ESPN cold turkey. There's just so little of substance there anymore. So little quality. It's all hype and promotion and empty noise. I'm "Coors Light Cold Hard Facts" tapped out. I'm done. I advise you all to do the same. There are a couple of talented writers on there, people who are objective and worth reading, but I suspect they'll only get worse and worse as they get indoctrinated into that corrosive Bristol culture. Quit reading them now before you hate them later on. There are better uses of your time.

* * *

Like reading me, for example!

A couple months ago, I was in a really dark place. As low as I've ever been in my life. I really thought about ending it. Nothing brought me happiness and I was just 20 different kinds of miserable. I'd ruined whatever chance of being a professional sportswriter I had, in some part because of my toxic personality but also --and I've been in denial about this for too long-- because I was too lazy and didn't want it bad enough. You can't be successful at anything if you don't give it your all and make it your life.

I stopped writing, I fell out of love with sports and I just had no direction, just miserably circling the drain.

The Spurs brought me back. PtR brought me back. I'm writing again and I've found that it makes me... well happy isn't the word, but not sad so much. Really it makes me feel productive in a sense and it's just something I feel I'm not bad at and that I can improve at with time and effort.

Don't get me wrong, I don't at all think I'm good. And this isn't like false humility or blowing smoke anywhere. I've been around enough pro writers to know I'm never going to be the Manu Ginobili of sportswriting. I just don't have the talent and I sure as heck don't have the networking and social skills (which are, trust me, are close to 99 percent of the job, the writing is the easy part).

The point is that now I've realized it's not about the money or recognition. No one should ever write, should never do anything, for those reasons. For a while I lost that perspective, and it cost me valuable years of my life and opportunities I'll never get back.

My priorities are different now.

I'm going to write frequently in the off-season and I'll do so because it makes me not sad so much. I hope you all stick around. And I need to thank JRW for encouraging me, for showing me it's possible to be decent and entertaining and still be me without swearing up a storm or writing about boobs.

(By September I'll probably be swearing up a storm and writing about boobs.)

*******************************

Finally, just in case he's reading this or if any of you knows how to reach him, I hope Matthew Powell is doing okay on a day like today. Long time Pounders might now that he and I had a falling out a long time ago, and that it was 99 percent my fault, as most things are. He's more mature than I am so my guess is he's also handling this loss better than I am. Maybe he's more excited about Texas A&M football than the Spurs anyway.

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