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The Spurs' season has to be considered an unqualified success

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Like, you get they were depending on four guys 34-years-old or older in their top seven and that two of those guys were over 38, right?

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By now, we've had a few days to digest the end of the Spurs season. If you're anything at all like me -- and let's hope you're not-- you're more sad than disappointed. There have been some heartbreaking finishes to Spurs seasons in the recent past, as Game 7's in 2013 at Miami and 2015 at the Clippers both came down to the very end, but more often than not the season has ended with a loss similar to this year's Game 6, either a one-sided rout from the beginning or games that were relatively close but slipped away in the final minutes. It makes sense that the finales wind up being microcosms of the series as a whole.

If this finish feels funereal, it's because of the very real likelihood that it's the last time we'll ever see Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili play for San Antonio. And while that's significant, my contention is that it's the overwhelming reason any of us are mopey right now, far exceeding the underachievement of a 67-win team in the regular season failing to reach even the conference final.

Isn't that it? Any sense of melancholy is almost entirely due to the impending retirements of two of the franchise's five best all-time players. If Duncan and Ginobili were both in their early 30's who would think twice about how the playoffs ended after being sated by the five previous championships and comforted in the knowledge that there will be more chances to come. Instead, there's an air of finality and uncertainty; for the first time in forever the Spurs feel like a team with a cloudy future, on the precipice of a roster upheaval. In prior seasons we could shrug off playoff losses with the excuse that the role players around "The Big Three" just weren't good enough, but the pain feels sharper when the realization sets in that the Big Three were the ones playing roles, and they couldn't get it done.

Perphaps some perspective is in order. Forget the 67 wins. Look at the reality. I know it will be impossible to remove the Duncan and Ginobili component from the equation, but if we look at it in a cold, rational, detached fashion, it's kind of silly to feel harshly about how the season ended. The Spurs weren't the best team. They didn't have the goods. They were better than almost everybody, but they weren't the best, bottom line. No shame in losing if you're not the best.

If you watched Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Sunday night, you saw a clear delineation in the match-up. Both those teams had an easily-defined identity. The Warriors are the best small-ball team. The Thunder are the best big team. It's a contrast in styles.

What was the Spurs' identity? That they were the best defensive team? Well, yes and no. They were good --perhaps historically so-- when Duncan, Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green played together, but because of Duncan's age, they couldn't retain that identity for much more than half a game.

The Thunder can stay big virtually the whole time because they have three bigs in Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter and can rotate any two of those three. The Warriors have the depth to sub in a couple of pieces into their Death-Ball lineup by using guys like Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa or even Ian Clark, and they can use Marreese Speights to shoot threes, even though he's nowhere near the defender or passer that Draymond Green is.

The Spurs don't have that kind of versatility and depth with their defense. Maybe they can get by for a few minutes with Ginobili in for Green or Patty Mills for Tony Parker, but once they substitute for Duncan, Aldridge and Leonard, it all falls apart. Also, against the Warriors Gregg Popovich clearly didn't feel comfortable using Duncan against their small lineups, not only because he wasn't mobile enough to guard on the perimeter but also because the San Antonio couldn't keep pace offensively.

It comes back to the fact that regular season basketball and playoff basketball are very different animals. The Spurs' culture and depth with the 10-15 guys on the roster are assets to them in the regular season. San Antonio just tries harder than most of their fellow contenders during the regular season, even though it seems like the opposite with all the rest days they give to their veterans and the low-minute totals to their stars. Still, their continuity helps them, their system, and the fact they just don't ever take games for granted against the Minnesotas and Philadelphias of the world. They don't have those Sunday afternoon games at the Lakers like the Warriors did, where it was pretty obvious that the Dubs had a good time on the town the night before. The Spurs play to win every game, and Pop won't settle for anything less.

In the playoffs though, every team is on San Antonio's footing from a professionalism and effort standpoint. No one is on a road trip or a back-to-back. No one uses the back end of their roster. The scouting reports get a lot more extensive, especially as series go on. The plays that work for the Spurs in Games 1 or 2 get bottled up by Game 5 or 6. Eventually both teams know each other inside and out and it just comes down to pure talent.

And then what we're left with is a Spurs team that relied on a 40-year-old and a 38-year-old to be two of their six best players, a 34-year-old point guard who doesn't shoot very many threes, and a 35-year-old 6'9 guy as the backup center.

For me, the Spurs season was a success when it because clear midway through the season that Leonard and Aldridge could co-exist on offense and function with a degree of efficiency. They're both stars, one a top-five player not yet in his prime in Leonard, and another top-15 dude still at the tail end of his prime in Aldridge. They have another valuable piece in Green who's one of the best "three-and-D" guys in the league, and perhaps the best transition defender in the NBA.

As empty and hopeless as it might feel without a couple of living legends, believe it or not the Spurs already have the hard part of this in the bag. They've got the stars. They've got the coach. They just need to find the right mix of role players. They're still in a better situation than 25 other teams, even if it feels like they're entering purgatory.

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Ultimately, I think this is what sums up the season, more than the bench failures or anything else. Look at this fourth quarter play in a December game against the Celtics. It's one they've run literally hundreds of times over the years.

Now look at Aldridge and Leonard run the same play in the playoffs.

Prada chooses to credit Westbrook for his alertness here, but with all due respect, I think he's burying the lede on this one. Westbrook made a good read, but Leonard and Aldridge made it very easy for him with the transparency of their intentions. Watch again and pay close attention to how Duncan and Ginobili executed the play in the first clip and then watch Aldridge and Leonard's attempt. Can you spot the differences?

In the first one, Duncan never looks at Ginobili or the area of the floor he intends to pass to. Ginobili keeps his gaze toward the three-point line, where it looks like his body is going, rather than the basket, where he'll actually be cutting.

Now look at how at how Aldridge and Leonard execute the play. Aldridge is staring at Leonard the entire time, well before he even receives the ball. Leonard, in turn, looks back at Aldridge and also has his head toward the basket, where he'll be going, instead of the three-point line. Ginobili further sold the misdirection by taking another step out toward the top of the key, to make sure his defender had vacated the paint and he had the distance to beat him to the rim. Leonard doesn't convincingly sell the fake to the level Manu did.

To execute plays like this in pressure situations against locked in, committed defenses takes time and repetition. It takes teams who not only understand the angles and the timing of cuts and screens, but even the finer details and nuances of when and where to turn their heads and hips. Plays like the one above drove home that it was Aldridge's first year in the system and that Leonard is still coming into his own as a go-to guy.

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Set aside the glossy franchise wins record. This was still a transitional year and should be judged through that prism alone. Next year will likely be another one, with the team shedding one era and finding a new identity with hopefully a couple new noteworthy additions. The next real chance for the Spurs to be contenders, to stand toe-to-toe with the league's elite and to be able to execute to the degree we associate with the continuity of the Duncan Era, will probably be 2018.

The Spurs had a very good year and while PATFO will never admit it publicly, I think they know that they accomplished many of the goals they set out for themselves considering the circumstances. To expect more than we got would've been unrealistic. By all indications one of the main reasons Duncan and Ginobili even agreed to return for this past season was to secure Aldridge's commitment. That we got to watch them for another year was already playing with house money, and a pleasure that I'm sure none of us took for granted.