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Spurs could get new look next season

Just five San Antonio players are under contract for 2003-04.

By Associated Press
Published June 17, 2003

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - When the Spurs hold their ring ceremony 41/2 months from now, they could bear only a passing resemblance to the championship squad that finished off the Nets in six games Sunday.

David Robinson will be retired. Steve Kerr might be. Steve Smith, Danny Ferry and Speedy Claxton likely will be playing elsewhere. Stephen Jackson and Kevin Willis could be gone, too.

Only five Spurs - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Malik Rose and Bruce Bowen - are under contract for next season when the team will try to win a Western Conference that figures to be even stronger.

No free agent will be more coveted than Jason Kidd, whose comments after Game 6 made it sound as though returning to the Nets was anything but certain.

"This is my second time coming short of winning that championship trophy. So I've got to find a team - or stay with the Nets - that has a better chance of winning that championship trophy. That's what I play this game for," Kidd said Sunday night.

Kidd's impending free agency is a dark cloud that's been hanging over the Nets.

But the Nets flew home Monday as a blue sky covered a city whose streets were finally cleared of the horn-honking, flag-waving legions who partied into the wee hours.

The police had been though this before, in 1999 when the Spurs won their first title. This time, their preparations included flashing signs on the interstates alerting drivers that it is illegal to abandon cars on major highways.

"It's an incredible feeling. I don't think I've ever won a series at home in the playoffs," Duncan, the series MVP, said.

Actually, the Spurs had closed out a playoff series at home before - just not when it counted most.

In 1999 when they won the franchise's first title, the Spurs closed out all their opponents on the road. This time, they finished off the Suns, Lakers and Mavericks on the road before taking out the Nets at home.

"That's all I get to do? I won a championship, I'm loving this," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Sunday night after answering four questions from the interview room podium. "More questions. How many times is this going to happen? Do I look like Phil Jackson? This is Popovich."

Popovich stayed a while longer, but nobody asked him this one: Does he think Kidd will come south on July 16 when he's free to sign anywhere?

"They know we would like to sign him," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "I don't want to use the word coy, but his agent, Jeff Schwartz, is a very good agent and he's going to try to set the marketplace where he would like to set it. It's part of the game you play."

Kidd and Gary Payton are the only premier point guards available on the free-agent market, while the list of unsigned big men includes Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller, Michael Olowokandi of the Clippers, Alonzo Mourning of Miami and P.J. Brown of the Hornets.

If the Spurs decide to target Kidd, they can offer him a starting salary equal to 30 percent of the salary cap with 10 percent annual raises over the life of a six-year deal.

"Obviously this is going to be a big summer for us," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "J-Kidd, he's a basketball player but he's a business person also.

"Hopefully when he comes to his conclusion it will be New Jersey."

If not, Kidd will have to duck aside in 41/2 months when the NBA's most coveted piece of jewelry is presented to whatever remains of the current Spurs.

San Antonio will honor the NBA champion Spurs in a citywide celebration Wednesday.

Festivities will start with a barge parade along the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio, and then move to the Alamodome, where the team played for nine years before moving into the new SBC Center this season.

RATINGS: In the first year of a $2.4-billion contract to televise the NBA, ABC drew the lowest ratings for the championship series since games were shown on tape delay in 1981.

The series was watched in an average of 8.2 percent of homes in the top 55 U.S. media markets, down 31 percent from last year.

The first five games were watched in 6.3 percent of the 107-million households with televisions, down 38 percent from NBC's ratings for the sweep by the Lakers over the Nets.

ALL-STAR GAME: Commissioner David Stern cited a more stable Nuggets ownership and management situation in announcing that Denver will host the 2005 All-Star Game. Stern said the Nuggets appear to be on the verge on of improving.

[Last modified June 17, 2003, 01:48:03]

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