(SportsNetwork.com) - One year ago, the San Antonio Spurs were still licking their wounds from a crushing defeat in the NBA Finals.
Now, they are once again champions of the world, the dominant franchise not only in basketball, but maybe professional sports.
"From our point of view, it's satisfying because of the work that we put in all year to get back to the Finals, and have this opportunity again, and it worked out," head coach Gregg Popovich said after beating the Miami Heat in the Finals. "So, we feel very gratified by that and humbled to have had the opportunity."
The Spurs proved team basketball still exists in an era dominated by the individual superstar. Sure, the Spurs have stars. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are all headed to the Hall of Fame one day. Same goes for Popovich.
But against the Heat, San Antonio moved the ball at a dizzying pace. Popovich's insertion of Boris Diaw into the starting lineup paid huge dividends. His passing ability, hitting cutters with ease, turned the series around.
The MVP of the Finals was Kawhi Leonard. He scored 20-plus points in the final three games of the series, did the heavy lifting when it came time to guarding LeBron James and may have realized his true potential. After a great Finals in 2013, Popovich anointed Leonard the newest member of the San Antonio superstar club and Leonard delivered. What made Leonard's championship play all the more impressive was that he struggled early in the series.
So how do the reigning champions get themselves geared up for another title run? They kept everyone around.
Popovich signed an extension. Duncan put off retirement and why wouldn't he? Winning titles and getting paid handsomely to do it is fun.
Tony Parker signed an extension. Leonard will get one soon and the only question about his is, will it be a max deal.
Boris Diaw and Patty Mills were free agents, but elected to re-sign.
The only significant addition in the offseason was rookie Kyle Anderson. And, in typical Spurs fashion, they got lucky and a potential steal in the versatile UCLA product.
It's simple enough to say the Spurs need to do what they always do and they'll be there in the end. Popovich is smart. He strategically rests Duncan, Parker and Ginobili throughout the season to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
But health and age is always a factor with this team. Five key rotation guys are over 30. Parker and Ginobili have injury history. Mills is recovering from a torn rotator cuff and won't be back until the winter at least.
The San Antonio philosophy is to plug the next guy in, so Mills' absence will be offset by Cory Joseph.
Other than fatigue and injury, the Spurs appear to have few weaknesses. They ranked sixth last season in both scoring and opponents' scoring. The Spurs had the highest-scoring bench and their second unit averaged the most minutes per game.
Motivation won't be an issue. This is the best-run team in the league, if not professional sports. The leadership is extraordinary both in the form of Popovich and the Big Three.
The Spurs are the favorite to repeat. They are the San Antonio Spurs. It's them, then the rest of the league.
2013-43 Results: 62-20, 1st in Southwest; NBA Champions
ADDITIONS: F Kyle Anderson, G Bryce Cotton
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Tony Parker SG- Danny Green SF- Kawhi Leonard PF- Tim Duncan C- Tiago Splitter
KEY RESERVES: G Manu Ginobili, G/F Marco Belinelli, C Boris Diaw, G Patty Mills, G Cory Joseph, F Matt Bonner, C Jeff Ayers, F Austin Daye, F/G Kyle Anderson
FRONTCOURT: Duncan is still amazing.
While he didn't equal his All-NBA First Team season of 2012-13, Duncan still averaged 15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 1.9 bpg. He shot 49 percent from the field and played in 74 regular-season games, which was a four-year high. He probably won't reach that number again, but Duncan still finished 12th in MVP voting.
In the playoffs, his scoring improved slightly, but the Spurs didn't need that from him. They need his leadership and occasional dominance in big games.
Duncan exercised his option for this season and makes $10 million. Think of that next time you gander at Kobe Bryant's contract or exorbitant deals veterans at the end sign. Then, think about the Spurs' success.
Leonard is poised for an All-Star berth. No one should go so far as to say that this is his team yet, not with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili still in uniform. But, Leonard has already won an NBA Finals MVP and been named to an All-Defensive team. His numbers aren't ridiculous, but they always go up in the postseason. What he did in those final three games of the Finals, after struggling early, was something to behold from someone who wasn't 23 yet.
What makes Leonard great is that he doesn't need glaring statistics to put his mark on a victory. His averages last season - 12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.7 spg, while shooting 52 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point line and 80 percent from the foul line - are stout, but his defense has been remarkable. Leonard is so unassuming and so team-oriented, he's a perfect Spur.
Splitter's numbers dipped some in the regular season, but he plays his role. With Diaw's late emergence, Splitter took a bit of a backseat. He still performed solidly coming off the bench. Splitter is another typical San Antonio pro.
BACKCOURT: Parker's numbers, with the exception of his 3-point shooting, all declined in 2013-14. But, for the first time since his rookie season in 2001-02, Parker averaged less than 30 minutes a game.
At the age of 32, and with a history of injuries, it's fair to wonder if Parker will still be a dominant penetrator. That's why he's worked so hard on his already spectacular mid-range game, both with the jumper and the floater.
Parker is staying with the Spurs as if there was any question. When he's healthy, Parker is always an MVP candidate on that tier below James and Kevin Durant. He may want to atone for a relatively weaker regular season.
Green didn't produce the same way he did during the 2013 NBA Finals, but who could? He made almost every long-range shot he looked at. He's a 42 percent career 3-point shooter and doesn't kill them defensively. That's what Pop needs from Green.
BENCH: The Spurs have the best bench in the league, but it comes with an asterisk.
Ginobili and Diaw are starters. They play crunch time and have been inserted into the starting five at various times.
Ginobili recovered from a poor playoff performance in 2013 with much better numbers last season. His regular-season numbers were also better. Ginobili is still a capable creator and a master of drawing fouls, although he doesn't get to the line quite as much. Ginobili played with a stress fracture in his right leg, which kept him out of the FIBA World Cup. He's played a lot of international competition over the years, so a summer off will probably help the Spurs.
Diaw could've drawn some attention for Finals MVP, because his inclusion in the starting lineup changed the Spurs. Miami couldn't go with a two-big lineup to match up with Diaw, whose passing made San Antonio's already fluid offense even crisper. His versatility is incredible.
Bonner is still a credible deep threat.
Mills will be sidelined for a while. He is like a change of pace running back in the NFL. He pushes both offensively and defensively and his solid shooter.
Joseph will handle the backup point guard duties and his work in a pinch has been solid. Popovich will have unconditional faith in him.
Belinelli had a great regular season, averaging 11.5 ppg. He slid through the cracks a bit in the postseason, playing 10 less minutes per game than he did in the regular season. Belinelli seems like a great Popovich player. He's smart, versatile, can shoot and make plays.
Daye came over in a midseason trade with the Toronto Raptors and didn't do much, but after a full season in San Antonio, he could become a valuable grunt for Pop.
Ayers is similar. He's a moderately dependable backup big man.
COACHING: It's Popovich. Enough said.
OUTLOOK: Any other team might have an issue getting up for this season after having their hearts ripped out in 2013, then, essentially ending the Miami Heat regime.
The Spurs won't worry about that.
Their motivation is in their professionalism. Titles are the only goal.
San Antonio figures to be the best team in the league again. They should finish with the best record in the NBA, the No. 1 overall seed and a probable matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, or Chicago Bulls in the Finals.
They are the favorite and a logical choice for another ring.