With major changes on horizon, Heat should emulate Spurs

Miami Heat forward LeBron James sits on the

Miami Heat forward LeBron James sits on the bench during the second half in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. (Credit: AP / David J. Phillip)

As the black and silver confetti fell from the AT&T Center rafters, Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich embraced each other and David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson, members of past Spurs championship teams.

The Spurs are different from any other organization in the NBA, and they showed it again with that celebration and the selfless, brilliant way they played in dethroning the two-time defending champion Heat in five games and capturing the fifth title in franchise history on Sunday.

They create an environment that players don't want to leave, one that leads them to sacrifice money and shots for wins. The Spurs have a closeness and trust that other teams should emulate -- and that other players should strive for instead of deciding the only way to win is to form an alliance.

Miami reached four NBA Finals in the four years since LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to play with Dwyane Wade. They won two titles but didn't have enough to match the Spurs in teamwork, depth and hunger.

Barring something unexpected, such as Duncan retiring and Popovich stepping away, the Spurs should be in position to repeat next year. Their core players are locked up, series MVP Kawhi Leonard is only 22, and Popovich is masterful at getting the most out of them and knowing when to lighten their workload so they remain healthy and effective. The Spurs never seem to age.

"We've been on our last run for the last five or six years, from how everyone wants to put it," Duncan said. "We show up every year and we try to put together the best teams and the best runs possible because what people say doesn't matter to us."

Duncan, who has $10.3 million coming to him next season, wouldn't address his future after Sunday's game. But after being asked about Leonard's development, Duncan said, "He's going to be great for years to come, and I'm going to hold on as long as I can."

In Miami, there is some uncertainty because James, Wade and Bosh can opt out of their contracts. ESPN reported that all three might be willing to do that and take less money to add Carmelo Anthony -- although Bosh called that "very, very unlikely."

Of course, all three could decide to opt in, give it another try together, hope Wade has more left than he showed in the Finals and let team president Pat Riley retool the roster. Miami needs size, youth and athleticism on the wings and an upgrade at point guard. Still, if all three return, Miami could be back in the Finals next year.

"It's been a hell of a ride these four years," Wade said. "When we decided to play together, we didn't say, 'OK, let's try it for four years.' We said let's play together and see what happens."

Ray Allen hasn't decided whether he will play again. Shane Battier is retiring. Mario Chalmers is a free agent. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem could explore free agency, too. The Michael Beasley and Greg Oden experiment didn't work. But the most important thing for Miami is what's on James' mind.

As long as he's in a Heat uniform, Miami can contend for a title. James said he and his family love Miami, and it's hard to see him leaving what he has there. San Antonio might be the only place he could go that would improve his chances of winning, but that's not happening.

"You guys are trying to find answers," James said. "I'm not going to give you one. I'm just not going to give it to you."

James seems at peace in his life and with basketball despite being 2-3 in the NBA Finals. He said he's "blessed" to have competed for five titles. Having won two of them surely helps, but two won't be enough for him."You want to win all of them, but that's just not the nature of the game," James said. "You win some, you lose some. You've just got to come back the next year and be better, as an individual and as a team, and go from there."

Just look at the Spurs.

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