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Old 06-01-2008, 06:07 PM   #1
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Default Buck Harvey: Summer of change will test Buford

Web Posted: 05/31/2008 10:33 PM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

A year ago the national media came to San Antonio for the Finals. At various times, many of them surrounded R.C. Buford with questions.

How did the Spurs do it? While larger markets spent more money and lost more games while the Celtics and Lakers seemed stuck in mediocrity how did the Spurs keep such a smart payroll and smarter locker room?

The Spurs' general manager cracked a few jokes. Some were aimed at the media, some at himself. It was hard to explain, without bragging, that he had beaten his peers and found two sensational, franchise-changing players low in the draft.

But the last of those two draft bonanzas was seven years ago. No one drafted since is on the roster except for Ian Mahinmi, who played a total of 22 minutes this season. Now Buford's international strategy is showing holes, and the Spurs face a telling time.

Buford faces a telling time.

It's not all up to him. Gregg Popovich and his assistants influence the roster as much as any coaching staff does.

It's also not an end-of-the-world scenario. The Spurs will be competitive next season no matter. Tim Duncan and the two draft miracles, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, will be similar to what they were this past season.

But the league is changing. The return of Yao Ming, Elton Brand, Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum will cement that for their teams. New Orleans will likely take another step. And Dallas and Phoenix, even with issues, aren't going away.

To counter, the Spurs need help. They need, specifically, a smart, young, athletic swingman who can score, rebound in a small lineup, stretch the defense with 3-point range and play Popovich's defense.

This is where Buford would crack a few more jokes.

He thought he had found something with last year's first-round draft pick, Tiago Splitter. But stories suggest he will stay in Spain for another two years.

The Spurs could use Splitter's 7-foot size and youth, and not having him takes another bite out of the Spurs' longtime philosophy. Ginobili developed in Europe as a Spurs draftee, and this was seen then as cutting edge. But since then the Spurs have used a half-dozen picks on similar international prospects, and not one has produced anything for them yet.
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