He had just written a triumphant coda to his brilliant career, but
David Robinson still had time for everybody. Wearing a white NBA
championship T-shirt and about half a bottle's worth of
champagne, the Admiral strode down a hallway in the SBC Center.
He was being hustled to a photo shoot, but as always, Robinson,
who'd willed his 37-year-old, Advil-dependent body into scoring
13 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in Game 6 of the NBA
Finals, stopped along the way to share the love. He posed for
snapshots with team employees and other well-wishers; he wrapped
one of his cartoonishly muscular arms around p.r. assistant Cliff
Puchalski and thanked him for all he'd done this season; he
gleefully waded into a throng of fans, slapping high fives like a
home run hitter returning to the dugout.
Think there's any chance the Spurs will miss this guy? "David is,
and I mean is, the Spurs," says San Antonio guard Steve Kerr. "He
embodies the whole organization and its love affair with the
city." Filling the void left by Robinson--interior presence, team
spokesman, philanthropist and all-around tremendous human
being--will require more than finding an athletic big man. "When
David leaves," says Spurs owner Peter Holt, "it will change the
backbone of the team, what the team has become relative to
Core players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Malik Rose and Manu
Ginobili are back next season, however, and their best years are
ahead of them. Thanks to judicious salary-cap management, the
Spurs will have $14 million or so to spend this summer, probably
on a replacement for Robinson in the post, where the 6'7" Rose is
their best holdover. Holt covets Indiana Pacers free agent
Jermaine O'Neal, 24, a 6'11" All-Star forward who would team with
Duncan to create a dominant frontcourt for the foreseeable
future. If O'Neal re-signs with the Pacers, San Antonio will set
its sights on a second-tier big man such as the Minnesota
Timberwolves' Rasho Nesterovic, a good fit because he can knock
down the 17-foot jumper, freeing up space for TD inside.
The Spurs could also throw their money at point guard Jason Kidd,
who craves a championship and doesn't appear sanguine about the
Nets' chances of getting one, then trade Parker to fill their
hole up front. Even if Kidd stays, assistant coach Eddie Jordan
may leave New Jersey to take over at Philadelphia or Washington.
Other potential issues: Forward Kenyon Martin is eligible for an
extension in August, reserve guard Lucious Harris's contract is
up and G.M. Rod Thorn can only offer exceptions of $4.5 and $1
million to potential free agents. After retaining Kidd, Thorn
says his priorities include a backup point guard and an outside
shooter, noting that the team's poor marksmanship was exposed in
the Finals. Inside help may come if 19-year-old Nenad Krstic, the
6'10", 231-pound center whom the Nets took with their first-round
pick in 2002, is released from his contract with Partizan
Belgrade in time to attend training camp.
While New Jersey will struggle if Kidd departs, San Antonio
should enter next season as the title favorite. The key for the
Spurs will be creating an identity not centered on the Admiral,
who was so universally respected that, when he left the podium
after his final interview on Sunday, the media burst into
applause. Asked how he would feel taking the floor without his
longtime partner, Duncan said, "I can't imagine it, honestly."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO PARTING SHOT Robinson left Jason Collins with a bucket toremember him by.