This summer free agent Michael Finley was offered many things: a starting job, more money, a chance to play with old friend Steve Nash in Phoenix. So, naturally, he chose to be an underpaid backup in San Antonio. "Yeah, I was surprised too," says Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He had a lot of [options] that would have made it difficult to choose the Spurs. And we established right off the bat that his minutes would definitely be going down."
After nearly nine years in Dallas, Finley was jettisoned by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in August under the league's new amnesty clause, which saved the team $51.8 million in luxury tax. Finley says his decision to sign with San Antonio, for a multiyear deal that starts at $2.65 million this season, came down to two factors: recruiting pitches from Tim Duncan and the newly signed Nick Van Exel, and the stability of the organization. "It's an established team, a coaching staff that's well respected," Finley says. "There are no individual egos or underlying strategies."
Along with Van Exel, Finley adds scary depth to a team that won the title essentially playing a seven-man rotation. If there is a concern, it is the chemistry in a crowded backcourt. Popovich is confident that his system, and the lure of a championship ring, will be enough to satisfy everyone. "Nick promised he wouldn't head-butt me," Popovich says, jokingly, before adding, "and I'm not too worried about Michael."
Neither is Michael. "I just want to do what I can to help the team win," he says.
That's just what the rest of the league wants to hear: The Spurs have found another talented player willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs
They are the model NBA franchise. They can play any way they want: You saw that when they played Phoenix's style to win the conference finals, then won the NBA Finals in a tight defensive series against Detroit.... Backup point guard Beno Udrih had a terrific rookie year. I was a little surprised that they brought in Nick Van Exel because Udrih did so well, but I'm sure they were thinking about Van Exel as a veteran who can make big shots in the playoffs.... Manu Ginobili is the John Havlicek of this era. He doesn't rank among the league leaders statistically, but he makes plays in every phase of the game. He's a great passer, a terrific athlete who can dunk over people, a guy who makes big shots and yet is unselfish. He's everything our league should be about.... Tim Duncan has missed a total of 29 games in the past two years. He'll be 30 at playoff time, and he's become more injury-prone because he plays so hard and takes a beating.... So where do the Spurs' rivals find hope of beating them? They have to hope Duncan wears down and that the team's age (five key guys are 32 or older) works against them. But one of the Spurs' priorities is to limit the minutes for their key guys in order to save them for the playoffs--that's far more important to them than establishing the best record.
Veteran forward Robert Horry has reached the playoffs in each of his previous 13 seasons, and his team has never lost in the first round.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 59-23 (2nd in West)
Points scored: 96.2 (18th in NBA)
Points allowed: 88.4 (1st)
Coach: Gregg Popovich
(10th season with the Spurs)
NICK VAN EXEL
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (FINLEY)
EYE-POPPING Parker (center) has plenty of backup in a Spurs backcourt that includes three former All-Stars.