Gregg Popovich on Spurs' core: 'We'll probably come back'

LOS ANGELES -- One day, these San Antonio Spurs really will walk away and retire. But while their season ended Saturday night with a heartbreaking 111-109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of their first-round series, coach Gregg Popovich said he doesn't think this was the final game they will play together.

"People ask me about Tim [Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili] and myself for the last five years, what we're going to do," Popovich said. "It's all psycho babble. I have no clue. We'll probably come back. Paycheck is pretty good. You think I'm lying."

Duncan, who turned 39 in the middle of this series, and Ginobili, 37, are in the final years of their contracts with the Spurs. Popovich has long maintained that he will leave when Duncan retires. The group has won five NBA titles together.

Those decisions most likely will be theirs to make, when they are ready for it. Until then, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford prefers not to think of a world without Duncan, Ginobili or Popovich.

"Our whole team and our organization will be completely different at a point in time when we have a different group," Buford told ESPN after the loss. "But I don't anticipate ... we're not going to rush them [to decide]. They'll have time to talk amongst themselves, and we'll have time to listen to what they're saying and act accordingly."

Buford referenced past moments when speculation on the Spurs' demise turned out to be false.

"In 2010, everybody thought we were done then," Buford said. "The resilience that these guys have shown the organization and the sport speaks for itself. This was supposed to happen a long time ago. These circumstances have been called on long before."

Of the three, Ginobili seemed most torn on questions about his future.

"I don't know. It could happen easily. I still don't know what I want to do and I don't want to make decisions right after the disappointment [of] a game like this," Ginobili said when asked whether he had thoughts on retirement. "Some days you feel proud and you think you did great. Other games you think, 'What the hell am I doing here? I might as well stay home and enjoy my kids.' It's a tough moment. You just have to sit, wait, let it all go and make a decision."

He said he is healthier at the end of this season than he was two years ago, when he last contemplated retirement. The Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in a heartbreaking series that year, and Ginobili decided to return for two more seasons.

"I was very disappointed. I was very hurt [after the Finals loss]," he said. "But it was not that challenge. It was just that I felt I was not an ex-player yet. I still had a lot of things to give, to enjoy. I did enjoy these last two years."

Duncan, who averaged 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in the series, was short when asked about his own future.

"I'm not making any statements thus far," Duncan said.

One Duncan confidant told the San Antonio Express-News before Saturday's game that he would be "super surprised" if Duncan retired after this season.

As far as Buford is concerned, the decision is his and his alone. The Spurs want him back.

"He continues to be the leader of our group and the rock that we stand upon," Buford said of Duncan. "There will come a time when it's [Duncan's and Ginobili's] decision to take a different path, but I don't see anyone in the locker room that's made that decision."

The only thing that was unequivocal after Saturday's loss was the sadness that this season had come to an end in the first round, because the NBA gives seeding priority to division winners. The Clippers won 56 games but were the No. 3 seed because they did not win the Pacific Division. The Spurs won 55 games but were the No. 6 seed because they did not win the Southwest Division. Portland won just 51 games but got the No. 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division.

"We lost to a great team. They're great competitors and they've got a great coach. The end of seasons are never easy, especially for this team," Buford said. "I wish that the circumstances were different and hope they will be. But the Clippers had to play against us as well, and they did what they did."

Duncan and Ginobili are among 10 Spurs players who will be free agents this summer, including starting forwards Kawhi Leonard (who is a restricted free agent) and Danny Green (unrestricted).