SAN ANTONIO When the San Antonio Spurs hold their ring ceremony 4 1/2 months from now, they'll bear only a passing resemblance to the championship squad that finished off the Nets in six games.
David Robinson will be retired. Steve Kerr might be. Steve Smith, Danny Ferry and Speedy Claxton will likely be playing elsewhere. Stephen Jackson and Kevin Willis could be gone, too.
Only five San Antonio players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Malik Rose and Bruce Bowen are under contract for next season when the Spurs will try to win a Western Conference that figures to be even stronger.
The Los Angeles Lakers will likely have a new power forward, and the Dallas Mavericks will try to get tougher along the front line, too. Both teams might make a play for Karl Malone, one of many premiere free agents available this summer.
No free agent will be more coveted than Jason Kidd, whose comments after Game 6 made it sound as though returning to the Nets was anything but certain.
''This is my second time coming short of winning that championship trophy. So I've got to find a team or stay with the Nets that has a better chance of winning that championship trophy. That's what I play this game for,'' Kidd said Sunday night.
Kidd's impending free agency is a dark cloud that's been hanging over the Nets. It seems no coincidence that rainy weather has been following the team around.
It rained nearly every day in New Jersey as the Nets waited 10 days to begin the finals, and a thunderstorm struck San Antonio at the exact moment the Nets arrived here two weeks ago the first rainfall in this drought-stricken city in nearly two months.
The Nets flew home Monday as a blue sky covered a city whose streets were finally cleared of the horn-honking, flag-waving legions who partied into the wee hours.
The police had been though this before, in 1999 when the Spurs won their first title. This time, their preparations included flashing signs on the interstates alerting drivers that is illegal to abandon cars on major highways.
''It's an incredible feeling. I don't think I've ever won a series at home in the playoffs,'' Tim Duncan said.
Actually, the Spurs had closed out a playoff series at home before just not when it counted most.
In 1999 when they won the franchise's first title, the Spurs closed out all their opponents on the road. This time, they finished off the Suns, Lakers and Mavericks on the road before taking out the Nets at home.
''That's all I get to do? I won a championship, I'm loving this,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Sunday night after answering four questions from the interview room podium. ''More questions. How many times is this going to happen? Do I look like Phil Jackson? This is Popovich.''
Popovich stayed a while longer, but nobody asked him this one: Does he think Kidd will come south on July 16 when he's free to sign anywhere?
''They know we would like to sign him,'' Nets president Rod Thorn said. ''I don't want to use the word coy, but his agent, Jeff Schwartz, is a very good agent and he's going to try to set the marketplace where he would like to set it. It's part of the game you play.''
''Obviously if this team is interested in him, whether they are or not I don't know,'' Thorn continued. ''If you look at the surface, you would think they need a big player to go with Duncan.''
Thorn made a good point, but his comments came before a game in which Parker spent half the time watching from the bench as Claxton ran the team.
Kidd and Gary Payton are the only premiere point guards available on the free agent market, while the list of unsigned big men includes Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller, Michael Olowokandi of the Clippers, Alonzo Mourning of Miami and P.J. Brown of the Hornets.
If the Spurs decide to target Kidd, they can offer him a starting salary equal to 30 percent of the salary cap with 10 percent annual raises over the life of a six-year deal.
New Jersey can give Kidd the same starting salary with 12.5 percent annual raises, and they can offer him a seventh year. But because of a complicated rule relating to players whose contracts take them past their 36th birthday, a seven-year deal would have costly luxury tax implications for the cost-conscious Nets over the next several seasons.
''Obviously this is going to be a big summer for us,'' Nets coach Byron Scott said. ''J-Kidd, he's a basketball player but he's a business person also. Hopefully when he comes to his conclusion it will be New Jersey.''
If not, Kidd will have to duck aside in 4 1/2 months when the NBA's most coveted piece of jewelry is presented to whatever remains of the current Spurs.
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