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Hornets Borrego Basketball

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with his team during a 2015 game against the Charlotte Hornets. Popovich's wife died in April and Kawhi Leonard's injury was a distraction for much of the season.

Life is so fickle.

It can be wonderfully fulfilling one moment, then the bottom suddenly falls out and you're doing a face plant the next.

It happened this season to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a 1966 Merrillville grad, who endured a range of emotions: Heartbreak. Frustration. Conflict. Disappointment. Personal tragedy.

Pop and the Spurs were stung repeatedly.

Their five NBA titles, 21 straight winning seasons, 21 consecutive postseason appearances and a long-lasting culture of excellence couldn't save them.

An extremely private person, Popovich has kept a low profile since his wife of four decades, Erin, died April 18. The family remains shocked.

Pop missed three first-round playoff games with Golden State to be with his two children and the Spurs were quickly eliminated.

Valparaiso's Arlie Pierce has spoken several times to his former Merrillville classmate since Erin's death.

Pierce and Pop were each other's best man at their respective weddings.

"He's taking it tough. He lost his life-long companion and his best friend," Pierce told me Tuesday. "But Pop's a strong person and he'll get through it with the love and support of his kids, the whole Spurs organization."

As a media member, I've known Pop for 20 years and people ask if I think he'll return. I believe so, but it'll be difficult without Erin, who was his personal GPS and a second mom to many of the Spurs.

It was a season wrought with countless setbacks.

Camelot suddenly has weeds.

Spurs’ franchise player Kawhi Leonard missed 73 games with right quadriceps tendinopathy even though team doctors eventually cleared him to play. It was reported Leonard wasn't happy with how the organization handled his injury, so he was a no-show during the playoffs rather than attend and support teammates.

His future in San Antonio is in doubt.

Tony Parker missed the start of the season, recovering from the quadriceps injury he suffered in the 2017 playoffs. He missed 27 games in all.

Backup big man Joffrey Lauvergne missed 27 games, Rudy Gay 25, Manu Ginobili 17, Danny Green 12 and Kyle Anderson eight.

The Spurs trudged on with some great coaching by Pop and the superhuman abilities of center LaMarcus Aldridge, competing night after night, fighting for a spot in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, being the No. 7 seed resulted in a quick exit against defending champ Golden State.

Age is another issue the front office must address.

The Spurs are old, lack athleticism, and depth.

They have the league's second-oldest player in Manu Ginobili, 40, who isn't sure he'll be back. Pau Gasol is 37. Parker is 35 but his 17 years in the NBA have taken a toll.

On top of that, James Borrego, an assistant with the Spurs, became the Charlotte Hornets head coach May 10. Some of Pop's other assistants also have reportedly interviewed for head coaching jobs.

Every NBA team has ups and downs, but it seems fate has ganged up on the Spurs, causing fans to wonder if this gold-standard franchise can recover.

Or will younger and more talented Golden State, Houston, Utah, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Portland, Minnesota and Denver form the new Western Conference elite?

No one expected the Spurs to be on the outside, noses pressed against the window, peeking in.

But at this moment, they are.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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