Is this the end ? or is he waiting to rescue a team? http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/spurs/columnists/29984294.html Mike Monroe - Express-News At 11:30 Tuesday morning, the Spurs were finishing up the first day of training camp, shouting and sweating their way through a zone defense drill that stressed vocal intimidation as a viable tactic. About the same time, some 140 miles to the East, Robert Horry was on his way to a health club in Katy, where he intended to get in a good cardio workout and a few pick-up games with lunchtime basketballers. “Sometimes,” confided ‘Big Shot Rob', “I let the guys on the other team win, just so they can go home and tell their friends they kicked my butt.” This is the first time in 16 years that NBA training camps opened without Horry, the league's all-time leader in postseason games played and owner of seven championship rings. After they were eliminated by the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs concluded they had to head into the future without Horry, who helped them win two titles in his five seasons in silver and black. A few days into July, Horry got a call from Gregg Popovich. The head coach's message was short, and to the point: “He told me there were some other guys they wanted to bring in,” Horry said. “He said that was the direction they wanted to go, but he'd let me know if that didn't work out. “I thanked him for the honesty. I said, ‘You're a man, and I'm a man. No use pushing it.'” It was not an easy conversation for Popovich. “Robert was somebody who helped us win championships,” he said. “He exhibited great work ethic. He was a wonderful teammate and a wonderful player to coach. He always had a smile ready for everybody. He was part of the fabric of our family. “Telling him that we weren't going to bring him back was very difficult, but he appreciated the honesty. At some point, it happens to everybody.” Popovich will be heartened to know that Horry seems perfectly content being out of the game, at least for now. “Not being in camp doesn't feel strange at all,” Horry said. “I thought it would, but, honestly, it doesn't.” What it feels like is liberation. “I've been playing 16 years,” he said, “and counting four years of playoff games, my body has told me I need more than three months of rest between seasons. I haven't felt this good for a long time, physically and mentally, too.” Teams with the most experience win championships, and that explains why Popovich annually delights in reminding the world that the Spurs are “older than dirt.” Even now, with a 22-year-old rookie and a replacement for Horry who is 11 years younger, the Spurs will be among the league's oldest teams. But Horry is right: As players get on the far side of 35, three months isn't enough time to refresh bodies battered by a season that is too long and playoff runs that extend to mid-June. No wonder, then, that Michael Finley, who will turn 36 before season's end, showed up for Spurs camp having dropped significant weight since that Game 5 loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals ended the Spurs' hopes of defending their 2007 NBA title. Pushing through two-a-days is a lot easier for a 35-year-old who has gone from 235 to 220, even one who never has been thought of as even a few pounds overweight. Finley can't wrap his mind around the notion of not being in a training camp as October arrives, but he understands Horry's sense of renewal. “My body just knows when it's time for training camp,” he said. “Physically and mentally, it's still there. I couldn't see not being a part of one.” What Horry can still see is a call, perhaps in February or March, from a title contender in need of a savvy veteran for the stretch run. The Celtics signed 38-year-old P.J. Brown out of retirement last season on Feb. 28. He helped them win the 2008 title. Horry's playoff savvy and proven ability to make a big shot should make him every bit as valuable an addition next February as Brown was then. He promises to stay in good enough shape to come out of retirement if the call comes. “I won't be filing official retirement papers any time soon, that's for sure,” Horry said. “You'll probably see me on somebody's roster before the season is over.” Who knows? It might even be the Spurs.