Last season, the San Antonio Spurs did everything right, and still ended up with nothing. It could very well happen this year, although an improved Kawhi Leonard, a more comfortable LaMarcus Aldridge and the addition of Pau Gasol will hopefully prevent another early playoff exit at the hands of an inferior team.
One big shadow hanging over this team in 2016-2017 will be the retirement of Tim Duncan. Although he played less and less with every season that went by, and his involvement on offense reached a new low in his 19th and final NBA season (and maybe the Spurs should have gone to him sooner in the playoff series vs the Thunder), Duncan was still incredibly influential during his minutes, especially defensively, where the Spurs will find it very difficult to replace him.
They’ll try. The Spurs are replacing a lot in their frontcourt. Duncan retires, David West left to chase rings in Golden State, Boris Diaw was traded to the Utah Jazz, as Gregg Popovich grew tired of him. David Lee and Pau Gasol arrived. Kyle Anderson should start getting more minutes. It’s a very different looking Spurs next to Aldridge and Leonard, probably weaker defensively, but with a lot more options on offense, hoping that the strong perimeter defense can help Gasol regain some of his defensive abilities. Lee never had ’em.
Maybe the key to this season will be Tony Parker. I was on of those who thought the Spurs should go in a different direction and sign a starting point guard, or someone who can compete with Parker for the starting job. But a healthy Parker can mean a lot to the Spurs, after what was probably his worst season except his rookie year, carrying on with the downward trend of his production. Dejounte Murray is an interesting replacement being groomed, but the Spurs rarely throw their rookies into the fire right away.
The same goes for Manu Ginobili. He looked as close to retirement as possible after last season and stayed. With every year that goes by, his moments of brilliance become more and more rare, and sometimes his presence on the court can be a liability. The Spurs have a deep frontcourt, but it’s mostly filled with young, inexperienced players, which Popovich will have to turn to, because leaning on Parker and Ginobili too much will make the whole house of cards crumble to pieces.
Best Case Scenario
Championship. A lot of this depends on Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year, and for the first time an All-NBA first team selection last season. He’s only 25, and if he does get better on offense (21.2 points, 44.3% from three last season), it’ll be scary. From Aldridge the Spurs need to keep his high level of production for one more year, and the same from Gasol. If Parker and Ginobili stay healthy, if young players like Jonathon Simmons, Anderson and Murray step up, then another 60+ wins season is in the cards, this time without the weird shutting down in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario
Two things I’m thinking of:
- The Golden State Warriors exist. The Spurs went 67-15 last season, but the Warriors won 73 games, which took some of the Spurs thunder. And speaking of Thunder…
- Playoff performance. Leonard disappointed in the series against OKC, and so did almost everyone else, including Danny Green, who shot just 37.6% from the field, and really needs to pull himself together next season. The Spurs don’t want to feel like throwing money at him was the wrong thing to do
The Spurs won’t fall apart with another playoff exit. They have a young superstar for a few more years to build around, and Leonard is that good, even if he doesn’t shine as brightly as Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry. But the Spurs are in for more generational changes. It would be nice for them to know they have the pieces to replace them with already on board.