Title Contender Scale: 9
Conference Ranking: 3rd
NBA Ranking: 4th
2016-17 season summary: The Spurs started the 2016 offseason strong, drafting promising point guard Dejounte Murray with the 29th pick. Free agency also started out great when center Pau Gasol agreed to sign with the Spurs. This would turn out to be important, because franchise star Tim Duncan announced his retirement. It truly was the change of the era. The Spurs also signed center Dewayne Dedmon and forward Davis Bertans, who had a pretty solid year. Later in August, veteran David Lee signed. He was able to contribute a lot off the bench for the Spurs late into the season. Even though they didn’t look great on paper, the Spurs were the Spurs and chugged their way to 61 wins, good enough for the two seed in the West, no small feat. Kawhi Leonard had an amazing year where he finished third in MVP voting. The Spurs played the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. After four games, the series was tied 2-2 but Popovich’s system proved to be too much and the Spurs won the next two games. In the second round, they faced off against James Harden and Rockets. After dropping the first game at home, many thought the Spurs might get upset. But over the course of the next five games, the Spurs played their hearts out and sent the Rockets packing. The biggest play came with 4 seconds left in overtime of game five. With the Rockets down three and just four seconds on the clock, James Harden took a three-pointer but was blocked from behind by Manu Ginobili. This gave the spurs a 3-2 advantage in the series and they won the next game, advancing to the Western Conference Finals. While not many people gave the Spurs a chance against the Warriors, it looked like they were going to shock the world. Up 25 in Oracle, it seemed like the Warriors could be beat. Then, Kawhi hurt his ankle and was forced to leave the game. He wouldn’t play another game in the series. The Warriors took advantage of the situation, and came back. They took the next three games as well, leaving the NBA community to wonder what could’ve been had Kawhi not been hurt.
Offseason Overview: The Spurs offseason was filled with a lot more drama this year than it ever has been. Blame it on Lamarcus Aldridge. Multiple reports were released saying that he was not happy in San Antonio and that the Spurs were engaged in trade talks with other teams to get rid of Aldridge. Ultimately, nothing came to fruition and everything settled down. With the 29th pick in the 2017 draft, they selected point guard Derrick White from Colorado. Free agency for the Spurs was quite eventful. They had quite a few free agents leaving their team and a lot of people wondered if they’d retain them all. They didn’t. First, Pau Gasol opted out of his player option so the Spurs would have more cap room to get new players. They ended up acquiring two: Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. Along with the two new additions, the Spurs also re-signed Patty Mills (4 years, $50 million), Manu Ginobili (terms undisclosed), and Pau Gasol (3 years, $48 million). They let center Dewayne Dedmon and guard Jonathon Simmons walk to the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic, respectively. It remains to be seen whether they bring David Lee back.
Additions: Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne
Losses: Dewayne Dedmon, Jonathon Simmons, David Lee
Favorite offseason move: Signing Rudy Gay. Gay was having an excellent season with the Kings until he got injured and he definitely has more in the tank. He’s never been on a team this good before, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does. His versatility allows the Spurs to go small-ball or have him come off the bench. I personally think he’d be best playing alongside Kawhi.
Least favorite offseason move: Signing Gasol to such a big contract. I understand that he declined his option to let the team improve, but really? 16 million dollars a year? That’s a lot for an aging center whose defense is below average and mobility is all but gone. This signing is even more confusing when you pair it with the fact that they don’t have nearly as much cap space to sign a star in next year’s free agency as they could have.
Starting Five: Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Unless Murray has progressed a lot in the offseason, point guard is a big weakness for the Spurs until January (when Tony Parker is set to return from injury). While many think Patty would start given his contract, I’ve seen a lot of speculation that Pop wants him to stay in his bench role since that will be what he’s doing when Parker comes back. Mills could still play more minutes than Murray even though he doesn’t start. Green & Leonard are both elite defenders and will be fine. Hopefully Aldridge can get out of his slump he had in the playoffs. I’m also worried about Gasol being the only center on the team.
Key Reserves: Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili
Rudy Gay is an extremely good player to have as your sixth man, considering he’s good enough to start on a lot of other teams. He’ll provide both offense and defense as long as his return from injury goes smooth. Mills is a sparkplug off the bench, a true hustle player who knows the Spurs way. Then there’s Ginobili. Even though he’s been in the league for so long and has surely lost a step, he has an elite basketball IQ and will bring it every time he’s on the court.
Key player: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is both the defensive and offensive anchor for this team. He can guard nearly anyone and really take the pressure off of his teammates. His offensive skills are among the league’s best, as he’s got pretty much everything in his bag of tricks: the three pointer, the fadeaway, finishing skills at the rim.
Who needs to improve: Dejounte Murray
A lot has been said about this young point guard’s potential, but due to the Tony Parker situation, the Spurs need to see improvement now. He had some great moments during last season and it’s certainly a possibility that he grows into the Spurs’ point guard of the future. I expect Pop to find a way to hide his weaknesses and showcase his strengths.
X-Factor: Lamarcus Aldridge
Brought in to be the next Tim Duncan, it’s clear the Spurs’ experiment has not been what they envisioned. Aldridge has still been good, but his defense isn’t even close to what Duncan’s was like even late into his career. If Aldridge can buy in to the Spurs plan for just one year we could see them get the second seed and maybe even beat the Warriors. He’ll have to be the offensive threat he was in Portland and be more energetic on the defensive side.
Projection: 55-62 wins
Biggest question: Will the Spurs be able to stay in the upper-echelon of the West even though so many of the teams improved more than they did?
Future outlook: The Spurs have a bright future due to their star player: Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is a young player and will be able to keep his level of play for the next 6-8 years. Dejounte Murray should progress into a solid starter a few years from now. However, they have a large chunk of their players going into free agency next year, assuming Lamarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, and Rudy Gay all decline their player option. If they do, those three will be unrestricted free agents, along with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Then they have Bryn Forbes, Kyle Anderson, and Davis Bertans in restricted free agency. I have a feeling that Ginobili and Parker are going to retire after this year. I doubt Aldridge returns. That could be trouble for the Spurs. But, because of Kawhi and Pop, they’ll have a good chance to attract stars like LeBron James and Chris Paul to play with them next season. Even if they can’t get them, Kawhi Leonard is good enough to take a team to the playoffs. Even in the West.
Best case scenario: Dejounte Murray has a breakout season and plays excellently, allowing Tony Parker to take his time while recovering from injury. Pau Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge play inspired ball and become a frontcourt that nobody wants to play against, on both sides of the basketball. The Rockets don’t improve as much as people hoped, allowing the Spurs to get the 2 seed. Kawhi Leonard has another MVP level season and carries the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals, where they play the Warriors. Kawhi locks up Durant and Aldridge finally plays well against Draymond Green. Danny Green frustrates Curry on the defensive side to no end and they win in 7 games. Spurs fans claim that this would’ve happened last year as well. They go against the Cavaliers in the finals in what turns out to be an epic series LeBron and Kawhi battle each other on both sides of the ball, but Pop’s superior coaching proves to be the deciding factor. The Spurs win another title. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. LeBron and Chris Paul see how good Kawhi has become and they both take small pay cuts to join him (both are heavily criticized for this move as they each lost to the Spurs in the playoffs).
Worst case scenario: Gasol and Aldridge are a major liability defensively even with Kawhi and Green trying their hardest. Dejounte Murray can’t make a step forward and Tony Parker doesn’t recover 100%. They slip to the four seed in the West, below the Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder. They manage to beat the Timberwolves in the first round but get swept by the Warriors right after. Aldridge realizes his value has plummeted and he accepts his player option.
Possible moves that team could make: There have been a lot of trade rumours around two Spurs players this offseason: Lamarcus Aldridge and Danny Green. Kyrie Irving has stated he’d like San Antonio as a trade destination, but unless the Cavs are dumb enough to swap Green and Aldridge for Irving I don’t see it happening.
Final Verdict: I think the Spurs will end up getting the 3 seed in the West after seeing decent improvement from both Dejounte Murray and Lamarcus Aldridge. It’s certainly possible that they could meet the Rockets again in the second round. If that happens, it’d be quite the series; the two teams match up well against each other. I don’t see either of them beating the Warriors in the next round though. Realistic end: losing in the Western Conference Finals.