2016/17 Record: 61-21 (
Western Conference Finals)
2017/18 Salaries: $117,069,169 (Over The Cap Team) – full SAS salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: Nil.
Outgoing Draft Picks: UTA ’22 2nd.
The Spurs offseason could be described as drawing a three of a kind on the river card in Poker. You could go all-in (trade for a star but threaten your core), or you could check, which is ultimately what RC Buford, Coach Pop and Co. decided was best for season 17/18. In some ways it’s hard to argue with them – the team won 60 games last season for the third time in four seasons – however, the teams around them at the top of the Western conference also just began stacking the decks.
The Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, Timberwolves and Nuggets all have improved this season, and the West will be an absolute dogfight each night. The Spurs will be good… but are they any closer to a title in a Warrior dominated world?
For the first time in a while, there are some doubts around the Spurs and their malaise this offseason.
For starters, Tony Parker’s nasty quadriceps injury puts the Point Guard position in unfamiliar territory. While Parker has slowed down the past couple of years, he still has been the starter for 16 consecutive seasons in San Antonio, an unbelievable achievement. Pop-ball is predicated on ball movement and smart, veteran, savvy play – something Parker brings in spades – but this is a roster light on for play-making. Parker is optimistic that he’ll be back on the floor by the end of November, but there is still going to be a large portion of the season without the veteran. Outside of retaining spark-plug Patty Mills, the Spurs watched as the rest of the NBA played musical PG’s.
Causing further potential alarm is the disappearing act of LaMarcus Aldridge. While it was expected that there would be some statistical hit by his move from Portland to San Antonio, Aldridge’s numbers have dropped significantly for the second season in a row, and his numbers in the playoffs were very disappointing. Particularly when the postseason is where reputations are made.
His last three games vs Golden State summed up Aldridge’s current state of play, even drawing the public ire of Coach Pop:
“LaMarcus has got to score for us. He can’t be timid. He turned down shots,” Pop said. “He’s got a major responsibility in Game 3.”
LaMarcus Aldridge (Last Three Postseason games)
Game 2: 8 points (4-11fg), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 3 turnovers in 27 minutes.
Game 3: 18 points (7-17fg), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 1 turnover in 28 minutes.
Game 4: 8 points (4-11fg), 7 rebounds, 3 assists in 22 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge (Last Three Regular Seasons)
14/15 (POR – Age 29): 23.4ppg, 10.2rpg, 1.7apg, 0.7spg, 1.0bpg, 1.7tpg in 35.4mpg on 46.6%fg (9.3fgm – 19.9fga), 35.2% 3fg (0.5 3fgm – 1.5 3fga) and 84.5%ft (4.3ftm – 5.1fta).
15/16 (SAS – Age 30): 18.0ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.5apg, 0.5spg, 1.1bpg, 1.3tpg in 30.6mpg on 51.3%fg (7.2fgm – 14.1fga), 0.00% 3fg (0.0 3fgm – 0.2 3fga) and 85.8%ft (3.5ftm – 4.1fta).
16/17 (SAS – Age 31): 17.3ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.9apg, 0.6spg, 1.2bpg, 1.4tpg in 32.4mpg on 47.7%fg (6.9fgm – 14.6fga), 41.1% 3fg (0.3 3fg – 0.8 3fga) and 81.2%ft (3.1ftm – 3.8fta).
For a 5 x All-Star, 4 x All-NBA player and a guy paid like a franchise player, this performance simply wasn’t good enough and deserved scrutiny. Particularly for a Spurs team without their best player and desperately needing the veteran Power Forward to deliver in order to provide any type of scare against the Dubs. He didn’t, and the sweep was complete.
There were rumours of unhappiness and potential trades around the trade deadline last season, as well as around the NBA Draft, and it’s possible that LMA is dangled out there again at some point this season. What the return would be in an Aldridge trade is a little more uncertain, given his declining play and age, but of more pressing concern would be finding the real LaMarcus Aldridge and bringing back some of his offensive aggressiveness. His field goal attempts have dropped to 14.6 per game (down from 19.9 in his final year in Portland), his rebounds are down significantly, and Pop needs to find a way to motivate LMA or ship him out.
Without him, the Spurs really don’t stand much of a chance in a series against Golden State, Houston or OKC.
While to some the Spurs opting to stay put could be seen as waving the white flag to an impending Warrior onslaught, Buford and Popovich are no fools. One look at the salary cap sheet over the coming seasons shows an avalanche of expiring money in the 2018/19 offseason. Realistically, the only contracts likely to be on their books are Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Coincidentally, Kawhi Leonard could be one of these uncontracted players, giving the Spurs the ultimate flexibility to rebuild around their franchise pillar.
Who might the Spurs be targeting? Well, the list of 2019 Free Agents includes Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton – a plethora of talent to potentially assemble and attempt to take over the West again from Golden State’s clutches.
It all starts with retaining Kawhi Leonard though – which, given his personality and fit in the Spurs culture – seems almost guaranteed. Leonard has made the rare transition from a role player to a superstar, finishing Top 3 in the MVP voting and Defensive Player of the Year last season. He’s the best two-way player in the league and it isn’t really that close.
In addition, he plays well in the big games. Kawhi flat out dominated the post-season prior to his injury….just look at these numbers….
Kawhi Leonard 2017-18 Postseason (12 games)
27.7ppg, 7.8rpg, 4.6apg, 1.7spg, 0.5bpg, 2.2tpg in 35.8mpg on 52.5%fg (8.8fgm – 16.8fga), 45.5%3fg (2.1 3fgm – 4.6 3fga) and 93.1%ft (7.9ftm – 8.5fta)
This includes a game he only played 24 minutes in due to that infamous Zaza incident, a game they were up 76-55 prior to the injury. Some might argue it’s some Bruce Bowen cosmic karma, but nobody likes seeing the best players in the game on the sidelines at the crunch time of the year.
Leonard has transformed himself into an offensive assassin – he really doesn’t have any weaknesses. His ability to hit off the dribble is remarkably improved, and more than a little Mamba-esque. He gets to the free throw line, and just as important converts at a very high clip. He shoots the three, and has turned himself into a quality play-maker at the SF/PF position. The Spurs may need to continue experimenting with him and seeing where else his game can take him – he has improved every season he’s been in the League, why stop now?
Any potential improvement this season will have to be from within, and particularly from the youth. They have high hopes for Dejounte Murray, last year’s 1st round pick, who will look to build on impressive flashes in his rookie season to a consistent, solid role on this team. The Spurs organisation has made a habit of finding diamonds in the rough and will be hoping their development program will be able to unearth a contributor out of Derrick White or Brandon Paul in the guard rotation as well.
While the Spurs didn’t make any of really big moves, they’re still one of the leading contenders for the title and a legitimate threat to the Warriors, particularly if they suffer an injury that makes them a little more vulnerable. It’s hard saying a team that made the WCF will tread water this season, but realistically the most likely and best case scenario will be another shot at the Warriors in a seven-game series for a chance at the Finals. The Spurs appear to be biding their time, potentially waiting until 2019 to really go all-in and extend this remarkable run of success (the Spurs have finished under .500 just one time in the last 27 years) for another decade.
Right now, the Spurs are holding a two pair but perhaps after that 2019 offseason, it’ll be a royal flush.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: C+
2017/18 Prediction: 57-25
It’s hard to grade the Spurs any higher than a C+, given their lack of activity this offseason. They’ve added a few pieces that should help, but ultimately they have got weaker purely through their Conference getting stronger. However, the Spurs are still the Spurs, which means they’ll be a very good team, health willing. Given the ages of the players they depend on, and the very difficult Western Conference, it’s likely they will slip back below 60 wins this season. 57 wins would put them in the Top 3 of the Conference, which realistically they should be.
Player to Watch: Davis Bertans
The big Latvian has had a pretty impressive summer, playing well in Latvia’s run in Eurobasket 2017. While Bertans is 6’10”, don’t let his size fool you. He’s a shooter and a damn good one at that, averaging one three per game in just 12 minutes last season, his rookie year. If Bertans has added weight, it may well solve some of the Spurs’ issues in the power rotation. Whether it is as a PF (alongside LMA at the 5), or as a C (if he has truly bulked up enough), Bertans could be a major contributor this season. Stretch 4/5’s are worth their weight in gold.
Four Key Questions:
1. Who starts in Parker’s injury absence?
The Spurs have paid Patty Mills like a starting Point Guard, and he’s capable of playing this role. In eight starts last season, Mills dropped 12.1ppg, 2.3rpg, 5.9apg, 1.0tpg and shot 44.9% from the floor, 40.4% from three and 88.9% from the line. He’s being paid like a starting guard, but Pop does like to utilise him as that key bench energizer. Dejounte Murray is the other contender – the young guard looked like a steal at times last season, and Pop may want to continue to give him time with the starters to see what he has in him, just as he did at times in the playoffs last year.
2. What does Rudy Gay have left?
Coming back from an achilles injury is never easy, and the latest to do it is Rudy Gay – a player who’s career has largely been based on his superior athleticism at the wing spot. The most recent wing players to go down with an achilles injury are Wes Matthews (15.9ppg on 44.8%fg before injury, 12.5ppg on 38.8%fg in first season after) and Kobe Bryant (27.3ppg on 46.3%fg before injury, 13.8ppg on 42.5%fg in just six games after). Not surprisingly, they struggled badly in their first seasons back from such a brutal injury. Rudy was pretty good for the Kings prior to suffering the achilles tear, and may well be a leading contender for Sixth Man of the Year if he can replicate some of his success as a stretch four off the bench against second units. At around the new mid-level exception money for two years, this was a gamble worth taking for San Antonio.
3. Is there enough in the Big Man department?
The Spurs elected to let Dewayne Dedmon walk to Atlanta in the offseason, and look quite thin at the Center spot – sporting just Pau Gasol and journeyman Joffrey Lauvergne at the position. The depth just doesn’t look to be there, and it’s a little surprising that they didn’t show any interest in someone like Andrew Bogut, who would be a terrific fit in this Spurs offense with his passing ability. The Spurs may need to sign a veteran big (Roy Hibbert? Thomas Robinson? Jordan Hill?), or take a flyer on a G-League prospect should injuries strike, but expect to see plenty of Aldridge at the five spot this season.
4. Do the Spurs make any moves in-season?
While the plan appears to be to target 2019, the NBA never sleeps. Player’s get restless, team’s move in different directions and the opportunity may be there for the Spurs to acquire a difference maker this season that could conceivably assist them in this arms race. The Spurs rarely make in-season moves, but do they have the patience to ride out the next two seasons to reload? Given the short term nature of their remaining contracts, there’s potential at the deadline to make a move if injuries strike or they feel they can push harder for the NBA Finals.