The winds of trade swirled through the NBA Western Conference with improvements to the Lakers, Suns and Mavs. The sports pundits have, with good reason, placed these teams at the top of list for championship contenders.
However, with all the talk surrounding these reborn teams, along with the West-leading Hornets, how can we forget about last years' champions, San Antonio?
Little tinkering has been done to an already stellar lineup. The Spurs boast a solid squad and despite being left out of the trade talks, they look to stay pat with their team that won them the championships last year. As a result, I still can't resist but to pick them coming out of the West.
So, how come I like the Spurs so much?
Granted, they had come under an unlikely injury to Tony Parker which threw their backcourt into a tailspin. But if TP gets healthy come playoff time, the team with some of the best fundamental play in league—led by Sir Pop himself—should beat out the much improved teams in the west.
The one qualm I may have is at their centre position occupied by Fransisco Elson and Fabricio Oberto. With Shaq and Pau as their main competition heading into the second season, they may face some stiff competition, causing them to get into unusual foul trouble. The same goes for Duncan when the Spurs go small, as he will likely pick up some cheapies under the hoop.
Asides from these potential problems, a resurging Manu Ginobili—who has looked like a man possessed as of late—and a healthy TP should bring the Spurs back to their championship ways. Not to mention having Damon Stoudamire come off the bench to take up some serious minutes in the backcourt (something the Spurs never really had).
As well, veteran older guys like Bruce Bowen—the ultimate playoff pest—and Robert Horry—Mr. Clutch—put their games into a third gear come playoff time. Given that it will most likely be Bowen's last hoorah, you can count on him to be the defensive leader for the Spurs.
Finally, there's Tim Duncan, Mr. Fundamentals himself. Sure, he goes under the radar as one of the most boring players in the game. But if boring gives you a consistent 20 and 10 a night, I will take it any day. He is the epitome of a basketball nerd, who understands how the game is played and relies more on the backboard than on flashy play.
With Pop at the helm the Spurs should be geared up to make another run at their illustrious fourth ring in six years.
This is not to say that teams like the Lake-show, Mavs and Suns and even the young Hornets aren't contenders by any means. Certainly the trades they made to improve their squads will come in handy come playoff time. Yet, for all of you westcoasters who have been caught up in the trade hype, all im saying is don't count these guys out.
After all, you have to beat the champs to become the champs.