NBA Offseason: 5 Things the Future Holds for the Spurs
Five years ago, a young front office person named Sam Presti for the San Antonio Spurs became the General Manager of the Seattle Supersonics.
He drafted the NBA's next superstar in Kevin Durant, traded away all-stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and the team moved to Oklahoma City a year later. Now, they beat the NBA's last dynasty, the San Antonio Spurs, and may become the NBA's newest dynasty.
In order for San Antonio to avoid being continually supplanted by OKC in the long run, they will need to make the most of an aging core who were joined by a few young players that should be secured for the long-term future. The question is, will those young studs stay? Another question is, what will be enough to compete with the new top dogs of the Western Conference?
General Manager R.C. Buford created a great roster for Gregg Popovich to coach consistently for a championship. But the end of an era may be coming soon unless there is either great improvement from this team's young pieces, or additions of more dependable veterans in free agency.
With that in mind, here are five things the future holds for San Antonio, and how they could be addressed in the off-season.
No. 1: The Aging Big Three
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Tony Parker turned 30 this off-season, joining Duncan and Ginobili as Spurs officially in the second half of their careers. Ginobili will turn 35 in July and has one year left on his contract, while Duncan is 36 and is technically an unrestricted free agent.
However, he told Yahoo! Sports in May that he expects to play another year or two in San Antonio.
"I'm not going anywhere. You can print that wherever you want to. I'm here and I'm a Spur for life."
Parker has two guaranteed years left on his contract (according to Hoops World, in 2014-15, only $3.5 million is guaranteed). By that time, young point guards like Ty Lawson, Russell Westbrook and Ricky Rubio could have already surpassed him in the Western Conference. Even though he was an MVP candidate this season, Oklahoma City showed that Parker was more than defensible, and he will now have to adjust this off-season to new schemes like never before.
When you also consider that the fourth best player on this team, Stephen Jackson, is 34 and has one year left on his contract, it is clear that the time is now for San Antonio to maybe win a title or two so that Duncan and Popovich have at least a handful of NBA Championship rings.
No. 2: Free Agents and Current Cap Situation
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According to Hoops World, the Spurs will be at just over $49 million on the salary cap before any moves are made toward re-signing Duncan and any other free agents.
Unrestricted free agents for San Antonio this off-season are Duncan, SG James Anderson, PF Boris Diaw, SG Danny Green, and PG Patty Mills. PF/C DeJuan Blair and PG/SG Gary Neal have cheap non-guaranteed contract options that should be guaranteed considering that they would be huge commodities in the free agent market.
If Duncan signs a contract that allows for some money under the cap, the Spurs will have the rights to all other free agents on their roster, and will be able to retain them unless San Antonio decides to renounce their rights to them.
Anderson has been an underachiever since being a first-round pick two years ago, and though his rights are still controlled by the Spurs, it would not be a surprise if they were renounced to help sign other players.
Diaw was overweight and out of shape when he was picked up by San Antonio. Because the Spurs took him when no one else wanted him, and he fits their scheme, there is no almost no question he will be brought back. He will now turn 30, meaning the clock is ticking to get a ring, and he knows that.
Green was nonexistent in the last series to the point that Popovich took him out of the starting lineup in Game Five to start Ginobili. With that being said, Green averaged just over 9 points and shot over 43 percent from three-point range in the regular season. So unless somebody gives him a Wesley Matthews-type of contract, which is unlikely because he is not a double-figure scorer, he should stay.
Mills was the backup point guard for much of the season, but played sparingly in the postseason. With that in mind, San Antonio may look in the direction of a veteran player.
Bottom line, if the Spurs keep Duncan, Diaw, Green, Blair and Neal, they will have had about as good an off-season as they could have hoped, not including the draft.
No. 3: Who's the Future Big Three in San Antonio?
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When the contracts of Ginobili, Jackson, Tiago Splitter, Blair, Neal and possibly Matt Bonner's non-guaranteed deal come off the books, the Spurs could have over $35 million in cap space to go along with a 37-year-old Duncan, 31-year-old Parker and young stud Kawhi Leonard at 22 years old as San Antonio's only three players, which sort of forms a Big Three.
Hoops World shows that in 2013, free agents like David West, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith, Kevin Martin, Chris Paul, Devin Harris and Jose Calderon could very well be available. That doesn't include restricted free agents like Serge Ibaka and James Harden, or aging veterans from the Spurs and other squads that can become vital pieces to the puzzle as well.
The 2012-2013 season could be it for Tim Duncan to win a title with Manu Ginobili as a main piece, but he could be brought back for less money the next year. And if so, the Spurs could create a dream team that the Lakers tried to make when Hall-of-Fame veterans like Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the Shaq-Kobe Lakers to attempt a four-peat. Ego has never been a problem for San Antonio, so it shouldn't be a problem here like it was in LA. Plus, with Duncan at 37, Ginobili at 36 and Jackson at 35 after next season, will those players have any better choice than staying to get a championship for one, maybe two years with a potential NBA Dream Team?
Also, if the Clippers have any trepidation about Chris Paul committing long-term to them, don't be shocked to see the Spurs as a potential trade partner next season, as Parker would be a very good swap for the Clippers, and Paul would open up the Spurs' window for three years longer than with Parker in the fold.
Whatever the situation, R.C. Buford has made the right call many times, so if anyone can make it work, he can.
No. 4: Are Any of the Young Players Worth Keeping?
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The question really depends on the price. Gary Neal is a great scorer, but is a combo guard with defensive deficiencies who, when missing his shots, is a completely wasted position on the court. Danny Green is a versatile defender who can hit wide open jump shots. But when he can't get the ball in the bucket, he is virtually a player not worth covering or worrying about.
Tiago Splitter is a great pick-setter, but a terrible free-throw shooter who looked completely overwhelmed in the playoffs at times. The moment in Game Six when Popovich yelled at him for missing his rotation on a Kevin Durant drive to the hoop allowed for a three-point play. Popovich then took DeJuan Blair, who was in his doghouse after not playing much in the postseason, off the bench to replace Splitter and it completely took away Splitter's confidence. Splitter has one year left on his contract.
Kawhi Leonard is a potential all-star, and could be on an All-Defensive team as early as next season. He will only get better as a shooter and offensive player overall, and was the biggest steal in the off-season in a trade with the Indiana Pacers for George Hill.
With their first-round pick traded away to the Golden State Warriors in the Richard Jefferson-Stephen Jackson swap, the Spurs have only the second-to-last pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Unless they draft another Manu Ginobili like they did in the second round a while back, the only young assets for San Antonio are the ones who could leave in free agency this off-season.
No. 5: How Long Will Coach Pop Be on the Sidelines?
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At 63, Coach Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs to four championships despite no other draft lottery talents besides Tim Duncan. If that doesn't show you how great a coach and motivator he is, nothing will.
With him and Duncan so tied at the hip, the question is, when Duncan does decide to hang it up in either a year or two, does Popovich do the same? If he does, is there a coach-in-waiting among his assistants?
Remember, Popovich is only a couple years away from where Phil Jackson was last season when he decided to take his Hall-of-Fame talents off the bench. And if and when R.C. Buford wants to make that potentially long-awaited big free agent splash in either of the next two off-seasons, what will Popovich think about that?
Though he loves his players and the game, Popovich did rest his veteran players and have a lot more teaching moments for his young players than he is probably accustomed to. As you can see from the picture above, the results were mixed when the moments had to happen in the most crucial games of their season.
With the 82-game regular season back next year, and how this team doesn't take anything into account until the postseason, will those long plane rides and teaching moments make Pop think about life after basketball finally? We shall see if there is some sort of extension or coach-in-waiting solution made this summer.