Why San Antonio Spurs Will and Won't Return to Western Conference Finals
Few offseason moves were made by the San Antonio Spurs—which should be of no surprise to anyone who follows the team closely.
Despite losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the front office didn't panic, letting the sudden failure blow over instead of impulsively blowing up the roster—a measure that so many general managers throughout the league would have done.
But was that the right choice?
Nando De Colo was signed to a contract earlier this summer, and Eddy Curry, Josh Powell and Derrick Brown are currently in the midst of a preseason battle for the team's 15th and final roster spot. However, none of these players will dramatically increase or decrease the Spurs' chance at a title, so this year's roster will enter the upcoming season with the same look as last year.
However, there is no guarantee that the team will once again perform similarly to last year, despite the similarities in the players. The Spurs themselves didn't change, but the rest of the teams—especially the West—evolved dramatically around them.
That said, the Spurs aren't automatically eliminated from the equation, but at the same time, an appearance in the Western Conference Finals is anything but guaranteed.
Why the Spurs won't return to the Western Conference Finals
One of last year's WCF attendees is primed to make a return, and barring injury, the Thunder seem like the candidate to make a repeat appearance. They finished as last year's top team in the West, and the addition of Perry Jones III as well as the return of Eric Maynor will only increase the team's chance of success.
The Spurs, on the other hand, made very trivial improvements, with their aging stars growing yet another year older. They will definitely make a push for a Conference Finals appearance, but with the increased difficulty of the Western Conference, the team will need to play at an extremely high level to match last year's success.
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The added difficulty of the conference revolves largely around the Los Angeles Lakers—though the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers also pose a threat. The Lakers are the biggest news of the NBA, with their revamped roster transforming the team into instant contenders.
The acquisitions of All-Stars, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash allowed the team to win the 2012 offseason, though a bigger victory is clearly on the team's mind.
With the sudden influx of star power, the Lakers propelled to the top tier of NBA teams, and many are predicting they will reach not only the Western Conference Finals but the NBA Finals as well.
Their greatness cannot be denied, at least from an onlooker's perspective. On paper, the team is easily the most star-studded in the league, whereas the Spurs are overlooked due to their age.
The Spurs' top player remains Tony Parker, with Manu Ginobili's health always a question and Tim Duncan's age remaining a huge variable for the Spurs' success. Their youth is centered around last year's surprise star, Kawhi Leonard, however the sophomore has struggled in the preseason, failing to score on a consistent basis.
The Lakers have a plethora of players with the ability to lead the team, so injury or slumps shouldn't trouble the team too much.
The same goes for the Thunder, who have two elite players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as well as a borderline star in James Harden.
The Spurs rely heavily on Parker, as Duncan and Ginobili cannot be expected to carry the weight at this point in their careers.
On paper, the two obvious candidates to appear in the Western Conference Finals will be last year's victors, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the revamped Los Angeles Lakers.
Why the Spurs will return to the Western Conference Finals
Watching the Spurs these past few seasons, one thing has become apparent: the Spurs are a much better regular season team than they are a playoff team.
The Spurs haven't made a Finals appearance since their 2007 championship, but have continued to be competitive anyways—especially in the regular season. In the last two seasons, the Spurs have finished with the top record in the West, making their regular season dominance easy to see.
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Granted, they never capitalized off of this top seed but still have produced strong playoff runs despite never reaching the championship.
In the upcoming season, the Spurs' fate may be determined by their regular season play and whether or not they can once again grasp the top seed.
Should they finish at the top of the conference, they would not cross paths with either the Thunder or the Lakers until the Western Conference Finals, allowing one to knock the other out in the early stages.
The other teams in the West may challenge the Spurs, but until they show a vast improvement, no Western Conference team, excluding the Thunder and Lakers, should be unbeatable for San Antonio.
Even if the Spurs should cross paths with either of the West's elite teams, they are far from doomed. The Spurs opened strong last season against the Thunder, only to completely fall apart. If the Spurs and the Thunder face one another in a playoff series again, who is to say that the Spurs won't bounce back?
Even against the Lakers, all hope is not lost. Sure, they'll enter as underdogs, but if Coach Popovich crafts an ingenious game-plan, the Spurs should be able to give the opposition a run for their money.
Nothing is set in stone, especially when injuries can change a team's future in the blink of an eye; but even without injury, the Western Conference Finals are wide open.
Can the Spurs return to the Western Conference Finals?
The two obvious choices are Los Angeles and Oklahoma City, but if the Spurs put together a strong enough run in the regular season, they may find themselves in an ideal situation, forcing one to knock the other out.
As of now, the Spurs are certainly underdogs, but they've proven critics wrong before—so who is to say they won't do it again?
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