Gregg Popovich will lead the Spurs into the 2013-14 regular season seeking a return trip to the NBA Finals.
However, Gregg Popovich's squad can take pride in something that 28 other teams cannot, and it is that they were one win away from an NBA championship. Though the memory of the recently-decided finals surely remains quite painful right now, San Antonio should be a contender for the league title next season.
It certainly is not far-fetched to think San Antonio will return to the biggest stage, and Pregame.com says the Spurs are 7/1 odds to win the 2014 NBA Finals.
So, is San Antonio built for yet another run at a championship next season? Predicting this type of thing is never easy, but that is what makes sports so enjoyable.
San Antonio will return most, if not all of its starters from the 2012-13 Western Conference Champion team.
Per HOOPSWORLD, the Spurs have the cap room to make a surprising move in free agency, but whether general manager R.C. Buford actually wants to pursue a big-name player like Josh Smith, Paul Millsap or even Dwight Howard is questionable at best.
Anything less than a return trip to the conference finals would be a huge disappointment, but the Spurs will be looking for even more than that.
Throughout the playoffs, Tim Duncan proved that any long-awaited signs of regression would have to wait at least one more season. For example, he dominated the overtime session in two games against the Memphis Grizzlies during the conference finals and forced the Miami Heat to respect him as a premier post presence, which often allowed Tony Parker to showcase his facilitating skills.
Speaking of Parker, his successes in the playoffs made ESPN analyst Jalen Rose say Parker is currently the third-best (healthy) NBA player.
Hate it or love it...Parker IS the 3rd best player in the ENTIRE NBA. Period. Behind only LBJ & KD.— JALEN ROSE (@JalenRose) May 28, 2013
Kawhi Leonard solidified his position as the future of the franchise with a stellar performance on both ends of the court against Miami. Leonard quietly handled his responsibilities and even made LeBron James show a little frustration—or maybe disappointment—simply at the sight of Leonard checking back into the game.
After a still-fantastic finals performance, Danny Green now has experience in the unteachable high-pressure moments, which theoretically should help him be better prepared to knock down crucial shots.
Plus, assuming he re-signs with the team, Gary Neal has consistently provided an important offensive spark off the bench with his long-range shooting.
Miami exposed weak areas in San Antonio's game (of course, the Heat are pretty good at doing that to many teams), and those spots definitely need to be addressed this offseason.
Ultimately, when Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili were giving Duncan and Parker a much-needed break from Miami's brutal defense, San Antonio suffered controlling the ball and grabbing defensive rebounds.
Overall, Splitter struggled mightily for the majority of the NBA Finals, and he simply regressed from the regular season to the playoffs. His rebounding numbers were sliced from 6.4 to 3.1 per game while playing only four less minutes in each contest.
Then, there is Manu, who committed so many turnovers against the Heat it almost seemed like he was Miami's second-best player at times.
Ginobili is certainly one of the most creative players in the league, and he can still routinely make highlight reels, but Manu can also be unbelievably frustrating. How can a player who can find his teammate with a pass like this or this, make a ridiculous decision like this in the most important game of the season?
Easy answer: He even considered making the first two passes.
Via the draft or free agency, San Antonio must find a a reliable rebounder and someone who can protect the ball preferably in addition to re-signing—while not overpaying—Ginobili. That, or make Splitter more physical and somehow drill into Manu's head that a jump-pass is not a good choice.
Because really, it's not. Stick to the nutmegs, Manu, you are really good at those.
Note: Check out an in-depth look at the Spurs' offseason.
As far as the Western Conference is concerned, Oklahoma City would obviously be the team to beat should it miraculously keep Kevin Martin, but Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are kind of good, regardless.
The Memphis Grizzlies have plenty of room to improve, and their core of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, Jr. is always a substantial roadblock. Although sweeping Memphis in the playoffs is an unfair expectation, the Spurs should be able to dispatch a Lionel Hollins-less' Grizzlies team fairly easily.
In California, three teams will attempt to halt San Antonio's quest for consecutive finals appearances.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors challenged the Spurs to a six-game playoff series. But Jarrett Jack, the Warriors' sixth man and X-factor against San Antonio, played himself out of Oakland and into a larger contract.
Golden State will be a solid playoff-caliber squad but not a real finals contender without Jack or a comparable replacement.
Assuming Chris Paul returns to the Los Angeles Clippers, the long-time lesser L.A. team is a force to be reckoned with. The Clips, now with Doc Rivers roaming the sideline, immediately become an even greater threat in the playoffs.
Should Dwight Howard leave the other team in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant's Lakers are dependent on just that—Kobe. Even if the 17-year veteran is not at full strength after an Achilles injury, his presence cannot be discounted.
Prediction: 12.5 percent
A basic breakdown of that number is if the 2013-14 season was played eight times, it means San Antonio would win the NBA Finals once. Considering you would likely have to simulate the season for the rest of eternity to see the Orlando Magic become NBA champions just once, 12.5 percent is really not that bad.
So, in these simulations, say six out of eight conference titles are scattered between San Antonio, OKC and the Clippers. The Spurs, like the others, could realistically win two (or three) of the six simulations. This equals a 25 (or 37.5) percent chance to make the finals, and the Heat, Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers likely await the back-to-back Western Conference champions.
For the sake of simplicity—and trust me, this is simple—we will just focus on the 25 percent.
San Antonio, ultimately, either emerges victorious or loses another heartbreaker in the NBA Finals. If my elementary math skills have not failed me, 25 divided by two equals 12.5, then throw in a percentage suffix, and voila! 12.5 percent.
The Spurs were supposed to have been regressing due to their aging core for quite a few years, but San Antonio remains on the right track to stay near the top of the league for yet another season.
Isn't predicting fun?
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