Can San Antonio Spurs Repeat Title Magic Without Notable Offseason Additions?

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IJuly 8, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Tony Parker #9 ,  Tim Duncan #21 and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs pose for a picture against the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood /NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

In the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, fans beheld the rarest of basketball phenomena: a team whose constitutive pieces—no matter how ostensibly flawed, old or slow—were put together perfectly.

But can they duplicate that magic without the aid of a significant free-agent signing?

That’s not to say the Spurs are totally resting on their Larry O’Brien laurels, of course:

In re-signing Patty Mills and Boris Diaw, San Antonio doubled down on one of the league’s elite bench units—a core whose postseason contribution proved flat-out indispensable in helping dispatch the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Together with Tim Duncan’s $10 million player option, bringing back Mills and Diaw were the Spurs’ most immediate priorities heading into the offseason.

Well, that and getting what could prove to be the steal of the 2014 draft.

Taken 30th overall, UCLA small forward Kyle Anderson absolutely screams San Antonio Spur: While not the most athletic of prospects, Anderson’s peerless versatility should make him a perfect fit alongside his cerebral basketball brethren.

Beyond that, though, it’s been mostly radio silence coming from the Spurs’ front-office brass.

True, the above-mentioned signings mean the team will likely be at or around the $63 million league-sanctioned salary cap. True, owner Peter Holt has been traditionally loath to lean too far over the fiscal threshold.

Still, San Antonio does have access to the $5 million mid-level exception—a valuable tool, given the complex nature of the league’s current collective bargaining agreement.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates with the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award and owner Peter Holt after defeating the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It’s possible the Spurs could simply be waiting for the market to cool down before wading into the fray. Which, when Jodie Meeks is raking in $19.5 million, per the Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis, is probably a good idea.

San Antonio has long been a franchise for which patience and prudence make up the compass needle. So while there’s a risk that the crop’s top talent is gone within the week, if ever there were a team capable of finding diamonds in the dollar bin, it’s these Spurs.

Players like Vince Carter, Thabo Sefolosha or Ramon Sessions—veterans with tangible skills and smarts to match—might make for interesting short-term plays.

At the same time, with the team looking at a nearly clean financial slate next summer, taking on a fresh three- or four-year contract might not make for the wisest investment.

So how exactly do the Spurs intend on winning the age-versus-new-blood battle? As Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck recently noted, the answer may lie in one of the franchise’s most familiar friendspick-and-stash prospects:

And, in typical Spurs fashion, they have a few assets quietly stashed overseas. Two in particular hold great promise: Livio Jean-Charles, a dynamic 6'9" forward from French Guiana, drafted 28th in 2013; and Davis Bertans, a 6'10" forward from Latvia, a 2011 second-round pick who was acquired from Indiana, in the same trade that brought Leonard to the Spurs. ...

There are no guarantees, of course, but the Spurs are better than any team in the league at drafting and developing international players.

Sometime soon, we may see whether Jean-Charles and Bertans can follow the paths carved by [Tony] Parker (the 28th pick in 2001) and [Manu] Ginobili (57th in 1999). Until then, the Spurs will cherish every minute remaining in the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili era and celebrate the arrival of their reticent young star.

Questioning San Antonio’s offseason silence assumes a particular strategy on their part: that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili each has his own retirement timetable.

But what if Duncan and Ginobili—both of whose contracts are set to expire next summer—call it quits after this season? That would give the Spurs the clean break necessary to go all-in on the 2015 free-agent class, with Kawhi Leonard and (presumably) Parker remaining in the fold.

Speaking of Leonard, let’s not discount his importance in this whole speculative calculus. Indeed, should the third-year forward make a Year 4 leap next season, San Antonio could conceivably afford any subsequent slips in production from its Big Three—Duncan and Ginobili in particular.

"He's the future of the Spurs," head coach Gregg Popovich said of Leonard before capping off the remark in classic Pop deadpan (via Beck’s story): “Partially because everyone else is older than dirt."

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs converse before Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The takeaway: Maybe the Spurs aren't terribly interested in heeding some arbitrary ethos of how a team should upgrade their roster, especially if it compromises their long-term plans.

Besides, sometimes there’s just no substitute for a time-tested, old-fashioned adage. In this case: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That's not to say it's nothing but smooth sailing ahead: Ginobili and Mills could both miss some time with injury, potentially throwing off San Antonio's clockwork chemistry from the get-go, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and the Sydney Morning Herald's Chris Dutton, respectively.

Then again, since when have these Spurs been about regular-season race over postseason pace?

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

To some, next year’s Spurs will be one year older; to others, one year wiser. For some, this year’s Finals were a karmic makeup for past close calls; for others, a sign of sustained success to come.

Neither perspective is wrong, because neither outcome would really be a surprise.

San Antonio’s silence on the free-agent front might strike some as a missed opportunity—a chance to heal what Father Time might steal. All the while, it seems we've already forgotten the foremost lesson these Finals taught us:

If you're worried about the Spurs' next move, you've already lost.


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