Unsurprisingly, after his team romped through the 2014 NBA playoffs for the franchise's fifth title in 16 seasons, R.C. Buford has spent his summer avoiding any kind of transformation.
Around the same time other stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony opted out of their contracts, Tim Duncan quietly exercised his player option. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner were all re-signed. NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich agreed to a multi-year extension.
ESPN's Dave Pasch applauded the new Pop contract, specifically:
Best move of the NBA off-season was made today. #Spurs signing Pop to multi year extension.— Dave Pasch (@DavePasch) July 10, 2014
Meanwhile, there have only been a few significant changes to the personnel: The Spurs stole UCLA point forward Kyle Anderson on draft night and then hired two-time Euroleague Coach of the Year Ettore Messina as an assistant.
Manu Ginobili was pretty ecstatic about the latter:
12ys after our last game together, we meet again! Great to have him on board for another run. Welcome to SA Ettore! pic.twitter.com/utdOuwgxDa— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) July 15, 2014
All-in-all, the Spurs look markedly similar to last year's thoroughly dominant squad. They'll have the targets on their backs, though, and several contenders around the league have made moves to get better.
With the release of the 2014-15 schedule, which you can find here courtesy of NBA.com, let's take an early look at San Antonio's chances of a repeat.
When: November 19, 7 p.m. ET
He's in a new city, but James will still be out for revenge. The Spurs absolutely embarrassed him in last year's Finals, effectively setting in motion his departure from Miami.
Until Tim Duncan or Tony Parker—especially the former—prove to be mortal at some point in their legendary careers, San Antonio remains the team to beat in the NBA. However, it's impossible not to be intrigued by what's going on in Cleveland.
Surrounding the world's best player and four-time MVP, who makes everyone better, the Cavs have a young, electrifying, superstar point guard in Kyrie Irving to go with a solid, hardworking frontcourt of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao.
Oh yeah, and they are set to add the best stretch 4 in the league, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Sources: Cavs have agreement for Kevin Love, including long-term contract commitment. Wiggins, Bennett, pick to Minn. http://t.co/r2KmO5owwY— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 7, 2014
James and Kevin Love were Nos. 2 and 3 in the NBA in win shares last season, while Irving as a third option is comically unfair. This is arguably the best starting five in basketball:
The supporting cast could use another big, but overall it's a nice mix of potential (Dion Waiters) and veteran role players (Mike Miller, James Jones).
Finally, they have Euroleague export David Blatt as head coach. Fran Fraschilla, who knows the international game quite well, expects the 55-year-old burgeoning star to thrive in his new role, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt:
The Cavaliers are getting a guy who is one of the most creative coaching minds in the world. Most of the things that made him incredibly successful in Europe will translate to the NBA. His styles of play have varied based on the type of talent he has had.
It may take some time for the Cavs to gel—remember, the Heat started "just" 8-6 during LeBron's first season in Miami—but all the pieces are there for a championship contender.
This matchup will be important in determining the very tip-top of the league's hierarchy.
Oklahoma City Thunder
When: December 25, 2:30 p.m. ET
Like always, the Christmas Day schedule is packed. LeBron's return to Miami will get a lot of press, but this figures to be the best overall game.
If there is one team in the league that's consistently given San Antonio fits, it's Oklahoma City.
During the 2011-12 campaign, the Spurs took two of three against OKC in the regular season and won the first two in the conference finals, but the Thunder reeled off four straight for a trip to the Finals.
After the teams split the season series in 2012-13, the Thunder swept San Antonio last regular season. The Spurs got revenge in the conference finals, although it's worth mentioning two of their wins came with Serge Ibaka on the sideline.
Much like San Antonio, Scott Brooks' squad hasn't undergone much of a makeover. Anthony Morrow has replaced Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler is off to Detroit and the team added Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon through the draft.
With reigning MVP Kevin Durant still getting better, Russell Westbrook taking the summer off after an explosive postseason (read: he's finally healthy) and players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams continuing to develop, don't be surprised if OKC is better in 2014-15.
This matchup has decided the West champion in two of the last three seasons. Every time they play, regular-season game or not, it's a pivotal battle you don't want to miss.
If the Spurs don't win 50 games, it's probably time to start checking the sky for pigs. San Antonio has hit the 50-win mark in 16 of the last 17 seasons. The one year it didn't happen? Popovich and Co. went 37-13 (.740) during the strike-shortened 1998-99 campaign and ended up winning the championship.
Where will the Spurs finish in the West?
At some point, Duncan will stop being an efficient robot unaffected by age, and there's always the concern that guys like Parker and Ginobili could go down with injuries.
But the beauty of this team is that the system transcends the players. Even if the stars are sidelined, players such as Patty Mills, Danny Green and Boris Diaw pick up the slack without missing a beat. This team goes 12-deep, and Pop does a tremendous job of keeping all his players fresh.
Kawhi Leonard takes the next step to superstardom, and the Spurs, amazingly, finish in the top three in the ultra-crowded West. Again.