Can the San Antonio Spurs Do It One More Time?
The date was April 28th, 2009. And for the first time in nine years, the San Antonio Spurs sat in their locker room on the wrong end of a first round playoff series.
They had been utterly dominated by the Dallas Mavericks, 106-93, and the series had pretty much followed the same tone as the game that had just ended.
The last time the Spurs felt defeat in the first round was back in 2000, and this was when Tim Duncan was injured, Tony Parker was playing in France, and Manu was playing Euro League ball, on his way to an MVP.
Wake up call for the Spurs and Gregg Popovich.
This offseason for the Spurs had a distinctly "Win now, not later" theme to it. They traded for Richard Jefferson, added Antonio McDyess in free agency, and gambled on DeJuan Blair in the NBA Draft.
Jefferson's $29 million contract isn't something you take on if you're starting a rebuilding phase. At 35, Antonio McDyess isn't your young talent with stacks of raw potential. The Spurs want a couple more championships before Tim Duncan's age finally catches up with him. The Big Three just became a Big Four in San Antonio.
So how is all of this going to fit together? As a die hard Spurs fan, the addition of Jefferson had me brimming with glee. He's a 20 points a night scorer from the wing, providing much need relief for Manu on the wing.
He's a hard working defender, puts effort in on the boards, and I think he's a terrific team player. We've seen him on a team that went to two NBA Finals.
Antonio McDyess has long been an underrated player. Lots of people forget that McDyess was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. He was also a 20 point, 10 rebound guy.
It was then that he had a career with so much potential decimated by injury. He's had to adapt his game, adding the mid-range jumper and improving his shot selection and field goal percentage.
He's dedicated, willing to work exceptionally hard, and is another great team player, exactly the player that coach Popvich likes.
The Spurs long time core of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli return, hopefully healthy and ready. Manu Ginobli's importance was highlighted last year by their woeful record without him. Over 30 of the Spurs wins came when Manu was playing, and he only played in 44 games all year.
Tim Duncan was bothered by sore knees at the end of the year, but we can forgive him of that. The main key to this Spurs team in 2009/10 is keeping the now Big Four healthy. If they can all play in at least 75 games, we should see the Spurs notching close to 60 wins, if not more.
The other big factor as always is the bench. The Spurs found an absolute gem in Roger Mason this time last year, and they'll be looking for more improvement from him.
DeJuan Blair should see some good playing time too, and I was impressed with what I saw in the preseason. He's a rebounding machine, and a solid contributor on offense as well.
George Hill should see a higher number of minutes as well. He was a steal in last year's draft in my opinion.
And the player that really impressed me last season was Matt Bonner. A versatile big man, he played 24 minutes a game, shot .440 from beyond the arc, and had career highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game.
Overall, have the Spurs done enough to put in one or two more championship runs?
The Lakers are the team to beat, retaining all their key players. And the addition of Ron Artest seems to have put them even further ahead.
But I wouldn't count the Spurs out. I think that if they're healthy they can be as good as the Lakers.
The Mavericks are another team to watch out for. They improved in the offseason as well, much in the same way as the Spurs went about their business. They'll be a big threat if Shawn Marion can recover his all star form.
Realistically, I think the Lakers take the number one seed, and I can see them repeating. But I just have that sneaking feeling that Spurs are going to knock them off that spot. Just a week and a half until we can all find out.
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