Five Reasons to Be Excited About the Upcoming San Antonio Spurs Season
Alright, it’s a tad too early to definitively say which teams will be playing in April, May, and June.
But take a second to think about the teams that conclusively have a shot at a deep playoff run.
(…pause for dramatic effect…)
Did the Spurs come to mind?
The answer is likely no, which is baffling to think about—especially for a team that perennially has a legitimate chance to win it all. When is the last time the Spurs weren’t at least a semi-favorite to contend for a championship?
With that being said, there are still several reasons to be excited for the Spurs in 2010 as they transition into a new era with lowered expectations.
How Will the Big Three Respond from an Epic Playoff Collapse?
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At first, last season’s playoff run began as nothing short of a minor miracle after a seventh place finish to squeak into postseason play was extended following an upset of second-seeded Dallas. But a series sweep at the hands of former San Antonio punching bag Phoenix left the Spurs with nothing but unanswered questions surrounding an aging team that appeared to be on the downward slope of a monumental climb to the top of a dynasty.
Tim “Old Faithful” Duncan is approaching his 14th season in the league at a ripe 34 years of age, which is nearing AARP territory for NBA big men, especially those with bum knees like Duncan possesses. If it weren’t for his Hall of Fame basketball IQ and fundamentalist style of play, it’s possible that with as many miles he has on his odometer he would have been done long before 2010.
Manu Ginobili is 33 years of age, which may come as a shock to some because of his relatively short NBA tenure, but is still old nonetheless. Never a stranger to injury concerns, Ginobili has yet to play a full season despite his less-demanding 27.8 MPG of his career.
But the real spark plug of the team in recent years is the 28-year old Tony Parker, who exploded for 22 PPG two seasons ago but battled injuries last year. The shift of power has landed in his hands as Duncan’s beard sprouted more gray hairs, but the amount of wear and tear Parker has taken from being in the playoffs year after year after year makes him a liability for injury yet again.
These three are unquestionably gamers of the highest degree and will continue to be looked upon for leadership on and off the court, but will it be enough to get over the hump in the coming season or two?
The Spurs had a lot of thinking to do after their weak playoff exit. All three of these guys stayed far away from the FIBA World Championships in Turkey this summer, a smart decision for the long-term aspirations of San Antonio.
The motivation will be there this fall and beyond, but how much do they have left in the tank?
The Development of DeJuan Blair
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Luckily for Gregg Popovich, another explosive option may be waiting in the wings for his chance to get into the game and really make an impact.
DeJuan Blair showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season and the 21-year-old will be ready to show that he’s closer to a 20-20 guy (which he managed twice last year) than a single digit points and rebounds guy (which happened occasionally, even in games he started).
The 6’7” Blair’s per-36 minute stats are eye-popping, at 15.4 PPG and 12.7 RPG (4.8 of which are offensive). But these also come along with 5.4 fouls, an aspect of his game that the coaching staff will be working on with him in training camp.
Regardless, DeJuan Blair is well on his way to being a force in this league, a much-needed injection of youthful power for a Spurs team that has failed to establish another dominant forward in recent years.
Will This Team Make the Playoffs?
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OK, so I admit that No. 3 isn’t exactly an enticing reason to get excited about this team.
But hear me out.
The last time the Spurs failed to reach postseason play was 96-97. As some may recall, this was the team that saw just one player (Avery Johnson) start more than 58 games and included Dominique Wilkins, Vinny Del Negro, Vernon Maxwell, and Carl Herrera.
Notice anybody missing from that intimidating list?
Robinson and Duncan.
David Robinson played just six games that season due to a broken foot and Tim Duncan had yet to be drafted.
So of course they didn’t make the playoffs.
That season can basically be considered a mulligan and is truthfully the only reason they were able to get Duncan in the first place because of their excellent lottery position attained from the miserable season incurred.
The reason I bring this up is because the time before this was more than two decades ago in 88-89. Needless to say, R.C. Buford runs a very proud franchise. They aren’t fans of missing the playoffs.
So with the team that they have, which finished in a bottom-eight three way tie with Portland and Okalahoma City last season, don’t you think they’ll have to wrestle with a more open and improving Western Conference just to sniff the playoffs?
And won’t it be great to watch a team scrapping and fighting for every game, knowing that the reputation of a successful organization is on the line in a way that could severely change the tone of the franchise in the future?
Yes, it will.
Readiness of 20th Overall Pick James Anderson and Brazilian Tiago Splitter
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Coming into the draft, Oklahoma State guard James Anderson was rated as one of the more NBA-ready guards, an aspect of the 6’6" 21-year-old that was a large piece of the reasoning behind drafting him.
As previously established, the Spurs are a win-now, win-then franchise, expecting immediate and long-term results. It’s a method that clearly works, with the assumption that players coming into the league better hit the ground running and be ready to play.
Because of this, San Antonio likes to draft guys who have the experience necessary and aren’t project players. We saw it with Duncan and even Parker, who started 72 games in his rookie season. We saw it with DeJuan Blair to an extent last season. It’s just a successful way to keep the ball rolling with the prosperity of the franchise.
Splitter, however, was an exception to the rule. The seven-footer from Brazil, taken 28th overall has yet to see any NBA action, but has spent his time polishing his skills overseas to the point that he has developed into one of the best players in Europe, particularly in the center position.
The Spurs didn’t necessarily need to bring him over until this point in his career, but the time is right for the 25-year old to offer his services to his NBA team. Splitter’s defense is his strong point, with the coordination to be more than just a body in the middle. San Antonio will see plenty of Splitter this season and he should be developed enough by now to contribute significantly off the bench.
All of this leads me to believe that Anderson will be ready to run with the big dogs from the get-go.
If this is the case, the team might be better off than they’re given credit for.
How the Franchise Reacts to Transitional Phase
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Well, if the case is that this is the proverbial “bridge year” for San Antonio, it’s going to be a tough facet to swallow for the traditionalists in Texas.
Tim Duncan has one year left on his contract after 2010. It’s hard to see him continuing past that year, regardless of what he says. Much to Shaq’s appeasement (since he hates being compared in a negative light to Duncan), Tim Duncan won’t be Shaq. He isn’t going to keep jumping from team to team, seeking another ring.
So if the face of the franchise is gone, what’s left?
Not necessarily—Parker’s contract expires after this season and could very well be in search of greener pastures once he hits free agency. A midseason trade is an even more likely scenario if things go south quickly.
That just leaves the Ginobili on the board as the last remaining familiar face. His deal finishes up in 2013, but with his history I don’t think anybody sees him staying around for that long. Certainly not longer.
There is going to be a high turnover rate in the next two years and some fresh faces brought in to replace the old standards. We know this.
But the reaction from every part of the franchise, from the owner’s box to the butts filling the seats at the AT&T Center is going to be perhaps the most interesting storyline for this Texas basketball season.