The San Antonio Spurs stumbled throughout their 2009-2010 campaign, en route to the 7th seed in the Western Conference and a conference semifinal exit. This season, their aging triumvirate look to right the ship and make a run at a title in the twilight of Tim Duncan's career.
Gone are the days of Spurs' dominance in the Western Conference. Younger and better teams have supplanted the Spurs as the trendy choice for high playoff seeds. It's unwise, however, to overlook such a veteran team.
Young and Old
The key for the Spurs this season will be finding a way to develop and manage their fresh faces with veteran superstars. Last year, George Hill and Dejuan Blair both emerged as consistent, effective players. Neither are particularly flashy, but both are gritty, hard-working players that head coach Gregg Popovich loves.
The biggest addition for the Spurs comes in the form of Tiago Splitter. The Spurs drafted the 6'11 Brazilian with the 28th pick in the 2007 draft. Three seasons after being drafted, Splitter finally signed with the Spurs this summer. The acquisition of Splitter is particularly timely since, last year, Tim Duncan averaged a career low 31 minutes in an effort to preserve him for the post season. The 6'11 Splitter should take some pressure off Duncan in the low block. Furthermore, expect Splitter to supplant Antonio McDyess in the starting lineup by seasons end. With Duncan, Splitter, Blair and McDyess, the Spurs will have a deeper and more experienced front court than at any other time in recent memory (obviously not counting the Duncan-Robinson years).
Finding a place for Richard Jefferson
By his standards, Richard Jefferson had a disappointing debut campaign with the Spurs. He struggled in the playoffs and did not have the impact that many Spurs fans had anticipated. This season, expect Jefferson to reprise his limited role. That said, he is certainly one of the best 4th scoring options for any team in the league. If Jefferson can by dynamic, this team will be nearly impossible to guard.
Though it's clear that this team has some depth with George Hill, Dejuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, the health of the Spurs big three is important. Duncan, Jefferson and Ginobli are all over the age of 30. Parker is only 28, but missed 26 games last year because of injury. Keeping these players healthy is key for the team's success. Look for Popovich to closely monitor the minutes of his older players. Parker is supposedly healthy and in a contract year, so look for him to have a big season.
The window of opportunity for the Spurs hasn't closed just yet, but it is narrowing. The Spurs, however, have drafted and developed enough talent to mask some of their age. Don't expect the Spurs to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, but they are certainly still a dangerous team, especially come playoff time.
Western Conference Semifinals loss