On the heels of 22 consecutive playoff appearances, the San Antonio Spurs enter the 2021-22 season having missed the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.
San Antonio did manage to make it into the play-in tournament as the No. 10 seed with a 33-39 record, but it fell to the Memphis Grizzlies and was unable to secure a playoff spot.
Things could get even tougher for the Spurs in 2021-22, as they lost leading scorer DeMar DeRozan to the Chicago Bulls in free agency while key veteran role players Patty Mills and Rudy Gay signed elsewhere as well.
Here is a look at the Spurs' 2021-22 regular-season schedule, along with predictions for how they will perform during the upcoming campaign.
2021-22 Spurs Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 20 vs. Orlando Magic, 8:30 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +10000 (via FanDuel)
Chicago Bulls (First Matchup: Jan. 28)
It is always significant when a star player returns to his old stomping grounds, and that will be the case when DeRozan and the Bulls visit the Spurs during the upcoming season.
After being named an All-Star four times in nine seasons with the Toronto Raptors, DeRozan was traded to the Spurs as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal in 2018.
While the 32-year-old never earned an All-Star nod in San Antonio, he was the Spurs' best player throughout his three-year tenure, averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.
DeRozan decided to start a new chapter in his career by signing with a Bulls team that has the makings of a playoff contender in 2021-22, with the likes of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams in the squad.
It isn't always easy to predict how fans will react when a former player returns, but since DeRozan was a class act during his time in San Antonio, it seems unlikely that the response to him will be too negative.
Even so, there may be some added motivation for the Spurs to show him why he should have stayed in San Antonio.
DeRozan's departure should allow players like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV to play even more prominent roles in 2021-22, and they may view the game against Chicago as an opportunity to prove they can step up and replace what he brought to the table.
Brooklyn Nets (First Home Matchup: Jan. 21)
While some boos are possible for DeRozan when he returns to the AT&T Center in San Antonio for the first time, there is no question that guard Patty Mills will be cheered.
The 33-year-old spent 10 of his 12 NBA seasons with the Spurs and helped them win an NBA championship in 2014.
While he almost always came off the bench, starting a total of just 57 games, the Aussie was a key contributor for head coach Gregg Popovich for many years.
Mills averaged 9.4 points, 2.4 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.8 three-pointers made per game in San Antonio. He also made 38.9 percent of his three-point attempts, which allowed him to carve out an important role.
The 33-year-old will look to do something similar in Brooklyn after signing with the Nets in free agency. While Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving will take center stage, he has a chance to be a key veteran presence off the bench.
The Nets presented Mills with a golden opportunity to vie for another championship, and he jumped at that chance.
He left behind years of success and good memories in San Antonio, but he firmly established himself as a fan favorite and someone who will always be remembered fondly within Spurs circles.
When Mills returns to San Antonio in 2021-22, it is likely the Spurs will go out of their way to celebrate his career.
Unlike past years when players such as David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan led the way, there is no clear superstar on the 2021-22 Spurs roster.
Some players have the potential to reach that level, though, and Murray stands out most in that regard after averaging 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.
The 24-year-old's ability to take the next step may be the biggest factor in whether the Spurs actually have a chance to vie for a playoff spot.
White, Johnson and Walker all need to progress in 2021-22 as well after showing flashes of brilliance during the early part of their careers.
White put up 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game last season; Johnson averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds; and Walker contributed 11.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Johnson may have the best opportunity to make a significant leap among that group, especially on the heels of winning an Olympic gold medal for Team USA.
After Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal was diagnosed with COVID-19, Johnson was added to Team USA's roster due largely to his strong performances in exhibition games and his relationship with Popovich, who coached the United States in Tokyo.
The 21-year-old didn't have a big role on the team, but being around some of the biggest stars in the world and experiencing that level of success could be huge for his growth.
The Spurs could also benefit from the slow and steady progression of center Jakob Poeltl ramping up after he averaged a career-high 8.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game last season.
San Antonio should have no problem being competitive on a game-to-game basis next season, but it may not have the star power needed to be a playoff team.
Record Prediction: 36-46
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