Are the San Antonio Spurs Too Young to Win a Title?

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMarch 11, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - JANUARY 22:  Guard George Hill #3 of the San Antonio Spurs gets the slam dunk against the Houston Rockets at AT&T Center on January 22, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Stop slapping yourself in the head. You did not misread my headline.

Cancel the ophthalmologist appointment and stop hitting “refresh” on your Internet browser.

The question I posed above deserves serious consideration. Since losing to the L.A. Lakers in the 2008 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs have dropped almost three years in average age.

Brent Barry signed with the Houston Rockets that summer. Jacque Vaughn retired. Damon Stoudemire skipped town almost as soon as he had arrived.

General Manager R.C. Buford sent Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, and Fabricio Oberto to Milwaukee in a trade for Richard Jefferson. When Bucks' G.M. John Hammond bought out the expiring contracts of Bowen and Oberto, freeing them to re-sign with the Spurs, Buford and Gregg Popovich passed.

No, thanks.

Bowen called it quits, preferring to remain in San Antonio with his wife, and Oberto now plays for the woebegone Washington Wizards.

Peter Holt—er Buford—donated Theo Ratliff to the Charlotte Bobcats to lessen his luxury tax bill. Ratliff did not garner significant minutes while in the Alamo City.

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Michael Finley asked to be waived so he could sign on with another contender. The Celtics brass dangled the promise of more playing time and a greater role. He has played in two games for Boston.

Popovich has griped about his team’s loss of corporate knowledge. With Michael Finley gone, just four players remain from the 2007 championship roster.

Matt Bonner was a garbage-time player then.

The Spurs' average age of 27.6 ties the L.A. Lakers and trails four other title contenders.

The Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, and Orlando Magic boast a higher average age than the Spurs. The Dallas Mavericks are the oldest team in the league.

Three players on Popovich’s roster—Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili—are older than 30.

Four players on the Lakers are older than 30. The Nuggets will employ five ballers in their 30s. Every Maverick not named Caron Butler, Roddy Buckets, or J.J. Barea should keep his NBA-ARP card handy.

I'm kidding, but you get the point.

No one thinks the Spurs are better than any of the above outfits. Too old? Popovich wishes.

Those who insist young high-flyers win titles missed Derek Fisher in last year’s Finals. Yes, championship hopefuls need spry athletes to survive the 82-game season. They need experience and veterans—old guys—to win when it matters most.

Does San Antonio boast enough experience to win it all?

Kobe Bryant has not drained six game-winners this season because he can jump high. As a 12-year veteran, he has sniffed every late-game situation imaginable. Ditto for Fisher.

Why do you think Lakers' G.M. Mitch Kupchak was so willing to swap 24-year-old Trevor Ariza for 30-year-old Ron Artest?

Magic G.M. traded for 34-year-old Vince Carter. Mavs’ Owner Mark Cuban traded away young speedster Devin Harris for Jason Kidd two years ago. This summer, Cuban tendered the 36-year-old point guard a three-year, $25 million deal.

Kidd made the oddball, but genius, play on Atlanta Coach Mike Woodson to send a recent Mavs-Hawks game into overtime.

Carmelo Anthony may be Denver’s go-to star, but the Nuggets will go as far as 33-year-old Chauncey Billups can take them.

The Celtics will not taste playoff success without a productive 35-year-old Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are as important.

With Parker out, Popovich is starting a 23-year-old at point guard. George Hill has established himself as an ever-improving, two-way athlete, but he was still in high school when the Spurs secured the 2005 championship.

Dejuan Blair, 20, makes great plays. He helped the Spurs out-rebound the New York Knicks 53-34 on Wednesday. He also makes rookie mistakes, the kind a seasoned Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, or Nene Hilario might not.

Malik Hairston does good things every time he plays, but how can Popovich expect a year old to deliver on the NBA’s biggest stage when his greatest career moments have come as a D-Leaguer.

Bonner, 29, was never an elite athlete. Popovich loves the forward-center’s defensive tenacity, his hustle, and his stroke from long range. Last week, Bonner defended David West and Zach Randolph and held both to well below their season averages.

Anyone who thinks 29-year-old Jefferson has lost a step should watch highlights of last night’s Spurs-Knicks joust. Jefferson, despite scoring zero points, sent a Toney Douglas layup attempt into the first row. Geriatric players cannot do that.

He can still catch overthrown lob passes for alley-oops. His age has little to do with his struggles as a Spur. My views differ from most.

Mason has not bricked 10 straight three-pointers because he’s getting older. He may not be capable of the consistency or accuracy the Spurs need with Parker sidelined.

Keith Bogans has produced like he did in his stints with Milwaukee and Boston—one game of brilliant defense sandwiched by three listless showings ripe with offensive ineptitude.

The team has slipped defensively, but that slide can be seen across the league.

The Lakers allow opponents to shoot 44.4 percent from the field. Last year’s one round-and-done Spurs allowed teams to make 44.1 percent of their shots.

The squad that surrenders the fewest points, the Cleveland Cavaliers (95 per game), would have ranked fifth or sixth in that category for most of the 2000s.

Couldn’t lackluster defense be attributed to the increased number of championship hopefuls stacked with scoring threats?

Does age alone explain the league-wide decline? No chance.

Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard played in different cities in 2005. Pau Gasol could not have dreamed then he would team with Odom and Andrew Bynum.

Could any team in NBA history limit the current edition of the Lakers, Cavs, or Magic to 80 points with any consistency?

Defense still wins titles, but how elite foes stack up offensively is as important as ever.

The Spurs need to improve defensively and find another seven-foot difference maker— Tiago Splitter?—to pair with Duncan.

San Antonio’s franchise star isn’t getting any younger. His years of prime production are numbered. Ginobili could squeeze out two more seasons worth of Manu magic.

Does two-thirds of the “Big Three” boast enough moxie to make up for the prosaic experience at other key positions?

As I repeat the question that probably surprised you, do not laugh.

Are the Spurs too young to win it all?

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