Coach: Gregg Popovich
Last Season: 54-28, lost in 1st round
Key Additions: Richard Jefferson (Trade, Milwaukee Bucks), Antonio McDyess (Free Agent, Detroit Pistons), Dejuan Blair (Draft), Marcus Haislip (FA, Spain)
Key Losses: Kurt Thomas, Francisco Oberto, Bruce Bowen (Trade, Milwaukee)
Offseason: After getting knocked out in the 1st round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000, the Spurs had to options: accept the fact that the core of their former dynasty is aging, and rebuild, or spend money and try to win another ring or two before Tim Duncan’s window closes for good. Considering that this is a front office that has made great decision after great decision, it shouldn’t be surprising that they chose the latter.
Thus began a magical offseason for the 4 time NBA champions. To start it off, Richard Jefferson was shipped in from Milwaukee, for expiring contracts. The Spurs' usage of the Bucks’ financial trouble was marvelous – for the mere price of 3 role players (and two of them above the age of 35), the Spurs received a do-it-all-forward: Jefferson has scored over 20 ppg twice in his career, shot just slightly under 40% from 3 last year, and is a very good defender. Also, Jefferson fits in perfectly with the Spurs’ mentality – he won’t complain about minutes or touches, and will be perfectly happy and capable both as a spot up shooter on offense, or as a facilitator (whether he creates shots for others or for himself). Jefferson is also an indescribable upgrade over the aging Michael Finley/Bruce Bowen combo that manned the 3 for the Spurs last season, and will enable both Finley and Roger Mason Jr. to return to their ideal roles: shot making role players, and not offensive mainstays.
After taking care of their swingman position, the Spurs turned to their frontcourt. With all due respect to Matt Bonner, who emerged last season as a 44% 3pt shooter and a nice compliment to Duncan, he just isn’t a good enough rebounder or defender to count on as a starter. Enter Antonio Mcdyess. After struggling with injuries for the early part of his career, Mcdyess reinvented himself without his athleticism. The result is a very, very good rebounder (9.8 in 30 minutes per game last season), and a very good low post defender, who is capable of knocking down some mid-range shots when needed. Instead of a glaring hole down low, the Spurs now have a legitimate starting center, and yet another good-character veteran, who is committed only to winning.
And as if the Spurs’ front office weren’t annoying their peers enough, they then managed to steal DeJuan Blair with the 37th(!) pick of the draft. Blair was a monster in college, finishing his sophomore year with 15.7 points (on 59% shooting), 12.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and a block in 27.3 minutes per game, yet slipped in the draft due to injury concerns. After two reconstructive knee surgeries, which reportedly caused Blair to lose both his ACLs, made GMs stay away, assuming his knees won’t hold up long term. However, for a team looking to win now, Blair is a perfect fit, as he is NBA-ready and can contribute right away. Blair has had a monster preseason so far (14 and 8 in only 18 minutes), and will give the Spurs another strong defender and rebounder. With the signing of Hailsip, the resigning of Malik Hairston, and a year of experience for young point guard George Hill, the Spurs now possess an extremely strong, and deep rotation, that can definitely take them all the way.
- Health: The Spurs weren’t championship material last season to begin with, but they wouldn’t have gone out so early if they were at full strength. Tim Duncan played through knee troubles, Manu Ginobili didn’t play at all, and with Tony Parker the only healthy member of the big 3, the Spurs didn’t have a chance. This year, the Spurs’ magnificent offseason means that the Spurs have a real chance at winning a title – but even with the new acquisitions, it won’t be enough if Timmy and Manu aren’t healthy. Hopefully for the Spurs, a whole summer’s rest for the two will be enough to bring them up to speed, because there is no replacement for the two (specifically Manu, since even a half-strength Duncan is a monster).
- Defense: After dominating defensively for years, the Spurs lost a step last season, finishing only 9th in opposing field goal percentage, and 6th in defensive efficiency. Obviously, the Spurs were still near the top of the pack, but for a team whose defense made the difference for the past decade, this is a major fall. The Spurs need to regain their defensive identity to dominate. Of course, this relative letdown can be attributed to the decline of defensive ace Bruce Bowen, whom Richard Jefferson should do a decent job of replacing, and injuries, so it can’t be ruled out that this is a one year flop. Gregg Popovich’s mentality, a healthy Duncan, and a much stronger rotation should vault the Spurs back to elite-defensive status, however, if not, the Spurs in trouble.
Prediction: With perhaps the deepest team Duncan ever had, the Spurs are, yet again, posed for a whole lot of gut-wrenching, low scoring wins. They are currently the only team in the West that can, as currently constructed, dethrone the Lakers, and I really won’t be shocked if they do. However, it can’t be mentioned enough: the Spurs’ season will completely revolve around the health of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. 59-23, 2nd in West.