Tuesday was an incredibly busy day for the San Antonio Spurs (and Project Spurs’ Paul Garcia who was keeping up with all the news) as they reportedly reached agreements with Tim Duncan, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Nando De Colo and Danny Green in a 24 hour time span. The only Spurs free agent left without a contract is James Anderson, who the Spurs aren’t likely to bring back especially with De Colo in the mix. Still, 2012-2013 will look a lot like 2011-2012. That means next year’s team will look a lot like the team that won 20 games in a row, but it also means they’ll look a lot like the team the lost four in a row to the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
The loss to the Thunder last month left a sour taste in a lot of fan’s mouths (present company included). All a lot of us could think about was how the Spurs role players (and at times their MVP candidate point guard) didn’t show up when they needed to most. We looked at how dreadful the defense was when Tim Duncan wasn’t in the basketball game. Mostly it was just tough to think the Spurs struggles came against the one team they’ll have to worry about for the rest of the Tim Duncan era.
What it took some of us a little bit of time to remember was that this is still the same team that torched the rest of the league from February on. As Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe pointed out, it was the best offense in the league all season and that didn’t exactly change against the Thunder. Two of their role players didn’t join the team until March. Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson became prominent members of the Spurs’ rotation without being completely acclimated with the Spurs’ system despite having some previous familiarity with it. It’s also important to consider that Tiago Splitter has become a valuable role player without having an extended amount of practice time (i.e. Training Camp) to get completely familiar with a system.
They also started a rookie at small forward who is almost sure to make a big leap from rookie year to second year. So maybe status quo isn’t so bad because it’s status quo with room for improvement. Kind of like a really nice house you buy that has a couple of small renovations but has really good bones.
There’s something else to consider here. Often times we hear the narrative that champions have to face some sort of adversity to make the leap to champion. We haven’t heard it with the Spurs in a decade because their head coach and three best players all have titles. However, the rest of this Spurs team as a collective hasn’t dealt with the adversity that comes with losing in the Conference Finals. Danny Green in particular comes to mind. Green was terrible during the Western Conference Finals, there’s no denying that. The good news was throughout Green kept shooting and kept hustling. A friend of mine the other day said he’d rather have Danny Green out there over Richard Jefferson because Green while Green missed a ton of shots, Jefferson just stopped shooting and you’d rather have the guy with the confidence to keep shooting when things aren’t going well.
Make no mistake, the Spurs still have holes in their roster. They really, really need someone who can defend the pick and roll and someone who can protect the rim. They don’t have that yet. They have one or two too many shooting guards and a lack of athleticism across the board. The good news is they now have a ton of a different pieces to make roster upgrades if they find the right deal. Green and Diaw both have very trade friendly contracts. Matt Bonner’s contract has two years left on it but only this coming season is guaranteed. Tiago Splitter has one year left (then he becomes a restricted free agent) and could prove to be an incredibly valuable trade piece if he continues to develop. I don’t think there’s a coach besides Gregg Popovich that wants to coach Stephen Jackson, but his $10 million expiring contract would be good for a team to trade for and then buy out, thus creating salary cap space for next summer and beyond. There’s also that Tony Parker guy, but we’ll not get in to that just yet.
I began the day wondering if the Spurs had just set themselves up to have another great regular season, then make it to the Western Conference Finals and flame out like this season. That might still be the case, but the more you think about it, between the lockout and midseason deals that Spurs team was a rough draft of what it could become. A full training camp should do wonders for this team and their depth should keep Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili fresh for a postseason run. Here’s hoping next spring’s team is the final draft version to this summer’s rough draft.