Today’s just a normal summer day here in San Antonio, but it could have been game seven of the Western Conference Finals at the AT&T Center. Instead it’s a gloomy cloudy day outside where the sun is battling through thick clouds and scattered showers to shine.
As far as sports in the city go, the quiet day is a resemblance of the state the San Antonio Spurs are in right now, out of the playoffs and questioning, wondering how in the world they let a championship that should have been theirs, slip away.
Our own Trevor Zickgraf and Jason Rogers wrote some excellent pieces on the tragedy of the game six loss. Zickgraf addressed some of the offseason complications the Spurs now face, and Rogers wrote about how San Antonio was destined to win the title, but they let a series where they had all control be taken away by a hungrier and younger group from Oklahoma City.
Now the question becomes, after everyone thought this Spurs team had no weaknesses, what areas do they need to address in the offseason?
Set in Stone
From what I saw in the playoffs, the only solid position that is definitely set in stone is the small forward position. After that was a weakness with Richard Jefferson manning the position over the last two and half seasons, it has become the Spurs’ biggest strength with rookie Kawhi Leonard not only playing superb defense, but he was also providing offense as he was the Spurs’ fourth leading scorer. Then, the Spurs have Stephen Jackson coming off the bench. Jackson was huge in the Thunder series and kept finding a way to keep the Spurs in it with big three pointers just as it looked like they were about to wilt. Coach Gregg Popovich arguably has the best small forward tandem in the league right now. I can’t think of a better pair that are both defensive stoppers, and can bring offense by driving or shooting from distance. Plus, Popovich has the luxury of being able to play both on the floor at the same time. The small forward position is no longer an area the team needs to address in the offseason.
The Fourth Big Man
With the Spurs signing Boris Diaw, I think it was a great signing. He not only provided both offense and defense in a span of just two and a half months, but he provided more versatility when he was on the floor. I think the Spurs should push to resign him and with him playing with Parker in France this summer in the Olympics, and a full training camp and season under his belt in the silver and black, I think Diaw can double the production he showed this season.
Tiago Splitter showed he’s a usable big man off the bench because of his ability to run the pick-and-roll consistently and get to the foul line at a steady rate. The time when Splitter becomes somewhat of a deficiency is when teams play small against the Spurs. He’s just not quick enough to keep up with slashing guards and full court play. But with a third season, I think Splitter will get even better and have more responsibility in the Spurs’ game plan.
Assuming Tim Duncan resigns with the Spurs one to three more seasons, there leaves just one hole in their big man lineup. As Zickgraf pointed out, Matt Bonner once again disappeared when the Spurs needed him most and in my opinion, DeJuan Blair wasn’t going to make a huge difference even if he got a lot of minutes against the Thunder. So what kind of big man do the Spurs need? I think they need a taller (6’10″-7’0″) big man that is defensive minded, meaning Duncan isn’t the only player who can hold the paint down, and the big man would need some sort of perimeter shot so that he could keep spacing on offense which is so vital to San Antonio.
The Spurs have two players they could bring over this summer stashed in Europe, Erazem Lorbek and Ryan Richards. All season I’ve read great reports about Lorbek’s ability to play in the post and shoot from the perimeter. But I don’t think he’s the defensive presence the Spurs need. Then there’s Richards, I haven’t heard much about him since the beginning of the season. Richards however is a seven footer who plays inconsistent defense (gets in foul trouble too easy) but can also shoot from the outside. I’m not sure if coach Popovich would have that trust in Richards like he did in Leonard this season as a rookie.
I haven’t done much college scouting due to being wrapped up in the Spurs’ lockout season, but maybe there’s a guy in the draft that possess those qualities the Spurs will be looking for. If he’s in the first round, the Spurs showed last year they wouldn’t hesitate to trade a role player for a draft pick. Or maybe he’s a hidden gem in the later rounds. R.C. Buford will be the one to make that decision.
The other guard not named Manu or Tony
Another reason why the Spurs lost to the Thunder was their consistent backcourt of Gary Neal and Danny Green. Neal continued to score points, but when the Spurs needed him to be a spark in the quarters where the team went cold, he followed along with the momentum of his teammates. Neal’s best ability is shooting the ball and being a scorer. He’s a mismatch on defense and struggled in the playoffs to play the backup point guard role, which isn’t entirely his fault. The Spurs still have Patty Mills to mold into their backup point guard if he picks up his player option and Neal can still be a good role player off the bench. Green went from a being someone the Spurs could rely on in the first two series to nonexistent against the Thunder. When Green and Neal were scoring in the first two rounds consistently, it allowed either Parker or Ginobili to have a bad or quiet game. But as the Spurs saw against the Thunder, since Neal and Green didn’t have a good series, Parker and Ginobili had to have big games every night in order for the team to win. They couldn’t play perfect in those last four games, and the result was the loss. Green is a free agent this summer and I think he might get another shot with San Antonio because it really was his first year as a starter and he did show he could play in the playoffs in the first two rounds, but going cold when it mattered most could have a huge role in where Green plays next season.
The Spurs need one more guard who can penetrate and have the ability to drive-and-kick because Parker and Ginobili just can’t do it by themselves anymore. They have Nando De Colo in Europe who has the ability to do that, but I see him more as a point guard and outside shooter rather than a guy who can get to the free throw line at a consistent rate. An Eric Bledsoe “type” player would be good for the Spurs because he has that ability to drive and get to the foul line while also being able to open the outside shooting. If there’s another slasher in this draft, the Spurs will surely look. If not, they can maybe look for that type of player to trade for or sign if there’s a free agent who possesses those abilities. One wild card in my opinion would be bringing Adam Hanga who they drafted last year over. Hanga is quick and athletic and good at driving and drawing contact. His shooting and individual defense still isn’t developed consistently, but if there’s a cheap way to find that other guard, Hanga might be a roll of the dice.
Buford and Coach Popovich are two of the best in the business at making moves and keeping their team amongst the best in the league. Yes, even though most thought this was the team to win it all and they didn’t, they’re still right there at the top with the contenders.
The Spurs just need a few moves and their younger players will all develop even more with a full training camp and full season coming up. It’ll be interesting to see what moves the front office makes this offseason, but the biggest move they’ll make is keeping number 21 in a Spurs uniform and on the floor.
If Duncan isn’t back, the Spurs are no longer a title contender and will be in rebuilding mode from one season to the other. It’s that simple.