Written by Benjamin Bornstein, Project Spurs.com
The San Antonio Spurs are reloaded and everyone is re-signed with the exception of Aron Baynes. Surely the Spurs will be looking to repeat for the first time in their dynasty, and now that the free agency dust has settled (for the most part), it’s time to see who might threaten that dream in the West.
There are potential playoff teams who stayed stagnant for the most part with the Clippers, Trailblazers and Thunder being the main culprits. There are those who made some minor moves like the Warriors (both hiring Steve Kerr and signing Shaun Livingston) and Rockets (letting Chandler Parsons go and replacing him with Trevor Ariza). And then of course there are the teams who made some superb moves in the draft (Phoenix) or in free agency (Dallas), and will surely see improvement because of it.
This is going to be mainly about those teams that could truly threaten San Antonio so that’s really about four teams. The Clippers, Thunder, Mavericks, and Trailblazers I believe are the teams that could give the Spurs the most trouble come playoff time. Fortunately, they can only face three of these teams at the most (thanks to math), but I will take you through why each one poses their own unique perils to the Spurs.
We’ll start with the Clippers, who are a much different team under Doc Rivers than they have been in the past. They have an excellent and top-5 point guard in Chris Paul, a defensive minded beast in DeAndre Jordan, and a much more, well-rounded player in Blake Griffin. They can still become “Lob City” and do it at the flick of a switch, but they are much more than that. They have just the right amount of shooters to surround DJ, Griffin, and Paul (when he isn’t shooting the ball himself) in Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, and “Microwave 2.0” Jamal Crawford. They are a disciplined team, but have just gotten unlucky in the past few years running into the Thunder this past year, and the Grizzlies the year before (possibly the worst defense to run into in the playoffs that season). Their three-point shooting would keep the Spurs honest on the defensive end and allow Chris Paul to run circles around Tony Parker and get to the paint almost at will. The balance of their team and the ability for almost anyone to have a hot night is a very scary and a real thought.
The Thunder have always been a spur (I did it) in San Antonio’s back, but haven’t quite figured out their Western rivals. However, if you ask me, Kendrick Perkins is the biggest problem for Oklahoma City and always has been. He’s an albatross who can’t move, has a terrible contract, and is always scowling. There are guys on that bench like Nick Collison, now Mitch McGary, and Perry Jones III, who should be getting way more time than him. Stats hate Perkins and so do many of the people in OKC who like to see good basketball. Naturally, the person to be most scared of is Kevin Durant, as he is going to go out and get his 30 points every night, but if you can get Russell Westbrook to take a lot of jumpers, and on a night where he isn’t hitting every single one, that’s a winning situation. After those two comes Serge Ibaka who is much better than in years past, and is a real third option for them on offense. However, beyond that, there are no proven scorers for them who have done it in big minutes or games. Jeremy Lamb is a guy who scores when he knows he’s getting garbage time or is being guarded by someone he deems to be beneath him. With the loss of Thabo Sefolosha though, they lose a guy who likes to get after it on the defensive end, and who doesn’t mind not scoring, so that’s a big hit for them to take. However, they did sign shooter Anthony Morrow from the New Orleans Pelicans, who will bring some efficient perimeter shooting and underrated defense to their squad.
The Mavericks are always a tough team when it comes to playing the Spurs. For some reason they just have their number and those are always tough battles and series between the two teams. They don’t hate each other by any means, as they both hold each other in very high regards and possibly own the classiest rivalry in all of basketball. Dirk Nowitzki is always going to be Dirk, but they got an old running mate back in Tyson Chandler via a trade with New York, and they got Chandler Parsons, who is going to help this team out a ton. He’s the perfect player to run with and learn from the German shooting machine. You best believe he’s going to come out guns-a-blazing after what his former Rockets teammates said about him, and he’s out to prove everyone wrong. The Mavericks also re-signed veteran Devin Harris to run the team, and brought in Jameer Nelson presumably as the back-up point guard after they sent Shane Larkin and Jose Calderon to the Knicks in the trade to net the taller Chandler. If Raymond Felton could find a way to get himself in shape and motivated to play, he could turn out to be the biggest steal in that NY trade. Despite barely making the playoffs last year, they gave the Spurs their hardest test of the postseason going through seven games before losing a tough one in the end. They’ll be back and probably as a higher seed despite the West being so tough.
Last and certainly not least, the Portland Trailblazers. They are a team that made some quiet acquisitions in getting Chris Kaman as a great back-up option to Robin Lopez, and got Steve Blake, who showed in Golden State last year, that he still has some fuel left in the tank. With C.J. McCollum able to go for a full year and the rest of the team staying as good as they were last season, they are going to be very dangerous. They are built similarly to the Mavericks, which is why they scare me. They have a mid-range shooting power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge, a dynamic point guard in Damian Lillard, and very good role players in Nicolas Batum (goes the dynamite! Couldn’t resist), Thomas Robinson (who was never given a chance until he arrived in Rip City), and Wesley Matthews. They are a very jump shot heavy team, which could be their downfall, but if they find a way to balance all that out, they will be one of the best teams in the league this season, hands down. The depth chart does get a little shaky after those guys I already mentioned, but when it comes playoff time, those are the only guys who will see major minutes and Terry Stotts knows he will be able to get away with playing some of his starters heavier minutes in the regular season if he needs it.
I know a lot of people see the Warriors and possibly the Suns as threats in the playoffs, but Golden State’s future is still cloudy as the Kevin Love trade could go down at any moment, and even if it doesn’t, they still lack a couple pieces to truly be great. They will have to learn a new system under Steve Kerr, and David Lee and Andrew Bogut have to be healthy at the same time in the playoffs when it counts. I know Stephen Curry counts as probably three pieces by himself, but Harrison Barnes is going to have to get over the fact he is coming off the bench and shake off his pride because he was awful last season, and it wasn’t just a sophomore slump.
The Suns are a very intriguing team because of all the talent they’ve accumulated in the draft, but it won’t quite be enough to truly contend. They have too many young guns to really get far in the playoffs, but they will make it unlike last season. They’ll actually be a really fun team to watch now that they have mini-Isaiah, T.J. Warren (a mid-range specialist), Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic (real name, I swear), and will probably be bringing back Eric Bledsoe even if he’s angry about it.
However, there are only four truly dangerous teams to the Spurs and this season should be a good one to watch in the West, even with the bottom of the conference as the Timberwolves will be a plot twist fest, and the Pelicans will be an improving team with Anthony Davis, and the Kings look like they’re going to try and win some games this year!