I’m writing this just before Midnight San Antonio time, so there’s going to be a little bit more emotion in this post then normal.
As a basketball fan and writer, this Western Conference Finals was incredibly entertaining and fascinating to watch. As a San Antonio Spurs fan it was, well, I’m not entirely sure what to say it was. So often fans have excuses why something doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Last season Manu Ginobili broke his arm with two games left in the season. In 2008, Ginobili hurt his ankle against New Orleans, leaving the Spurs hobbled against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. What if Manu doesn’t foul Dirk on that layup in 2006. What if .4 doesn’t happen. This season? I’m not sure there’s anything to make an excuse for.
Losing to a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder is fine, but it’s the losing in general part I have a problem with. You always want your team to win a title, but there are certain years where you get “that feeling” and most Spurs fans had it really up until somewhere around the Game Four or Game Five loss. I didn’t even want this as a selfish fan, but for the head coach that made almost every right call there was to make this season. I wanted it for the 2011 NBA All-Star who accepted his role as a Sixth Man again. Most of all I wanted it for Tim Duncan. To see him catch Kobe in the ring department, possibly double him up in the Finals MVP collection, would’ve been possibly my favorite moment ever as a Spurs fan. Watching him the last couple of games you could almost tell that might have been his favorite moment ever too (getting another ring anyways, who knows if he cares about Kobe).
Now I don’t know if the Spurs just missed their last great chance with this “Three Amigos” core or if they’re a guy or two away from being in the Finals next season. A couple of things stuck out during their only four game losing streak of the season. First, when Duncan wasn’t on the court, the Spurs were an awful defensive team. Even with Splitter out there (when he was actually allowed out there) they just didn’t have the length to bother Oklahoma City once they got in to the paint. The other problem is when guys stopped missing shots, they didn’t have one guy they could go to either get to the foul line or rise up over someone and get a bucket. The Thunder had two or three depending on what Westbrook’s shot was doing. Manu did a pretty job of doing that but he couldn’t be out there all 48 minutes. The Spurs do have a little bit of flexibility this summer and a ton next summer. Let’s look forward a bit.
-The Spurs do not have a first round draft pick this season. It was part of the Stephen Jackson-Richard Jefferson trade. It would’ve been the 30th pick. There’s nothing saying they can’t trade back in to the first round and if last year is any indication, they won’t hesitate to make a move they thing will help.
-The Spurs have approximately $23 million in salaries coming off the books this summer, putting them approximately eight to nine million dollars under the projected salary cap according to Sham Sports. Most of that money coming off the books is thanks to Tim Duncan’s expiring $21 million contract.
-Speaking of Duncan, he’s not going anywhere and will take up a large portion of the Spurs’ cap money. This is a total guess, but I expect Timmy, who has no interest in playing anywhere but San Antonio, to sign for two years at around $16 million. Maybe he does the Spurs a solid and signs for less than that, but realistically that’s his salary range.
-The Spurs have a couple of other guys they need to make decisions on. Danny Green is a restricted free agent with a $2.7 million qualifying offer. A week ago I would’ve said some stupid general manager (looking at you Billy King in Brooklyn) would’ve overpaid Green by about three or four million and the Spurs wouldn’t match. After the last four games of the season, I’d say his stock has dropped significantly. That and he’s already gone on Twitter record to say he’s not going anywhere.
-Patty Mills has a $885,120 player option on his contract. I would imagine he’ll pick that up. A full training camp and season in the Spurs’ system would really help turn him in to the back up point guard the Spurs were definitely lacking.
-Boris Diaw is an unrestricted free agent. He played great for the Spurs and completely resurrected his career. The Spurs probably want him back, but also probably won’t match any ludicrous offer he may get from a team with a lot of cap space and not a lot of common sense (still looking at you, Billy King).
-James Anderson is an unrestricted free agent since his team option wasn’t picked up. What happens with Danny Green will have a direct impact on Anderson’s status with the team.
-There have been various reports that two players the Spurs own the draft rights to are definitely coming, might be coming or would like to come to the NBA next season. Big man Erazem Lorbek is one of the two or three best big men in Europe and several outlets, including Project Spurs, have reported he’s likely coming over. Lorbek isn’t the defensive minded beast the Spurs need, but he’s got some post moves, can hit an outside shot and has championship experience playing in Spain. The other European player linked to the Spurs is French combo guard Nando de Colo. De Colo is a free agent and has expressed interest in playing for the Spurs, but with guys like Green, Neal, Cory Joseph, Mills and possibly James Anderson in the fold, where exactly does Nando fit?
-There’s also the question of whether it’s time to move on from role players like DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal. Neal’s shooting ability and general ballsiness are great, everything else about his game makes you nervous. I actually don’t have an opinion on Blair one way or another, but he could be a way for the Spurs to trade back in to the first round. Bonner I’m just about done with. This is the fourth year in a row Matt Bonner’s playoff numbers have been worse than his regular season. He’s a great teammate and by all accounts a great guy, but his value as a player diminishes when it matters most.
-There will be many other articles written about this I’m sure, but Tony Parker again had an inconsistent series when the Spurs needed him most. After an amazing regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs, is his trade value higher now than it was a year ago. Is there a guy out there that the Spurs could trade Parker for that gives them a better chance to win another title? That was more of a rhetorical question, but it’s a question that will again come up after the three stinkers Parker laid in the middle of the series. A championship level team’s best player shouldn’t get taken out of three games of a seven game series because the opponent switched up coverage on him.
It’s going to be a shorter offseason than the last couple summers, but there will be just as many questions for the Spurs. Remember this season fondly, it was fun.