Great Expectations

Editor’s note: Please welcome to the Project Spurs’ writing staff Nick Kapsis. Nick was part of the Reigning Black website and will be bringing his unique brand of insightful posts on the San Antonio Spurs. He is excited to be joining the team as we are for adding him to the Project Spurs family. Enjoy his debut post.
Expectation is a funny thing.
It skews and it alters. It makes good not good enough often leaving what’s been done only the threshold from which to begin doing more. It sets a standard by which to be judged. Ultimate success only comes when a thirst has been quenched and a predetermined goal’s been met.
For an NBA team with championship aspirations, meeting expectation for an offseason only occurs when the pieces are believed to be in place and the deficiencies have seemingly been addressed.
Expectation has a funny way of turning into a four-letter word.
Recently’s Ben Hunt had a chance to sit down with San Antonio Spurs’ general manager RC Buford to find out just how well things had gone for the Spurs after ending the 2009-10 campaign. Was the Spurs’ 2010 offseason a success — had the goals and needs of this Spurs team been met this past summer?

“We wanted to do what we could to keep together a group that had a lot of transition last year and to have a great deal of internal improvement, Buford said. “We wanted to add a big next to Tim Duncan, a wing defender and improve our shooting.”
Nine players return, two-fifths of their starting lineup won’t be completely new to the roster, and the overall health of the team going into camp is as well as can be expected — the Big 3 is rested with no injuries, fatigue or surgeries to overcome, nothing to hamper a team trying to find chemistry and cohesion from day one. A better place than a year ago?
One down, three to go.
It’s been seven years since David Robinson left the stage a champion. Seven years have passed and the Spurs have yet to be able to find an adequate replacement. There was a time Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed were deemed to be not-good-enough. Fabricio Oberto and even Robert Horry were only good enough until they got-it-done. The Spurs have been waiting, searching for Tim Duncan’s next real sidekick. But quality big men just don’t grow on trees — and sometimes you’re too far in the forest to see a Luis Scola.
After years of waiting, the Spurs and the NBA will finally see Tiago Splitter makes his way to the league. No more draft histrionics or contract buyouts, Tiago Splitter — the Spanish League’s regular season MVP, Finals MVP and reigning ACB champion with Caja Laboral Vitoria — is officially a Spur.
Two down.
Since the Spurs’ last championship in 2007, the roster’s supporting cast has seen significant turnover. A supporting cast that happened to boast the type of three-point shooting a champion could rely upon: Bowen lurking in the corner; Horry at the ready, presenting a target before sliding his right foot over on the catch as if he were shooting from the “stretch;” Brent Barry’s lightning-quick release set shot, ready to fire at a moments notice. Images seared into the mind of any individual who followed the Spurs or NBA closely. But It wasn’t simply about their ability to shoot, however, it was the time in which that ability would be revealed and shown. The Spurs haven’t lacked of capable three-point shooters, they’ve lacked of timely shooters. Cold-blooded and trustworthy shooters. Postseason shooters.
In 2007 the Spurs were the fourth-best 3-point shooting team during the regular season. In the playoffs they ranked first. In 2008 they were the eleventh-best 3-point shooting team during the regular season, in the playoffs they ranked second — 2007 ended in a championship, 2008 didn’t end before reaching the Western Conference finals. In 2009 the Spurs managed to rank third amongst 3-point shooting teams during the regular season but saw their ranking of third in the entire league fall to thirteenth out of sixteen teams during the playoffs. 2010 would see the Spurs again fall to eleventh in 3-point shooting during the regular season but it would also continue the trend of 2009 where the Spurs found themselves ranked ninth out of sixteen teams once the playoffs came around.
Gone is Roger Mason, returning is Matt Bonner. The Spurs have added shooting via the draft and free-agency in the form of James Anderson and Gary Neal. Far from proven, further from coming to a conclusion. Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner, James Anderson and Gary Neal represent the possibility for improvement, even if not the certainty of a needs fulfillment. The shootings at least been addressed . . .
Batting .750 … shooting for 1.000.
It’s not surprising the Spurs would have a hard time finding a successor and replacement for the likes of Bruce Bowen. He may have been the best perimeter defender of his time. It’s even less surprising they’d have such a hard time trying to replace a player who could thrive both as an offensive and defensive player in the midst of a very structured scheme. Bowen was a rare bird — one that seems more of an oddity than endangered. A truly unique basketball player. Few players’ skills and physical gifts meshed with a team and scheme as beautifully.
But try they must. A need is a need. One only needs to look back over the past decade of NBA champions to see how essential it is to have an elite perimeter defender and defense. Each and every team had a designated “stopper” who was at least 6-6 and was a key contributor to their team. They were legitimate rotation players who could be played at any given moment, at just about any given time.
Time. Quality perimeter defenders need it. And the only way a player can warrant the type of time or minutes a stopper truly needs to do his job and play his role, is if the player’s ability on one end exceeds an adequate standard on the other — as long as Bowen was playing to his lofty standard on the defensive end and threatening from the corner 3, the Spurs wouldn’t be left to play 4-on-5.
So whom do the Spurs turn to on their roster for such a role? Garrett Temple may hold the most promise but is likely too slight and undersized. Alonzo Gee is a gifted athlete with great tools but has yet to prove a capable defender, much less a legitimate NBA player. James Anderson was drafted to score and with the hope he could be a decent defender for the position (shooting-guard). George Hill may have been the Spurs’ best
perimeter defender a year ago, but he’s only 6-2.
Sans a trade, the Spurs will be left having to address their need for a perimeter defender and stopper with an undrafted rookie or veteran free-agent. The odds couldn’t be all that favorable finding this year’s Wesley Matthews, in a Stephen Jackson frame, with the veteran savvy and knowledge to both adapt to the Spurs system and garner the respect of an officiating crew in his first year with the team. To expect such would be, at best, unrealistic.
But the Spurs have lessened the transition and gained in their “corporate knowledge.” They have added a quality big man. They may have improved their shooting. They’ve yet to address or fulfill their need for a perimeter defender. The Spurs this offseason are batting .750 at best, .500 at worst.
Expectation is a funny thing — if only a front office were a batter’s box.