Forgettable Season Not So Bad?
If you were born after 1998 then you have never witnessed an NBA season in which the San Antonio Spurs were not part of the postseason…until last year. Yes, it was that bad and the Spurs’ 32-39 record in the truncated 2019-2020 season had them on the outside looking in when the playoffs commenced in the Disney bubble.
And as dismal as that was, head coach, Gregg Popovich, was not nearly as pessimistic as one would believe after making vacation plans for the first time in a very long time before the postseason had begun. When the return to action came after a four-month hiatus, Popovich recalibrated and it bore a 5-3 record inside the bubble before the Spurs were ultimately eliminated from contention.
“The strategy, the philosophy, the way we play is going to stay the same, and everybody’s going to have to adjust to that because the guys did a great job, they enjoyed it,” Popovich said. “We changed our approach as far as practice was concerned, how we wanted to teach. The young players really took time to understand what we were doing.”
Pop went on to remark that he enjoyed watching the veterans work with the young guns on the roster, “People like DeMar and Rudy were great in mentoring these guys, and actually ended up changing some of the ways they have played over the years pace-wise, making defense more of a priority,” Popovich said. “They bought in, they really enjoyed the young guys, and melded together with them, so those two guys I was really proud of because they became leaders in that sense. The growth that took place there in some ways was unexpected, but it happened, so we’re just gonna go forward from what we did there.”
The focus going forward will be on relentless defense and a lightning-fast transition game that will hopefully lead to quick points on the offensive end. Some fear that bringing back Lamarcus Aldridge will impede the process if the Spurs are to change their focus and be successful in doing so. As we know, the seven-time All-Star has made his bones as a massive inside presence but this team doesn’t fit with that profile any longer.
Popovich is undeterred because he believes Aldridge is buying what he’s selling and will be intent on conforming to the new-look Spurs.
“I think that LA will have no problem adjusting to how we play because he wants to win, we want to get back in the playoffs, and he is committed to taking another huge step as far as becoming more of a three-point shooter, which is necessary in this league for success, we all know,” Popovich said. “He took a big step last year; he’s taking even a bigger step this year. His workouts all summer long and into the fall have centered around that, and he’s bought into that and knows how much that can help us, so I’m excited for the whole group to come together.”
LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles were not part of the small ball group that played so successfully inside the bubble and their presence on this team, with this new approach and attitude, will be critical to whether San Antonio sticks with the new philosophy or reverts back to one that didn’t work throughout most of last year. The NBA lines are already being dealt by the oddsmakers and the Spurs are +3300 to win the division, +20,000 to win the Western Conference, and +40,000 to win the NBA Championship this season.
Losing Forbes Bitter Pill for Pop
San Antonio is looking forward to integrating their first-round pick, Devin Vassell of Florida State, into their rotation this season. He recently signed his rookie tender and will be vying for time this season behind DeMar DeRozen in the small role and an undersized big behind Aldridge.
The Spurs may not be title contenders but they should be fun to watch if Popovich delivers on his promises of a lockdown defensive team with a frenetic transitional approach. But one player who won’t be returning is Bryn Forbes, who went undrafted but has been groomed by Popovich since he entered the league from Michigan State. The 27-year-old was signed by the Bucks in free agency and it was clearly a personal blow to the man who mentored him as a legitimate NBA talent.
“Of course we’re happy about DeMar and Jakob, that goes without saying, but Bryn was a tough one,” Popovich said. “He’s gonna be in a great position with Coach Bud and the Bucks, a great group developing a great culture, and having a chance to win a championship up there, I’m thrilled for him. The melancholy part is obviously he’s a great kid, we put a lot of years into developing him, we’re so proud of him for where he is now compared to when he came, being undrafted. The coaches did a wonderful job with him in that development, so the combination of what a player he became and what a wonderful human being he is, his mom, his family, that was a tough one, but that’s the business.”