The San Antonio Spurs are still in rebuild mode heading into another season and head coach Gregg Popovich will be desperate to lead them to the playoffs at least one more time before he decides to hang it up.
There was hope they would make up for missing the postseason action at the end of the 2019/20 campaign, their first since 1997, the year before the team drafted Tim Duncan. Sadly, a 33-39 record is what followed, while they have also lost a number of key players. DeMar DeRozan will be playing for the Chicago Bulls this season, while Patty Mills has joined championship favorites, the Brooklyn Nets.
The NBA picks still have the Nets as the outrights despite Kyrie Irving’s ineligible status and they have another Spurs man in their ranks – LaMarcus Aldridge is back with the team after abruptly retiring last season due to heart concerns.
Meanwhile, Rudy Gay is off to Utah, with the Jazz a major threat in the Western Conference.
The Spurs have made widespread changes this year, adding the likes of Doug McDermott, Zach Collins, Bryn Forbes, and Thaddeus Young. Al-Farouq Aminu was added as well but was waived on Monday. It appears the organization has moved away from battling for playoff action while trying to develop young players at the same time; the veteran additions suggest as much. Joining the team are also two rookies in Josh Primo and Joe Wieskamp, Nos. 12 and 41 respectively.
The team was also able to coax Manu Ginobili back, hiring him as a special adviser to basketball operations. The Argentinian, now a Spurs legend, will help Popovich with the overhaul, as will Duncan, who is around often working with the young players.
That said, the turnaround isn’t expected to come this season. Of course, The Spurs are an exemplary organization and there’s no doubt they will become a powerhouse in the West again. It’s just not going to be this season.
Popovich is still considered one of the best coaches around and that he will be in charge heading into 2021/22 means the youngsters will be pushed to play as hard as they can. The Spurs have one of the league’s youngest rosters, with Young the only player above 30.
The Los Angeles Lakers are favored to get out of the West while the Clippers will likely remain competitive, though Kawhi Leonard might not be back this season. The Golden State Warriors could be the biggest threat to the Lakers as Klay Thompson should return by Christmas, while Monty Williams’ Phoenix Suns can still boast being Western Conference Champions. The Jazz and Denver Nuggets are also to be reckoned with and, by now, it’s known what to expect from Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
It does look pretty bleak for San Antonio out West but perhaps not so much in the Southwest Division. The Dallas Mavericks remain highly unpredictable but should claim top honors therein.
The Memphis Grizzlies are also a force but they’re certainly a team the Spurs could compete with. The Houston Rockets are in rebuild mode too and the New Orleans Pelicans might not have Zion Williamson back anytime soon. The former No.1 draft pick was revealed as having undergone surgery on a fractured foot in the offseason and it’s not clear when he might be back in action. He hadn’t started running or training with the team as of last week.
Considering the circumstances, the Spurs have been mentioned as unlikely to win more than 34 games this season.
Another bright spot heading into the campaign stems from USA Basketball looking for a new coach. Pop led the nation to gold at the Tokyo Olympics this summer but it appears this might have been his last run.
It’s great for the Spurs in that he will be able to focus all of his energy on the team yet it’s also feared that he may not be around for much longer and it’s understood that San Antonio is preparing for life without him.
Popovic is just 26 wins away from becoming the winningest coach in league history, having notched 1,300 victories back in March. He’s most likely going to reach the milestone this season. As to whether or not he will be motivated to continue coaching after that is left to be seen but the 72-year-old has noted that he’s still in the game as he enjoys developing young players. He also claims that the competitiveness basketball presents is a major factor.
“If that diminished or disappeared, then I wouldn’t be doing this,” he was quoted as saying.
In any case, this season is going to be an important one for San Antonio. It’s one in which their young prospects could show enough maturity to make a name for themselves but it’s also one that should help bridge the gap between the heights they’ve enjoyed in years past to where they want to be.