Spurs start season focused on winning 5th title


The Spurs will start the 2007-08 season on October 30 looking to accomplish a goal which they have not been able to reach in team history: a repeat. While they bring back most of the team that helped them add another Larry O’Brien to their trophy case at One AT&T Center, there will be plenty of teams looking to throw a wrench into their plans. Here’s a look at the team that will be looking to lead the Spurs to their fifth tile.
Additions: Ime Udoka, Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Williams
Subtractions: Jackie Butler, Melvin Ely, P.J Carlesimo, Sam Presti
If Manu Ginobili starts, the Spurs have a zone-busting duo of guards that can penetrate or hit the jumper. We saw Tony Parker’s development in several areas last season, most noticeably the ability to knock down midrange jumpers on a consistent basis. He also became a reliable free throw shooter. Both are due to the work he has put in with Chip Englland for the last couple of seasons. Is this the year we see Tony’s range and accuracy stretch out to the three-point line? If so, he becomes even more of a threat. If not, believe me, no one is breathing easy or looking forward to having to defend him. Parker has put himself in great company among the elite of NBA point guards and he won’t be slowing down a bit this season.
I expect Manu to have a career year whether or not he starts at shooting guard. Manu has had a full offseason of rest, and if anyone needed it, it was him. I don’t know of anyone else in the league that sacrifices his body more than Manu and having a summer in which he did not have to play for Argentina following the best season of his career will do nothing but good things this season. I doubt he’ll break 30 minutes per game, but in the time given, he scores more than any other NBA player and his scoring and assists numbers will be even higher this season.
Michael Finley finally reached title town for the first time in his career, and you can bet he wants to make another trip after getting a taste. He ended last season as a starter, and for that reason, I expect he will be the starter at shooting guard on opening night. Pop has always had the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, plus having a scoring threat and slasher come off the bench isn’t a luxury all coaches have. This will be Finley’s third season with the Spurs, so I don’t expect it will take him as long to find his groove as it has in the past. He’s a savvy vet, so he’ll continue to use his go-to moves on offense, the long range jumper and a fadeaway from midrange over shorter defenders. With Finley starting and more attention being given to Parker, he’ll have two targets to kick the ball out to when he drives in Finley and Bruce Bowen.
Brent Barry enters what is likely the last season of his NBA career after enjoying his best year as a Spur last season. He has the versatility and experience to provide depth at both guard positions and he shoots the three ball with great accuracy, but his minutes will be cut more this season with addition of Ime Udoka.
Although a little undersiszed for the three at 6-5, Udoka will see time at both shooting guard and small forward. During training camp, Pop said Udoka would have to beat someone out to get significant minutes this season and a few others including MVN’s Rob Houston said Udoka’s contribution to the Spurs will really come next season. But I don’t put it past Udoka to beat someone out. He has a career and a contract due to beating the odds. Last season, Udoka was supposed to be Portland’s last cut, but when another player was injured, the Trailblazers kept the local product and he ended up becoming a starter. Udoka has followed a career path similar to the one followed by his mentor on the Spurs, Bruce Bowen. Udoka is a hustle player, has a great work ethic and shares a few other similarities with Bowen, his defensive prowess and knack for hitting the corner three. When he’s on the floor, you’ll know it, not because of his offensive production, but because he’ll be all over the floor on defense not only looking to lock down his defensive assignment, but trying to grab boards and filling the passing lanes. I can’t help but disagree with the early assesments and predictions of Udoka this season, especially after seeing the type of player he is.
Jacque Vaughn will continue to be a steady hand backing up Parker. He won’t do anything surprising, but he’ll make smart decisions, play tough defense and he’ll be there doing it night in and night out. I really expect this to be Beno Udrih’s last year with the Spurs. Udrih has the talent to be a good point guard in this league, but still lacks the mental toughness to excel at that position. Lack of confidence is the worse thing a point guard can have, and at this point, I’d rather have Darius Washington as the third point guard. He may not be a pure point guard or on the same talent level as Beno, but he’s confident, plays with a chip on his shoulder and is very aggressive. If Beno isn’t shipped out at some point this season, don’t expect him to get re-signed in the offseason.
Tim Duncan showed everyone last season that he wasn’t yet on his decline or out of his prime. After a year in which he suffered with a nagging plantar fasciatis injury, Duncan had a season worthy of a few MVP votes. While his scoring went down, his assists went up as he tried to get other players involved, especially when he was doubled in the post. I still don’t think he is on his decline and he’ll make an even stronger push for MVP this season. Kevin Garnett may have moved out east, but the NBA’s best power forward is still in the Western Conference.
I look for Fabricio Oberto to solidify his place in the starting lineup. This wil be his third NBA season, and it usually takes three years to really grasp the Spurs system. He showed great improvement last year and found his place in the offense. He’s a good passer out of the post and he often finds himself in the right place at the right time for easy baskets. But we also saw him go 11 for 11 one night and then put up a goose egg another night. I think we’ll see a lot more consistency out of Oberto this season.
Look for more of the same this year in Bowen. He’ll still be a pest to the league’s best and I don’t look for him to slip one bit. This will likely be his last chance to win Defensive Player of the Year and that may provide some extra motivation.
Backing up Duncan, Oberto and Bowen will be Francico Elson, Robert Horry, Matt Bonner, Ime Udoka, Marcus Williams and Ian Mahinmi, although I doubt Williams and Mahinmi make the opening night roster. Francisco Elson has impressed in preseason, but how about when the real season rolls around? Like Oberto, he showed flashes and got Spurs fans excited, especially on opening night last season against the Mavericks, but he failed to do it on a consistent basis. I can see Elson’s stats improve the way Finley’s did in his second year, but he’ll have to show me a lot more to prove he is worth his contract. He certainly has the talent and potential to be a nice post player for the Spurs. We can all hope that the mask has the same effect on Elson that it did on Rip Hamilton.
Robert Horry won’t be much of a factor in the regular season, so I expect Bonner will get an increase in playing time. The Spurs definitely got a steal in Udoka and it’ll be nice to have another defensive stopper to bring off the bench when Bowen gets a break. Again, I expect both Marcus Williams and Ian Mahinmi to be in Austin while the SPurs are getting their rings on the 30th.
With all the age on this roster, will this be the year it catches up with the Spurs? Not quite yet. The Spurs age and experience has been a positive in the playoffs in past years and they have enough of a mix of youth and experience to make another title run and their first repeat in franchise history. Then will there be any doubt that they are a dynasty?

Previous articleDestination Dynasty
Next articleSpurs 2007-08 Season Preview
Michael is the founder and editor of ProjectSpurs.com. He has a long history in journalism, sports and online media. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others.