It has happened. The inevitable moment we all knew was coming but hoped to push back year after year has finally come. With Manu Ginobili announcing his retirement, father time has finally caught the Big 3. And with so many questions to answer this coming season, Ginobili leaves the Spurs with one more, what does this mean for the Spurs going forward?
End of an Era in San Antonio
With Manu retiring and Tony Parker leaving to play for the Hornets next season, the Big 3 era has officially come to a close. An era that has seen unprecedented success with five championships and an NBA record 21 straight playoff appearances. Now Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are the only remaining players left from the 2014 championship squad.
This also marks the end of the homegrown talent era for the Spurs. For the first time, the franchise cornerstones for this coming season (DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge) will not be players that were developed in-house. However, this non-homegrown era may be brief depending on Dejounte Murray’s continued development and Derrick White’s potential to break out this coming season.
Although the big 3 era has ended that does not mean the Spurs way has as well. The Spurs have continued to find gems late in the draft and develop them into just what the team needs. As Tony Parker’s game began to decline, Dejounte Murray stepped in ready to be the next franchise point guard. Now as Manu Ginobili retires, Derrick White has the opportunity to step in and pick up where he left off. And with the recent selection of Lonnie Walker IV, the Spurs may just have a new stable of homegrown talent to start the next era.
Who will fill Ginobili’s role?
It’s rare to find a player of his talent not only willing to come off the bench but thrive in that role as well. Ginobili, even in final seasons, provided an instant surge of energy off the bench and acted as the primary facilitator of the second unit. With his retirement, Ginobili leaves big shoes to fill and they may very well be Derrick White’s to fill this coming season.
White is an excellent scorer and capable facilitator that will most likely see his role increase now that the second unit lacks a go-to primary ballhandler. Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are also names that come to mind when thinking of Manu’s successor due to their experience and scoring ability, but both are at their best when playing off-ball and lack White’s ability to penetrate and create for teammates.
Another name to watch is Lonnie Walker IV, he is still very raw in his decision making but is an athletic freak that is already built like a prototypical shooting guard. Walker may only be 19-years-old, but he is already the Spurs’ most physically gifted shooting guard not named DeRozan, and he may just earn some minutes with Ginobili’s retirement and the departures of Tony Parker and Brandon Paul.
Manu Ginobili was also just as valuable off the court as he was on it. He was a leader that provided championship experience and acted as a mentor for the younger players by constantly giving advice when he could. And with the departure of Tony Parker as well, the Spurs are all of a sudden short staffed when it comes to leadership. DeMar DeRozan is a good communicator that should settle in well to a leadership role for the Spurs going forward but does not yet know how things are run in San Antonio. And for that reason, look for Patty and Marco to step up and help share that corporate knowledge. Although he is only entering his third season with the Spurs, look for Dejounte Murray to take a big step in becoming one of the vocal leaders of the group next season.
Manu Ginobili’s retirement is the punctuation mark on an offseason filled with ups and downs in San Antonio. And with those ups and downs comes change and opportunity. Change for the fans, who will cheer on a team without many of the familiar faces they grew up watching, and opportunity for the players, who will get the chance to fill roles that haven’t needed filling in decades. And amidst all this change its important to realize that although the Spurs will certainly look different, different does not necessarily mean worse.