Who is Tanking? Don’t Tell the Players the San Antonio Spurs Won’t Win in 2022

Keldon Johnson and the Team Don't Want to Hear the San Antonio Spurs Won't Win in 2022
(Credit: Daniel Dunn / USA TODAY Sports)

The 2022 NBA season is just weeks away from tipping off, and as teams finish up media days, fans and analysts alike will gain a better idea of where the 30 teams are at. In the Alamo City and across the association, the general consensus is that the San Antonio Spurs won’t win in 2022, allegedly tanking for a lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. There has been a reluctance to use the “T-word” around the organization, likely to the preference of not only the front office but the league office as well.

When asked about the prospect for this coming season at media day on Monday, head coach Gregg Popovich changed his tune from recent years. Instead of using rhetoric about “competing” and “there are 82 games in a season”, he set fans’ expectations about the team’s ceiling. “I probably shouldn’t say this,” he said tongue-in-cheek per the San Antonio Express-News‘ Mike Finger. “Nobody here should go to Vegas and bet on this team to win the championship.”

Odds Say the San Antonio Spurs Won’t Win in 2022

At +100000 odds to win the title, Popovich isn’t breaking any news with that statement. He didn’t close the door on a playoff push, however, which would be counterproductive toward winning the NBA Lottery. The team nearly reached the postseason last year, falling to the New Orleans Pelicans in the play-in game, and his players have the hopes to do it again. That certainly would beat the betting window’s preseason projection of 24.5 wins.

“We want to make the playoffs,” second-year guard Josh Primo told the media, “and that’s the consensus for a lot of guys here, and that’s going to be the goal for the whole season. From the beginning, that’s going to be what we’re going for. We’re going to have fun doing it.”

If the team can reach the postseason, it would certainly be one of Popovich’s best coaching performances of the last 26 years. The team’s backcourt from last year got torn apart over the last eight months, starting with the February trade of Derrick White to the Boston Celtics, and including the June trade of All-Star Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks. This summer also saw the quiet exit of fifth-year guard Lonnie Walker IV, the Spurs’ first-round pick in 2018.

Does the Team Even Have the Talent to Win?

There is something admirable about a young team wanting to go out and compete. At the same time, tempering expectations and being realistic with such an inexperienced squad can be important. The veteran voice on the roster, Jakob Poeltl gave a much more tempered forecast for the season.

“We always want to keep our goals high,” the seventh-year 7-footer said, “so we definitely want to compete for those postseason spots. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s a tough ask of such a young team, but I think we can do it.”

To perform well would likely mean missing out on a transcendent like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, the early favorites to be the first two selections next summer at the draft. That could set the team up for a few more years of hoping for the playoffs, not striving for a championship. The franchise needs to seriously evaluate if they have a star or two in the making on this roster. If they don’t think they do, then one year of losing for this sweepstakes wouldn’t be the worst thing.

San Antonio May Not Have to Try to Lose

Whether or not San Antonio has the talent to push for the postseason remains to be seen. With three players selected in the first round of this summer’s draft, they have an interesting mix of rookies and veterans. Primo and Devin Vassell seem poised to progress again this year as both appear to have put in offseason weight work and look much stronger. Still, muscles don’t win games, talent and experience do. Compared to other rosters across the NBA, the Spurs seem to be lacking both and could lose more if they become in-season dealers on the trade market.

Even if the team is playing to win, they may lose just because their opponents are better. It is hard to play an 82-game schedule, however, with the mentality that you can’t compete. The rest of the basketball world can prepare for the worst season from the Spurs that anyone has ever seen all that they want. Up and down the roster though, the mantra remains the same as it ever has – pound the rock.

“I feel like whoever they put in front of us,” Keldon Johnson said on Monday, “that’s who we’re going to go get after. I feel like we’re not taking a back seat to no one, and that’s all 82 games.”


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