This is the fourth edition in my series previewing the seasons of NBA teams with former Texas Longhorns players.
So far I have previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. Today I am breaking down the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 58-24, lost 4-3 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat
Longhorn Player: Cory Joseph, PG
There were a few moving parts for the Spurs this offseason. Head coach Gregg Popovich lost two star assistant coaches in Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown, who left to take the head coaching jobs with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. I don’t expect these losses to phase Popovich, who is no stranger to major transitions on the bench. He had no trouble sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, despite Mike Brown, another of his former assistants, coaching the Cavaliers in that series.
Despite being the Western Conference’s best team last season, San Antonio had a nice chunk of change to spend this offseason. I am not convinced the Spurs spent it as wisely as they could have. The Spurs resigned center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal, as well as longtime core member Manu Ginobili to a two-year, $14 million contract. That price is right for Ginobili, who has shown he is still one of the most versatile guards in the league. Not so much for Splitter — the Spurs likely had to overpay for him out of fear of losing their developing project. He is not worth more per year than Ginobili, even at 36.
But the name of the game in San Antonio has always been consistency. In that sense, the Spurs excelled this summer.
The Spurs did lose pesky three-point specialist Gary Neal to the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, but they quickly signed another perimeter weapon in former Chicago Bull Marco Belinelli. He gives San Antonio much more size and length, as well as more efficient shooting. He lacks athleticism and Neal’s speed, but it is important to remember that he will be on the second unit. His job is to knock down open threes, and he will do that very well, as he always has.
Aside from all of that, the championship core remains intact. This is the number one reason the Spurs might have extended their title window by a couple years. Kawhi Leonard has all-star potential, and is becoming a more complete offensive player each year. Tony Parker is still one of the league’s top five, possibly top three point guards. Tim Duncan had a 10-year flashback last season, and Ginobili’s play merited his new contract. Danny Green had an unbelievable NBA Finals debut last season, and will return this season.
Once again the bench is deep and productive, benefited by Popovich’s plug-and-play system that allows anyone to step in and maximize his ability. That unit is headlined by former Texas Longhorn Cory Joseph, who will be Parker’s primary backup, Belinelli, swingman Boris Diaw, sharpshooter Matt Bonner and the slight but explosive Australian guard Patty Mills. You can count on this bench to hold its place among the league’s top five in production. Bottom Line: There isn’t really a weakness with this Spurs team. It will allow its fair share of points to one of the most impressive western conferences in league history, but it can still outgun quite a few teams. If Duncan can continue to drink from the fountain of youth and Parker and Ginobili stay healthy — 70 games or more — this team has a chance to win the West again. Additionally, it can expect Leonard and Splitter to continue their development and increase their nightly contributions.
In an always-brutal Western Conference that will be a notch tougher this season, I’ll give the Spurs 57 wins — one fewer than last year. Depending on the matchups in the conference finals, I can see them going to the NBA Finals again. If they run into the Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ll have a tough time. Anyone else — see you in June.