San Antonio won 67 games this season, had the best defense in the Association, and was the third or fourth best team in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Cleveland). They had an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard, integrated a new star in LaMarcus Aldridge, and were a legit title contender entering the playoffs.
But one with some flaws, something Oklahoma City was poised to expose.
As always, the Spurs will continue to evolve. With most franchises we’d talk about decline, but I and others have written off the Spurs before only to be proved wrong. Plus, with Aldridge and Leonard, there is not going to be some great drop-off.
More accurately, this is a team on the cusp of transitioning eras. Whether or not the core comes back for one more run at it, that transition has already started to take place and will continue. The only question is the pace of change.
Obviously, the first steps will be the decisions from Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan on whether or not they will retire. Speculate on what the inscrutable Duncan is thinking in the comments if you want; I’ll just wait for the one-line press release from the Spurs saying Duncan is back or retiring. You know that’s how it’s going down, or at least how Duncan wants it to go down.
After that, the Spurs roster next season has Aldridge, Leonard, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson locked in, and while the team could buy out Boris Diaw he will be back as well. The Spurs also have an option on Jonathan Simmons they will pick up. Then there are the three player options: Duncan, Ginobili, and David West.
Whatever happens with those, the Spurs will have less than max salary money available.
One of the more interesting decisions this summer for the Spurs will be on Boban Marjanovic, the 7’3” center and NBA cult hero. He is a restricted free agent, he is going to get a healthy raise from the $1.2 million he made this season, but how much will teams pay for a quality big whose role may not fit smoothly in a small-ball league (he can play in some rotations but not all). The Spurs would like to keep him, but if another team comes in over the top they may fold that hand.
Expect the Spurs to go big game hunting again, as they did last season with Aldridge. We’ve heard of their interest in Kevin Durant, although it’s hard to picture that one now. Mike Conley has come up and would be a considerable upgrade over the declining Tony Parker, but to ink him would require clearing out some salary cap space, and then convincing Conley to leave Memphis (not that easy, he likes it there). Expect Al Horford and every major free agent not named Dwight Howard to be linked to the Spurs. Nicolas Batum would be a great fit, but the buzz is he likely stays put in Charlotte.
However, as much or more of what the Spurs need to do is add quality depth, and in that get younger and more athletic. The difference in the Oklahoma City series was the Thunder’s bench and the versatility it provided Billy Donovan (who handled it very well). A few free agent names that might be interesting on the Spurs are Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Courtney Lee, although veterans in the right role — a Luol Deng or Jared Dudley — could be a boost as well for a season or two. Of course, it will come down to cost.
The Spurs are not a perfect organization, but they have evolved so many times over the past 15 years that we are just conditioned to expect it now — and they have already laid the foundation for that next phase. Maybe now is when they take a step back, you go ahead and bet on that if you want. I’ve seen this too many times to think they will not be back and be a force next season.