The San Antonio Spurs have not missed the playoffs in 27 years. That streak should be extended to 28 this year. Of course, the Spurs still have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Gregg Popovich, and Kawhi Leonard is a top five player in the league. But things are changing. These are not the Spurs of old. Tim Duncan retired a year ago, Tony Parker is old and struggling with injuries, and Manu Ginobili (who just announced he’d be back for season 16 with the team) averaged just 18 minutes a game last season. The Spurs should be a playoff team again this year, but their chances at a title are looking bleak.
The West is an ultra-competitive conference, with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors as the top dog. The Spurs finished second in the conference last year, but many expect them to slip to third this season with Houston’s addition of Chris Paul. This may sound blasphemous, but are we really sure that the Spurs will be near the top of the conference again? The Spurs lost Jonathon Simmons and Dwayne Dedmon in free agency, two guys who really contributed in meaningful ways. Kawhi and Popovich are great, but besides those two, the team is light on star power.
The Spurs roster is not the best in the league, but it isn’t bad. Parker will split time with Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, and rookie Derrick White at point guard. That’s a deep group, but none of those guys are really starting-caliber players at this point. Danny Green is the team’s starting two guard, and Murray should get time at the two as well. At forward, the Spurs have Kawhi, Rudy Gay, and Kyle Anderson. LaMarcus Aldridge plays both power forward and center and, the team recently signed Joffrey Lauvergne. Reportedly, the Spurs are also close to bringing back Pau Gasol. The expected starting lineup would be Parker-Green-Kawhi-Gay-Aldridge. Besides Kawhi, are any of those starters in the top 10 at their position? Aldridge is, but the rest are a definitive no.
That said, the Spurs finished second in the West with a starting lineup of Parker-Green-Kawhi-Aldridge-Dedmon/Gasol. Popovich has shown time and time again that he can get the most out of his players. Maybe I’m overthinking this. But the West is looking rough. The Oklahoma City Thunder paired MVP Russell Westbrook with Paul George, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets both added all-stars to a young core. The Los Angeles Clippers may have lost Paul, but Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still there. Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jrue Holiday are a solid big three in New Orleans. And never count out the grit-n-grind Memphis Grizzlies. A good team or two (or three) will end up missing the playoffs in the West. I expect the Spurs to make it, but I think they will finish closer to fifth than to second.
Next offseason will be incredibly interesting for the Spurs. Kawhi, Aldridge, Gay, and Green all could opt out of their player options, and Parker will be an unrestricted free agent. The Spurs could find themselves with a lot of cap space and be able to surround Kawhi with another star. It will be interesting to see how the 2017-2018 season plays out for the Spurs because of the huge impact it could have on their free agent prospects next summer. Expect the Spurs to take a step back this season, but they’ll be back near the top of the West soon.