Author : Sai Krishnan
Boring. Old. Soft. The words which were repeatedly used by critics to describe the San Antonio Spurs last season until it blew up in their faces. The Spurs marched into the NBA finals and gave the mighty Miami Heat one of their hardest title fights ever. Though they did lose to the younger and more agile Heat, hardly anybody would actually feel too sorry for the Spurs, save themselves of course.
The reason behind this is that, the Spurs have just been too successful. They have won 4 Championship titles since their first title win in 1999. Last season, pretty much everyone had written them of and they made it to the NBA finals. It’s hard to feel sorry for this successful a team.
However, that doesn’t mean that the loss to Heat, despite extending the series to 7 games, wouldn’t sting. It will, long and hard. Just the way it will sting Duncan that he came that close to winning his 5th Championship ring. But we know one thing about the Spurs, they don’t leave unfinished business unattended.
That’s what their next season will be: attending to unfinished business.
With this sense of renewed energy, what will their plans be for next season? The collective plans of the team, as a whole however, rest on a few key people.
The 64-year-old has been in the NBA rat race for a long time. Too long in fact. Gregg “Pop” Popovich has been the head coach of the Spurs since 1996. He has won 4 Championship titles with them and came very close to winning a 5th one. In fact, he’s had more than his fair share of “almost there”s that no one would blame him if he decided to hang up his boots.
However, Popovich insists that he’ll continue to remain the head coach of the Spurs as long as Duncan continues to play. Since Duncan hasn’t made any announcement hinting at retirement, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see this pair plotting to take down the mightiest teams for at least one more season. After all, they do have unsettled scores.
Popovich, widely considered to be the best head coach in the league right now, was one of the key reasons why the Spurs managed to reach the NBA Finals despite being older than they would like. He drew up brilliant plans to contain opponent score-machines, like LeBron James, effectively. It was his brain which enabled the Spurs to play out a long season without suffering any major injuries to their key players.
Who’s to say that he can’t do it again this season?
The focal point of their team. Their leader. The best player to have ever played for their franchise. The 37-year-old is all this and more. Here’s a man who has had every possible accolade, both individual and team, a player can collect. The only point of discussion is how many he has collected.
The American has one year left in his contract and he could opt out of it in 2014-15. Most players, at his age, would probably retire at that. But this is Mr. Fundamental we’re talking about.
At 37, he played his best season since 2008-09. He averaged 18 PPG, 9.9 RPG and 2.7 BPG. The statistics have not dropped one bit and he’s playing as well as he ever has. Who knows how much longer he has in his tank?
But then again, Popovich, the ultimate strategist, has already started grooming the next crop of players, whom he might not even coach. However, until Duncan continues to play, he’ll remain their focal point.
The 31-year-old Frenchman is at his prime right now, be it scoring, passing or just plain ball handling. Alongside Duncan, he played one of his best seasons in recent years. Despite his hamstring injuries, Parker is the engine of San Antonio’s offence. Parker has 2 years left on his contract but has at least another 5 years in his tank, unless he’s hampered by injuries.
Parker is not just one of the best point guards in the league right now, he’s also the on-court coach. Like most elite floor generals, he’s embedded so deep into the system that if Parker decides to leave their franchise, it’ll completely fall apart.
While he’s not as quick as he once was, Parker’s understanding of the game and his court vision remain top-tier. Once again, coach Popovich’s plays and his rotation of players will definitely influence the amount of impact the ageing Parker has on the Spurs.
Even though Parker is ageing, his much improved mid range game and excellent decision making will place him near the top of the list of Point Guards. His performance might make sure that the Spurs stay near the top as well.
Once part of the mighty “Big 3″, alongside Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Ginobili is now a mere vestige of his former glorious self.
Ginobili has his moments, but that’s all they are: moments. They come and go once in a while, and serve as a reminder of what his former skills were. And at 36, even the moments are becoming shorter and more further apart than ever before.
He’s been reduced from part of the “Big 3″ to a star sixth man, but Ginobili still has enough in his tank to come on for 20 minutes every night and survive in the league as one of the most dangerous players. He can contribute energy, points and creativity during his stay on the court.
However, at 36, Manu might just be done. Another season, the upcoming one, and then he might very well hang up his boots and retire as one of the greatest players to have played for the Spurs.
The next crop
The next crop of players are being groomed as Duncan and Ginobili will not be hanging around for much longer. Once they have sailed off into the sunset, it’ll be time to usher in a new era at San Antonio and these are the players who’ll do that.
One of the players who have laid claim to Ginobili’s former spot in the “Big 3″, Leonard is the ideal player to build the franchise around in the future. He’s 22, and has improved dramatically since his rookie year.
He averaged 12 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.7 SPG last season. He stepped them up to 13.8 PPG, 9 RPG, 1 APG and 1.8 SPG during the playoffs.
Leonard is strong, athletic and has enough potential to make sure that the Spurs’s success won’t become a thing of the past when Duncan retires.
He’s a solid 3-point shooter, and is an excellent defender, as was evident by his defence of LeBron James, which was just as good as Paul George’s. Entering his 3rd year in the NBA, Leonard is a huge cause of optimism for the Spurs.
While Green’s 3 point heroics were non-existent during the regular season, he did set a record for maximum number of 3 pointers in a NBA finals game. He has 2 more years on his contract and judging by the current state of things, he will probably see it through.
If he does so, he has his work cut out for him. The Spurs don’t have an explosive swingman and Green is just not good enough to be the SF they depend on. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future, Green needs to improve his overall shooting skills and off the dribble skills. If he improves these, he might very well fit in as their 6th man, or in the absence of a star swingman, their starting Small Forward. Either way, he remains an integral part of their team.
With a solid team and a couple of youngsters who could develop into the next set of stars, Duncan and Popovich can rest easy that they have a team good enough to settle old scores. However, that being said, this will probably be their last chance for a few years. Parker’s at his prime, Duncan continues to play at his trademark elite level and youngsters Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are improving.
The Spurs have indeed gotten a year older. That’s bound to impact their game. Do they still have it in them? Nobody knows the answer, but one thing remains clear: Call them what you want, but don’t ever write them off.