For a small market franchise that is in the middle of nowhere in terms of NBA cities, this run would seem unsustainable. Many attributed it to the holy trinity of Gregg Popovich as coach, R.C. Buford as general manager and Tim Duncan as franchise player. With Duncan retiring, some speculated if that was the first brick to dislodge and begin the crumbling. Instead, after a 61-win season and a Conference Finals appearance, things are right where they’ve always been.
Duncan’s departure wasn’t the only one the Spurs faced. Boris Diaw was traded to Utah in a move to create salary cap space. San Antonio then used that space to sign Pau Gasol and to re-sign Manu Ginobili. The Spurs also brought in free agent center DeWayne Dedmon using the room exception and added rookies Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. All of these moves were made to rebuild around Kawhi Leonard.
With Leonard becoming an unequivocal superstar, Tony Parker still going strong at point guard, and LaMarcus Aldridge fully taking over for Duncan as the team’s inside presence, the Spurs were going to be good no matter what. The signings ended up providing more than expected. Dedmon ended up giving San Antonio better than hoped for production on defense and the boards and became the starting center. Gasol was shifted to a bench role, not unlike the one Diaw had played for years. Ginobili continued to do his thing as the team’s sixth man. And Bertans and Murray both had moments as rookies, the latter in the playoffs after Parker got hurt.
It is Parker’s injury, more than any, that has the team in flux. For several years now the Spurs have had Parker and Patty Mills splitting up the point guard position. When either is out, Ginobili slides over and capably does the job. One year after bidding farewell to Duncan, the Spurs might now be without the three backcourt mainstays. Ginobili is a free agent and considering retirement. Mills might be ready to move on, and as a point guard who is as comfortable off the ball as he is on it, he’ll have plenty of teams interested in him. The NBA’s transition to high usage wings as ball handlers makes players like Mills extremely valuable.
As for Parker, he suffered a ruptured left quadriceps tendon in the playoffs against the Rockets. He underwent surgery in early May and is expected to miss at least a portion of the regular season. At age 35, there are questions about Parker’s ability to make a full recovery, which is a disappointment considering the strong playoffs he had prior to the injury. Because of this, the Spurs are looking for an upgrade at the lead guard spot and have been linked to a number of those free agents.
The path to San Antonio clearing cap space is a complicated one. Gasol, Dedmon and David Lee have all opted out of contracts for next season and the Spurs would need to renounce all three. They would need to do the same for Ginobili and Mills and also veteran Joel Anthony. In addition, San Antonio would have to waive Forbes, but more importantly trade another veteran.
The two names most often mentioned in trades are Aldridge and Danny Green.
Most importantly the Spurs continue to give themselves options. Popovich and Buford know they are chasing a giant in Golden State. They have one of the NBA’s very best players to build around in Kawhi Leonard and a track record of 40 plus years of excellence. Those building blocks, along with cap space, are more than almost any other franchise can boast. The question is, can you add enough to them to take down the Warriors? Because when you play in the rarified air the Spurs do that is all that matters.
Guaranteed Contracts (7): LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Dejounte Murray, Tony Parker
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (1): Bryn Forbes
Potential Free Agents (7): Joel Anthony (UFA), DeWayne Dedmon (UFA), Pau Gasol (UFA), Manu Ginobili (UFA), David Lee (UFA), Patty Mills (UFA), Jonathon Simmons (RFA)
“Dead” Money on Cap (2): $1,881,250 (Tim Duncan), $1,035,200 (Livio Jean-Charles)
First Round Draft Pick(s): Derrick White (29th)
Maximum Cap Space: $21,445,788
Projected Cap Space: $19,504,040