THE WHATEVER-THE-HELL-U2'S-LAST-ALBUM-WAS-CALLED AWARD FOR "MOST ABRUPT END TO A PHENOMENAL RUN"
To the Duncan-era Spurs: Four titles, 13 straight 50-win seasons (I'm including the stupid lockout season) and a boatload of fantastic memories. OK, not really. But we got to watch Duncan (the best power forward ever), Ginobili (the best international guard ever if you're not counting Nash, and you shouldn't, since Canada isn't really "international"), Parker (who perfected the celebrity relationship), Popovich (the best coach of the past 15 years), and two really fun rivalries (Spurs-Suns, Spurs-Mavs). Look, you can't stay on top for more than a decade without getting a top-three lottery pick or having Chris Wallace trade you a top-three lottery pick. That's just the way this league works. So hold your head up high, Spurs. Fantastic run. When players are bawling in their locker room because they finally beat you (like Nash did after Game 4), you know you accomplished something great. And you did.
Buried within that supposed death knell are some key points that require your attention once again:
* Four titles
* 13 straight 50-win seasons
* Duncan (the best power forward ever)
* Ginobili (the best international guard ever)
* Popovich (the best coach of the past 15 years)
Call me crazy, call me stupid, call me John Holmes 2.0 (your Mom and Sister do), but don’t call me a pessimist…at least when it comes to “Your San Antonio Spurs.”
Winston Churchill once said (among many, many other things (hint, hint)): “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Being swept out of the Playoffs by a one-time stepping stone should certainly be looked at as a difficulty for these Spurs. But this presents the Spurs Brain Trust with the opportunity to reflect on what went right and what went wrong in 2009-2010 and how to return to the Promised Land in 2010-2011 without either too much hysteria or too much glory.
Had the Spurs lost to the Mavs in repeat fashion to last season, it would be reasonable to think that Mr. Holt might just hop into one of his Caterpillar Brand Bulldozers and head for the AT&T Center. Had the Spurs made it past Round Two, each successive win would have made the Spurs more likely to stand pat and make a run at it again next year counting on the improvement of the supporting players to put the Spurs over the top come 2011. (assuming of course they didn't win the title)
For better or worse, the Spurs’ seventh seed and their early playoff exit was exactly what this team deserved and needed. Given their supreme inconsistency this year anything else would have been fool’s gold.
Next Season and Beyond
The Spurs’ team improvement tool box is only so stocked this offseason, but given the fact that Tim’s (and probably Manu’s, (though with him anything is possible)) best years are behind him, one eye must be on the immediate future and one on the near-term future.
I think it is reasonable to assume that Hill, Blair, and McDyess will be better Spurs players next season; which will be enough most likely to improve upon the seventh seed of this season, but not necessarily the conclusion. To succeed in the Western Conference playoffs next season, the Spurs will need both good luck and better players…more precisely more better players. What ultimately did the Silver-n-Black in was, that they had no one beyond the “Big Three” to counter the Suns’ bench players…and even if by some fluke they had made it past Phoenix, think of the match-up issues with LA. (!!! (great band by the way)).
Let’s see what one Spurs fan and Chad Ford have to say on the matter:
Robert (Dallas): Chad - great chats! Quick question now that the spurs have been booted from the playoffs, what do you think that strategy is this offseason? Splitter coming over? thoughts on the 20th pick - any help there? Thanks
Chad Ford (1:20 PM): I think they try to get Tiago Splitter. I think they use the 20th pick on a guy who can replace what Bruce Bowen did for them (think Texas' Damion James) and then I think they use Richard Jefferson's expiring contract as a way to get some more depth. I don't see them trading Tony Parker unless they get another All-Star type point guard in return.
That exchange pretty much sums up the Spurs’ options at this point. Splitter coming over would be HUGE, and though there are some encouraging signs, I’m not going to count those chickens just yet. Oh, and adding Splitter kills the Spurs only cap-allowable recourse, namely the MLE. For the sake of argument, here’s what his arrival would do: move Mcdyess to the bench and Blair to the 4th big man option. You try telling me that the sound of that doesn’t make your taint quiver…in a completely heterosexual way of course.
Then there is the first round pick (higher than the Spurs have had since 1997 by the way). I think they should take the best player available, and let the rest shake out from there…and I also think it should be a player that will log some minutes next season, not some random Euro/ Argie/ Bazillion that falls to them ala the Splitter situation. Speaking of Tiago, I could see his deal affecting the position the Spurs look to fill. The second round pick might pay some dividends, but I doubt he does anything of value for the Spurs next year.
Finally, there is the trade route. Right now, the Spurs have only so many viable trade chips out there, and Tony Parker was just taken off of the table. Which means that unless he opts out this summer, the Spurs would be crazy not to shop Richard Jefferson, and shop him harder than Sarah Palin before the RNC (bad joke intended to lure the google search bots). The looming lock-out takes a little bit of shine of RJ’s bald head though. Peter Holt’s position on the Owner’s side of the table in the CBA talks might give him a bit of a leg up on this issue though.
Actually, the real finally is the BLE and minimum contracts, but at this point who knows who the hell of consequence can be had for that money. Channing Frye could have been had for that last summer…which would have been a damn site better than Theo Ratliff, Keith Bogans, and Marcus Haislip combined.
I’ve already gotten way ahead of myself. Before discussing who or whom can be added, perhaps I should recap who is currently under contract for next season. Duncan, Jefferson, Parker, Ginobili, McDyess, Hill, Blair, Hairston, Temple, Jerrells, and Gee (last four are unguaranteed). Mason, Bonner, Mahinmi, and Bogans are not signed for next year.
So out of those 15 players who do you want to see don a Spurs Uni next year? Obviously, the first seven or any player picked up by trading one of the first seven (imagine RJ +Ian+ 20th pick+ who- the-fuck-ever- but- Hill for Bosh (I have to go wipe the drool off of my chin now)) will be at the mercy of Coach Pop. Then I’d expect a few..three at most…of the noobs to stick and maybe two of the four unsigned vets. That leaves a lot of room on the bench.
Those empty seats along with Splitter and the draft are absolutely critical how May 9th, 2010 is remembered. Will it be just another hiccup for one of the NBA’s recent elite, or will it be marked as the beginning of the end?