What’s Next For The Spurs?

» May 30, 2008 10:10 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Every great dynasty must come to an end.

It’s inevitable.

No one can turn back the hands of time and after 9 seasons of championship contention, Father Time has finally knocked down the Spurs door.

This year’s Spurs had an older average age (of guys who played 15 minutes or more during the regular season) than Bird’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, or Shaq’s Lakers in any of their final championship years.

2007-08 San Antonio Spurs
Manu Ginobili: 30 years old, 31.1 minutes per game.
Tim Duncan: 32 years old, 34.0 minutes per game.
Tony Parker: 26 years old, 33.5 minutes per game.
Michael Finley: 35 years old, 26.9 minutes per game.
Brent Barry: 36 years old, 17.9 minutes per game.
Bruce Bowen: 36 years old, 30.2 minutes per game.
Ime Udoka: 30 years old, 18.0 minutes per game.
Fabricio Oberto: 33 years old, 20.1 minutes per game.
Kurt Thomas: 35 years old, 18.7 minutes per game.
Jacque Vaughn: 33 years old, 15.4 minutes per game.

Average age: 33

Not to mention Robert Horry, who averaged 12.9 minutes per game during the regular season and 13.3 meaningless minutes in the Conference Finals. Horry is 37 years old.

After the game, Tim Duncan said the Spurs needed to “tweak a few things here and there” and “add a few pieces.”

Gregg Popovich insisted that “wholesale” changes weren’t necessary.

Pop said: “So when you lose, you’ve got to make changes, right? If we won, we wouldn’t have to do a damn thing. I think that’s too superficial of an analysis of any team at the end of the season. Every team makes some kind of changes. So we’ll look at our team and see what we need to do. We’ve made some changes every year, whether we won or we lost.”

But these changes are different than the changes any of the three previous Spurs title teams (2003, 2005, 2007) have made.

Their 1999 championship team featured six key players over the age of 30 (David Robinson, Avery Johnson, Mario Elie, Sean Elliot, Jerome Kersey, Steve Kerr).

It took San Antonio four years to rebuild and win another championship. Partly because of the Shaq/Kobe dynasty but also because it took time to develop guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the downside of their careers, the Spurs don’t have four years to rebuild this time.

Ginobili had his best season statistically but was hobbled by an arthritic ankle in the end. Tony Parker is as quick as ever. Duncan has three, maybe four seasons left at an elite level.

Bruce Bowen has a lost some of his lateral quickness and couldn’t keep Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant in front of him like he could in year’s past. Oberto was a non-factor in the Western Conference Finals and Kurt Thomas didn’t receive enough playing time until it was too late.

San Antonio needs to get younger and more athletic.

Particularly in the frontcourt.

Duncan averaged 17 rebounds over five games against Los Angeles. Point guard Tony Parker was the Spurs 2nd leading rebounder with 4 per game.

General Manager RC Buford has to be cursing the day he let go of Luis Scola. Scola, at 28 years of age, was a Rookie of the Year candidate this year, averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds per game. He would have helped the Spurs immensely.

Despite San Antonio’s age, they remain one of the league’s best defensive teams but they couldn’t sustain their defensive effort for a full 48 minutes in Game’s 1 and 5.

Led by Kobe Bryant, the Lakers came back from 20-point and 17-point deficits.

Game 1’s letdown had to have been particularly defeating and may have set the tone for the series.

So where do the Spurs go from here?

Jacque Vaughn and Robert Horry probably won’t (and shouldn’t) be asked to return.

San Antonio needs an athletic small forward who can create his own shot. I’m not convinced that Udoka is the defensive player many people believe he is so he’s expendable. Brent Barry or Michael Finley should be retained (one or the other).

General Manager RC Buford has drafted notoriously well but how many late first to second round Parker and Ginobili’s can one team be blessed with? How many of those guys are out there to begin with?

The Spurs have the 12th highest payroll ($70,034,327, $53,621,368 committed for next year) in the league. Owner Peter Holt may be forced to do the one thing that forced him to trade away Scola this season — grossly exceed the luxury tax threshold — for the Spurs to remain competitive.

With the Lakers, Hornets, Jazz, and Trailblazers primed to walk through the doorway Father Time knocked down, San Antonio had better rebuild quickly…before it’s too late.


9 Responses to “What’s Next For The Spurs?”

  1. Anthony Says:

    The Spurs have some serious issues that are headed through that door that Father Time kicked down.

    Time itself – The Lakers “should” have an absolute lock on the West in spite of the Hornets, Blazers, or Utah. This will be the main culprit of the Spurs true demise. If the Lakers lock it down for lets just say 2-3 years then Manu and Duncan are finished at this level. Tim can already be seen having trouble catching his breath and getting back up the floor. Another two to three years will not help his plight. Manu’s ankles are just about shot so he’s history.

    Free Agency – Unless greed becomes a bigger factor in the mind of some of these players in search of their only Championship, the Spurs have no allure to attract the best Free Agents. The overall perception of the Spurs is that they are boring and San Antonio offers nothing more than the River Walk and good BBQ. Regardless of how stupid that notion is we all know that most people in the NBA don’t actually think for themselves. San Antonio will not be the 1st choice of dying careers. Especially if the Lakers are winning. I haven’t researched the coming Free Agent market for the next two years but I imagine there will be some strong ones out there and they’re gonna want to win and win now.

    The Draft – The Spurs are not all of a sudden going to become a cellar dwellar. They’ll continue to win with their “Core” but lose in the playoffs effectively killing themselves off in the draft for the next 2 years at least. No high draft picks will hurt in year three of their journey because by then the Lakers will have milked what they can out of their current roster and the stage will be set for the Hornets and Jazz. (some of you may be saying or thinking that the Lakers will continue to win with the team they have now. Sorry but I don’t agree with that. Unless player development continues to improve and stays consistent, the bench is in trouble once they meet a team with the same talent level) Anyway, the Hornets and Jazz are not going away anytime soon and the Blazers are itching to return to greatness but the biggest thorn in the Spurs side is and will continue to be the Black Mamba! Now that he’s widely accepted as being this great teammate more and more people will want to play for the Lakers. That will hurt the most when things get desperate in San Antonio.

  2. King_kaun Says:

    The thing with San Antonio is that they JUST wanted to win it THIS year. To finally repeat…then they would have happily let their core fade away – while still staying competitive. But now…do you REALLY see those players coming in and busting ass next year during the regular season? I dont…and trust me, they will have to. It will be MORE competitive than last season as the Blazers will be better and no one else looks to be worse, save for maybe the Warriors – who will be moping after missing the playoffs.

    Spurs will dump a few oldies and draft young, athletic players. But will it save them? I doubt it. This is a unit that COASTS through the regular season…and I just dont see that happening next year. They will start coasting…start losing…then try to catch up…then cry as one of the BIG THREE goes down with a season-ending injury….

  3. A-Train Says:

    Good post, Hoff, although I think this comment is crazy:

    “Duncan has three, maybe four seasons left at an elite level.”

    I think that’s wishful thinking. He’ll be 33 at the start of next season, and for him to have even three more “elite” seasons would mean he’d have to still be really really good at the age of 36. That’s unlikely.

    Ewing at 35 was washed up. Robinson was washed up at 35. Shaq stopped being dominant at, what, 34. Olajuwon is the only guy who was still good at 35 albeit he wasn’t his usual great self.

    Duncan’s performance in the playoffs this year? He shot 45% from the field and 63% from the line. His minutes were up, so of course his cumulative stats (rebounds) will be up. But man, let’s be real. With the exception of what he did in the Suns series (against a team that doesn’t play D, mind you) Duncan was FAR from an elite player in this year’s playoffs.

    I think he is done being an elite player by his usual standards. This year’s MVP voting, he finished 7th, practically tied with T-Mac and just slightly ahead of Manu Ginobili.

    Don’t get me wrong, a top ten finish in the MVP voting is still elite, but next year you will see a continued regression. WITHOUT A DOUBT. He might get his numbers, but he will look more sluggish getting them. He’ll have to start working harder, training harder, to prolong his career, and guys at that age, especially after having won a few titles, really feel they have nothing left to prove.

    Next year, Duncan goes from being the best big in the NBA, to getting overtaken by the likes of Stoudemire, Howard and Ming for sure, and possibly even a guy like Carlos Boozer. Al Jefferson will be better. Oden will be in the picture. Kaman will be improved yet again with a healthy Brand by his side.

    It will only be that much harder for Duncan and the Spurs next season. I still think they’ll win 50 games, but I really do believe the championship years are over. I do not see Duncan winning another ring. I’d bet my life on it, actually.

    The Spurs need to let everybody go. Really, it’s time to rebuild. When you need to replace up to eight guys on your roster, all of whom have been integral parts in your success, you’re pretty much done.

    And as you pointed out, financially, their payroll next year is already at $54 million. And that’s just the following players: Duncan, Manu, Parker, Bonner, Vaughn, Udoka, Barry and Mahinmi.

    The salary cap is right there at $55 million. They have one first round draft pick (#26) and a second round pick, both of which in modern basketball means shit, literally.

    They can’t just sign free agents, unless I imagine it’s with their exceptions. So, the only thing to do is trade Manu or Parker. And I don’t see them doing that this year (maybe next though).

    The Spurs are done. It was a nice arch. They went up, conquered, hung out for a bit, and then they went down.

    It’s over. No more titles. One more good season in which they’ll lose in the playoffs, and then after that I don’t think they even make the playoffs in 2010.

    Maybe they make some crazy trade. Who knows? Unlikely.

  4. Hoffman Says:

    Anthony,

    San Antonio is faced with a dilemma in regards to free agency. Do they rebuild and add to their payroll now or do they wait for the free agency class of 2010?

    Which will include Dwyane Wade and LeBron.

    I think the time is now.

    They can’t afford to wait two years.

    By that time — like you said — Duncan and Manu could very well be finished.

  5. Hoffman Says:

    King_kaun

    Another point to consider that I wish I would have mentioned within the blog is that if San Antonio’s aging veterans are gone, they can no longer coast through regular seasons and expect to win on the road in the playoffs.

    Young teams (which is what the Spurs need to be) don’t perform well on the road.

  6. Hoffman Says:

    A-Train,

    Actually, I think Duncan just turned 32 last month.

    Duncan’s lack of athleticism in his prime should help him extend his career. Think about it. His game has never been about explosiveness or leaping ability. He’s all fundamentals and footwork.

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  8. Chris Iafolla Says:

    There has been a lot of talk about this series being the inevitable demise of the Spurs prolonged success. I am not buying it. This is a team with its core group of players in tact. Sure, Ginobli is aging along with Duncan, but they haven’t reached that tipping point. If the Spurs are able to inject a bit of athleticism into the group, they will be right back in the thick of things next year.

  9. A-Train Says:

    Right about the age. He’ll turn 33 right before the playoffs next season– not at the start of the season.

    My feelings remain the same.

    Then again, I can’t completely ignore what you and Chris Iafoila have said about the Spurs making the right move and being right back in the mix.

    But I just don’t see it given their cap. Who can they get?

    Stranger things have happened.

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