NBA

Spurs finally realized they were like every other franchise

ADVERTISEMENT

Spurs had a massive offseason in which they reshaped their roster and reset their timeline. By adding three rookies, trading Dejounte Murray and not signing any top players, San Antonio has gone young and should be a Victor Wembanyama contest player. The Silver and Black are officially in rebuild mode.

It’s undeniably a good thing that the franchise now has a clear direction, but the presence of a plan further highlights the lack of purpose of the four years before it. The only reason it was necessary to make huge moves now is because those moves weren’t made earlier, which likely allowed Spurs’ comeback to return to the relevance of years before.

ADVERTISEMENT

As much as fans – and probably everyone involved with Spurs in any capacity, really – want to forget the entire Kawhi Leonard saga, it’s impossible to fully understand where the franchise is now while ignoring what’s not. didn’t work once Leonard asked. San Antonio was coming off a 47-win season in which their superstar wing only played nine games, so it would have been understandable to think they could continue to be a playoff team without him. The problem is that Leonard wasn’t the only one who left this offseason. Danny Green went with him in trade, while Kyle Anderson left in free agency. Manu Ginobili retired, an aging Tony Parker departed after being relegated to a bench role, and Pau Gasol ceased to be a viable rotational piece. These players were six of the top ten in minutes per game that season.

It was a great time to rebuild, as the former stars were at or near the end of their careers, and the depth of quality was being lost as a superstar forced his way out. The Spurs could have pivoted by seriously engaging the Lakers over a package focused on the young talent they had at the time, plus a few picks. Instead, they allegedly tried to convince Leonard to stay, then asked too much of Los Angeles. With Leonard doing everything in his power to retain his value, the longer the talks went on, the less San Antonio could get in return. The Celtics and 76ers declined to include Jaylen Brown and Ben Simmons, respectively, but offered offers based on picks deemed insufficient. In the end, Spurs reached a deal that earned them DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a late first round, which set back their rebuilding effort.

The reasons for this decision are unclear even today. It’s possible that ownership was ordered to stay in the hunt for the playoffs at the expense of building a higher-capped team to avoid losing revenue. Gregg Popovich’s potential reluctance to coach a rebuilding team at the time was likely considered. The refusal to move Leonard to one of his favorite destinations after so much drama, while too irrational to tolerate, might have been a natural part of the equation. Perhaps the main motivation was to provide LaMarcus Aldridge, who had had a monster season without Leonard, a running mate to help him through his last productive years. Maybe all of the above was a factor.

While understandable at the time, all of these reasons still seemed flimsy at the time and seem even worse in retrospect. Spurs’ regular-season attendance numbers held for a while before plummeting, and they’ve only held three playoff games at the AT&T Center since their trade with DeRozan. Popovich clearly enjoyed coaching young players, but even if he hadn’t, Spurs would have had plenty of options to replace him that they are now gone as his assistants have taken over coaching roles- leader in other franchises. Leonard eventually found his way to Los Angeles anyway. Aldridge’s defense predictably deteriorated, and DeRozan’s arrival forced him out of his offensive positions, arguably accelerating his decline.

There’s a possible reason for choosing the path the franchise has taken that makes at least some sense: Spurs thought they could flip convention and get back to the top without hitting rock bottom by threading the needle between getting young and staying. competitive. It’s not common, but other teams have done it in the past, in slightly different ways. The Rockets were a mediocre but fun team with a lot of roster rotation over the years between Yao Ming and James Harden. The Warriors didn’t pick the top 5 until they transitioned from We Believe to the Stephen Curry-led juggernaut they eventually became, so it’s no surprise Spurs believed they could do something similar, even though it was unlikely.

Unfortunately, for this plan to work, a perfect mix of flawless execution and blind luck is needed. A look at draft picks, free agent acquisitions and buyouts makes it clear the Spurs had neither.

It didn’t help that there were enough glimmers of hope in most seasons to prevent the pot-committed Spurs from ending the DeRozan era early. The first year, they made the playoffs despite Murray’s absence. During the second year, the shine was fading to the bubble, when a new small-ball identity emerged. Year 3 was the first time Derrick White and Murray shared the backcourt as starters. Year 4 was the first opportunity to see how the young guys would fare without DeRozan. None of these circumstances alone should have been enough to keep the experiment going, but the only other option was to pivot to the full rebuild they had tried to avoid in the first place, so that’s what two different CEOs seemed to be hanging on to justify staying on course.

At some point, the bubble was going to burst, and it’s no surprise that it finally happened this year. The poor fit in the rear area has become impossible to ignore. The drop in standings and attendance – not to mention the lack of nationally televised games – showed that the current path was likely hurting Spurs’ brand. Pop held the record for most wins as a coach and actually seemed energized by coaching younger players. No one emerged as a franchise star in the making, and there were no veterans with deep franchise ties and long-term contracts who would be affected by the decision to change course. Murray seemed keen to move to a better team, so parting ways with him wasn’t a problem. More importantly, it became painfully clear that whatever vision the front office had previously – assuming it had one – was not materializing, as the team seemed as far from arguing as there was. is four years old.

Finally, agreeing to a rebuild was the right move, especially given the spoils Spurs picked up in exchange for Murray, but clearly it would have been better to be more proactive earlier. If tanking was something the franchise was actually ready to do, doing it sooner would have made more sense. If that had happened, they would probably still have Murray, but surrounded by a few other outstanding players of his age, and Spurs would enter the fun stage of a rebuild in which the young core would enter its prime. Instead, the process is just beginning in earnest and it could take several years to get to that second step.

Spurs have been wildly successful for decades, winning titles and building fun teams that have been a blast to root for, so fans need to be patient during the downturn. The team made the playoffs just three years ago, after all. But you also have to understand that the last seasons have been a failure, especially if the goal was to build something special. Decision makers either vastly overestimated their ability to find centerpieces and build a good team without high draft picks, or they settled for comfortable mediocrity until they had to commit to it long term by signing imperfect potential cornerstones. to massive contracts. Those are the only two options, unfortunately.

Again, it’s a good thing that Spurs realized the path they took was not going to lead them to a good destination, but it’s also worth remembering that they chose this path on purpose. As they prepare to walk in a new direction, it would be wise to keep in mind that those in charge are far from infallible, and wondering if they are making the right calls is not a sign of doom. ingratitude; it’s just common sense.

Spurs are not special. Not anymore, at least. It took years for the front office to figure this out, but luckily they finally seem to get it. Now is the time for the fans to accept that too and support the team through a rebuild, no matter how long it may take or how long it may be.

ADVERTISEMENT