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What’s in Store for the San Antonio Spurs After the Big Departures This Season?

| September 2, 2018 12:00 am PDT
Spurs and Question Marks

After Kawhi Leonard’s trade to Toronto, the departure of legendary point guard Tony Parker to the Hornets, and the recent announcement from Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are definitely going into a transition period.

Having had to deal with Tim Duncan’s retirement two years ago, coach Popovich will now have to continue without the two other most trusted players he has had during his reign, plus the Spurs’ star player leaving.

Although it most definitely is a sad realization for basketball fans that the Big 3 are now all not a part of the San Antonio roster, it is also a good time to pay respects to the amazing achievements of these three legends.

Undoubtedly, everything for the Spurs franchise started to pick up after drafting Tim Duncan back in 1997. The player had long been touted by Gregg Popovich as one of basketball’s brightest talents at that time, and everyone associated with the team was thrilled that they were able to get their man.

Duncan proved he was every bit the player he was expected to be, and he immediately embraced Popovich’s methods and playing system. This positive relationship resulted in a change of fortune for the team in 1999 when Duncan won his first championship with the Spurs.

Coach Pop was just getting started, though, and soon came the arrivals of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who were drafted in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although being virtually unknown to the NBA audience, both players added incredible imagination, solidity, and energy to the mix, which unsurprisingly resulted in four more championship titles.

This Spurs team will forever be remembered as a well-oiled machine, putting in great defensive work on the court and possessing an almost telepathic sense of building their offensive play.

And what is arguably even more important is that during that time, the franchise built an amazing reputation as one of the classiest organizations ever to have graced the NBA.

Fans in San Antonio were absolutely loving the success and widespread appraisal, but it was clear that after Duncan retired back in 2016, Popovich would soon have to pass the torch onto the next generation, and back then, it looked like he had the perfect man to do so.

The Kawhi Leonard Situation

Whereas it came as no surprise that Parker and Ginobili eventually called time on their Spurs careers, the loss of Kawhi Leonard could prove to be a big shock for the team’s future plans. It all started well with Kawhi and Pop back in 2011.

Initially drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th overall pick, coach Popovich decided to go for Kawhi by trading George Hill the other way.

Although this move did raise a few eyebrows back in the day, Pop’s new acquisition did not take much time to prove his worth to the pundits and fans. Strong, athletic, and an extremely tough defender, Kawhi was starting to light up the courts everywhere he played.

It didn’t take long for him to win his first championship in 2014, where he was also named NBA Finals MVP.

The Spurs have not won the title since, but fans were starting to believe that Kawhi Leonard was the perfect man to step into Tim Duncan’s shoes and lead the team to new heights.

The back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards won in 2015 and 2016 helped to further enhance Kawhi’s reputation across the league, and overall, it all looked pretty rosy at the AT&T Center.

However, things quickly took a turn for the worse after Leonard sustained an ankle injury during game 1 against Golden State in the 2017 playoffs.

He missed the remainder of the Spurs’ campaign and featured in only nine games the following season. Although it seemed that Popovich and Kawhi still had a good relationship at the beginning of the player’s injury problems, as time went by, there were more and more alarming signals coming both from Kawhi and people associated with the franchise.

Kawhi was getting more and more estranged from the Spurs organization, and the players and coach gradually started criticizing his decision not to play.

Come summer, it was obvious that Leonard did not want to play for the Spurs anymore. Fans were hopeful that Popovich would be able to bring the player around, as he did with LaMarcus Aldridge the previous year, but Kawhi wouldn’t budge, so coach Pop and the Spurs general manager R. C. Buford had to come up with a plan.

The Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan Trade

It soon became absolutely evident that Kawhi Leonard wanted to play in LA, but the Spurs were not willing to strengthen any West Conference rival, so Leonard ended up in Toronto, with the Raptors’ marquee player DeMar DeRozan going the other way.

From the Spurs’ point of view, I would say the trade is a good one, since they were able to offload a player who did not have any intentions of continuing to play there while getting an All-Star player in DeRozan.

It remains to be seen whether the experienced guard will be able to contribute to the same extent as Kawhi, but if he applies himself and lets the coach work with him, there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect an even better DeRozan than the one we were used to watching with the Raptors.

One important aspect of this is that he will certainly have to cope with the fact that life in San Antonio is going to be a lot different than in Toronto, and close teammates like Kyle Lowry will not be around.

It is shaping up to be a big test for the resolve of both DeRozan and his coach, Popovich.

Pop has previously been criticized for over-coaching players and making them stick to the game plan while curbing some of their natural flair, so it will be interesting to see what his relationship will be with a flamboyant player who has been the face of the Toronto Raptors franchise for close to a decade.

What’s Next for the San Antonio Spurs?

So, what does all this mean for the Spurs going forward? Let’s take a look.

On the Court

It is evident that the two players everyone will be looking at are DeRozan and Aldridge, but I can see the coach turning to players such as Patty Mills, Pau Gasol, and Rudy Gay to be his on-field generals and make sure others are following the game plan.

This has always been important for Popovich, and he may well look to it now more than ever, as his roster is lacking in quality and experience.

One player who will inevitably attract the spotlight is Dejounte Murray. The young point guard showed glimpses of his potential last season and is definitely a very exciting prospect.

Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement, especially in the decision-making process and his jump shot ability, but the player is only 21 and looks to be determined to step up after the departure of Tony Parker.

I believe there is the right chemistry between Murray and Pop, and the youngster has a very big season ahead of him. It could make or break him.

Another one to watch closely is Jakob Pöltl, who was traded to the Spurs as part of the Leonard – DeRozan deal. The 22-year-old big center is the first Austrian to have played in the NBA and stands at 7 feet tall.

He was the only player to have featured in all 82 regular-season games for the Raptors last year and produced some eye-catching defensive displays and managed a good field goal percentage.

With Pop’s track record of developing young talent, Pöltl may well have secured the deal of his lifetime. It is no secret that the Spurs are lacking a fresh big-player presence on the court with Gasol being in the late stages of his career, so it will be up to the new acquisition to prove his worth to the team.

The other notable departures, Kyle Anderson and Danny Green, although being widely viewed as a loss for the Spurs, will present a chance for Davis Bertans and the experienced new boy Quincy Pondexter to impress.

Off the Court

Spurs general manager R. C. Buford has long been regarded as one of the sharpest business minds in the NBA and a person with a very specific vision of how the franchise should be run.

His empire with coach Pop at the helm of the tactical side of things has earned San Antonio the reputation of a classy and humble organization where teamwork and loyalty pay dividends.

With coach Pop’s tenure drawing closer to an inevitable end and the changing climate in the NBA, soon Buford will have some big decisions to make on what direction he wants to take his team in.

San Antonio is not the most lucrative place for the big stars in the NBA, and when Pop calls time, the Spurs will lose certain leverage of attracting players only because this presents a chance for them to be coached by one of the best.

It remains to be seen whether the general manager thinks he can find a coach of similar vision and methods after Popovich leaves or if he will be forced to look at a different structure because of the growing demands in the West Conference.

Betting Angle

Let’s take a look at the odds for Spurs making the playoffs or not this season.

Spurs to Reach the Playoffs1.60
Spurs to Miss the Playoffs2.20

I don’t think anyone is putting San Antonio in amongst the championship contenders, so it is no surprise that the big question for Spurs fans this season will be whether their team will be in the playoffs come April.

Normally, this would not be widely disputed, but the big departures this summer and the fierce competition in the West have thrown pundits and supporters alike into doubting the prospect of the Spurs finishing in the top 8.

However, if we take into account that the team was able to get to the playoffs last year without Kawhi Leonard, I believe they are a good value to do it again. An all-star in DeRozan was added to the roster, and the Spurs can count on a fit-again Rudy Gay to contribute, too.

History is on their side, as well, as the team has reached the playoffs in 27 of the last 28 years. Popovich always seems to find a way, and Betway, who has provided odds for this particular market, also seems to be of the same conviction.

Verdict

Despite some big departures, the Spurs still look like a good value to progress to the playoffs. There are a lot of players on the roster who will feel the need to prove themselves, and I think they have the best possible mentor in Popovich to help them through that.

In the short term, I believe the team will remain competitive in the league, but R. C. Buford and his team will have to make a lot of big decisions on where they want to steer the organization to during this transition and beyond.

My feeling is that with all the business and tactical know-how accumulated in the franchise, the team will find a way to stay relevant and further build on the solid foundations they have laid for the past twenty years.

Elias Wagner

Elias Wagner has been a soccer fan since he was a young boy. He still has a huge passion for the sport itself as well as betting on it and writing about it.

Outside of soccer, Elias also enjoys other sports including basketball, tennis, and snooker. He's been writing for GamblingSites.com since 2018.

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