Franchise in good hands of Leonard, Aldridge in post-Duncan era
POSTED: Sep 29, 2016 9:26 AM ET
It is now up to Kawhi Leonard to take over the Spurs after Tim Duncan quietly retired this offseason.
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record -- during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today's team: San Antonio Spurs
2015-16 record: 67-15
The Lowdown: Not only did the Spurs continue their 50-win streak since 1999-2000, they won a record 67 games but only reached the West semifinals.
For basketball purists, the highlight of the summer came when Duncan retired from the game the way he played it: quietly, without fanfare or seeking attention.
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It was pure Duncan, eschewing the farewell tour and simply issuing a statement through the team and not even holding a press conference. How neat was that? Athletes who announce their retirement plans before the season, rather than after, only do so because they want affection. Their ego and self-esteem crave that. They feel they're entitled to one final slap on the back because of all they've done, which means the applause given over their careers wasn't enough. To each his own. Meanwhile, Duncan called Gregg Popovich with the news and then went about working on his cars, his passion.
There's no sense listing what Duncan meant to the Spurs or the NBA. Everyone knows that. The last season, however, was not kind to him. His minutes were rationed until the playoffs, when the Spurs couldn't hide him any longer, and he looked old. It was time, and Duncan knew it.
So another era begins without Duncan. It will be weird but also inevitable. The good news is Kawhi Leonard has been groomed to take over the mantle, and LaMarcus Aldridge was brought on board two summers ago and delivered a very encouraging first season in San Antonio, especially in the playoffs. From here, it's about adding the right pieces and keeping the Spurs in the title hunt, which is what Pop and RC Buford tried to do this summer.
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They convinced Gasol to come aboard, and he's a Spurs type of player: fundamentally sound, unselfish, coachable and willing to play both ends. The obvious issue lies with the amount of fuel in his tank. He's an old 36 and perhaps just a role player at this stage, but that's OK; the Spurs just want quality from him during his limited time on the floor.
He's the replacement for Diaw, sent to Utah, and Boban Marjanovic, who signed with the Pistons. The Spurs might be lighter in the paint than in previous years, but their main competition (Warriors) is a small-ball specialist anyway. Just in case, the Spurs also grabbed Lee from the discount bin and Kyle Anderson could see enhranced minutes this season. Anyway, Popovich is likely up to the challenge of remolding the Spurs; why else would he continue to coach in the post-Duncan era?
The Spurs also decided to give Manu Ginobili another season at age 39 and coming off a full summer schedule with Argentina in the Olympics. Also consider that Tony Parker is about to enter his 15th season, and the Spurs are well-seasoned, maybe over-ripe in some areas.
Eventually, they'll need to find replacements for Ginobili and Parker just as they've done with Duncan. The bigger urgency lies with Parker and the point guard spot. There's no up-and-comer on the roster, and most likely, Parker will be asked to play in the 25-30 minutes range, as he did last season.
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The draft produced Murray, who brings good size (6-foot-5) and length to the backcourt, but he's a combo guard and also only 19. He can't expect to be a regular contributor right away to a team that qualifies as a championship contender.
And that's the rub: Can the Spurs maintain their pace and place doubt in the minds of the re-tooled Warriors, Clippers and whomever else has the West titles in their sights? The Spurs were granted an interview by Kevin Durant but that was more out of respect for the organization and Popovich. Unless you feel Gasol has another All-Star season in him, the Spurs didn't add any major pieces, unlike last summer with Aldridge.
But when you win 67 games, how much improvement is realistic? Based on their history, their roster and their coach, the Spurs figure to be in the mix in the West and, should the heavily favored Warriors slip, anything can happen.
They'll just be without Duncan, who personified the heart and desire of a franchise that was one of the most dominant teams of the last decade and a half. And it'll be strange.
Coming Next: Golden State Warriors
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