All great things must come to an end, don’t they?
Watching the aging San Antonio Spurs slowly fall to an inspired Memphis, was like witnessing Muhammed Ali in his final fight. A champion on his knees. A few years ago, the Spurs would have easily taken care of Memphis. Now they see themselves ousted in the first round to the number 8 seed in the West.
The same questions seem to be asked after every season. Are the Spurs too old? Can Manu Ginobli get healthy? Does Tim Duncan have enough support at center? The doubters are often more vocal than the believers.
This time round, there seems to be a rather eerie feel to the Spurs’ off-season. Tim Duncan is 35 years old and Ginobli is 34. Post season success comes at a cost. This season, Duncan’s numbers dropped and his playing time was managed to 29 minutes a night. The greatest ever power forward is a shadow of his former self- only because of age though. Duncan has one more year left on his contract and one would assume it would be his last.
Fellow veteran, Antonio McDyess is set to retire which means the Spurs’ front court is dangerously lacking grunt. Matt Bonner spreads the floor but he resembles nothing like a post-defender. Dejuan Blair provides energy and an offensive punch in the inside but also lacks a defensive edge. Both lack the defensive skill set not because of effort but simply because of skill. Finally, there is the Brazillian center, Tiago Splitter. He will provide the Spurs with a defensive workman edge but he is more of a rotation player than a starter.
Ginobli’s and Parker’s contract extensions mean that there is little cap space for the Spurs’ front office to work with. No major roster overhaul is expected. Therefore, can the Spurs be relevant again? Probably not. Despite improving young sides in the Western Conference, the Spurs’ may hold one of the lower playoff seeds next year if they stay relatively healthy. But getting past the first round seems highly unlikely.
And beyond then?… Time to rebuild.
The improving George Hill is the future for the Spurs. The utility can play at the point and shooting guard positions. He probably is the Spurs’ best on-ball defender now. A Spurs dynasty was built on defence. Now there is little defence to speak of.
Tiago Splitter and Dejuan Blair will be able starters but not of the All-Star category. If rookie James Anderson can get healthy and have a big summer, he may provide some scoring punch. And of course there is the find of the year, Gary Neal, who will be a valuable sharp shooter. However, the worry for the Spurs is obvious. These players are solid role players but not the star-calibre of a Manu Ginobli or a younger Tim Duncan.
But who are we kidding? The Spurs may never enjoy such a unique Hall of Fame duo in the Big Fundamental and Ginoooooobliiii.