1 - The Spurs finished preseason 2-5, had two starters out with injury for most of it and a couple of players looked really out of sync. Will the struggles carry over to the regular season or will the team show up for games that count?
Michael Erler: Oh I expect them to be quite brutal early on until Kawhi Leonard comes back and gets rhythm and Manu Ginobili finds his. It'd be one thing if they had some easy warm-up opponents but they're facing quite a few really good teams to start with so I'm thinking 4-4, 3-5 something like that for the first tenth of the season. For them to exceed that, Parker and Duncan will really have to carry the load.
Chris Itz: Not including this preseason, the preseason record for the Spurs over the past nine seasons is 28-30, so I'm not going to make anything out of their 2-5 preseason. I do think that missing Kawhi, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills mixed with a tough first seven games could cause a slow start, but by the 20 game mark I expect the Spurs to have 14 or 15 wins. After those first seven they play eight of their next 13 against the Wolves, Nets, Sixers and Kings.
Bruno Passos: I see turnovers being on the high side, and the Spurs will need to rely a bit more on contributions from guys like Marco, Danny and CoJo as we limp into the regular season. The first five or six games will be a good test for the team, but the rust will wear off and the reinforcements will arrive. They're still the defending champs -- it just might take a month or so for the record to reflect that.
Jesus Gomez: It's such a rough schedule to start. The Mavs, Suns, Hawks, Rockets and Pelicans are the first five rivals. Depending on how soon Splitter and Leonard return, I could see the struggles carry on and the Spurs going on a 2-3 start.
J.R. Wilco: They'll show up for the games that count. There will be some shifting around what with being shorthanded, but this is the team that plays the same way regardless who's in uniform, or who's on the court. The Big Three are focused and Pop will have the rest of the guys motivated and playing at a high level.
2 - It seems the Spurs and Leonard are not close to an agreement on an extension. Do you think there might be an eleventh hour deal or will he become a restricted free agent? And could not agreeing on an extension hurt his relationship with the franchise?
Erler: I think the Woj story was a last gasp plea from his agent to exert some pressure on the Spurs, to bluff a bit, but it makes more financial sense in terms of the cap for them to play it out. I'll go into this more in a story I'm gonna write in a couple of weeks.
Itz: It seems most likely that it gets pushed to next summer. I have faith that PATFO and Kawhi will figure it out and I'm not concerned that their relationship will be hurt.
Passos: It doesn't seem that there's any urgency to get it done right away, and that's probably OK. The two parties have a lot of respect for each other, and this is probably just business.
Gomez: I think if an extension was going to happen, it would have happened already. I don't think it will harm the relationship between Kawhi and the Spurs, mostly because he will be too busy trying to win back-to-back rings. But the Spurs will have to tread lightly next off-season or they could end up being the Daryl Morey to Leonard's Chandler Parsons.
Wilco: The uncertainty with where the salary cap will be next year is a big factor in this to me. If everything was set then the parties would know where they stand and the deal would get done. For that reason, I see Kawhi becoming a RFA, but he'll sign in San Antonio as soon as the dust from that massive TV contract settles.
3 - Cory Joseph is up for an extension as well. Considering the cap is about to go up, would you sign him to a deal similar to Patty Mills'? Would you wait for free agency? Or is he not a part of the Spurs' future?
Erler: I don't see him as a part of the future, not after they committed to Patty. You just don't devote serious money to three point guards. Your third guy should always be on the minimum. That's just basic cap management. I can see an off-season sign-and-trade where they deal him to some point guard needy team for a draft pick.
Itz: I think it remains to be seen if he is a part of the Spurs' future. We'll get to see a lot more of CoJo as Mills recovers. He may impress and fight Patty for minutes or he could struggle. I think it's best if the Spurs wait and see where they're at next July.
Passos: If the cap is indeed looking at jumping to $80-90 million by 2017, then locking up anyone who's in the greater franchise picture sooner rather than later makes sense. My gut says Joseph isn't -- especially not for Patty money. He's young and has done everything asked of him thus far, but four years might be enough time to back up a back-up.
Gomez: It's hard to see Joseph being in the Spurs' long term plans. Mills is on the books and unless he falls off after a great season, he should have the back up PG spot locked up. Would Joseph be happy being a third stringer for much longer? I don't think so. So I think he's gone after next season.
Wilco: If the cap wasn't about to balloon into $90-100M territory, I'd say there's no way to keep Joseph. But since those are the numbers people are throwing around as realistic, then I say it's possible he stays. The Spurs have seen something in him since his days at the University of Texas, drafting him sooner than anyone thought reasonable. I'm ready to be surprised by how highly they still value him.
4 - Speaking of point guards, Steve Nash is out for the season with nerve damage in his back and at 40 years old, that might be it for him. His 7SoL Suns were one of the Spurs' biggest foes for years. How do you think he will be remembered by Spurs fans?
Erler: What reason would they have to remember him negatively? They almost always beat his teams and he was always classy and complimentary of them. I always appreciated Nash's court sense, skill and worth ethic and respected that he was courageous enough to speak out on the issues that were important to him, even when he took controversial stances. He made the most of his ability but I don't think he ever prioritized defense enough, he never used his leadership position within the team to demand it of his teammates and he was never fortunate enough to play for a coach who demanded it from them either. He was a great player and obviously a Hall-of-Famer, but I don't necessarily think of him as a hard-nosed competitor at that position the way Isiah Thomas, John Stockton or Chris Paul were/are. Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe I'm blaming him for a lot of other people's faults, but I just think he's too smart for the "he didn't know what he didn't know," excuse.
Itz: Indifference, respect...I dunno, the Spurs sent Nash and Mike D home three times and were probably the only thing that kept the Suns from a title. I imagine that Suns fans have spent a lot more energy thinking about Robert Horry than Spurs fans have spent thinking about Nash. By the time that Nash destroyed the Spurs with the pick-and-roll in 2010, D'Antoni was gone, but that loss gave me my first thoughts of a declining Spurs team. The loss to Memphis in the 2011 first round kind of put the 2010 Suns loss in the closet. That now seems like a long, long time ago. Nash was a great shooter, fun to watch and a tough player. I'll always remember him playing with one eye in that 2010 series.
Passos: I can't speak for everyone, but I'll remember him as an incredible shooter and playmaker; the shaggy head of the Suns snake that we had to cut off in order to advance; a good sport, hilarious spokesperson, and one of the few players I remember being in awe as I watched in pre-game shootarounds. The guy could make twenty shots from the same spot as if it was nothing.
Gomez: For me it's the 2010 sweep. Nash and Amare pick-and-rolled the Spurs to death, making Duncan look old and slow in the process. Nash averaged over 20 a game. That loss actually made me question whether the Spurs could win another championship or not. It ended up being the beginning of a transformation that would take the Spurs years to complete and that led them to their fifth banner. But at that time, it seemed like Nash had had his revenge and killed the Spurs.
Wilco: He'll be remembered as an incredible competitor, a relentless offensive force, a floor general nonpareil, a classy guy with an impeccable sense of humor, a charter member of the 50-40-90 Club, and the main reason that Mike D'Antoni had much of a career as a coach.
5 - Enough of the gloominess. Spurs basketball is back! What story line are you most eager to see play out this year?
Erler: Again, this goes into the answer I gave for #2, but personally I'm just looking forward to covering the team from a different angle, literally. Instead of watching games late at night that I recorded on my DVR, I'll be in my baseline seat in section 103, watching things unfold in real time and seeing plays develop and just a bunch of things that you don't see on TV. Also, there's the locker room after the game, Pop before the game (the best Pop is pre-game Pop), the stories and gossip you hear around the arena. It's just different.
Itz: I want to see if Tim can sustain his career per-minute production the way he has to this point. He's already in territory that only Malone and Kareem reached. By year 17, those two guys weren't rebounding like they used to (both grabbing at least 20% less than their career avg.) but they still scored at a high rate. In year 18 Kareem's scoring finally slipped (20% less per minute than his career avg.) and Malone was producing at career lows while shooting 10% worse than his career avg. from the field. Year 17 saw Duncan rebound above his career rate and score within 10% of his career avg. per minute. Will the Stone Buddha continue his rock solid production?
Passos: Tony's bounce-back from an "off year." He barely had a summer last year, thanks to the Finals and the European championship, and his numbers dipped noticeably (from 20 to about 16ppg), especially as he ran on fumes from mid-season on. I think we'll see a more productive and efficient player this season. I also look forward to one more year of #FreeBaynes.
Gomez: The contract year version of Danny Green intrigues me. Will he chuck transition threes like Patty? Will he try to show versatility to drive up his value? Or will he be content with his relatively small role, trusting that the front office will take care of him like they have reliable contributors in the past? Is this the year Green plays his way out of the Spurs or the year he becomes the next Bruce Bowen?
Wilco: I can't wait to see Kawhi's offensive development, the way the Spurs use him, and how much the team comes to lean on his defense and athleticism. He's such a wild card in the abilities he brings to the Spurs system that it's never had.