1 - Recent reports indicate Kawhi Leonard's camp is anything but happy about the lack of an extension. Can that affect his on court play?
Jesus Gomez: It could if the relationship between the franchise and his people is truly damaged. But I'm not sure that's the case. Obviously he would have preferred to receive an extension but he knows he will get paid sooner or later. So I'm not worried.
Micheal Erler: I think his agent is frustrated and panicking because he's an amateur who doesn't have any big-name clients besides Leonard and he needs Kawhi to help make his career. He couldn't make this extension happen so now he's worried that Leonard will fire him and pick another agent. He might be bitter and try to steer Leonard to another team, but the Spurs can match so ultimately that doesn't mean much. I think at some point the team will explain to Kawhi their intentions if they haven't already. It's possible they've already communicated as much to the agent and because it didn't suit his interests he just didn't relay it to his client, so the Spurs will probably have to just go directly to the source instead of some middleman.
Bruno Passos: $90 million is a lot of money, so I hope Kawhi can appreciate the Spurs' not being overly quick to ink the extension for a max deal, especially when Tim and Manu's future (see: retirement) isn't 100% set in stone. Between being frustrated by this outcome and being motivated by the financial incentive of 'earning' his max deal, I'm not sure where the normally-stoic Leonard will sit. Either way, I don't expect for it to affect his play and hopefully both sides can come to an agreement next summer.
Taylor Young: For four years everyone has compared Kawhi to a robot produced in a secret Pop laboratory. Leonard has bought into every aspect of the Spurs system and way. I don't think he is ignorant and surely he understands this is part of the process. You have to imagine that the Spurs front office has been smart enough to assure Kawhi that he's the future of the franchise. I blame most of the drama on Leonard's agent trying to make a name for himself.
J.R. Wilco: The Spurs haven't been able to sign their Big Three to multiple extensions without learning the best way to communicate with their players. This situation is an unusual one because of the changing salary cap due to the recent TV deal the league signed. Add to that the uncertainty surrounding what Duncan and Ginobili will decide to do after this year. Bottom line: it's better for the Spurs to leave the cap open, and I'm sure they've talked to Kawhi about it. Whatever noise his agent makes in the meanwhile should be ignored.
2 - The Thunder players keep dropping like flies and it will affect their record. On the other hand, it might help them develop young players. So is it a good thing or a bad thing for the Spurs that they are so shorthanded?
Gomez: It's a good thing. Once everyone is healthy it won't really matter that Perry Jones can initiate offense or Bassy Telfair is better than Derek Fisher. They will default to being the team they were before the injuries, as well they should, since it works for them. But their record will suffer and home court advantage matters. The only way this backfires for the Spurs is if they end up facing the Thunder in the first round. Otherwise, this awful stretch OKC is going through helps the Spurs.
Erler: I've gone back and forth on this and while I understand the silver-lining theory in that it'll save Durant and Westbrook some gas that they can use in the playoffs and also develop players that may not otherwise have gotten an opportunity, I think Brooks will just revert to old habits once they come back. Besides, they'll be so behind the 8-ball in their record in the competitive West that Brooks and his two stars will probably feel pressure to catch up to playoff contention all by themselves, playing each regular season game like it's a Game 7. Ultimately, it gives the Spurs a very good chance of finishing ahead of them in the standings and home court advantage against those guys, regardless of other circumstances, is always a good thing.
Passos: A good thing. First off, it's no longer guaranteed that they'll even make the playoffs, especially if they bury themselves too deep a hole in the Western Conference standings. Once Durant and Westbrook return, the margin for error becomes extremely slim, meaning Scott Brooks will likely return to isos and hero-ball. With their roles due to shrink again, I don't think it'lll bring about enough long-term development for players like Lamb, Adams or Jones.
Young: I don't think it will have anything but negative effects at this point. If Westbrook had stayed healthy, it could have really benefited them. Now Perry Jones is hurt and it seems like they're just going to be holding on for dear life in every game. It would seem unfair if they didn't make the playoffs, but it would take a miraculous string of luck following this ridiculous series of misfortune.
Wilco: It's a bad thing because the guys who don't play will certainly improve. But there's hardly any bad to it because when the studs return, the bench is likely to be utilized as before, so the impact to the Spurs should be very little -- unless they have to meet OKC in the first or second round.
3 - It's obviously early in the season but do you think there is a team out there that could overachieve and be this year's version of last season's Suns?
Gomez: Oddly enough, the Suns. Winning around the same number of games as last season would be overachieving. I see the same eight team making the playoffs out West, unless injuries continue to ravage the Thunder. But the best non-playoff team will probably be Phoenix.
Erler: The Pelicans for me. I have them making the playoffs, perhaps as high as the sixth seed. Their top six is good enough, their problem is the roster drops off a cliff after that.
Passos: Last year's Suns exceeded expectations by 20-25 wins, depending on who you spoke to before the season. I don't see any team pulling off that kind of jump, although the Kings are looking better than imagined.
Young: I have said the Pelicans for months and I still think they will take the Grizzlies playoff spot in the West. However, if injuries derail the Thunder's season, the Suns might snag a playoff spot. I'd love to see the Kings continue this early success. Imagine a first round matchup between the Clippers and Kings, where Boogie and Blake grow increasingly more hateful towards each other every game.
Wilco: New Orleans is scary and getting scarier by the minute. They're still a few years from being a major force in the West, but David is a beast and he's treating this year as his coming out party.
4 - What player has surprised you the most with his progression?
Gomez: I think Ryan Anderson is supremely underrated right now. He's not just a great spot-up three point shooter anymore. He has a tricky post game, he's a good rebounder and he's not terrible on defense. I don't think the Pelicans will make the playoffs this season but Anderson is a keeper anyways.
Erler: Well I've only watched a few games here and there but I like what I'm seeing with Rudy Gay. He's playing like someone who isn't comically overpaid and has formed a nice partnership with DeMarcus Cousins. Also, his teammate Darren Collison. He doesn't shoot it at a high percentage, but he's getting to the line a lot and his defense has been terrific so far. The other guy who's caught my eye is Klay Thompson. He looks quicker to me.
Passos: Klay Thompson has been a monster so far, which I guess is not a big surprise. Still, it's always good to see a player validate the big contract they just signed.
Young: I know he just got hurt, but Perry Jones has been the bright spot of the Thunder's season. If they come back strong and he's a force in the playoffs, it will be really hard to defend another player of that length and athleticism.
Wilco: Davis again. I love him and am starting to be one of those silly Spurs fans who are setting themselves up for disappointment by imagining The Brow getting dissatisfied in New Orleans and coming to San Antonio after Duncan finally heads off to some beach to spend his days without a member of the press as far as the eye can see.
5 - Which contender has impressed you the least so far?
Gomez: The Clippers. Their record is great but their perimeter defense is atrocious. They will be a contender because Griffin and Chris Paul are arguably top five players. But their supporting cast is just not up to par.
Erler: I picked the Clippers to come out of the West and they look pretty ordinary so far. Blake Griffin looks unstoppable but besides him they don't have much going for them. Their wings aren't playing very well and their bench is poor, outside of Spencer Hawes. In the East the Cavs, as expected, can't guard anybody.
Passos: Do the Thunder count? //cue: Troll Face//
Young: I was genuinely thrilled to watch the Cavs play and I've been very underwhelmed. The ball gets stuck too often. I realize my expectations of instant beauty were unrealistic and these things take time. We're so spoiled by the Spurs.
Wilco: Cavaliers. I think this year might just be a wash for them if they can't get their defense to look like something you might want to call above average. I was always concerned with their ability to stop teams, but I had no idea they'd look this porous. It's still early, but they definitely have impressed me least.