One year ago, most of us were still sulking in our fiesta-colored Snuggies, trying to forget the last 30 seconds of Game 6, and wondering what the future would bring for our favorite NBA team. In those dark, Peter You Suck days, even the most devout of fans questioned how San Antonio would bounce back from the emotional gut-punch that was the team's Finals loss to the Heat.
Fast-forward to today and things couldn't be more different. Gregg Popovich has another Coach of the Year award in his wine cellar, surely collecting dust behind a few bottles of near-vintage Rock & Hammer Pinot Noir; Kawhi Leonard is an NBA Finals MVP; and the Spurs took home the championship for the first time since 2007.
After putting together one of the great campaigns of the last two decades, the good guys are all-in for a title defense. As part of the latest SBNation NBA theme day, we are reading our silver and black tea leaves and asking where the Spurs will be 12 months from now.
This isn't a best-case-worst-case-scenario piece; rather, it's a one-off shot in the dark at what the Spurs could look like this time next year -- a time where the team may find itself in its greatest transition since drafting an Admiral 25 years ago.
There are currently only five players -- Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson -- under contract for the 2015-16 season, totaling about $35 million in committed salary. Obviously, that list ignores the imminent re-signing of Kawhi, Cory Joseph's qualifying offer and the likely return of other current players. Still change is afoot in the Alamo City, and the winter which ESPN pundits have attempted to predict for the last seven years may finally be coming.
This is just one fan's prediction for the Spurs in the summer of 2015, with a look at the roster and our cap flexibility. And since a look to the future should include a report on the upcoming season, I've included how I think it could play out.
Let's start with the game-changers. Austin Daye, who came over in the Nando de Colo deal, couldn't have been happy to see the team draft a younger, more versatile version of himself (the equally lanky, equally speed-challenged tweener Kyle Anderson). Anderson's selection made Daye all the more expendable, and it was up to him in the 2014-15 season to prove to Pop that he was able to consistently knock down the three to earn his keep. That didn't happen, and, after an underwhelming preseason, Daye was relegated to the end of the bench, where he remained until the end of the season.
Jeff Ayres was another casualty of the Spurs' rotation, as he couldn't hope to be better than a fourth big. He had a rough first season with his new team, and without a consistent mid-range game, I don't see him lasting past this season. Matt Bonner's re-signing this off-season for one more year seemed to align his final run as the fourth-longest tenured Spur with the final years of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili's.
Cory Joseph was a tough call, given how he stepped up during Mills' absence at the beginning of the season. Still, a qualifying offer of $3 million is a lot for a third-string point guard, and it was in the interest of both parties for Joseph to find a bigger role elsewhere.
Manu and Timmy are both gone as well, and the YouTube tribute videos produced upon their exit (if they're at all as good as the ones we saw this year) will have produced enough tears from me to flood the Riverwalk. More on them and what note they left on later.
OK, so who's still around?
The good news starts with the re-signing of Leonard, who will have inked a new five-year contract, at or near the max amount, locking him up as a Spur until his 28th birthday. Who knows what his game will look like as it approaches that peak NBA age, but it could depend on how long Pop sticks around.
Both Popovich and Parker re-upped their contracts this summer. It was somewhat surprising to many when Pop re-signed for multiple years after much speculation that he'd time his departure to coincide with Timmy and Manu's. Tony's return was all but expected, and the contract allows PATFO to really structure how they'll manage the team's salary moving forward.
The Spurs remain strong on the wing moving forward. After another solid season, Danny Green will have given San Antonio a slight home-team discount, largely because of how he'd developed under Pop and how good a fit it is for both sides moving forward. Marco Belinelli's contract will be up this summer and something tells me he'll look more like he did in the first half of last year than in the second half and playoffs. New arrivals tend to struggle some in their first seasons and, with the departure of a certain Argentine, Italian Ice should be able to solidify his role in the coming years.
And why not? Let's keep Aron Baynes, too (assuming he takes the Spurs' QO this summer).
Who are the new arrivals?
The summer of 2015 will see some other front-office moves, surely, but there are still too many ripples to come around the league for me to pretend to guess what kind of splash the Spurs may decide to make. This isn't a team needing a full rebuild, and an unrestricted FA like Paul Millsap would have been a good target, but he'll likely have played his way to a bigger contract. Greg Monroe will be another guy we hear about, with recent news that he'll be on the market next year.
A household name or two remains very possible, but this also seems like a great time for a draft-and-stash to enter the fray. I'm not sure what his contract situation will be in a year, nor (judging purely from his Nike Hoops Summit highlights) am I sure whether he's more Trevor Ariza or Malik Rose. Either way, 2013 first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles come on down!
That leaves the team with a salary of around $50 million, and a depth chart that could look like this going into the 2015-16 season:
PG: Tony Parker, Patty Mills
SG: Danny Green, Marco Belinelli
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson
PF: Boris Diaw, Livio Jean-Charles
C: Tiago Splitter, Aron Baynes
That's not a bad squad; even without additions (I'm guessing they'd go after a solid third big and a PG), there's no reason they couldn't compete for a playoff spot in the wild West. But with a few shrewd moves -- and we generally expect no less from PATFO -- this is a team that could continue its winning ways in the first years of the post-Duncan era. They might not be title contenders, but the future still looks bright.
So, back to the Spurs' 2014-15 season
Once again, Pop managed to balance his short- and long-term priorities, keeping the Spurs at or near the top of the Western Conference throughout the 2014-15 season, while limiting his starters' minutes. The Spurs secured a top-two finish in the West, receiving substantial contributions from CoJo and Marco and signs of promise from rookie Anderson, while keeping their core healthy.
Parker shouldered just enough responsibility in the first half of the season to get another All-Star nod. Kawhi Leonard received more fan votes than ever, but he was left to wait another year. When asked if he was upset for not making the All-Star Game, Kawhi responded, "No."
Additional 2014-2015 accolades:
- Tony Parker: All-NBA Third Team
- Kawhi Leonard: NBA All-Defensive Second Team
- Kyle Anderson: All-Rookie Second Team
But what about the championship?
Good question. The championship belt bounced around, as it does every year, ultimately ending up in the hands of the Houston Rockets, a lowly consolation prize for a team that just missed the playoffs.
No, the real NBA championship. The Race for Seis?
The 2014-15 season was in many ways a familiar tale for Spurs fans. Plenty of storylines around the league once again overshadowed San Antonio's: the growing pains of Cleveland's new big three, strong rookie seasons from Jabari Parker and Nerlens Noel and a Mark Cuban wardrobe malfunction all made more headlines than the Spurs during the regular season.
Coming into April, however, the mainstream media's eye of Sauron returned to the 210. They weren't the same ESPN darlings as the year before but San Antonio quickly reminded everyone of their mettle in the postseason's early rounds before facing the Thunder yet again in the conference finals. Another year of experience for Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb, along with their convincing the 76ers to take on Kendrick Perkins' contract, made OKC more competitive, but San Antonio is able to recreate enough of that 2014 magic to move on to The Finals.
For the sake of all things cyclical, the Spurs end up facing LeBron's Cavs in a rematch of their 2007 sweep. It's slightly closer this time around but, with both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving lacking playoff experience, San Antonio proves too much for the Eastern Conference champs. The Spurs take it in five.
Amid all the celebrations, Tim Duncan, also a fan of things coming full circle, pulls LeBron James aside after the game, and the two re-enact a moment they shared eight years ago. The message is slightly different this time around, but the expressions remain the same:
As LeBron walks down the corridor of the AT&T Center, his hulking, defeated silhouette fading into a flash of cameras, the GOATPUFF returns to his teammates, taking a seat by his old locker for what will be the last time.
Lowering his tired seven-foot frame, he experiences a familiar sensation to what he's felt before. It's not the usual champion's euphoria nor the relief in knowing he won't need to push his body to such extremes again; it's a Gatorade cup, playfully placed underneath him -- again.
One of the lasting images of the 2014-15 season -- the one we'll all cherish 12 months from now -- is that of two men, 37 and 40 years old, chuckling like children in the locker room over a crushed paper cup. They are not only shimmering examples of how the game of basketball should be played, but ageless reminders that basketball is deep down still a game*.
*It helps to read this last section a la Christopher Walken at the end of Seven Psychopaths -- or just like Christopher Walken at all, really.
Obviously there's only like a 84% chance of this happening, so a certain margin for additional speculation exists. What are your predictions, big and small, grandiose and petty, of what the next year holds for the Spurs?
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