The 2015/16 NBA season is right around the corner and it will be a big one for the Spurs. After going through a significant offseason overhaul, it's championship or bust for the crew led by Gregg Popovich.
Injuries limited them for most of 2014/15 and prevented a serious attempt at a repeat, forcing the typically conservative Spurs to go all in during the free agency period. Chemistry and familiarity will surely suffer after the departure of five holdovers from the championship season but the front office is banking on the significant talent upgrade to make up for it. It won't be easy to navigate the West's rocky waters but with their moves, the Spurs have given themselves a shot at beating anyone.
Not everything has changed, obviously. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still ready to lead the way, along with Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. The offense might change to accommodate the new additions but the ball will move. In a lot of ways, the 2015/16 version of the Spurs will be similar to recent iterations, only better. At least that's what both fans and decision-makers hope.
Team Name: San Antonio Spurs
Last Year's Record: 55-27 (Lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Clippers 4-3)
Key Losses: Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes, Jeff Ayres.
Key Additions: LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Ray McCallum, Boban Marjanovic.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The Spurs made the move of the offseason. DeAndre Jordan's free agency saga got more attention because of how bizarre it was but LaMarcus Aldridge was the biggest free agent available and the Spurs snagged him. After missing out on high profile targets in the past even Tim Duncan was surprised they pulled it off.
"This was the first time we got someone of this caliber," Duncan said during media day. "Honestly, I was kind of betting ‘Oh, he'll choose to go somewhere else,' right up until the end. I was floored by it."
The opportunity to sign Aldridge cost the Spurs a lot of depth, as they had to trade Tiago Splitter and let free agents Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes go. Fortunately, David West left $11 million on the table to join the Spurs, which alleviated some of the concerns about depth.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
The offense. It's hard to see any defense shutting down the Spurs. The starting lineup has four players that can create their own shot and one of the deadliest marksmen in the league in Danny Green. LaMarcus Aldridge gives the team something it has lacked for a long time: a go-to scorer. His presence should allow the declining Tony Parker a freedom to defer he hasn't enjoyed in a while.
Coming off the bench are Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and David West. Manu is not the scorer he once was but can still set up others while a now healthy Mills will provide outside shooting to open up the paint for Diaw and West. That's a nine-man rotation with enough firepower and versatility to keep even the best defenses on their toes.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
The Spurs' interior defense, long a strength, is now questionable. Tim Duncan remains a savant in the area, using his length and impeccable timing to make up for his diminishing mobility and almost non-existent bounce. After him, however, no one seems ready to anchor a unit on defense.
Aldridge clearly has the physical tools to thrive as a rim protector at center but has never put them to good use so far in his career. Boris Diaw and David West can handle post brutes but don't have the instincts, the length or the mobility to be rim protectors. Boban Marjanovis is 7'3" but too slow to cover ground when attacked in space.
If Duncan is healthy come playoff time and Aldridge shows more commitment to protecting the rim when he plays center, the Spurs should be fine. The lack of a defensive interior presence when Duncan rests, however, might cost them some regular season games.
4. What are the goals for this team?
In theory, the addition of Aldridge extends the Spurs' title window for a few more years. The reality is anything other than getting Tim Duncan his sixth ring would be considered a failure.
No one knows how many more productive years Big Fun has left and Tony Parker is showing signs of slowing down. Manu Ginobili almost retired this offseason. An Aldridge-Leonard-Green core bridges the way into the future but the pressure to win now remains.
5. Is Tony Parker still an above average starting point guard?
Two years ago Tony Parker was coming off arguably his best season as a pro, finishing sixth in MVP voting after averaging 20 points and seven assists while shooting 52 percent from the floor. The basketball gods have not been kind to him ever since, as he's battled a nagging hamstring injury that has limited him severely.
Whether his considerable dip in production stems solely from his health issues is the real question. Parker is 33 years old and point guards that rely on speed don't typically age well. His poor performance representing France in Eurobasket only raises more concerns.
The Spurs need Parker to run the offense and create off the dribble to achieve their full potential. If he can't bounce back after two mediocre seasons, San Antonio's championship chances decrease.
The Spurs will win between 55 and 60 games once again, only this time that will mean having home court advantage in the first round. They will advance further than last season but the West has so many legitimate contenders that after that, matchups and health will determine who makes it to the finals.