1 - The Spurs' defense has been mediocre in recent weeks. Are the absences of Duncan and Leonard the only reason why that's happened?
Michael Erler: There's lots of reasons, from the absences of their best two defensive players to a tougher schedule against some of the better offensive teams to the team just being in a bit of a rut. It would've been hard for them to keep up the pace they started the year with. I think even the players would admit they were playing a bit over their heads defensively. The other teams who have less continuity were bound to get their rotations down and get some familiarity with each other eventually. It's perfectly normal. No team is sharp for all 82 games. Everyone has lulls, especially in February and March.
Bruno Passos: That and the time of the year are maybe reasons 1A and 1B. The team as a whole feels like it's taken the foot off the gas some. There's no reason for me to think a healthy squad can't bring the same level of defense when it matters most.
Chris Itz: Duncan not playing really hurts the Spurs defense, in the stretch of games without him their defensive rating rose to 104.1, it was 93.5 in the previous games and it's been 100 since his return. Obviously Leonard is crucial to the Spurs defense and with Leonard and Duncan back, the Spurs have posted a 86.8 DRtg. I'm sure the time of year plays into it some, but I think it's mostly the absence of 2 elite defenders.
Jesus Gomez: I think so, yes. There have been moments in which the effort hasn't been ideal, which is not surprising at this time of the season. Those moments have only been a problem because Duncan and Leonard have not been available, though. Those two have such timing and ability on that end that they can make a difference simply by being out there. I think the defense will go back to being as stingy as it used to be once everyone is healthy and in game shape
J.R. Wilco: After you factor in the post-All-Star-Break malaise, account for the lack of joie de vivre because of Manu Ginobili's absence, and recognize the state of limbo that exists until the team can play the Warriors again -- any remaining negatives can be directly attributed to missing Timmy and Kawhi.
2 - Kawhi Leonard played in the All-Star game but three games after it. Should he have skipped the event?
Erler: I read he felt something but didn't tell anyone, so I guess the answer is yes. It's hard to blame him though. It was his first All-Star Game and that's a huge milestone, plus he probably had several branding commitments. He's a big deal in the league. Anyway, I remember Sean Elliott doing the same thing his first All-Star game. He hurt his ankle or knee or something right before and he was originally supposed to be in the dunk contest too, but he skipped that but still played in the game. If memory serves he sat out the next two or three regular season games after the game. I think Parker might have done something similar too in one of his All-Star years.
Passos: I feel unqualified to say, but those events (especially it being his first) are such career milestones that as long as it doesn't have long-term ramifications I don't mind. As long as he hasn't been rushed back he should be fine.
Itz: I don't care about the All-Star Game at all, but if it's something that brought Kawhi joy and all it cost was a few precautionary games, that's fine. That said, I don't want that to happen again.
Gomez: No, not at all. His injury clearly wasn't serious and the All-Star game is a low impact affair. No one was going all out that Sunday, not even Kawhi. If he didn't hide the injury, I'm cool with him playing the game and then getting some time off.
Wilco: How much energy did he really exert over All Star weekend? It's gotta be less than what Pop requires from him in a single practice, right? Let the kid have his first appearance in the glorified exhibition -- he earned it.
3 - The trade deadline is behind us. What's a trade that should have happened but didn't?
Erler: I covered this right before the deadline, and my point after the ha-ha let's get Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis stuff was that I did spend a couple hours looking at every possible thing, and there was just nothing there. Either the money wouldn't work or the Spurs would have to give up too much or the appealing guy was not someone his team would want to give up. There just wasn't a match, and the way the Spurs salary structure is set up right now, nobody was tradeable but Green, Mills or Diaw, and all those guys are more valuable to the Spurs than elsewhere.
Passos: I thought the Pelicans should've taken what they could get for Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson. I'm not sure what the best offer was for any of them, but with them out of the playoff picture and the team in need of a reset, it made sense to me for them to try and pick up some assets.
Gomez: I love Coach Bud but I think the Hawks should have traded Jeff Teague and Al Horford. Teague is already losing minutes to Dennis Schroder and Horford is about to become incredibly expensive. They will have to move those two eventually and it's hard to conceive a time in which they could hold more value.
Wilco: I'm blown away that the Rockets didn't do something to try to fix that dysfunctional mess they have going on Houston.
4 - The Spurs were interested in Anderson Varejao. Is there any other potential buyout candidate that could make sense?
Erler: I guess Joe Johnson would, if Manu had some complication and was out for the year /knocks on wood. But the Spurs are 48-9 for a reason. They're pretty stacked. If everyone is healthy, they don't need much help. They just need to play up to their collective potential.
Passos: I don't think so. Maybe Roy Hibbert? It's a little mind-blowing that we're at the point where he's not only a buyout candidate (for the Lakers!) but that I'm not sure if he could help a team like San Antonio that could still do with another rim protector.
Itz: Sure, grab Joe Johnson and ditch McCallum.
Gomez: Ah, buyout season. That time of the year in which we all pretend over-the-hill players can help contenders. If we are doing it, then I'm going all in: Andre Miller, here we come! I don't trust Ray McCallum yet and I actually like the two point guard unit with Mills and Parker on offense, so Miller could get some minutes as the third string PG.
Wilco: I think not. I don't see Johnson playing enough defense to help, and no one else interests me.
5 - Rasual Butler has been producing lately at both forward positions. Should he be getting some more minutes?
Erler: At whose expense? The minutes seem to be there for him because Pop is using more small lineups but if Duncan ever gets back to his regular rotation minutes and Ginobili returns, there won't be much out there for him unless Anderson takes a turn for the worse. Butler is more athletic than I figured and is actually one of the team's better shot-blockers, but his age shows in terms of lateral quickness on defense.
Passos: As Erler said, the question is "over who?" I still believe in Kyle Anderson, and Manu will be back soon enough. With his three-point shot not really falling, could Rasual still run the floor and help around the rim as well in extended minutes? I'm not so sure.
Itz: Yeah, I don't know what to add that hasn't been said, but I really like that the Spurs have him just in case.
Gomez: Maybe? He's more athletic than Anderson, plus he actually shoots when he's open. And he's less erratic that Simmons. I want the other two guys -- especially Slowmo -- to get minutes now, but once Ginobili returns and the team gets ready for the final stretch, I wouldn't be against Pop playing it safe and giving the few wing minutes available to a veteran.
Wilco: He's already been playing more than I thought he would. Just the fact that he's staying sharp is enough for me to be comfortable that he'll be ready to step in should Pop call his number in the playoffs.