It's hard to blame anyone who feels a little bit disappointed about the Spurs' 2015/16 season. Every time a 67-win team fails to at least reach the conference finals it means something went wrong. It wasn't injuries this time, so instrospection is necessary. Was San Antonio really as good at its record said?
The reality is the Spurs were ahead of schedule. They had to give up a lot of depth to acquire LaMarcus Aldridge and simply couldn't replace it in that same offseason. The biggest weaknesses were obvious form the start: depth at center and outside shooting. That's obviously still the case and could become an even bigger problem if San Antonio loses Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to retirement.
That's why it's curious to hear so many fans focusing on the point guard position as one of the main priorities. While improving across the board should always be the goal, there are much more pressing needs at other spots.
Tony Parker is not an elite point guard anymore. That much is clear. He's still young by Spurs standards but has a lot of miles on those legs and he's lost a step. He can't be a consistent go-to option on offense and he needs to occasionally be hidden on defense. He definitely tries, angling his body to steer his man away from screens and putting pressure whenever he can, but has been exposed guarding good offensive players.
He's also become a good floor general who gets the team into its sets and makes few mistakes. With Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge getting the bulk of the shots now, that's the type of player you want setting the table. It would be great if he were more consistent as a scoring threat off the dribble but he can still have games in which he takes over and his improving three-point shot should allow him to play off the ball more going forward.
If instead of going by traditional positions we go by actual skills, Patty Mills is a shooter. He's not a floor general or a playmaker. He was more of a distributor in Portland but he never was special at it. Mills made a career of playing off the ball and hitting tough looks. That's what he did with the Australian national team when he won the scoring title in the last Olympics and that's what made him a rotation player in San Antonio.
Yet he can guard point guards well, especially backups. Mills always puts pressure on them, often picking them up full court, and draws a lot of offensive fouls. He's also a solid ball handler who can get the ball up court quickly. Sure, he can be inconsistent but he's a career 39 percent outside shooter who can get hot in a hurry and his off-ball movement opens up space for others.
The Spurs don't have a star point guard in an age in which most contenders do, and that's not ideal. But they do have a solid starter and a good backup. More importantly, they have the right players around them to at least mask their weaknesses. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green can defend the best lead guards in the league when Parker needs to be hidden. Ginobili, Diaw or, if they move on, Kyle Anderson, should allow Mills to continue to play off the ball on offense.
It would obviously be great to have a top-10 starting point guard and a bigger backup to allow for more positional versatility, but it's important to realize that right now those would be luxuries, not urgent needs.
Parker is still good enough to start for a contender, provided he's surrounded by the right players and filling a role that suits his diminished offensive skills. At least for another year, Mills will hold down the fort off the bench for most of the available minutes. All the Spurs really need for now is a third point guard who is more defensively-oriented. Those are not that hard to find.
In other positions, however, there are glaring holes. Under no circumstances should the Spurs prioritize upgrading at point guard over filling those.
As mentioned in past articles, the Spurs won't have a lot of cap space to make additions. Without Tim, Manu and David West, the Spurs would have around $15 million to spend, with $18 million in committed salary to lead guards. Boban Marjanovic could be the only center under contract and Anderson the defacto third wing. It would be lunacy to spend big on year another lead guard instead of targeting a big man and a shooting guard.
"What about a trade?" you ask. The Spurs will not trade Tony Parker. They won't. Whether that's a mistake or not doesn't matter. It's moot. It would be completely out of character for them to move a player that has been on the team for 15 years. Yes, at one point they entertained the idea, but that was a long time ago. The chances of him finishing his career anywhere but in San Antonio have to be considered all but nonexistant.
As for Mills, moving him is a possibility but it's hard to find a trade that nets the Spurs an upgrade. His contract is an amazing value at roughly $3.6 million, which might be reason enough to keep him. It also makes it hard to make a big move centered around him. The only impact players that make a similar salary are on rookie contracts and no one is going to trade a developing player for a 27-year-old gunner who will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
There's always a chance to move Mills for an upgrade at a different position, but that would only create a problem at backup point guard. There will be no player available in the market as good as Mills for the money he's making, not with the cap exploding. The Spurs should be careful before pulling the trigger, if the opportunity arises, especially considering that Parker will need someone to spell him for at least 15 minutes a game.
There's only one point guard in this free agency class that -- if healthy -- would be an upgrade over Parker and that's Mike Conley. He will surely command a maximum salary, which the Spurs can't offer without making serious sacrifices. There are some solid backups but Mills is just as good, and less expensive. Unless someone leaves money on the table, or a front office is willing to give up a young rotation player for Mills, the Spurs should simply stay put.
A year from now, when Mills is a free agent and a 35-year-old Parker enters the last year of his contract, the Spurs will need to hunt for his heir. Fortunately for them, they could have max money to offer as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday and George Hill, among others, will enter unrestricted free agency. Draftexpress.com has nine point guards in their 2017 mock draft as well. There will be time to think about the future of the position for the Spurs soon enough.
This offseason should, on the other hand, be all about reloading on depth, whether Duncan and Ginobili retire or not. Adding a defensive-minded center and a couple of good shooters is paramount. Unless a great opportunity presents itself, upgrading over Parker and Mills should be the least of the Spurs' concerns right now. There's simply too much work left to be done elsewhere to be thinking about fixing something that isn't broken.