I'm settling in here in blustery Half Moon Bay right on the Pacific coast, and trying to regain my bearings after a two week odyssey across 'Merica, mostly the parts we fly over en route to destinations more habitable, but more on that later.
I've been trying to rediscover my old routines and found myself at a Starbucks, poring over the Spurs schedule when it was released Thursday afternoon. I was counting the back-to-backs, like I always do, and somewhere around February the folly of my actions struck me.
Oh yeah, Tim Duncan retired. We don't have to preemptively count up his "DNP: Rest" games anymore. It's not like the Spurs are a team of callow rookies, of course. There will still be days off for Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and even the younger stars, but there's no denying that it's a different feeling now. It's liberating in a way, both Duncan being gone and Kevin Durant defecting to form a Voltron in Oakland. For the first time in 20 years, the pressure is off.
There is no championship-or-bust burden in San Antonio. We don't have to worry about the standings for home court advantage or any other nonsense. The Spurs can just be another good team, with the potential to surprise or maybe disappoint, but the stakes aren't the same, not without the franchise cornerstone's health and potential retirement looming over everything. There's a sense that everyone's playing for bronze, and that's perfectly fine. Go ahead and hope for the Spurs to prove everyone wrong, but certainly don't hang undue expectations on them.
I had to do a double-take when scanning for the Thunder games in the schedule too. Those match-ups won't be *quite* as daunting from now on, huh? Maybe the only thing that next season will have in common with last season is that once again the Spurs will open up the year with a visit to Durant. But yeah, great timing on only giving them 15 SEGABABAs, guys.
Speaking of playing for bronze, I've been satisfying my basketball Jones of late by watching the Olympic games, Argentina mostly (obviously), but also bits and pieces of the France, Spain and Australia games. My main takeaway so far has been to have a greater appreciation for NBA officiating and announcing crews.
The Argies in particular are a bewildering lot, and their weaknesses were on full display in their loss to Lithuania. They play like the Warriors, only if the Warriors consisted of a 39-year-old Ginobili and a bunch of dudes in a YMCA league. They've got no size whatsoever, and were outrebounded by 22 by the Lithuanians. Luis Scola, normally an international superstar, looked like the NBA role player he's largely been when matched up against Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis. Andres Nocioni keeps thinking he can shoot, in spite of a mountain of evidence that suggests he cannot. Then there's jitterbug point guard Facundo Campazzo, whose game is like a cross between J.J. Barea and Philip Seymour Hoffman's character from Along Came Polly.
Argentina aren't exceptionally good at anything, except being unified, as ESPN.com's Zach Lowe skillfully explains in his recent profile of Ginobili, but their veteran group knows all the tricks and they can exploit the sub-collegian officiating to stay in games against superior talent. Ginobili got to the line 17 times against Lithuania, one short of his career-high with the Spurs, getting the benefit on his forays to the rim that he hasn't gotten in years from American zebras. They might make it to the medal round with the right matchups, but make no mistake, these guys will get annihilated if they have to face Team U.S.A. I fear even the French or the Aussies have too much size for them.
New Spur Patricio Garino didn't see much playing time in the game and that was unfortunate. I've been keeping tabs on him during the Olympic tournament and I can sort of understand why he wasn't drafted, and I say that not as an insult. Though he shot well (43 percent from downtown as a senior) and averaged a solid 12 points per game in his four years at George Washington University, his strengths don't seem to show up in traditional box scores. He's a hustle and energy guy, and he played in a lower conference where almost by default everyone has to be hustle and energy guys. Despite his scoring averages, it's telling that he hardly sees the ball when he's on the floor for Argentina -- he's like their Kyle Anderson in a way. They rely on him for defense and to do the things Ginobili and Nocioni did in their younger days, though "The Golden Generation" will have to retire before he's entrusted with the ball. I'm optimistic he'll make the Spurs, but I'm not ready to go beyond that right now.
That foul wetness at the end of he above Hoffman clip also reminded me of a prior Argentina game. Ben Simmons won't be the only high-profile rookie for the Sixers next season. Croatian Dario Saric will be entering the league too and by all appearances he'll be the shiniest Eastern European we've seen since Ivan Drago went 12 rounds with Rocky in Moscow 30 years ago. Don't get me wrong, Saric is going to be a pretty good player, but I'm telling you, Patrick Ewing has nothing on this kid when it comes to perspiration. He was like that oiled up Tongan dude during the Olympic opening ceremony. Steve Kerr should just make plans to sit Stephen Curry for both games against Philly now.
It's certainly weird that the Spurs will travel to Oakland for Durant's Dubs debut and then not again unless the two teams meet in the playoffs. If only there was a way to make the players sweat more...