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In the Bonus: How injuries have altered expectations for the Spurs

This week’s staff round-table focuses on all of the changes that face the Good Guys as they head into new territory.

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the season hasn’t officially started and the Spurs are looking injury issues in the face. Lonnie Walker IV landed uncomfortably in the 4th quarter blow out against the Detroit Pistons and immediately waved to be pulled out, There was no hesitation, he went straight to the locker room. We now know he is out 6-8 weeks with a torn meniscus. Two days later, Dejounte Murray tore his ACL dashing to the rim against the Houston Rockets. There is currently no timeline for his return, but he could be out all season.

The injuries put the Spurs in the position of being two guards short for the tip off of the season, unless the final roster spot and/or the remaining two-way contract are used to account for the holes in the line up (although that doesn’t appear to be in the plans for now).

Otherwise, the elements of a competitive team are all there. It will take time see just how the chemistry works, and now that timeline may alter. There are uncertainties that come with losing three starters and your best bench player. From seasoned, quiet leadership coming from LaMarcus Aldridge, to the new All-Star caliber DeMar DeRozan, through the longest-tenured Patty Mills and landing on the young shoulders of Murray, finding the voice both on and off the court will also need to be established.

This week, PtR contributors Jesus Gomez, Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, and Jeph Duarte comment the immediate effect of the injuries incurred this weekend, how they might alter the roster, the evolution of the team’s leadership, the Spurs place in the Southwest Division, and thoughts on the only televised preseason game (thanks to the Heat) against the Miami.

Two injuries in two games this weekend. Do the injuries to Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV change your prediction on how the Spurs will fare this season?

Jesus Gomez: Absolutely. I doubt the Spurs will be able to reach their ceiling on defense without Murray. That doesn’t mean they are doomed to miss the postseason, but it will make things much harder for them in an already unforgiving West.

Marilyn Dubinski: I’ve moved from about 98 percent certain the Spurs will make the playoffs to somewhere between 60 and 75 percent. In a way it’s not so much what they are losing in Murray that makes things so concerning, but rather how much they were going to rely on him to lead the way and the lack of a starting caliber back-up (unless Derrick White is ready for a breakout season similar to what the Spurs were expecting from Murray). The only bit of reassurance out there is knowing that Walker will be back, and he just might be spending more time in San Antonio than Austin once he’s fully healthy, but we still have yet to see what he can really do.

Mark Barrington: It does change my prediction a tad. It’s a bit gloomier.

Bruno Passos: The defensive potential for this team takes a big hit with Murray sidelined, but there is an offensive spin here in swapping him out for a better shooter and playmaker like Derrick White that should at least be noted. White (or Mills) should create more room for DeRozan and Aldridge to work and should result in a more fluid attack. Will it offset the loss of Murray locking guys down on the perimeter and hitting the glass? Probably not, but it could soften the blow more than people think. I think this team’s floor is 40 wins, and still like its chances of keeping the playoff streak alive.

Jeph Duarte: I never predicted the Spurs to win a title, but I did predict they’re competitive edge would remain. And right now, that still stands. Derrick White’s personae isn’t as bold as Dejounte Murray’s, but his competitive spirit is just a strong. I predict he’ll step up and the Spurs will continue to defy critics.

As Pop considers two missing guards until possibly December, do you think the 15th roster spot or remaining two-way contract could now go to another guard?

Gomez: I think the best thing to do would be to add a point guard using the second two-way contract. That would be a good way to add some depth while keeping the 15th spot open for Pondexter or someone else.

Dubinski: I think using a two-way on another guard is adequate. There really isn’t anyone available who’s worth sacrificing player development for players like White (and Walker, when he returns), especially since the expectations for the season have already dropped yet again. Of course, if the Spurs end up losing another guard, then they should probably consider exploring the scrap heap.

Barrington: I would love to have Jamal Crawford in San Antonio. I don’t even care if he plays, I just want him to work out with Dejounte while he’s rehabbing. Besides being a mentor for Murray, he’s been through this kind of injury before, and his experience would be really valuable for the young guy.

Passos: The options aren’t great, so it depends on what the team intends to do with both White (how big of a bump he’ll get in point-guard duties) and Bryn Forbes (the team has given him some reps at the one over the past few weeks). I’m with Jesus in thinking a two-way contract for a guy like Nick Johnson or Olivier Hanlan might be the best way to go.

Duarte: Spurs are still guard heavy. I’d expect to see Patty to join the starting line-up and see more of Bryn Forbes. It’d be great to get a “sub” in there, I advocated for the (unlikely) recruiting of Nando de Colo. But someone of that caliber who could use the NBA promotion but not be ruined when the Spurs no longer needed him on the roster. The way Nicolas Laprovittola did a few seasons back.

With Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker gone, there’s been a lot of talk about a void in leadership recently. In your opinion, which player besides LaMarcus Aldridge will talk the most in the locker room this season?

Gomez: Patty Mills and Pau Gasol should help when it comes to assisting the young guys, and the recent additions understand the system and what’s expected of them. Hopefully DeMar DeRozan also emerges as a leader. DeRozan is not the most vocal guy around, but he’s a centerpiece, an All-Star. Other players look up to guys like DeRozan. Hopefully he’ll be able to provide some leadership by example immediately and become a strong locker room presence as time goes by.

Dubinski: I think Patty Mills. He was already somewhat of a leader and locker room spiritual animal before now, and as the longest-tenured player on the roster he probably has a special amount of trust from Gregg Popovich. Pau Gasol can also offer plenty of leadership, and even when he’s out Murray can still provide leadership and encouragement for his team when he’s with the team. It might be leadership-by-committee more than usual, but the Spurs aren’t lacking in players with the right qualities.

Barrington: I think Patty will play a big role in keeping the enthusiasm going as he’s naturally upbeat and inspiring, and Pau Gasol is going to take a bigger role in developing players mentally and physically. Dejounte Murray will take a much bigger role in leadership on the court than he did last year. [I wrote that sentence before Sunday’s game.] I think DeMar is going to be a leader on the floor, but it might take him a good part of the season to acclimate himself before he takes an overt leadership role. Derrick White is going to be thrust into more of a leadership role with Murray’s injury, and I think he’ll rise to the task.

Passos: It makes sense for the usual suspects to step up. Pop has talked about Patty Mills as being one of the more important voices over the past few years, so that’ll almost certainly continue. Pau Gasol’s now in year three with the team and will not only have the veteran experience but the system familiarity that can help the new guys transition. One interesting thing I took away from Pop’s comments on Sunday is that his emphasis with Dejounte Murray (pre-injury) wasn’t so much to see him fill that leadership void so much as focus on becoming the “favorite player” for his teammates to play alongside, so I’m not sure the expectation was there for him.

Duarte: I’m all about Murray becoming a leader. We’ll see how the injury causes him to react off the court. Will he be a voice? I think the team as a whole will continue to share in the leadership as they find their way this season.

The Southwest Division is back to being scary after a couple of down years. The Rockets remain a contender, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis and some depth, the Grizzlies are healthy, and the Mavs added DeAndre Jordan and Luka Doncic. Where would you rank Spurs in their division?

Gomez: I’d rank them third, below the Rockets and the Pelicans. Houston is a step above everyone else in the division. Anthony Davis is a monster and they now have the personnel to unleash his full arsenal. Those guys won 48 games last season and, despite losing DeMarcus Cousins, could get close to 50 wins again. I think the Grizzlies and the Mavericks could be good, but their ceilings seem low right now.

Dubinski: Second at best, third at worst (and I’m sticking by that prediction even without Murray). It’s somewhat of a battle between the Spurs and Pelicans for those two spots, but we have yet to see New Orleans put together consecutive successful seasons under their core, so it’s wait-and-see with them. The Mavs will likely need a year or two to get their young group to gel into a playoff team, but Dennis Smith, Jr. and Doncic could be a scary pair in time. I’ll believe the Grizzlies are “back” and healthy when I see it. Regardless, none of these teams are slouches, and nothing will come easily in this division.

Barrington: Second after the Rockets, who aren’t going to be as good this year but they’re still the class of the division. The Pelicans could catch the Spurs, but they always seem less than the sum of their parts. Incredible talent that doesn’t quite gel. I love Luka Doncic, but the Mavs aren’t a playoff team, and the Grizzlies will be a borderline playoff team that nobody wants to meet in the first round. [Injury revision: I think the Spurs can acquire the seventh or eighth seed this year, and won’t advance past the first round unless something really crazy happens. They’ll still be fun to watch.]

Passos: Third. I’m hedging a bit more after Murray’s injury, but I think they can still hang in what should be a tough division.

Duarte: With Murray, first. Without, second. I think Mike D’Antoni is overrated. I think the Houston fast pace 3-game is subject to streaks. I think Harden will go full speed ahead needing to add a championship to his MVP credentials and he will go full limbo when he doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are too old to play as part of a 7-8 man rotation with heavy minutes all season and really contribute in the postseason.

Did anyone see the last Spurs/Rockets game. Carmelo Anthony scored 12 points. Two in the first 43 minutes and ten more after he warmed up and Pop was playing the training camp crew. Looking for more of that from the Rockets this season.

The Spurs played their first preseason game, beating the Heat 104-100. Were you able to watch it despite it only being available on NBATV? If so, what were your takeaways? (if you couldn’t watch because the Spurs predictably didn’t broadcast it, feel free to talk about that)

Gomez: I watched it. My takeaway is that it’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions, but there are reasons for optimism. DeRozan looked a little lost, but that was to be expected. And no one got hurt, so I’d call it a positive first game of preseason. Hopefully we’ll get to watch the remaining ones. It’s crazy that some games are not available. It’s not just the Spurs, either. I wanted to watch Kings - Suns the other day (don’t judge me) and there was only a jumbotron feed available for Sacramento residents. The NBA needs to get it together and broadcast every preseason game.

Dubinski: I was able to watch it and gave my thoughts immediately after it was over, but I think that was only because the Heat televise their games. I don’t understand why the Spurs don’t, but I wouldn’t mind if they pulled whatever strings they need to (probably Pop’s) to get it done.

Barrington: My TV provider inexplicably does not offer NBATV, but I might switch before the regular season. I tried to watch it Monday night on League Pass, but they hadn’t loaded it yet, even though LP promises that blacked-out games are available 3 hours after they end. Have I said lately that League Pass sucks?

Passos: I put down most of my thoughts from Sunday here, but one additional thing I liked from what watching the team was the versatility in the frontcourt. With a rejuvenated Rudy Gay, a more empowered Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl’s high-activity level added to LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, the Spurs can wrest a frontcourt advantage against many of their opponents.

Duarte: I thought the Spurs looked good and were already showing where cohesiveness and teamwork would cross. I still think the Spurs should televise their preseason. The fans deserve it.

Do you have a question for the round table? Please post in the comments section.