Think back to how you felt at the beginning of the summer. The Spurs had been knocked out of the playoffs during the first round by the eventual champions. The franchise’s superstar still faced an uncertain recovery that slowly bled into disarray. Days turned to weeks, the Draft passed, free agency seemed to come and go, and the Spurs were no closer to a solution (nor were they able to truly identify the problem).
Well, a lot has happened in the last few weeks, and now things are beginning to take focus. DeMar DeRozan has spent some time with Pop via Team USA and he’s looking like the unforeseen news of a trade has passed. Manu Ginobili might be the last piece of the puzzle before the Spurs are locked and loaded for training camp. With line ups looking finalized, people are ready to make season-long predictions.
And still, this past week, it was discovered that Danny Green suffered an injury that pointed the spotlight back to the Spurs medical staff who has taken some criticism back to the entire situation with Kawhi Leonard. So, let’s start there.
This week Pounding the Rock contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, Jesus Gomez, and Jeph Duarte discuss Dany Green’s undetected injury, the Western Conference predictions, DeMar’s embracing San Antonio, Manu’s necessary return, and what made these guys Spurs fans in the first place.
Danny Green recently mentioned he suffered an undetected groin injury. His words were taken out of context, but when paired with Kawhi Leonard’s reported misdiagnosis, they triggered some talk about the Spurs’ medical team. Should the Spurs be concerned about their reputation being damaged?
Marilyn Dubinski: Knowing the Spurs, they’ll keep right on chugging along while keeping most business in house. I’m sure if asked about their medical team at training camp or whatnot, they will defend them to a fault, point to the long, successful careers of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili that have only been made possible by the hard work of their doctors. And quite frankly, if they’re ready to start throwing shade, they can point out that Leonard’s own doctors have been in control for nearly a year now (almost three months before last season started), and not only did he only briefly return during the season only to shut it back down, but as of the Team USA mini-camp he wasn’t even ready to participate even if he decided to go. It’s safe to start wondering if Leonard’s group is the one who misdiagnosed him...
Mark Barrington: I think some casual fans might take notice of it, like in this fanpost on Silver Screen and Roll, but the Spurs’ reputation among the people that count, coaches and players, is untarnished.
Bruno Passos: As things stand, it feels like a middling concern at most, which means the organization will treat it with the same gravitas and urgency as in years past. Which is to say, we’ll probably never hear about it again.
Jesus Gomez: It’s not ideal to be known as a franchise with a poor medical staff. Right or wrong, right now there are probably questions about the Spurs’ doctors. As long as no new information comes out, however, I think they will be fine. They are not the Bulls. They should be able to eventually regain the trust of whoever is doubting them now.
Jeph Duarte: I think coincidence is the key here. Green mentioned in his rebuttal that he refused the second opinion. He also stated that the injury may have occurred later than when initially diagnosed. The entire situation makes it possible for yet another off-season round of pundits to predict the Spurs demise. Ultimately, I think PATFO and the entire Spurs franchise have side-stepped disaster by not subscribing to what other teams do, ie. blowing up the roster, tanking, or jumping the gun on a bad trade.
We haven’t tipped off the preseason and already pundits are predicting the Western Conference standings going into the post season. So let’s jump in. What are your predictions for the West? Where do you see the Spurs landing when mid-April hits?
Dubinski: Other than the Warriors, this conference is impossible to predict. I feel like the Spurs will land somewhere between the fourth and sixth seed. Maybe that’s a little optimistic, but I can only see them going up from last season, and while the West is as competitive as ever, who is so elite that the Spurs have no chance of staying ahead of them besides the Warriors? Maybe the Rockets, although I’m interested to see how Carmelo Anthony / Mike D’Antoni 2.0 works out. I can see Utah finishing above the Spurs, but other than that I think they will be right there in the thick of things. The Lakers now being a title contender with the addition with LeBron James and little else seems like hyperbole at this point (the pressure to make the finals is now off his back, at least for this season), but I can see them and/or the Nuggets making the playoffs at the expense of someone like the Timberwolves.
Barrington: I feel like the Spurs will be a lot better this year. DeMar DeRozan isn’t an exact replacement for #2, but he’s going to be present and he’s going to make the offense a lot more dynamic this year than it was during the lost season*. With the Spurs at #4 or #5, a lot of the rest of the conference rankings are pretty fluid. The Warriors at the top is a foregone conclusion, but it’s not a sure thing that the Rockets will be as good as they were last year. I think having an inefficient Carmelo Anthony taking possession away from Harden and Paul will not be good for them. I think the Thunder will be in the top 4. I have a theory that LeBron James can take any group of marginal players and turn them into a playoff team, and that theory is going to be tested this year. Nuggets are in, Timberwolves are out, and one more team that made it last year will be eliminated. Possibly the Trail Blazers.
*Yeah, I said lost, not last.
Passos: It feels like we’re in for another three-tiered playoff race with Golden State at the top, a secondary contender (probably Houston) in the next rung, and then a dogfight for the other six spots. I see the Spurs in that third group for now but trust them to fare better in it than many other teams given their combination of talent, experience, and coaching. Pencil them in as a four/five seed for now. Because I don’t have any money on the line, I’ll put my playoff order as Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans, Nuggets, Lakers, and Grizzlies.
Gomez: I think we’ll all agree on the Warriors at the top. I think the Rockets, Jazz and Thunder are on the second tier. I’d put the Spurs in the third tier, with the Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Timberwolves. The rest of the conference, asides from the Suns and the Kings, are a tier below in my eyes. But it’s such a volatile situation. An injury or a chemistry issue could cost teams a few spots in the final order. I could see the Spurs finishing third or fourth or missing the playoffs entirely, if they get unlucky.
Duarte: Actually, I disagree about Golden State landing at the top. They didn’t end in first last season and were one Chris Paul hamstring pull from elimination. They have added yet another negative personae to the line-up and I see this going the way of the 2004 Lakers, too many egos to balance. As for the Spurs, I can see them landing in higher than expected as they have a bone to pick with the entire league, and the youth have something to prove. If a flicker of the Beautiful Game gets fanned, the Spurs are in for an exciting season.
Last week we discussed everyone’s gut feeling on a Manu Ginobili return. Assuming he does come back, how big of an impact do you expect him to have on the court?
Dubinski: As long as Manu is around, he will always make a big impact. His minutes will probably be the same or a little down form last season, but he will be a leader, a go-to guy in the clutch, and the heart and soul of the team. Manu will always be Manu.
Barrington: He’s Manu. He will driving to the basket when he’s in his casket, as Alvin Gentry said. I think his minutes will be down slightly over last year, but he’ll still have some incredible highlights where he takes a player half his age to school. He’ll have some spectacular failures, too, but that’s what you get with Manu. High risk, high reward.
Passos: As usual, one that goes beyond the box score. Other Spurs players have talked about what it’s like to see the oldest player on the team laying his body on the line possession after possession, and we know what kind of stabilizing presence he can be in end-game situations. I wouldn’t expect him to replicate the same end-game heroics that he had last season, but he can still be another voice in the huddle and will surely have a few more vintage Manu moments.
Gomez: He could have a big impact, albeit in limited minutes. With DeRozan around and hopefully Dejounte Murray improving as a creator, Manu might be able to focus on shooting and acting as a secondary playmaker. In that role, he could still be really useful. And with no backup small forward in tow, his feisty defense could be of help at that spot.
Duarte: I see a bench of Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills re-igniting the 2014 bench and forcing teams to starting fives to best the Spurs starters. Add Pau Gasol to that trio and that is one heck an advantage with that much teamwork and recognition. Even in reduced minutes and limited games throughout the early part of the season (let’s work those two-way contracts), Manu is still the key to the Spurs making a legit run in the postseason.
DeMar DeRozan wasn’t happy with the trade that sent him to San Antonio. Yet we’ve recently seen him hanging out with both Gregg Popovich and Rudy Gay. How quickly do you see DeRozan embracing the Spurs’ culture?
Dubinski: Very quickly. I don’t blame him for initially being shell-shocked and feeling a sense of betrayal from the only organization he has known when it happened, but he’s moving on now. He has the right mindset and attitude to fit in perfectly with the Spurs culture, and he loves giving back to the community. Also to the Spurs’ advantage: he’ll be coming in with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove like the Spurs haven’t seen since 2014. I’m excited to see what he can do under Pop.
Barrington: I think that was the best thing about finalizing the trade in the middle of the off-season instead of waiting until the trade deadline. There’s plenty of time for the players to adjust to the team culture and get over the shock of being involuntarily relocated. DeMar is going to be great, and he’ll be fully on board on the first day of the season.
Passos: He should fit in that locker room just fine. In terms of a cohesive team culture, I’m not sure how much of that endures nowadays given all the turnover, but it looks like he’ll mesh well with Pop and I don’t seem him not making the necessary effort to learn the system.
Gomez: He seems to be a good fit with Pop, since he’s a humble, hard-working dude. Hopefully he’ll embrace the city the same way he embraced Toronto. I’m a little worried about the on court fit, since he’s simply gotten used to getting the ball a ton and has been a part of a perimeter-oriented attack for years. I’ve seen him ignore Jonas Valanciunas down low too often not to be a little apprehensive. But LaMarcus Aldridge is not JV. Maybe DeMar will be more willing to throw the rock inside and move without it as a Spur.
Duarte: He’s already in. And there are two full seasons to get him truly invested. DeRozan wants a home, that’s why he didn’t shop himself around during his last free agency. San Antonio is an excellent home for him. He and Rudy are reunited and he’s now working with the best coach in the sport. Wait until he gets the fan reception at the AT&T Center.
This week Spurs fans let us know how they became Spurs fans. What is your story?
Dubinski: I grew up idolizing David Robinson, and my grandmother was a huge Spurs fan and hilarious to watch the games with, but I didn’t really start watching the games on my own until the 1999 season (which more than anything coincided with 7th grade and my parents feeling like I was old enough and responsible enough to get my homework done first and make the right decisions). I instantly fell in love with watching the Spurs and basketball in general. I was hooked from then on, and here I am today: still watching every single game and even writing about them. I guess you could say I’m a fan.
Barrington: I was a attending the University of Texas at the same time that Johnny Moore played for the Horns. He was pretty amazing, his ball handling skills were almost Iverson-like, and he had enough speed to make everyone else on the court look like they were running in galoshes through wet concrete. Abe Lemons was the coach at the time, and he really didn’t have a system, it was just giving the ball to Johnny and letting him create. Which worked pretty well. My and a friend sneaked into the newly built Superdrum (now called the Erwin Special Events Center) and witnessed him singlehandedly beat a much more talented Arkansas team with between-the-legs dribbles, slick passes and sweet floaters in the lane. When he was drafted by the Spurs, I became a fan. It was sad when his career was ended early because of Desert Fever, but I kept following the Spurs. I never regretted it.
Passos: My family came to San Antonio from Houston a year or two before the team drafted Tim Duncan, but I can’t say I cheered them on the same as I did the Rockets until maybe the 2005 title season. By then, I’d moved out of state for college and the Spurs were one of my strongest connections back to the city where my parents and many of my friends still lived.
Gomez: Manu Ginobili. I was a Jordan fan, then an Allen Iverson fan. I actually rooted for Garnett’s Timberwolves for a while in the West (don’t judge me, I was young). I always liked the Spurs, but I wasn’t really a fan until Manu signed with them. Being from Argentina, having one of ours playing a big role on a championship team was a huge deal. Then I learned more about Tim Duncan and Pop and found PtR and my love for the Spurs only grew. Now I’m pretty sure I’ll be a Spurs fan for life.
Duarte: I’ve told my story in the Confessions of a Prodigal Spurs Fan piece, mainly of my memories of HemisFair, meeting Johnny Moore, and finding The Admiral an inspiration. Now I get to write for PtR, which in-and-of-itself is a dream come true. But for those who don’t know, I’m taking my fandome to the next level. Tryouts for the Hype Team are Sunday and I will be there. I’m also gunning for Jonathan Sanford’s job, but I have yet to get an invite to take the mic. My story continues.
Do you have a question for the round table? Be sure to send it to Jeph Duarte.