While getting a routine teeth cleaning recently, my dental hygienist and I began talking about the Spurs. That’s right, even dental hygienists are interested in talking about the Spurs. What unifies our city better than a single team. Anyways, my dental hygienist told me that the past Spurs season felt weird. She said that she didn’t pay much attention to our team because it just didn’t look right. And I can see what she meant.
It was the third season without Tim Duncan and the first season without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. I grew up my whole life as a Spurs fan. For me, it started with watching the Twin Towers go to work down low in the paint. It progressed as I started playing basketball, modeling each of my moves after Manu. Every night, I went to bed with a Tony Parker poster hanging by my bed. My whole life I have seen at least one of “The Big Three” on the court. So yeah, things were weird.
To top off the weirdness, the Spurs lost their best player and face of the franchise: the one who was supposed to replace “The Big Fundamental” and lead us to championships like Timmy did. As we can see now after what felt like a bad dream, Kawhi Leonard, the man we thought was going to be “the guy” left. We Spurs fans demand the best, and we thought that Kawhi would give us that, but he had a different idea.
At a time like this, it can be hard to be optimistic as a Spurs fan. The 7th seeded Spurs lost to the Nuggets. Meanwhile, the player who was supposed to be the face of our beloved franchise just became the third player in NBA history to win a Finals MVP for two separate teams.
That said, I don’t think that the dynasty is over. I feel like we are reborn. Players come and go; some really good, some not so much. Boban Marjanovic comes to mind. I’ve always loved Boban. I complained that he should have stayed with us and we should have offered him more money. I was disappointed when we lost him, but I accepted it and am now happy for him. The same goes for Kawhi. He may have been the perfect replacement for Tim Duncan, he may have been the “New Fundamental,” but nobody, not even the Spurs, can go 20 years being completely perfect and avoiding all controversy.
While DeMar DeRozan is not Kawhi, he is DeMar. He is an excellent scorer and had a very efficient season. He gets along well with his teammates, has a lot to prove, and I believe in him.
He does not need to be THE GUY like Kawhi was, he just needs to focus on what makes him a special player and let that blossom. The Spurs system does a great job of doing that. This was only his first year, so he has so much to prove. What makes the Spurs so special is that they are a system that never needs to rely on a single player. We began to rely on Kawhi heavily. We veered from the system, and are now going back to it.
LaMarcus Aldridge had his most efficient scoring year, with his highest field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage in his career while averaging 21 points. He needs to develop a better three-point shot. With a fantastic shooting coach, he has a great chance to do that.
Furthermore, this is still the Spurs we’re talking about. Pop is still Pop, and the team still develops outcasts extremely well. Bryn Forbes and Derrick White blossomed this past season. The system may have taken a dent, but it can still be as great as it’s ever been.
Then there’s Dejounte Murray. He is only 22 years old. He may be coming off of a torn ACL, but he still has star potential. He has the drive to be great and (if his Twitter posts aren’t over-edited) has improved his jump shot. He is 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan. He is a wiry athlete who is adding bulk. While Murray may not always make the best decisions, neither did Tony, and we all saw how he turned out.
Murray is the youngest player in Spurs history to score at least 24 points in a game, a mark previously held by Tony. After Parker’s injury against the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Spurs started the rookie. In Game 6, Murray recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, including 5 assists, to help put away James Harden and company in Houston despite missing Tony and Kawhi. This made him the fourth Spurs rookie to record a point/rebound double-double in the playoffs after David Robinson, Tim, and Kawhi.
In his second season, Murray was able to replace Parker as the starting point guard and averaged 8 points, 3 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game while averaging 21 minutes per game. In Kawhi’s second season, he showed promise with his terrific defense, averaging eight points while playing 24 minutes, and eventually starting over Stephen Jackson. I see similarities.
I realize that Murray is recovering from a bad injury, which slowed things down in his development, but it shows that with the right work ethic and under the right organization, a star can be made of Murray as well. We do not need him to be Kawhi. The Spurs have two great players in Aldridge and DeRozan and a surrounding cast that is performing well. We have Lonnie Walker IV, who still has a lot of room to grow.
We will see how he does this coming season, but I have a lot of hope. The way I see it is DeMar and LaMarcus are great players, but they are not “the guy,” at least not of the future. Someone else needs to take that role. Murray could do it. Maybe even Lonnie can. It just takes time, which happens whenever something is reborn.
Despite the awful road record, the Spurs were 32-9 at home last season, tied for the second-best home record in the Western Conference. Their field goal percentage was the second best in the league, and their 3-point percentage was the best. Their effective field goal percentage was 6th overall. So despite being a predominantly mid-range and inside scoring team, the Spurs were still relatively efficient on offense.
As Spurs fans, we are blessed. Even when things go wrong as they did, we have a reason to feel positive. I can’t think of any other organization in the league that can lose an arguably top-3 player who did so much on both sides of the court, still make the playoffs, and come just a few points from beating the second best team in the Western Conference. We are the Spurs, and as fans, we have to keep the faith.
When writing this, I started to think about Tim Duncan and his car shop. It can take cars that may be a little beat up add some life to it. With some new fluids and a better suspension, maybe even some paint, the car that looked like an old rust bucket can become a hot rod. The same goes for our Spurs. With some paint and an upgraded engine, our Spurs will be reborn, and I for one can’t wait to see how the new version runs.