There is change, and there is change. When the Spurs open the season without the greatest player in franchise history for the first time in 19 years, it’s the upheaval of an earthquake. Still, they have the core of a lineup that won 67 games last season and the combination of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is the best 1-2 punch in the Southwest Division.
Franchise icon Tim Duncan retired ... Free agent signee Pau Gasol will take his place in the lineup, if not quite fill Duncan’s shoes ... Big man Boris Diaw was traded to Utah to make room for Gasol. His minutes had been dwindling ... David Lee signed on as a free agent and will get his chance to score as backup PF behind Aldridge ... Designated shooting big man Matt Bonner was cut ... Gasol is coming off back-to-back seasons as an All-Star in Chicago and should enable the Spurs to make a solid transition from the Duncan Era ... Below the radar loss is assistant coach Chad Forcier to Orlando. Forcier was instrumental in developing young talent and S.A. will lean on youth more this season.
- There is no replacing the talent of the 15-time All-Star, two-time MVP Duncan in the Spurs lineup. But a bigger void to fill will be in the locker room and on the bench. Over two decades, Duncan created a Spurs culture that was both embracing and demanding.
- Even at 36, veteran Pau Gasol has the ability and the drive to thrive. The Spurs will have to get him up to speed quickly in their passing game offense and use a team effort to help him out defensively in the areas that Duncan owned.
- With Duncan gone and the new age beginning, the Spurs must find a way to get young blood flowing through their lineup. Kyle Anderson and Jonathan Simmons are holdovers who should step up and rookies Dejounte Murray and Jean-Charles Livio have solid opportunites.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Kawhi Leonard has increased his numbers, his production and his value to the Spurs in each of his first five seasons. Now the two-time Defensive Player of the Year faces his biggest challenge -- to take over the locker room in his first time around without Duncan him up.
Tony Parker | 10.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 5.3 apg
Older, slower and has to pick his spots while running the offense.
Danny Green | 7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
The 3-and-D man who can put the Spurs over the top when his shot is falling.
Pau Gasol | 16.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.1 apg
The only surprise is that the team-first Gasol didn’t find his way to San Antonio sooner.
Kawhi Leonard | 21.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.6 apg
The defensive stopper keeps expanding his offense could explode in Year 6.
LaMarcus Aldridge | 18 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
The second season with new team is usually a more comfortable fit. Expect even more.
Manu Ginobili | 6.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 apg
39-year-old on thin ice, has to pick his spots now
Patty Mills | 8.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.8 apg
The bridge at point between Parker and rookie Dejounte Murray
David Lee | 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
There’s never been a question about his ability to put ball in the basket
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even without Duncan, expectations remain high for a bunch that once more figures to chase Golden State for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Leonard-Aldridge-Gasol front line needs to show it can defend to contend.
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