Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: San Antonio Spurs
2018-19 Record: 48-34, lost in first round of playoffs
Key additions: DeMarre Carroll (trade), Trey Lyles (free agent)
Key departures: Davis Bertans
The lowdown: A 10-game winning streak late in the season erased any fears over the Spurs missing the playoffs, something that’s happened only once in the Gregg Popovich era. Then in the first round, the Spurs sent a chill through Denver by pushing the 54-win Nuggets to a seventh game. It was, through it all, a typical Spurs season based on the winning record -- especially at home where they were 32-9 -- and a respectable playoff showing. Yet it was atypical in this sense: No Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker in the lineup.
A new beginning beckoned for Pop, and it started painfully when second-year guard Dejounte Murray was lost for the year with a knee injury. Also, rookie Lonnie Walker was held to 17 games because of injury and inexperience. At least the Spurs had the luxury to lean on All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and also DeMar DeRozan, obtained in last offseason's Kawhi Leonard trade. DeRozan arrived in town wounded from the deal; he wanted to spend his entire career in Toronto. Yet he blended nicely with new teammates and a different culture and immediately became a cozy tandem with Aldridge. The duo averaged 42 points and 15 rebounds and became an odd mix in this sense: A vast majority of their points came from mid-range. The Spurs received solid play from veteran Rudy Gay, and the supporting cast of Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Davis Bertans was hard working and dependable. Finally, a late surprise was guard Derrick White; he averaged 22 points in the first three games of the Nuggets series after just 9.9 during the regular season. Through it all, without the usual names that won multiple championships, the season served to amplify Pop’s ability to adjust as a coach, as if anyone needed proof of that, and extend the franchise’s reputation for excellence, which is approaching three decades now.
Summer summary: For a team that embraces stability and player development rather than wholesale changes, the summer of 2019 was a return to normalcy for the Spurs.
Just in the previous 12 months, they waved farewell to a retiring Ginobili; let Parker live out his sunset season with the Hornets; then experienced a painful separation from Kawhi Leonard just when the former Finals MVP was all set to receive the mantel from Duncan. The entire episode was very un-Spurs like and it sent ripples through the franchise.
And then, a breather. The Spurs didn’t add any significant players this summer and instead spent the months locking in the most important figure in club history: Popovich.
There was always league-wide speculation about his future once his core championship players left the franchise, and the moment of truth finally arrived in 2019. Fueling the buzz was Popovich serving as coach of the U.S. men’s national team; if he wanted to retire from the NBA, he’d still have a basketball release. Plus, he’s in his 70s.
Well, so much for that. Popovich agreed to a three-year extension (which will make him the league’s highest paid coach) and appears ready to embrace a bold new era for the club. Pop had every reason to re-up with the Spurs: He has more power than any coach perhaps in NBA history since Red Auerbach, the pay raise will secure more bottles of vintage wine, and he can mold a few young players before he leaves for good.
Those young players, Murray and Walker, should be poised to produce when training camp starts. Walker played in the summer league and looked great at times. Murray’s recovery reportedly is on schedule. Which means, the second-most important aspect of the Spurs’ summer was making sure these guards of the future were making progress toward forming the starting backcourt next season.
There was one strange incident involving Marcus Morris. The free agent forward agreed to a two-year contract with the Spurs, only to get cold feet. Both sides went their separate ways; Morris signed with the Knicks -- imagine choosing the Knicks over the Spurs -- and San Antonio signed Lyles. He’s a young forward who seemingly has the tools to be a solid rotation player but has yet to find a groove or the right spot after bouncing from Utah to Denver. The odds are favorable that Lyles, who brings good size at 6-foot-10 and can shoot with decent range, will fulfill his potential in the Spurs’ player development lab.
The Spurs added veteran depth by trading for Carroll and then gave the swingman a reworked deal that’ll pay $21 million over the next three years. That’s probably good value for a player who began to show signs of life over the last year in Toronto and then Brooklyn.
The Spurs also gave an extension to Gay, who has rescued his career in San Antonio and fits well in the system and culture.
The Spurs had a pair of mid-level first-round picks in the Draft, which means the Spurs were right in their element. Remember, this is the organization that found Kawhi, Parker and Ginobili outside of the draft lottery and all became foundation players and champions for the franchise.
At. No. 19 they took Luka Samanic, a 19-year-old forward from Croatia who has the basic tools to resemble another Croatian forward who turned out pretty well: Toni Kukoc. Samanic is long and athletic and can shoot from deep and score off the dribble, and played professionally overseas, but of course he hasn’t displayed any of those skills yet on the highest level.
With the next to last pick in the first round they found Keldon Johnson, who left after one year at Kentucky and gives the Spurs an active, 6-foot-6 guard who will also be enrolled in the player development program.
The Spurs didn’t find the superstar needed to thrive in the loaded West, but they made sure the rest of the house is in order. Which makes them fully capable of pulling a surprise or two next season while others count them out.
Coming next: Boston Celtics
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