30 Teams in 30 Days: San Antonio Spurs seek stability after a turbulent summer
Aftershocks from massive offseason roster changes still being felt in San Antonio
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
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 — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: San Antonio Spurs
Who’s new: DeMar DeRozan (trade), Jakob Poeltl (trade), Dante Cunningham (free agency), Marco Belinelli (free agency), Quincy Pondexter (free agency), Lonnie Walker IV (Draft).
Who’s gone: Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (retired), Danny Green, Kyle Anderson
The lowdown: For one of the few times in the Gregg Popovich era, the Spurs felt the kind of turbulence that other teams endure. The proud franchise dealt with the quiet yet destructive storm caused by Leonard, who played only nine games and missed the playoffs because of strangely persistent quad injury that confused and annoyed coaches, players and Spurs fans.
A wedge of distrust was formed between Leonard, an NBA Finals hero and considered by many to be the NBA’s best two-way player, and a team that prided itself on stability, professionalism and good relationships with its stars. But, the Spurs being the Spurs, they found a way to prosper anyway … thanks to the heavy lifting by All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and the disciplined play of San Antonio’s veterans. Their playoff exit was quick and observers wondered how long it would take for the transitioning Spurs to enjoy the view from the top again.
The breakup between Leonard and the Spurs was painful, confusing, somewhat regretful and, ultimately necessary. The relationship between Leonard and the Spurs reached the predictable bitter ending. There’s nothing pretty about an in-their-prime star being traded by the only team he’s ever known, especially when it involves a franchise like the Spurs. Leonard was projected as the team’s next star after David Robinson and Tim Duncan, but sometimes the basketball gods laugh at the best-laid plans.
Leonard is now in Toronto, putting an end to one of the strangest sagas in recent memory. What, exactly, happened between Leonard and the Spurs may never be known because Popovich isn’t telling and Leonard doesn’t talk. It makes no difference, though, as the Spurs have moved on minus their former star player.
Replacing Leonard is DeRozan, who wasn’t exactly thrilled to leave Toronto, which is no disrespect to the Spurs. DeRozan was the opposite of Leonard — someone who wanted to spend his basketball life with the team that drafted him.
DeRozan is neither the defender nor the clutch playoff scorer Leonard is. However, DeRozan is a legit scorer with a reliable mid-range game and an improving 3-point shot. He must develop a chemistry with the big man, Aldridge, after sharing a solid vibe with All-Star guard Kyle Lowry in Toronto.
The Spurs also had to surrender Green in the trade, who is a solid defender and a career 39.5 percent 3-point shooter. Green’s presence and ability to stretch the floor made life easier for Aldridge, who may not enjoy the same advantage with DeRozan.
Poeltl, a mobile 7-footer, also came over in the Leonard trade. The reliable reserve big man improved his offensive game in 2017-18 and was a key part of Toronto’s 59-win season. The Spurs’ system — and playing alongside veteran Pau Gasol — might help Poeltl develop further if he doesn’t fall into the I’m-just-here-to-set-picks mindset that plagues some young bigs.
Leonard might not receive the warmest reception when he makes his return to San Antonio this season (8 ET, Jan. 3 on TNT). Yet it’s guaranteed Parker will get nothing short of a standing ovation and tearful video tribute. He reached the end of the line after 17 mostly glorious years in San Antonio because of declining skills and a desire by the Spurs to groom their young point guards instead. So Parker signed with the Charlotte Hornets (coached by ex-Spurs assistant James Borrego), believing he can still be a solid contributor despite being an “old” 36.
The other heart-wrenching departure was caused by the retirement of Ginobili, who called it quits and, unlike Parker, spent his entire 16-year career with the Spurs. This means for the first time since the pre-Robinson days, the Spurs won’t have a home-grown star on the roster.
The Spurs decided not to match the reported four-year, $37 million offer the Memphis Grizzlies gave Anderson, a restricted free agent. Anderson was a student of the Spurs’ player-development program and was a fixture in the rotation. His fundamental style seemed perfect for the Spurs, yet clearly, “Slo Mo” lacked the speed and quickness needed at small forward to become more than just a role player.
The Spurs have enjoyed success with mid-to-late first-round picks and, at No. 18, took Walker IV. He’s a lively guard who’ll make the NBA’s All-Hairstyle team before he plays a minute. The 6-foot-4 guard will become another pet project for the Spurs’ development program in hopes that he and Murray will someday become the team’s backcourt of the future.
In the meantime, the Spurs signed Belinelli for a second tour in San Antonio. Belinelli is a trusted 3-point shooter (37.7 percent for his career) who should fill some of the void left behind by Green.
It was the busiest offseason in recent memory for the Spurs, an organization that rarely makes big trades and, with the exception of Aldridge, almost never signs big-name free agents. That’s not to suggest the Spurs are suddenly changing their approach. They’ll continue to grow organically, as evidenced by Murray, Bryn Forbes (who was given an extension) and now, Walker IV.
But this was a summer that shook the franchise and tested the limits of Popovich, who’ll turn 70 this season and may take a long look at his own future in San Antonio.
Coming Next: Indiana Pacers
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