30 teams in 30 days: In midst of league activity, San Antonio Spurs hold tight
Kia MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard leads same band back following 61-win season
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Record: 61-21
Who’s new: Rudy Gay (free agency), Derrick White (draft), Brandon Paul (free agency)
Who’s gone: Jonathan Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon
The lowdown: If it’s possible to quietly win 61 games, the Spurs did so, and then fell to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors when Kawhi Leonard got injured in the Western Conference finals.
The Spurs decided not to tinker with a team that answered only to the Warriors last season, yet this strategy was met with raised eyebrows. When you decide to stand still, aren’t you failing to move forward?
Perhaps that’s true. Although in this case, there wasn’t much the Spurs could do. Outside of Leonard, who made himself into a bonafide Kia MVP contender last season, there isn’t much in terms of individual assets on the roster. Meaning, few if any Spurs would fetch much in a trade.
Also, their salary cap situation put limits on their ability to sign an A-list player, so they settled for Gay, who came at a marked-down price.
If anything, the decision by Manu Ginobili to return for a 16th season at age 40 was about the biggest summer news in San Antonio. The Spurs failed to upgrade their point guard rotation, where there’s no clear-cut answer.
The only surprise was the Spurs’ unwillingness to meet the price to keep Simmons, a 6-foot-6 swingman who bolted for a payday with the Orlando Magic. He was a pet project in the Spurs’ player development system, an athletic marvel who desperately needed to improve his basic skills.
Simmons did show improvement last season, and in the playoffs was a pleasant surprise against the Warriors when Leonard was lost after San Antonio’s Game 1 win. Simmons gained a greater sense of confidence in his jumper, and while Stephen Curry has no reason to worry, Simmons added a weapon in his offensive game. Yet, there was nothing but crickets from the Spurs regarding the notion of re-signing Simmons.
He’ll be replaced by Gay, who was a major scorer in Toronto and Memphis before tailing off slightly in Sacramento, where he suffered an Achilles injury last season and played only 30 games. Gay is 31 and no longer a first option, plus he’ll need to heal from Achilles surgery, but he’s a career 18-point scorer who knows how to get buckets.
The Spurs have a well-earned reputation for finding good value while drafting late in the first round, and perhaps Derrick White will fall in line with others. He was a late bloomer at Colorado and comes to the Spurs at the seasoned age of 23. White and DeJounte Murray will get ample minutes at point guard until Tony Parker recovers from off-season surgery; Parker is expected back in January or February.
They also signed Paul, who went undrafted out of Illinois in 2013 and played mostly overseas. He brings good size (he’s 6-foot-6), but is untested at the NBA level.
And the weirdest move of the summer was when Pau Gasol was signed to a three-year extension at $49 million, a rich price for a 37-year-old who’s past his prime and whose new contract could restrict movement in the coming years.
What the Spurs didn’t do was trade LaMarcus Aldridge. This was met by surprise among some NBA people, although in retrospect, Aldridge’s value was at a low following his dreadful performance in the playoffs. Aldridge was a lesser player in the postseason as his numbers and impact fell across the board. As well, he was especially invisible against the Warriors when the Spurs needed him most. With Leonard out for the series after San Antonio’s Game 1 loss, Aldridge scored in single digits in two of the last three games of the series.
Aldridge has only two more years under his deal, the second as a player option, which also gave some suitors reason to pause.
The Spurs are rarely wrong in their decision-making, so maybe they were right in being mostly inactive this summer. And maybe their best bet is to wait at least a year before making changes to a team that should find itself among the best in the West once again.
But Leonard won’t be in his prime forever. Eventually, he’ll need a co-star, and that player isn’t likely on the roster right now.
Coming Next: Golden State Warriors
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