For 20 years, the San Antonio Spurs were the most stable and drama-free franchise in the NBA. That all changed last season, when the Spurs and their best player -- Kawhi Leonard -- were not on the same page in regard to a leg injury that kept Leonard out of all but nine games. That absence came with (or produced) the first full (82-game) season in 21 years in which the Spurs didn't register at least 50 wins. The team was unable to mend fences with Leonard and traded him to Toronto, choosing to bring back an All-Star in his prime (DeMar DeRozan) rather than a package built for 3-5 years down the road.
Athletic guard Lonnie Walker IV was selected with the No. 18 pick in the Draft … Rudy Gay was re-signed with a one-year contract, but the Spurs chose not to match Memphis' offer sheet for restricted free agent Kyle Anderson … The disgruntled Kawhi Leonard was traded, along with Danny Green, to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl … The departures of Tony Parker (to Charlotte in free agency) and Manu Ginobili (retirement) marked the end of an era and left Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli (brought back via free agency) as the only players left on the roster from the team that won a championship just four seasons ago ... Walker (torn meniscus) and starting point guard Dejounte Murray (torn ACL) both suffered preseason knee injuries in the span of three days.
1. Does the defense finally fall out of the top five? The Spurs have ranked in the top five defensively in each of the last six seasons and in 17 of the 21 (full) seasons that Gregg Popovich has been their coach. But the losses of Green, Anderson and Murray on the perimeter provide another challenge for Popovich on that end of the floor.
2. Can DeRozan and Aldridge play off each other? Offensively, the Spurs took a big step backward last season. They now have two guys who scored at least 23 points per game, but it remains to be seen if DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge make each other better or will just be taking turns with the ball.
3. Is Derrick White ready? With Murray out for the season before the season even started and Patty Mills best suited for a reserve role, White appears to be the starting point guard for a playoff hopeful, having played just 139 total minutes as a rookie last season. The offense will run through Aldridge and DeRozan, but White is going to have his hands full against the best point guards in the league.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Over his three seasons in San Antonio, the Spurs have catered more and more to Aldridge. The "beautiful game" offense of the 2014 championship season is long gone, and the Spurs have seen a drop in the percentage of their buckets that are assisted in each of the last three seasons. Aldridge cut down on his mid-range shots last season, but he still had the fourth-lowest assist rate (recording assists on just nine percent of his possessions) among the top 50 players in usage rate. If he can create more for others out of the post, it could do a lot for a San Antonio offense that fell out of the top 10 last season.
Derrick White | 3.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.5 apg
A better shooter than Murray (and maybe a better complement to Aldridge on DeRozan on offense?), but Murray's injury is a significant blow to the defense.
DeMar DeRozan | 23.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.2 apg
Saw a big increase in assist rate last season, but also a big drop from the first quarter (assists on 25 percent of his possessions) to the fourth (eight percent).
Rudy Gay | 11.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.8 spg
The 12-year vet has played just 87 games over the last two seasons, but is now almost two years removed from a torn Achilles.
LaMarcus Aldridge | 23.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg
Had almost 200 more post-ups than any other player in the league last season, with one of the league's lowest turnover rates out of the post.
Pau Gasol | 10.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.1 apg
Saw a huge drop in 3-point percentage (from 54 percent in '16-17 to 36 percent) last season. Still one of the league's best passing bigs.
Marco Belinelli | 12.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
His relentless movement off the ball should open things up for others.
Patty Mills | 10.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.8 apg
Shot 39 percent on pull-up 3-pointes over the last two seasons. Unique skill on this roster.
Jakob Poeltl | 6.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Foul-prone, but can catch and finish (72 percent in the restricted area last season).
The Spurs are adding an All-Star to a team that won 47 games last season, but lost some important pieces on defense and saw their front line get a little bit older. You can't ever count this franchise out, but in a deeper Western Conference, it might just take another step backward. A record in the range of 43-39 would be respectable, but might not be enough to keep the 21-year playoff streak alive.