In part four of our off-season preview of the Western Conference's Southwest Division, we look at the San Antonio Spurs.
Sixty plus wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs is not enough for San Antonio. Their ouster in a classic series against the Dallas Mavericks will not set well with Gregg Popovich or Tim Duncan.
The good news was that they were still able to win the Southwest Division and over sixty games despite the fact that Duncan played injured most of the season and Manu Ginobili failed to live up to the previous season's excellence. The reason for their success was Tony Parker. Parker had a career year as he used the NBA's new rules against hand-checks on the perimeter to slice opposition defenses to shreds.
In the end, their lack of talent along side Duncan in the front court, creaky bodies coming off the bench and their inability to get another point guard to step up behind Parker did them in against Dallas.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen are the foundations of this team. Duncan provides the consistency. Ginobili and Parker provide the spark and Bowen cracks down on defense and launches the timely and consistent three pointers.
Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic failed to sufficiently man the center position. Robert Horry failed to provide his playoff touch off the bench. Nick Van Excel was a shadow of his former self most of the season and Beno Udrih was a shadow of what the Spurs had hoped he would become.
Last year's free agent steal, Michael Finley, was the only solid contributor off the bench for the Spurs and Brent Barry was inconsistent enough that the team nearly traded him away back in February.
The Spurs only pick in the draft, barring any trades, is number 59 out of 60. It is unlikely that the 59th pick will make a huge immediate impact on a championship contender like San Antonio, or even make the team for that matter.
Thanks to the hand-checking rules, the NBA has evolved into league of quick footed perimeter players. Fortunately for the Spurs, they already have two of the best in Ginobili and Parker. With Duncan manning the post with his usual consistency, this team should be rock steady for several more seasons. The free agency task is finding the mix of guys to fill out this roster.
The Mavericks series confirmed their need for more athletic post players to help Duncan down low. So, they will likely be after any solid power forwards or centers they think will work well next to Duncan.
The backup point guard spot must be a high concern for the Spurs as well. For all his brilliance, Tony Parker can not play 48 minutes a game and next season will probably see more and more teams employ two point guards in the back-court at the same time as Dallas and Phoenix did in much of the playoffs.
As for players on the move out of San Antonio. Van Exel is a free agent, but has indicated he will likely retire. Mohammed is a free agent as well, but the recent trade of Nesterovic may leave room for him to come back at the right price. Most of the rest of the team is locked in for the next couple of seasons.
The Spurs have already begun moving players. Quickly trading Nesterovic for Center/Forward Matt Bonner and Eric Williams. Bonner is a respectable 6 foot 10 inches and has shot the 3-pointer at 42% in each of his two seasons in the league. Averaging about 20 minutes a game thus far, he looks like a nice addition next to Duncan if not a full time solution.
As for additional trade bait, the Spurs may have difficulty getting a sign and trade for Mohammed given his relatively poor performance last season. But the possibility obviously exists as there is always a need for centers in the league.
Brent Barry and Michael Finley provide similar skills off the bench. Their 3-point shooting, veteran leadership and reasonable two year contracts make either one of them valuable trade assets. Finley is still collecting a large contract from Dallas, but his contract in San Antonio is almost at bargain basement levels at just about $3 million a season. Barry contract pays him a little over $5 million and $5.5 million in the next two seasons.
Depending what the other team needs, either player is probably available. But the Spurs would most likely rather hold onto Finley given his consistent contributions last season.
Robert Horry's playoff mystique took a hit in 2006. So his trade value has diminished, but the two years remaining on his approximately $3.5 million a year contract means he could be packaged as part of a larger deal.
Most likely, the Spurs will hold onto Horry and Finley and try to improve their team further with whatever they can get for Barry and the free agent market.
The Spurs are by no means on their way out the door after losing to Dallas in the playoffs. The battle with the Mavericks was extremely close and if they had survived they would have been the favorites in the next round and the finals.
The Spurs will be back again in the coming season and they will be expected to win about 60 games again and extend their playoff march deep into June of 2007.
Along with Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit and Miami, they will be one of the strong favorites to win it all, again.