We’re still on our NBA journey. The playoffs have begun, and sixteen teams vie for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams will join the other 14 non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We begin with the third team eliminated from the postseason, the San Antonio Spurs.
Record: 47-35. 7th seed, Western Conference
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich
Playoff Result: Lost 1st Round, 4-1, to the Golden State Warriors
Nothing lasts forever. The only thing that is permanent is change. All good things must come to an end. These three timeless sayings have finally caught up to this current era of San Antonio Spurs basketball. After two decades of championship excellence — nearly two decades of winning 50 games each season — and playing in the Finals on an average of once every three years in that span, the Spurs actually looked closer to good than elite as a team. Finishing seventh among that pack of teams behind the Rockets and Warriors, San Antonio did not appear to have the luster around its team that it has had for so long.
A major part of this is the fact the Spurs’ best player, do-everything talent and probable cyborg Kawhi Leonard missed most of the regular season with a perplexing leg injury. Leonard returned for a brief stint in December, averaging 16.2 points in just nine games. He has not played since January 13th, which would not be baffling if team doctors had not cleared him for basketball activities. Kawhi refuses to share his reasoning. His teammates don’t want to know why he remains absent. Even Gregg Popovich — master head coach and always in control and aware of everything, especially his players — is confused as to why he doesn’t have their star in the lineup.
Even with Leonard, I believe the Spurs would have lost this series against the Warriors. Golden State is just better, with too many matchup advantages. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge has had an All-NBA caliber season. And yes, players like Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray appear to be quality pieces of the roster. But for a franchise with a fourth of the titles and a third of the Finals appearances since 1998, just being a playoff team is not good enough.
The Safe Fix
Make-up Song: Eddie Kendricks – “Can I”
When I initially thought of making this into a series, the San Antonio Spurs were one of the teams I had in mind. The idea of this being the end of their era is a very common one, as is the concept of breaking up or making up. That said, the beauty of writing is in its individuality, and no one is going to develop this idea as well as I will.
Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. There’s something to his style of leadership that perfectly blends accountability, sincerity and trust. Aldridge went to Pop, just to get an understanding. Like a good leader, Popovich compromised where he needed to and Aldridge has arguably had his best season ever. It seems Coach Popovich can pull the best out of all his players.
This brings me to Leonard, his best player since Tim Duncan. Whatever this injury situation is, Popovich has not been able to get back on the same page. Since both are men who measure their words, the basketball public won’t be privileged to much information unless one of them opens up about the subject. But if Kawhi is still on board, that tandem of he and Aldridge is still formidable in the West. The young role players are getting better, and Popovich doesn’t appear to be losing his coaching touch.
The Extreme Fix
The Breakup Song: Stevie Wonder – “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer”
But what if he is losing his coaching touch?
It is very hard to relay the same message repeatedly and that message continuing to have the same impact. Sure, motivation should, in part, be created by one’s self. But we all need a helping word, sometimes. NBA players are no different.
I do not question Kawhi Leonard’s competitive will to play. Just on the strength of his defensive tenacity and massive improvement offensively, it is obvious he wants to play basketball. So then, what is the factor behind him being healthy enough to play but not playing?
Maybe the Spurs shouldn’t wait until Leonard decides to walk away. He’s only 26, and still getting better as a player. Yes, he has the potential to be the best player in the NBA in a couple years, but he also has the potential to be that great of a player on another team. It does not hurt to listen to offers. Sometimes, the breakup needs to be mutual in order for both parties to get the best out of the fallout.
This is definitely the end of the Spurs era that won multiple championships with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. However, it does not have to be the end of the Spurs’ run of excellence. A little or a lot of retooling, and San Antonio will be right back near the top of the conference.
I don’t have the perfect formula to change the Spurs from first round loss to champion in one year, but something must change. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.