The Spurs lace ‘em up and tip the 2010-2011 season off tonight, to begin what we all hope is the long, slow march to the post-season and hopefully a fifth championship. The NBA season is long, perhaps too long. It can be hard to keep it in focus and perspective between the initial joy of seeing Tim Duncan bank one of the glass in late October and the increasing levels of excitement caused by Manu’s whirling dervish forays into the lane in April. So I thought it would be helpful to clue all 12 of you in on what I will be looking for and at during this campaign, so that we can maybe all agree on a framework by which our discussions will be held.
The Spurs of course do not exist within a vacuum, so I will be keeping an eye on both internal and external issues as the season progresses to get a sense of how things are shaping up and might play out moving forward.
Internal: The House that Timmy Built
It is widely assumed that the remaining years of Tim Duncan’s career are the remaining years of championship opportunity for this team as currently structured. Tony Parker feels that this year is the last best chance for this core to when a championship and I tend to agree with him, but it won’t be easy. What follows is my force-ranked list of the internal issues as I see them and their relation to the Spurs NBA Title hopes.
Rule of Three – Timmy, Manu, and Tony are entering this season as healthy a unit as they have been in quite some time. A break from competitive basketball seems to have done them all a world of good. In my estimation, the Spurs need a minimum of 70 games apiece this year for them to make the playoffs. The top teams in the West, once you get past the Lakers, are pretty darn close and a win total less than 48 is often not quite good enough to keep playing into late April.
We know Pop is going to sit Timmy and Manu from time to time on back-to-backs, so it is important that they and Tony make the games they play count. Should one of these guys go down for an extended stretch, it’s possible the Spurs miss the playoffs altogether. Of course it’s also possible that the team as a whole steps up in that scenario and makes me eat these words.
How much can you bench? – When you think back to the ’03, ’05, and ’07 titles it’s easy to see how the Spurs were such forces during those campaigns. In addition to the Big Three, you had solid play from Bowen and whomever was manning the “5” spot at the time to round out the starting and/or closing line-up, but what really set them apart was bench play. Whether it was Speedy Claxton, Robert Horry, Malik Rose, Brent Barry, or Michael Finley there was always someone to step up and make the right play at the right time. Will George Hill be able to regain the swagger he had last year? Will Tiago take to the NBA like a duck to water (assuming he gets in the water at some point)? Is James Anderson ready? Can McDyess keep on keepin’ on? When will Manu slide back down to Sixth Man?
You might be surprised to see that I put the bench ahead of my next choice, but in the words of Tim Duncan, is he doesn’t suck things can still be okay.
Rage Against the Dying of the Light – Okay, so no one would call last season a glorious success for one Mr. Richard Jefferson, but during the pre-season games he seems to have regained some of his swagger. If he can stay out of that peanut head of his he just might make us all happy he’s here for the next four years. I’m not asking him to be the ‘07-‘08, or even the ’08-’09, RJ, but I sure would be happy with production that matched the ’02-03 or ’06-’07 (minus the injury) Jefferson.
Aggression and energy are my keywords for Rage this year. If he can make other teams have to account for him at least some of the time then the pressure placed upon the shoulders of the Big Three will be that much less.
The Tax Man Cometh – If this were the final day of the regular season instead of the first, the Spurs payroll as it stands now would have them paying over $200K in luxury taxes and missing out on their portion of the kitty that gets doled-out to the non-tax paying teams. If the Spurs are kicking ass and taking names, I doubt this becomes much of an issue. However, if things go Jerry Tarkanian-level sideways early on, or knock-on-wood the injury bug bites, this could become a real issue to keep an eye on. Garrett Temple and Alonzo Gee are the players most likely to be affected by this issue, but a trade of a more prominent player might be made under the right circumstances (Like say, Antonio McDyess, a pick, and cash for a 2011 First Round pick (only so many teams able to make that kind of trade though)).
External: That Which Cannot be Controlled
The Spurs job is to do the best they can with the best they have and not really worry about what the other guys are doing unless their playing against them at the time. We all know though that there are things that may affect the Spurs title hopes that they can do nothing about, here’s the ones I will be keeping my eye on.
Lakers, Lakers, Lakers — Until someone tells or shows me otherwise, the Spurs will have to overcome the obstacle represented by Kobe and his sidekicks. But truth be told, what they do between now and April won’t matter too much as long as they make the ‘offs. That’s when my worry cycle will kick in. Given their recent exposure to the high pressure environment of Finals, beating them out if they are healthy is going to be a tough feat for anyone to accomplish. There are some people that can challenge them, but it is all going to come down to match-ups and health. We’ll have to wait until December 28th to get some answers to the match-ups question and pray for the other.
Known Unknowns — There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns, I can’r predict what is going to happen this season, but one thing I am going to be paying particularly close attention to is the performance of the OKC Thunder. I know enough to know that there is a ton of potential and talent there to scare the crap out of me, but until they show us they are ready for the next level they will remain a bit of an unknown. If Sam Presti can some how manage to keep Durant, Green, and Westbrook while maintaining the flexibility to add role players as needed this team could be the next dynasty, and I am looking forward to seeing these guys go to battel against the cHeat for the next few years as a study
All’s Quiet on the Eastern Front — There isn’t a single team in the Eastern Conference that I like enough to watch on a regular basis, so I won’t be. Oh sure, I’ll keep an eye on the non-stop coverage of DWade and the Wadettes, but unless the Spurs are playing them I’ll care about as much as Dick Cheney does about his public image.
I expect the Eastern Conference Champion to be either Boston, Miami, or Orlando, and until the Finals that’s about all I need to know. Well that and home Rashard Lewis, Wilson Chandler, and Al Horford are doing for my fantasy team.
The CBA — This issue will simmer quitely on the back burner for me all season until it comes to a boil next summer. I care for a few reasons. First, an owner-friendly CBA would help the Spurs stay viable both economically and competitively. Second, Peter Holt is heading up the Owner’s committee on this issue. Last but not least, a lock-out would suck big, hairy donkey balls.
Well there you have it, my inordinately long account of what will be keeping my interest besides the games for the next six months or so. Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?