San Antonio Spurs: Pros and Cons of Forming a Superteam
By Rob Wolkenbrod
May 22, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant (35) is fouled while shooting by San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the second half in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
If the San Antonio Spurs want to compete with the Golden State Warriors, then the superteam route may be the best bet.
The San Antonio Spurs had a “superteam” that didn’t come together with free-agent signings, which had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in their primes. They added Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft, and won the 2014 NBA championship with him.
However, the times may be changing. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have dominated the NBA for three years, being known as “superteams.” This became the case with the Warriors in the 2016-17 season when they added Kevin Durant. The Cavs have had a core of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving for all three of these years.
Will the Spurs be forced to do this next? They might, especially if Chris Paul will be a serious target this summer.
There are advantages to creating a superteam, but also a few disadvantages. What are they?
Jun 12, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates after winning the NBA Fianls MVP in game five of the 2017 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Pro: It’s a Star-Driven League
Superteams have proven to be effective in the 2010’s. It started with the Miami Heat bringing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together, a trio that made four consecutive NBA Finals, winning two of them.
When James left Miami, he went to the Cleveland Cavaliers and aligned with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. They’ve made three straight NBA Finals, winning in 2016.
As for the Golden State Warriors, they drafted into a superteam for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. However, adding Kevin Durant put them over the top as a top-tier team for the 2017 NBA Finals.
These teams have won five of the of the past six NBA Final’s, with the exception of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. They drafted their way into a superteam years before, and added Kawhi Leonard three seasons earlier.
Since then, teams around the San Antonio Spurs have gotten better, mostly the Warriors. If they want to match the talent of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant — all of whom are stars — it may take adding a top-tier player to join Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to do this. Chris Paul fits this description, if he takes the Spurs’ interest seriously in the offseason.
Next: Roster Depletion
Apr 28, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) reacts on the bench in the closing minutes of their game against the Washington Wizards in game six of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Con: The Roster Gets Depleted
Forming a superteam has its benefits, like having top-tier players as the focus of the team. It’s worked before, but also has risks.
When a “Big 3” is put together, it’s usually three players who need maximum contracts. They take up most of the available salary cap, causing the front office to make drastic changes to the roster. This can include dropping the rights to any free agent and trading away players in deals with draft picks attached (it’s done to create salary cap space).
With those three at the top of the roster, it leaves much to be desired for the other nine spots that are used to dress the active players. They’re filled with rookies, undrafted free agents and veterans who may be past their prime.
For the Spurs, if their “Big 3” is Paul, Leonard and Aldridge, they would have to get rid of just about everyone else on the roster. Maybe they can get Manu Ginobili on a cheap deal, but someone like Tony Parker would have to be decided on since his 2017-18 salary is in double figures.
There is a perk to filling out the bench, however. It’s something that’s worked for some of the previous superteams:
Next: Veterans Will Take Less Money
Apr 5, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Golden State Warriors forward David West against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Pro: Veterans Will Take Less Money to Fill the Bench
Filling out the bench of a superteam may be an issue, but not when players are willing to take less money. This happened with the Heat and Warriors over the past five years.
With Miami, they brought in players like Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen on deals that were likely less than their respective market value. This especially goes for Allen, who went from a starter on the Boston Celtics to a three-point shooter off the bench.
In Golden State, they had David West come aboard as a backup power forward, after spending years as a starter, with the New Orleans Hornets and Indiana Pacers. The same went for Zaza Pachulia in the 2016 offseason.
If the Spurs form a superteam this year or in 2018, they’ll need to follow a similar path. Usually, there’s a player or two that’s willing to go well below market value, wanting to win an NBA championship. Expect it to be a 10-plus year veteran or a talented player that unselfishly wants to take a lesser salary to achieve success.
Even with the Spurs not forming superteams, they’ve had players take less money in the past. This includes Tim Duncan taking an annual salary of less than $10 million, as his career winded down. It helped the front office acquire better players and spread the money around the roster.
Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat team members react during the fourth quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena. San Antonio defeated Miami 86-107. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Con: More Pressure
While these superteams top the NBA, they face more pressure than any other team. It stems back to the day the 2010 Heat were formed.
Expectations were ridiculously high for James, Wade and Bosh. It started when LeBron famously proclaimed the Heat would win seven NBA championships in a pep rally-like introduction for this new team.
Well, Miami made the 2010-11 NBA Finals, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks. It put an asterisk on the terrific season the “Big 3” had, as they weren’t able to win the big one. They forced themselves to make changes to the roster, too, including adding Shane Battier.
However, even before that, the team faced pressure. They started slow, with speculation thrown around on if Erik Spoelstra could handle this team, as he was in his first few years as a head coach.
Two years later, the Heat were back-to-back NBA Finals winners. So it worked out, in the end.
When James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Kevin Love was brought in, they were expected to win from the get-go. They didn’t, though, dropping the 2015 NBA Finals. It led to conversation on Love’s status, and if the organization should trade him.
While the Cavs won in 2016, they’re arguably right back to where they were in 2015. They lost to the Warriors in five games, with questions surrounding how they can compete with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and co. It’s caused Love’s name to be brought up again in speculation (h/t Cleveland.com).
The San Antonio Spurs will face this pressure if Paul joins or any other superstar. They’ll be expected to stay competitive with the Warriors, even being picked by some to beat them in the 2018 playoffs. Will it be too much to handle?
Next: Ranking Spurs' Potential Free Agents
What are the advantages and disadvantages of superteams? Does it make sense for the Spurs to form one?