It appears to be the end of an era in San Antonio Spurs Basketball.
Well, here we are San Antonio Spurs fans, in a position we never imagined the golden franchise of the NBA being in with a looming and uncertain future ahead. Just over a year ago the Spurs were up 20-plus points on the Golden State Warriors during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals; we all know how the rest of that story goes. While the sight of Kawhi Leonard writhing in agony and clutching his ankle is one I won’t soon forget, I never imagined that would be one of the last times that I would ever see Leonard donning the Silver and Black.
No dynasty lasts forever, but with the Spurs it felt different. Tim Duncan hung it up in 2016 after 19 NBA seasons and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili seemed to be heading in the same direction as the years of post-season wear and tear continued to accumulate. The era of the winningest trio in NBA history had come to a conclusion but Spurs fans had little to fear, with the emergence of a new brand of superstar in their soft-spoken leader Leonard whose Finals MVP performance led the team to their fifth championship in 2014.
The word “rebuild” is rarely uttered in regards to the Spurs and for good reason. The keys to the Spurs kingdom had a clear heir in Leonard and the transition from the Big Three regime to the Kawhi-led Spurs was as neat and seamless as an organization could hope for. At least until it wasn’t.
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The 2017-18 year was the franchise’s most uncharacteristic season to date. Spurs news riddled the airwaves as headline after headline painted an unanticipated and bizarre mosaic of conflict, distrust and contention between a heralded organization and their star player. While the root of the issue stemmed from a quadriceps injury that sidelined Kawhi for all but nine games last season, reports also surfaced about his discontent with how Coach Popovich conducted practices as well as his inability to attract other superstar players to the Alamo City.
In just a matter of months the once rock-solid foundation upon which the Spurs had been built over the past few years was suddenly shaky. After a summer filled with rumors speculating where the estranged superstar would be traded to, if at all, the Spurs did one of the most un-Spurs-like thing and sent Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first round pick.
And now, for the first time in almost two decades, the Spurs’ future seems foggy. Tony Parker did the seemingly unspeakable, following former Spurs assistant coach and now Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego to Charlotte. Ginobili’s status for the upcoming season is still unclear. However, with his 41st birthday just over a week away, nobody would be surprised if Manu decided to retire.
If Ginobili does choose to call it quits, the era of the Big Three while finally be over. Entering the new season the Spurs would have just two players that were members of “The Beautiful Game” Spurs team, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, who re-signed with the team during free agency, accounting for the departures of Leonard, Green, Parker and potentially Ginobili. Further, this marks the first time in NBA history that a team lost two Finals MVPs during the same offseason (Leonard and Parker).
The “Beautiful Game” Spurs
✅ = still on Spurs❌ = left/retired
Tim Duncan ❌Tony Parker ❌Kawhi Leonard ❌Danny Green ❌Boris Diaw ❌Tiago Splitter ❌Matt Bonner ❌Cory Joseph ❌Aron Baynes ❌Jeff Ayres ❌Manu Ginobili ✅Marco Belinelli ✅Patty Mills ✅
— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) July 18, 2018
The Spurs are entering uncharted waters. Who’s going to be the leader on this new team? LaMarcus Aldridge, who just last summer was demanding a trade? In addition, how long can the team expect Coach Popovich to be around? The tragic and untimely passing of his wife during last year’s playoffs coupled with age all point towards Popovich stepping down after his USA Basketball obligations conclude in 2020.
Fresh off a 47-win season where their superstar missed virtually the entire season, there’s reason for both fear and cautious optimism. While the trade package the Spurs acquired was less exciting than originally anticipated, it’s still a win. With DeRozan in the fold the Spurs now boast two 20-point scoring, all-star caliber players, for a team who’s second-leading scorer last season was Rudy Gay with 11.5 points per game.
Perhaps this roster will become a new iteration of “The Beautiful Game”, with a revamped offensive emphasis for a team that’s been known for its defense over the past few seasons. While it is unlikely that this current roster will be able to run with the likes of the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs have the potential to start a new 50-win season streak depending on how well DeRozan and Poeltl are able to adapt to San Antonio’s style of play.
Say what you will about the trade, barring minor changes at the end of the bench and the potential retirement of Ginobili, these are the players the Spurs will be going to war with next season. How far this team is able to venture into the post-season will be dependent on how well new personalities are able to mesh with the Spurs system. Only time will tell.