Times are changing and the power dynamics of the Southwest Division are shifting, leaving the San Antonio Spurs stuck in mediocrity.
Between 1998 and 2014, the San Antonio Spurs finished every season with at least the second-best record in the NBA’s Southwest Division. In that span, San Antonio earned its spot in the playoffs without question and powered through some hard-fought battles en-route to five championships and six Finals appearances.
However, the days of San Antonio’s Big Three are no longer, and a new iteration of the Spurs claw at the playoff picture with three Southwest opponents ahead of them and one catching up from behind. For the first time in this millennium, it’s looking like the Spurs are bound for the lottery as the rest of the division passes them by.
Even in the height of the Southwest’s competitiveness, when the Spurs were feared. There were extraordinary players and teams in the division, but the Spurs still reigned supreme. Whether it be the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks, feisty Houston teams with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies or Chris Paul‘s New Orleans Hornets, the path to success down south has never been easy.
Now, the Spurs are faced with a brand new mountain to climb. Although Houston has been at the top of the division for three of the last five seasons and revamped their roster with the addition of former-MVP Russell Westbrook this offseason, they’re still struggling to maintain the composure they’ve shown in recent years. Only half a game separates them and the sixth-seeded Mavs, who’ve suffered injuries to both of their star players in Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis over the course of the season.
Houston is poised to make another trade at the deadline, but mortgaged their future for a win-now move in acquiring Westbrook and his massive contract. They’re running out of bargaining chips and their stars are getting older, so the Rockets’ control of the Southwest could come to a close sooner than we thought.
The main reason for this, besides getting ahead of themselves and making questionable financial decisions, is the talent that’s brewing below them in the standings.
San Antonio was once the team to watch in the Southwest, dicing the opposition up with methodical ball movement and stylistic play. They’ll be back to that, or a new form of that, eventually, but the competition around them is way steeper than it’s been and it’ll take a new-look Spurs team to get back into serious playoff consideration.