With their playoff hopes in question, the San Antonio Spurs have quite a bit of work to do over the course of the next few weeks.
For better or worse, the last year has been full of surprises for the San Antonio Spurs. There have been some positives, such as Dejounte Murray‘s emergence and LaMarcus Aldridge‘s newfound affinity for three-pointers. Sadly, those positive surprises have been countered by a crushing losing streak and a consistent flirtation with missing the playoffs.
The Spurs will return to action this Friday against the Utah Jazz as they look to close out their brutal Rodeo Road Trip. San Antonio went one and five over the first six games of the trip, with their lone win coming on the final night of play before the break.
The Silver and Black have quite the uphill battle ahead of them. They currently sit five games back of the eighth seed and only two games ahead of the thirteenth seed. The New Orleans Pelicans sit only a half-game behind the Spurs and have been on fire while San Antonio has been crumbling.
Looking past this season, the Spurs front office and coaching staff can use these final 28 games as an experimental period. If you’ve got nothing left to lose throw caution to the wind and get a little weird.
Here are our three goals for the San Antonio Spurs over the final stretch of the season.
Next: Make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year
Make the playoffs
The primary goal for the San Antonio Spurs will remain the same as its always been: make the playoffs for a record-setting 23rd consecutive year. From the moves that were made over the summer to the trades that were considered before the deadline, every strategical maneuver the team has made has been in order to help them return to the playoffs.
As much as the struggles of the team have frustrated the fanbase, making the playoffs is still a very achievable goal for the Spurs.
The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit in the eighth seed but they’ve got the toughest strength of schedule over their final 28 games, according to Tankathon. They’ve been led by their trilling rookie, Ja Morant, so far but he’s started 48 games already. We’ve seen rookies hit a wall towards the end of the season and Morant could be in for something similar.
Sticking with the remaining strength of schedule, two teams near San Antonio in the standings have easier ends to the season than the Spurs. The Spurs have the 20th ranked remaining strength of schedule, with Portland and New Orleans coming in lower at 25th and 30th, respectively.
With a deep roster of playoff-tested veterans, San Antonio is still very capable of pulling things together. They’ve had stretches of success this season, but none as long as what they will need to get back to the post-season. The formula from early January should help.
The Spurs know what works for them. Space the floor with LaMarcus behind the arc, open up driving lanes for Murray and DeMar DeRozan, and set up shooters around them. The key will be the same as it has all season: can the Spurs put together a solid 48 minutes night after night?
It’s not impossible, but it’ll be tough. As long as there is still a chance that San Antonio can pull this comeback off the Spurs faithful should remain hopeful.
Next: Experiment with new lineups
Experiment with new lineups
Through thick and thin, wins and losses, San Antonio has stuck with mostly the same starting lineup throughout the year. Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl have been brought into the fold on occasion but it’s typically been DJ, Bryn Forbes, DeRozan, Aldridge, and Trey Lyles taking the floor together.
If the playoffs every become mathematically impossible to achieve, San Antonio should experiment with as many new and creative lineup possibilities as possible down the stretch. After all, why not? If you’ve got no shot at the post-season you might as well play around with some new lineups. The games don’t really matter at that point and it would give the team a better idea of what it’s future might look like.
We’ve covered the rotation adjustments that the Spurs could make down the stretch before. While it might be a bit too much to ask for Gregg Popovich to roll heavy minutes to his rookies he could at least experiment a bit with rotations or play around with different groups that have shown they can be successful.
Even if Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic don’t get consistent playing time, could we at least get some love for Chimezie Metu? Even though he is in his second year with the Spurs organization, Metu actually saw more playing time at the NBA level last year than he has this year. That needs to be changed immediately if the teams’ playoff hopes go up in smoke.
It’s not like Metu has been a disappointment in the G-League, he’s actually doing pretty well. He’s averaging close to 17 points a game, scoring from all over the floor, and lighting it up from deep (46.7 3P%). He’s also playing pretty impressive defense, averaging 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
Play Metu, see what DJ and Derrick White can do together, let Tall Luka make his debut, glue Bryn to the end of the bench, really just try anything to spice things up if the playoffs are no longer an option.
Next: Begin planning for the future
Start planning for the future
The season-long mess that was the DeMarre Carroll finally came to an end yesterday as the San Antonio Spurs came to a contract buyout agreement with the 33-year-old forward. What seemed to be a solid pairing turned out to be an utter waste of money as Carroll hardly every played while simultaneously making close to $7 million this season. Not a bad gig. The final salt in the wound: Carroll will be signing with the Houston Rockets, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
From the beginning, the series of events that led to Carroll being bought out and signing with the Spurs in-state rivals have been less than ideal. They traded away Davis Bertans (who is having an amazing year by the way), got the rug pulled out from by Marcus Morris, and then wasted a couple million on a veteran who hardly ever stepped on the court. Not ideal.
This goal is less tangible and is nearly impossible for fans to see until after the fact, but we all have to cross our fingers and pray that the Spurs front office is already planning out how to handle this summer.
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San Antonio has several crucial decisions coming up this summer. Right now it looks like they will have their highest draft pick in over two decades. How they use that pick is anyone’s guess. It’s a weaker draft than years past to packaging the pick with other assets to acquire another first-rounder in 2021 could be the move.
Outside of the draft, the Spurs have several contractual decisions to make. Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli will both be unrestricted free agents. Jakob Poeltl will be up for a new deal or could be extended a qualifying offer. DeMar DeRozan also has a player option that he can either pick up or pass up in order to shoot for a larger long term deal.
Personally, I’d rather the Spurs move forward from Forbes and Belinelli. The teams’ defense has been a huge issue all year and those two are guilty of glaring mistakes night after night. DeRozan hasn’t given any inclination as to what he will do yet. I’m not against San Antonio bringing him back but they need to be careful not to overpay for a player that cannot carry them to a championship.
No matter how the Spurs decide to handle all of these decisions, a repeat of this past summer cannot happen. It’s not all the front office’s fault, you can’t predict a player going back on his word, but the results are the results and they were terrible.
Making the playoffs is the number one goal at this point but if that is no longer an option for the San Antonio Spurs they should use the rest of the season to begin planning for their future.