Even though most of the players on this San Antonio Spurs team are young, there’s still a chance we say goodbye to some familiar faces this season.
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you’ve become emotionally attached. Over the course of the last four seasons, San Antonio Spurs fans were forced to say goodbye to some of the players who influenced them both on and off the court.
Though it made the process easier with the franchise’s defining player, Tim Duncan returning as an assistant coach, his cohorts in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have moved on from their playing careers and are no longer in the public eye. Watching these players give their all night-in and night-out inspired generations of basketball fans throughout the world to strive for greatness.
Now the roster is dominated by players in their early-to-mid twenties working their way into the rotation and learning how to survive in the NBA. Still, the Spurs have held onto some savvy vets during this transitional period who may not be around for much longer.
After a disappointing season in which certain players appear to have lost a step, 2020 may be the final chance to compete for certain members of the silver and black. Whether it be due to age, decline in athleticism or lack of passion, every professional athlete hits a point in their career when it’s clear that they’re done.
The players aren’t the only ones who may call it quits, however. Head coach and franchise architect Gregg Popovich is the oldest active head coach in the NBA at 71 years old and has more years of service than 10 other coaches combined. There’s a solid chance that we say goodbye to some familiar faces by the end of the offseason.
Next: No. 3 - Rudy Gay
3. Rudy Gay
While it’s not a likely scenario, given Spurs forward Rudy Gay inked a two-year deal that’ll net him $14 million next season, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Gay call it quits after this year. Players remain on the books when they retire so if Rudy feels like his body has been through enough, he could hypothetically end his playing career.
Gay is having his worst season in quite some time since earning that contract this offseason. After hitting more than 50 percent of his shots and 40 percent of his threes last year, Gay is shooting an entire 6.7 percent worse from the field and 8.7 percent worse from beyond the three-point line.
More so than his shooting, Gay looks like he’s lost a step athletically. He moves much slower on defense, leading to a weaker all-around effort. He played with passion and tenacity last year that just doesn’t look to be there in a lot of key moments. He can be disengaged, he’s turning the ball over and some of his signature pull-up jumpers have failed to connect when last year, they were surefire buckets.
This is all relative because he’s actually been a bit better since the All-Star break, but it’s not like he’s saving himself for the playoffs. San Antonio needs him to step up in order to even get back into that conversation. If this is an issue of physical regression, then it might be better for Rudy to retire either way.
His injury history details a long list of various ailments including the harbinger of death for basketball players—the ruptured Achilles tendon. He recovered from that well and proved himself last year, but it’s not worth risking reinjury this late in his career if his body is starting to give out on him. It’s not likely that we see him hang up his jersey, but it’s certainly a possible reality.
Next: No. 2 - Marco Belinelli
2. Marco Belinelli
This seems like a legitimate possibility, given sharpshooter Marco Belinelli is obviously in a state of decline. His physical presence on the basketball court is slim to none, as shown by his lackluster effort on defense. It takes Marco a while to get up the court, whereas in the past, he would’ve used his underrated athleticism and elusiveness to run up and down the court floor.
Marco will tie with LaMarcus Aldridge as the oldest player on the team by the end of this month at 34 years old, and it shows. Aldridge is still a top 30 player in this league and his body hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear, but Belinelli is visibly slower than he once was.
This is the last year of a two-year deal that brought Belinelli back to the Alamo City, and it’s not likely that the team will re-sign him. There have been some statistics that indicate the team plays well with Marco on the floor, but those are swayed by the fact that the rest of the second unit plays much better than he does, and his floor-spacing role helps clear the way for them. That’s a role that could easily be replaced by someone with better defensive instincts and hustle.
Belinelli could end up signing more short-term deals, traveling the U.S. on his continued tour of teams. Or, he could call it quits, enjoy retirement and go get married. Marco proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas Day just a few months ago, so it’d make sense for him to step away from the game to get settled in the next phase of his life.
He’d also be a hot commodity in overseas leagues if he chooses to pursue that route. There’s still a place for him in the NBA, but it’s at the end of a bench and I don’t think he’d like to settle for that.
Next: No. 1 - Gregg Popovich
1. Gregg Popovich
The day that the Spurs’ storied head coach retires from the sport will be a sad one, but not something that wasn’t expected. It’s got to be very difficult keeping up with this amount of stress, travel and immense workload year-round at 71, and Popovich has put a lot of miles on his tires. He’s always been known to enjoy the leisure of his wineries and team dinners, and retirement opens up a world of opportunities for someone in his position.
This year has been his most questionable as a head coach with a lot of his old ways remaining steady despite some push-back. He keeps his young players in the G-League, he prioritizes veterans and goes to his favorites even when it’d make more sense to give the ball to one of his rising stars.
And yet, that’s the Gregg Popovich experience and every player who plays under him is better for it. Even someone like DeMarre Carroll, who was stuck at the end of the bench after being proud to be in San Antonio, gave high praise to Pop as an individual during his buy-out.
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This league is bigger than basketball for Pop because he knows what’s genuinely important outside of the sport. He treats his players and coaches like family and expects them to treat him, and the team, with respect in return.
It’s long been speculated that 2020 is the logical time for Popovich to retire. With the start of a new decade, the Spurs seem to be a sinking ship trending toward a rebuild and he’s slated to be the coach of the Olympic Team this offseason. Ending his Hall of Fame career with a gold medal sounds like a hell of a way to send the legendary leader off.
We don’t know what Popovich’s retirement plans look like, or when he’s going to call it quits, but we do know that when he does, he’ll be celebrated by every player, coach, staffer and fan that ever had the pleasure of being around him. He’s rough around the edges and a pain for the media, and yet the basketball community embraces him because of it.
Regardless of whether or not Pop retires this year, he’ll garner love everywhere he goes for his endless wisdom and compassionate personality.