3 San Antonio Spurs storylines to follow as return to play approaches
By Ethan Farina
Keep your eyes on these three important San Antonio Spurs storylines
The last few weeks have been fast-paced and full of breaking news related to the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs. After a slow news period during April and May, the updates have been coming seemingly every day.
Obviously the biggest news was the NBA announcing an official return to play on July 31st. 22 NBA teams will travel to Orlando to play a final eight wrap up games that will then lead into the postseason. One interesting wrinkle in this year’s postseason has been the introduction of a play-in series for the final playoff spot if the conditions are right.
If the 8th and 9th seed are separated by four or fewer games the 8th and 9th seed will play in a play-in series that will be double elimination for the 8th seed and single elimination for the 9th seed. That’s just one of the changes that the league has made to try to make the end of this year’s season a unique and fair experience for all teams.
They’ve also opened up the possibility of teams waiving or adding a player during a one week period in June, or adding a player who to replace someone who has been lost to a season-ending injury. That last provision is particularly relevant to the San Antonio Spurs given the recent news that the team has shared with us about LaMarcus Aldridge‘s season-ending shoulder surgery.
It can all be a lot to keep track of so to make things simple here are our three key San Antonio Spurs storylines to watch over the coming weeks.
Next: Replacing LaMarcus Aldridge
How can the San Antonio Spurs replace LaMarcus Aldridge
Obviously one of the biggest storylines for San Antonio Spurs fans to watch over the next few weeks will be how the team goes about replacing LaMarcus Aldridge. It was announced yesterday that Aldridge would miss the remainder of the regular season after having surgery on his right shoulder. The Spurs playoff chances weren’t looking great before this news came out, losing Aldridge slims them down even more.
There are a few ways that San Antonio can go about this and how they choose to handle the newly opened roster spot could tell us a lot about what their plans are for these final eight games.
If the Spurs do decide to use their newly opened roster spot on bringing in a veteran such as DeMarcus Cousins that would indicate that they’re going all-in on making a push for that final playoff spot, or the 9th seed at the very least.
However, if they decide to take a bigger risk and call up someone less proven, say Chimezie Metu or Drew Eubanks, it could indicate that they plan on using these final eight games to get their young guys more experience. And if making the playoffs comes as a byproduct of that, great. If not they will still leave Orlando with a better understanding of what the future of the team could look like.
How the team moves to replace Aldridge will be one of the most important plotlines to follow over the next few weeks.
Next: Who is coaching the Spurs in Orlando
Who will coach the San Antonio Spurs?
Another key storyline to watch is the matter of who will actually be coaching the Spurs once they do get to Orlando. Given the increased dangers of COVID-19 to those who are over the age of 65, it would not be entirely surprising to see Gregg Popovich pass on his coaching duties to one or more of his assistants.
Pop is the oldest active coach in the league right now at 71-years-old and while he has not personally expressed any reservations about coaching in Orlando there are some who have taken the opposite stance. New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry is 65 and recently expressed his dissatisfaction with any efforts to limit how he coaches his team. In Gentry’s mind, he was hired to do a job and he is going to do it the way he knows how.
That’s Gentry’s view but that doesn’t at all mean that Popovich shares the same feelings. He’s older than Gentry and has handed off coaching duties before and the Spurs have done just fine in his absence. He’s got an experienced group of assistant coaches who would be more than up to the task of leading the Spurs through the final eight games of the regular season.
This kind of plays off of how the Spurs decide to replace Aldridge but if the organization decides to use these final eight games as more of a sandbox environment to give younger players more playing time and experiment with different lineups it would be a good idea to hand the clipboard to Becky Hammon and see what she can do through eight games.
Hammon is the most experienced assistant coach on the bench, has led the Spurs summer league team to a title before, is held in high esteem by the players, and is on the shortlist of assistant coaches who could take over for Pop when he does call it a career. Having her coach the rest of the regular season would spare the Spurs beloved head coach any risk associated with going to Orlando and Coach Becky is more than up to the task.
Next: Possible lineup and stylistic changes
Could we see more young San Antonio Spurs?
Jeff Garcia with News 4 San Antonio recently had a conversation with Spurs GM Brian Wright about a variety of topics and the subject of playing the younger guys more in Orlando came up. Wright didn’t commit to anything concrete but he did hint at young players taking on a larger role in these next eight contests.
“It’s a great opportunity for them obviously to continue playing, continue development. I think in the last few weeks of the season, you got to see a little bit of Keldon Johnson and what he brings to the table. Those games are important for us to evaluate but for them to continue to grow.”
Johnson definitely did carve out a larger role for himself towards the end of the season and he should continue to have a sizeable role in Orlando. But he’s not the only one. Throughout the season the Spurs continued to roll out close to the same rotation with mixed results. It’s safe to assume that those results will carry over into these final eight games if they stay with the same lineups.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here, the Spurs chances of making the playoffs are slim. It’s going to take a lot to get there and I’m not totally sure that playing Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli for forty minutes a night is going to cut it. It’s long past time to switch some things up.
Derrick White is a defensive force, so is Dejounte Murray, why not try playing them together for long stretches at a time and see how things shake out? Lonnie Walker has shown as much promise as any recent young Spur, try starting him a few games and see how he handles the bigger stage. Just do anything to get away from the lineups that clearly didn’t work this year.
There will surely be more news that pops up over the next few weeks but monitoring these three developing storylines should be a must for all San Antonio Spurs fans.