The NBA is returning but the San Antonio Spurs are returning short-handed.
San Antonio Spurs fans are eager to see the silver and black once again take the floor next month in Orlando as the NBA continues to prepare for its return. There are a lot of uncertainties right now in regards to the future of the league and how the Corona Virus pandemic will change things going forward, one thing, however, remains clear: the Spurs will not be competing for a title this season.
Why should that even be brought up? No one is arguing that. It does bring to light another question though, should the San Antonio Spurs want to return? No LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob’s status is still questionable, no title contention — what’s the point? We have already seen several NBA stars including Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard say they will not return amid the Covid-19 and civil unrest.
How should the Spurs feel about returning? This second chance can be looked at as either a blessing or a waste of time depending on your perspective. There are pros and cons of returning to action.
Here’s what we view as the positives and negatives of the San Antonio Spurs taking the court once again in just over a month from now.
Next: Positives of returning
Positives of San Antonio Spurs returning at NBA Disney
Keeping the playoff streak alive
For starters, the playoff streak is an obvious one. The 22-year streak is something the Spurs franchise values deeply, and rightfully so. They have been the model of consistency for nearly a quarter of a decade and they take great pride in constantly being a playoff team in the extremely tough Western Conference.
Even though the drama the past few seasons, they’ve still been able to make the playoffs and remain one of the more competitive teams in the league even though they haven’t been a title contender. This season, that obviously has not been the case. Sitting at nine games under 500 and four games back of the eighth seed, it was in all likelihood going to be the end of the playoff streak had the NBA season not been suspended.
Now they’ve been granted a second chance. Just one-half game back of the ninth seed, they would only need to be within four games of the Grizzlies for a play-in tournament. Why not go for it? Between the Pelicans, Kings, Trailblazers, and Spurs, it’s hard to say any of those teams has an advantage over the others. With every team playing at a neutral location in Orlando, there is no home court, and maybe the veteran presence the Spurs have both in the coaching staff and the players could give them an advantage over the younger more talented teams.
Opportunity for the young players
What better way to give as much run as possible to the young players of the roster than in the eight regular-season games they’ll have? Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Luka Samanic, even Chimezie Metu or Drew Eubanks should get more playing time with Aldridge sitting out due to shoulder surgery. Coach Popovich and his staff may look to utilize the same or similar lineups and rotations used before the season was suspended to give the players a sense of familiarity that they could benefit from.
However, this is a great opportunity to give more minutes and time to the youngsters together to see how steps up to the challenge. The future for some of them with the franchise is uncertain going forward in particular for guys like Metu and Eubanks since they’ve already been with the franchise for several years now. While the current circumstances of playing eight games after nearly a four-month hiatus isn’t ideal, it could be looked at as an opportunity to see who deserves to have a bigger role for the team going forward.
Regain an identity
This one’s a little trickier, but it may just be the most important. One of the biggest problems with the Spurs during the 2019-20 season was their lack of identity. They were not a very good offensive team and they certainly were not a good defensive team (27th in defensive efficiency). Even the past few seasons when they’ve struggled more than Spurs fans have been accustomed to, those teams understood their strengths and weaknesses. For 2017-18, it was defense (top five in defensive efficiency) and for 2018-19, it was offense (top five in offensive efficiency). This year? Not the case. The team was the definition of inconsistent.
With wins against some of the top teams in the league including the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, Heat, Clippers, Rockets, Jazz, it was so puzzling to see them get swept by teams like the Cavaliers and Hawks. Some nights it was their defense that let them down, other nights it was their offense.
No team is perfect, but if the Spurs want to have a chance to be competitive again next season, they need to regain their identity whether that be on the offensive or defensive end (preferably defense). Come July 30th, the players can set the tone right away that they are going to get back to being a top-five team on either the offensive or defensive end.
While there are reasons Spurs fans should be optimistic there are some good reasons why it may be more beneficial for the team to move on to next season.
Next: Downsides of returning
Negatives of San Antonio Spurs returning at NBA Disney
Start next season with a clean slate
It’s safe to say the 2019-20 season for the Spurs was pretty much a failure. The coaching staff made a decision early on to rely on aging veterans that will have little to no part in the franchise’s future. Only being a few possessions away from a Western Conference Semi-Finals birth the year before, it made sense at the beginning of the season to role with (for the most part) the same lineups and rotations at least for the time being. Once the team hit a losing streak of eight games it became clear that this year’s team needed something different. Different lineups and rotations were used sparingly throughout the season, but it always seemed like the nod was given to veterans in favor of any of the young players.
It may be more helpful to just throw away this season and move on. Next season will be a fresh start for everyone and the Spurs can look at this season as a learning experience to grow from. There was a lot to improve on but there were a lot of bright spots as well. Lonnie showcased his potential a handful amount of times, Keldon shined in almost every opportunity he was given, and Dejounte and Derrick both put up impressive numbers despite playing less than 25 minutes per game. Learn from the bad, build upon the good, and move on to next season.
More time to focus on offseason moves
It is not too late to begin planning for the future. Not just next season but beyond. With veterans Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and Aldridge’s contracts expiring after the 2021 season, the Spurs could look to begin moving some pieces around to prepare for that. It will all start with Demar DeRozan and his decision to opt-in or out of his $27 million dollar deal. If he opts out, it will make it much easier for the front office to prioritize players like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and even Keldon Johnson moving forward.
Given the future cap space after next season, there will be more flexibility to keep those players along with a few others (Luka Samanic, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Eubanks/Metu) if the Spurs wish to officially turn the page to the next chapter of the franchise.
Let the team get healthy it’s not worth the risk of injuries
With Aldridge out and Jakob questionable, the frontcourt could be in big trouble next month. With the top two big men already out it would make little sense to risk any injures to any other players. Dejounte Murray is still only one season removed from his ACL surgery, an injury that takes years to fully rehab.
While the players surely have been doing their best to keep in shape and workout as much as possible, the risk for injury is still very high for athletes that return to play after a three and a half month absence.
The training camp may help, but this is something none of these players’ bodies have experienced before. Risking long term injuries for just a few pretty much meaningless regular-season games seems pretty futile.
They’re locked in to resume play in late July but the San Antonio Spurs might be better off mailing it in and looking to next season.