While maintaining the playoff streak is crucial to the San Antonio Spurs’ legacy, letting go of the past and accepting the team’s fate has upside.
For the first time this Millenium, the San Antonio Spurs are on track to miss the NBA Playoffs. With no Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, David Robinson or Tony Parker to lead the way, San Antonio is missing some of that star power and togetherness that made them a perennial title contender in the 2000s through the mid-2010s.
As currently constructed, the Spurs are a somewhat outdated team that relies on two mid-range stars in a league that encourages opponents to take those. It works in short spurts and quite frankly, could be a viable long-term strategy if the team wasn’t terrible at defense. But alas, shooting mid-range jumpers and failing to contain opponents on the other side is a recipe for disaster.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 11, 2020
Despite the odds being stacked against them, San Antonio remains one of the 22 teams competing in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble with a shot at making the playoffs once more. Considering the league’s new play-in strategy between the eighth and ninth-seeded teams, San Antonio could end up facing the Memphis Grizzlies to snatch their playoff spot in late-August.
But is that what’s best for the franchise? There’s certainly a financial upside for the organization when it comes to making the playoffs. However, it may not be worth all that comes with being a playoff team. Today, we’ll compare and contrast the positive and negative side of the playoffs.
Next: Pro - Making History
Pro: By reaching the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs would set the record for the longest consecutive playoff streak in NBA history.
This is probably the biggest selling point because quite frankly, I don’t think any fans care about the revenue aspect of it all. For as wonderful of an ownership group that the Holt Family is, the vast majority of fans aren’t concerned with their finances as long as the team and those who work for the Spurs’ organization from the top town are taken care of.
However, the legacy of this franchise is amongst the most important things to Spurs fans. Setting that one-last record before embarking on a rebuild would be the icing on the cake, making all of the turmoil from the last three seasons worth the hassle. Though the Spurs would more than likely be bound for their third-consecutive first-round elimination, they’d go down in a blaze of glory knowing that no team is coming close to that 23-year playoff streak for quite some time.
Losing it at 22 and tying the record is still extremely satisfying and an achievement to be proud of, but it’s not really the same as holding that record in the end.
Reaching that 23-year playoff streak gives credit to generations of Spurs players beginning with Robinson and ending with the current squad. It legitimizes the ‘Spurs Way’ even in a time when the average fan questions the myth and lore of this organization. That puts another feather in franchise mastermind Gregg Popovich’s cap and gives the sport yet another milestone to look back on favorably from the best-run franchise in pro sports. It’s a transcendent accomplishment.
Next: Con - Draft impact
Con: Instead of the 11th pick, the San Antonio Spurs pick between 15-20 in the 2020 NBA Draft.
For as magnificent as that playoff streak is, there’s no denying that this team needs a ton of improvement and by this point, turning to the draft is the Spurs’ best option. However, making the postseason effectively ruins their ability to jump into the top-four in the draft lottery and forces them to pick outside of it once again.
Picking in the NBA Draft lottery is one of the most exciting parts about this whole season for the Spurs’ fanbase. The idea that they can bring in a franchise-altering player with their highest pick since the 1997 NBA Draft is one that fans can truly rally behind. Maybe you’re not going to get another Tim Duncan, but you sure can get a player who’ll make a difference.
Most of this Spurs roster is catered for the future anyway with most of the players between 21-26 years old. Reaching the postseason with a team built like that is highly unlikely and without a true star, which DeRozan and Aldridge are not, there’s little-to-no chance of making a playoff run.
Moving outside of the draft lottery is essentially delaying the inevitable, which is that the Spurs need to either move some of their young assets to create a win-now situation or buy-in to the young core and stop lollygagging with these outdated veterans. That may be harsh, but it’s the truth of the matter. Making the playoffs also increases the chance that San Antonio extends DeRozan’s contract which doesn’t bode well for the future of the franchise barring a major trade.
Next: Pro - Preserving Pop's legacy
Pro: By making the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs can preserve their humble leader’s legacy as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.
There’s no denying that Popovich, the NBA’s all-time accumulative wins leader amongst the regular season and the playoffs, is one of the best at his job, though there is a faction of people who will try to delegitimize him. They tend to be bitter fans of rivaling franchises or the internet-dwelling contrarian with six Twitter followers, but they’re out there nonetheless.
By making the playoffs, you’re erasing the chance for those people to point to this season and say that Popovich failed. Now amongst fans, you may want to consider whether or not this was his worst coaching job, but to be frank, this team would be much worse if coached by someone else. Even if keeping Bryn Forbes in the starting five feels like a mistake, it’s Popovich’s right to do what he feels is best for his players and teams. He’s earned some slack from the court of public approval.
Missing the playoffs also gives way for the people who hate that Popovich shares his political opinions more of a reason to call for him to be fired and disassociated from the franchise. His beliefs shouldn’t influence what the team thinks of him, even if you disagree with what he says, but that’s a whole another story.
The point is this: Popovich is pretty easily one of the top three greatest coaches in the history of the sport and arguably takes the crown. People aren’t always going to agree and having this poor spot on his resume pokes a hole in his armor. Making the playoffs protects him from that reality.
Next: Con - The young core won't shine as bright
Con: Making the playoffs swings the team further in the direction of veterans versus the young core, damaging our hopes for the future.
If there’s one thing every Spurs fan can agree on, it’s that the future is way more enticing than the present. There’s the small percentage that doesn’t believe in them, but for the most part, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV are beloved and the sooner they get to take over, the better. Making the playoffs this year threatens that utopian future that you imagine.
First-year general manager Brian Wright hasn’t made any major moves so far and hasn’t made a trade yet, but when he does, it’s probably going to be one that indicates the future of the team. If he swaps some of the young players for more win-now kind of guys, you can expect them to lean into DeRozan, Gay, Mills and the rest of the Spurs’ experienced players.
For as much as those players deserve to be appreciated, praised and compensated financially, they’re not what’s going to take San Antonio back into relevance—It’s the development of the guys who are already here, waiting on the bench for their chance to shine. It’d be an absolute shame if we never get to see what a Murray/White starting backcourt looks like, or what Walker can do with 12 shots instead of five per game.
First-round rookie Luka Samanic played a grant-total of 12 minutes so far this season. Granted, he’s more of a project than any of his peers, it’d be truly disappointing if he’s stashed behind 40 combined minutes per game of Trey Lyles and Rudy Gay for the next three years. It’s time to get with the now and that means trending young. Making the playoffs hurts the chance of that happening.
Next: Con - Yet another first-round exit
Con: A meeting with the LeBron and AD-led Lakers awaits the San Antonio Spurs if they make the playoffs as an eight-seed.
While the Spurs have done a good job against LeBron James-led teams in the past and spent seven seasons game-planning for Anthony Davis in New Orleans, they stunk out loud against that combination in Los Angeles this year. To be fair, so did most teams—L.A. is 49-14 coming into the Orlando Bubble. Still, facing them in the first round of the playoffs is as good as an L.
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Last season’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets was probably the Spurs’ best chance to beat their first-round playoff matchup as a seven or eight seed. Most of the time, those are the teams who’ve steamrolled their way through the regular season and have the star-power to thwart the Spurs. Playing against those Lakers in the first-round almost ensures they’re a first-round exit.
And to be honest, who wants to watch their favorite team get stomped on in the postseason? It’s demoralizing. That’s like sitting through a mediocre movie because you’ve become too invested in it to stop and having it end abruptly with the “It was all a dream” plot-twist. It leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth, feeling like you just wasted your time and energy. But if the movie ends with a finite ending that allows for hope in the future of the characters and plotlines, you might walk away from that movie feeling satisfied.
False hope is never fun and barring a major injury or a coronavirus outbreak, I don’t see any world in which the Spurs get more than a game or two on the Lakers in the postseason. San Antonio met the Lakers three times this season; in chronological order, the Spurs lost by seven, 10 and 27 points. It just got worse every time they played and this time, they’d do it without their second-leading scorer and their best one-on-one matchup against AD, LaMarcus Aldridge.
I’d rather take the higher draft odds and walk away with dignity if I were the Spurs.