Although missing the playoffs signals that its time to move on from veterans, the ’20 Playoffs affirmed that the San Antonio Spurs cannot afford to do that.
It doesn’t matter how many playoff series or NBA Finals appearances the San Antonio Spurs have been a part of — They’re not above learning from their contemporaries. Now on the outside looking in, the San Antonio Spurs are back to the drawing board with a lottery pick in tow. Meanwhile, the 2020 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers have provided a new template for general manager Brian Wright coming off his first full season to learn from.
It doesn’t matter how many young players you have or what infrastructure is in place — You’re always going to need your veteran leaders. This was the style implemented by the 2014 San Antonio Spurs to maximize the tail end of Tim Duncan’s career and now, the Lakers have done so with LeBron James.
You’re never going to be a winning team without valuable veteran contributors. This isn’t the DeMar DeRozan caliber players who are in their early-30s looking to compete right away. I’m talking about the Rajon Rondos of the world. Consider someone like Dwight Howard, who’s hungry to compete and willing to put his personal accolades to the side for the good of his team. For the San Antonio Spurs, this would be veterans like Rudy Gay and Patty Mills who’ve seen both sides of their NBA careers and are willing to put their team first to compete for a title.
When the Spurs’ cap space opens up in 2021, both of these players are going to be free agents in an unrestricted market that’s loaded with talent. The dream would be for the San Antonio Spurs to bring in a superstar-caliber player to lead the franchise back into the postseason picture no matter what it takes. If they achieve that goal, bringing back the Mills and Gays of the world is imperative to actually competing for a championship.
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All the while, the San Antonio Spurs organization must prepare their current players as if that time is going to come. There is no backing down from a challenge in San Antonio — defying the odds is what this organization does. Every great team, even those led by young stars, deploy veterans with legitimate playoff experience to guide them throughout the competition.
For Miami, it was the likes of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. For the Denver Nuggets, it was Paul Millsap, who’d already been defeated by LeBron time and time again in the postseason. The Boston Celtics looked at Gordon Hayward as a pillar of hope upon returning from injury and when he did, the team was reignited in an unsuspecting victory. Any team that has legitimate NBA playoff/Finals aspirations needs to have those veteran mentors to put their smarts to use.
Keeping Gay and Mills, even as they decline and fall into lesser versions of themselves, is imperative to the Spurs’ eventual postseason hopes. Last season when the team took the Denver Nuggets to seven games in the first round, it was Gay and Mills who had to step up alongside DeRozan and Aldridge to make it a fair fight. Even when Derrick White exploded for 36 points in that playoff series, putting up the defining game of his career thus far, it was the support of his teammates (DeRozan, Aldridge and Gay) that ensured the team would come out with a win.
No matter what path the San Antonio Spurs take to this next iteration of the franchise, keeping veterans along the way is the only way to ensure a fighting chance in the postseason.