Meaningful basketball is back on the menu for the Spurs
The Spurs' 2022-2023 campaign was just as much about finding the small wins as it was about finding their franchise cornerstone, and while appreciating the small wins is important as fans, that won't make bearing through 60 losses much easier. Going through full seasons knowing that a certain outcome (a playoff run) is all but a pipe dream is a tough pill for any fan to swallow no matter the circumstances.
After Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, meaningful basketball became tough to come by for the Spurs for several seasons. The team lost in five games to the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Playoffs and then in seven games to the Denver Nuggets a year later, missed the playoffs entirely in 2020, lost two play-in games in a row the following two seasons, and missed the playoffs again in 2023. And while some of those games debatably held some weight, the team’s trajectory was never moving in the right direction enough for me to call any of those games truly “meaningful.”
Thankfully for the Spurs, though, their rough patch paid off in a big way, as their young complementary players had the opportunity to work through their areas for improvement via real-world, in-game NBA experience, and the Spurs found their cornerstone player to boot. The team now has a clear path ahead and their timeline is more or less set in stone, meaning every future game just got that much more meaningful.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a nearly identical position, however, as they've failed to move past the 1st round of the playoffs since losing the Western Conference Finals in 2016 and have missed the playoffs entirely for three seasons in a row. With Chet Holmgren healthy and several of their young players primed for a big season, their games this coming season will hold more weight than they have in years. With how competitive I expect the Western Conference to be, both the Spurs and Thunder will take every game very seriously and will make it a point to get the edge over one another.