Feature photo courtesy of Katie Haugland.
By Cameron Neimand
In San Antonio, the Spurs winning less than 50 games in a season is as common as Popovich saying more than 10 words in a sideline interview. Since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997, the Spurs have a record of 16 straight 50-win seasons, five championships, and never finished with a winning percentage lower than .610. Last season, San Antonio was still able to secure a 57-25 record with Duncan, Leonard, Parker, and Ginobili missing a combined 51 games. Even as Parker looked a step slow and Ginobili continued to regress, Timmy D, Coach Pop and the boys were able to reach a Game 7 against the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals that was actually the first round but still the most brutal, unbelievably exciting first-round basketball ever played.
Going into the offseason, it was unclear how R.C. Buford and Popovich would work their 50-win magic in 2015-2016. Parker’s body seems to be failing him, Ginobili is far from the balding glory he once was, and Tim Duncan, possibly the greatest player of his generation, is creeping up around the 40-years-old mark. Just as doubt crept in (something that should never occur with the Spurs organization because they are the Spurs and they are Gods and we are all just plebeians breathing their air), LaMarcus Aldridge announced that he would be taking his talents to San Antonio and Lakers fans like myself shed little purple and gold tears and cursed Jim Buss with every word our mothers taught us to never utter.
Now, as free agency madness comes to a close, the Spurs have one of their most stacked teams of the past five years. David West turned down about $12 million to sign for the vet minimum, a move that left Sprewell wondering just how the man plans to feed his family. Most of the team’s core rotation (Leonard, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Mills, Green, Diaw, and yes, Matt Bonner) remain, despite Belinelli leaving for Sacramento, Aron Baynes taking money from Detroit, and Cory Joseph getting his ring and taking it home as Drake shouted out in “Charged Up.” However, the loss of Joseph was quickly countered when the Spurs acquired point guard Ray McCallum from Sacramento. General Manager R.C. Buford envisions McCallum as the perfect Joseph replacement.
“To get a player like Ray fills a big hole,” said Buford. “We speculated that if Ray had been a free agent in this market, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get him.”
For San Antonio, it gets better. Kyle Anderson’s stellar play at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he was named MVP, makes the Spurs potential rotation even more interesting. Anderson’s closest player comparison, oddly enough, is to a younger Boris Diaw. At 6-feet-9-inches, he can run the floor as a point guard, play just about any position from the one to the four, distribute skillfully, hit threes, and dominate the mid-range game. Basically, he’s Diaw plus an inch and minus 500 pounds. If Anderson is able to ride his Summer League hot streak into the regular season, he presents a potentially perfect option for Gregg Popovich in a system built around high-IQ, versatile players.
Perhaps most interesting is the Spurs signing former college superstar and current NBA bust Jimmer Fredette to a deal that will make him a member of the roster going into training camp. Fredette, heralded as an assassin from beyond the three-point line, has the chance to turn around the trajectory of his NBA career in San Antonio the same way that Danny Green did after a rocky start in Cleveland. Green went from going undrafted and playing 28 total games in his first two seasons to becoming a major member of the Spurs championship roster due to his three-point prowess. If Fredette can learn to fit into the system, shoot the ball, and do whatever the hell Pop tells him to do, there is still a chance for a career revival for Fredette after averaging only 3.6 points per game last season in New Orleans.
Yes, the Western Conference is still a bloodbath, perhaps more than ever this coming season, but the Spurs are still the Spurs. They added arguably the most coveted free agent of the offseason in LaMarcus Aldridge, kept the majority of their core, added veteran, key-rotational player skill for next to nothing with David West, and seem to have found a steal in former 30th overall pick Kyle Anderson. Barring injury, the 50-win season streak will continue for San Antonio and a trip to the NBA finals is once again a realistic expectation. Hey Coach Pop, how excited are you?