The Decline and Future of the San Antonio Spurs

The Decline and Future of the San Antonio Spurs

by February 4, 2020 0 comments

For a long time, the San Antonio Spurs were the model of consistency for the NBA, and in a way they still are.

In a tumultuous league filled with front office turnover, one-year contracts, and where the average length of a coach’s tenure has been no longer than four years in the past decade, the Spurs have held firm. On one end, you have coach Gregg Popovich, who has coached the team since 1996, which is far longer than any other current coach in the league. His next closest competitors are the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle ––  both hired in 2008 –– 12 years after Popovich.

Of course, though, you don’t just stay as the coach of a team for 23 years and have nothing to show for it. In his 22 full seasons as coach, the Spurs have made the playoffs every year. All of them. In that span, they have won five championships; 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. In those 15 years between the first championship and the last, the Spurs had what everyone else wanted; a dynasty.

Unfortunately, San Antonio hasn’t made a splash in the league in the while. After that 2014 season, a new dynasty came into town: The Golden State Warriors. Led by the terrific trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the Warriors went 67-15 in the regular season and 16-5 in the playoffs en route to an NBA championship. Meanwhile, the Spurs finished at 55-27 and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers.

By the next season, the Warriors were the undisputed kings of the West, and the Spurs were struggling to keep up.

Fast forward four years and the story is much the same. Although the Warriors have fallen from grace, both the Lakers and the Clippers are now the frontrunners in the West. Meanwhile, San Antonio is slowly but surely declining. Their streak of 18 straight 50-win seasons was abruptly snapped in 2018, and they entered Tuesday 21-26; ninth place in the Western Conference.

So what is the reason for this decline, and where do they go from here?

Upon closer inspection, the reason for their decline is really quite simple; they just aren’t as star-studded as they once were. Names like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, who dominated with the Spurs in the 2000s, have all retired, and the Spurs have been overtaken by teams with more, younger stars, such as the Lakers, Clippers, and Celtics. Having Kawhi Leonard, a former Spur turned Clippers superstar, might help; but even then, he would compete with LaMarcus Aldridge for minutes at the Power Foward position. Not only that, but it is unlikely the team would be able to sign Leonard, Aldridge, and leading scorer Demar DeRozan with their current cap situation.

With an aging roster, little firepower, and lackluster defense, San Antonio is in no position to contend for a championship any time soon. Unfortunately, it looks like they are in a position no team wants to be in; NBA purgatory. They aren’t good enough to contend for a title, but at the same time, they are too good to get a lottery draft pick and inject their roster with fresh, young talent. It does seem like a rebuild is the only viable option. After 20 years of consistently making the playoffs, it does seem like the end is near.

Fortunately for the Spurs, the rebuild may be easier than expected. Although they only have one draft pick per year up until 2026, they also have some solid veterans in Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll, and Patrick Mills that they could attempt to trade for more draft picks.

If San Antonio was not able to trade them, however, they would serve as good mentors and a nice group of veteran players to balance out the incoming youth movement. However, the Spurs don’t have to solely rely on draft picks. They also currently have a few young players that, with some more development, could be quality starters. Names like Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray, and Trey Lyles come to mind.

A rebuild is always a tough pill to swallow for any sports franchise. It involves making a conscious decision that you are in no position to win a title, and that you need new, young, players to get back to contending. Although the short-term future looks somewhat poor for the Spurs, they can get back to the playoffs (and beyond) in the long term, but it won’t be easy. They have to draft correctly, develop their current young players, and either keep Gregg Popovich as the head coach or find someone that he can mentor to run the team.

That could be easy, however, because the current coaching staff for the Spurs includes both Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan. All of these things may seem like a tall order, but if they do manage to do all of this, San Antonio may become the model of consistency for the NBA yet again.

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