Halfway through the third quarter of game one of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs were up 25 points on the Golden State Warriors. Then Kawhi Leonard re-injured his ankle, the Warriors came back, and the rest is history as the Warriors swept the Spurs en route to their second championship in three years.
The Spurs could be facing an uphill battle to get another shot at the Warriors. While the core is there, the rest of the West has caught up to the Spurs. The Thunder got Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Rockets got Chris Paul, and the upstart Timberwolves brought it Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to go along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Spurs did make a good signing by bringing in Rudy Gay at a relatively low price of $8.25 million per year. Even though he is coming off an Achilles injury, him and Manu Ginobili will make a great duo off the bench.
Health could also be an obstacle. Leonard is now dealing with a thigh injury that will keep him out for the entire preseason. Tony Parker is ahead of schedule in his return from an injury suffered against Houston in the second round, but he is still expected to miss at least a month.
Despite Parker’s absence, the backcourt is the deepest part of the roster. Patty Mills re-signed with the Spurs in the off-season and will share point guard duties with Dejounte Murray, a first round pick in the 2016 draft with a lot of upside. At the two, they still have Danny Green and Ginobili. Summer League darling, Bryn Forbes could see an increase role since Ginobili turned 40 this summer.
The Power Forward and Center spots are the Spurs weaknesses. LaMarcus Aldridge, who was rumored to be unhappy, returns to start at the four. However, he struggled when Leonard was hurt and he was forced to be “the man”. Last year, he saw decrease in scoring and rebounding, missing the all-star game for the first time since 2011. 37 year old, Pau Gasol, will start at Center. His struggles in the playoffs were even more noticeable than Aldridge, as he only averaged 7.7 PPG. With Davis Bertans, and Joffrey Lauvergne as the only veteran backup in the frontcourt, look for the Spurs to play some small ball with Aldridge at Center, Leonard at Power Forward, and Green and/or Ginobili and Gay on the wings.
While many in the West have caught up to the Spurs and they may seem weaker, you can still pencil in the Spurs for 50 or more wins. Greg Popovich is the greatest coach in the world and Kawhi Leonard will be an MVP candidate as long as he is healthy.
Projection: 53–29 4th in the West. Lose to Minnesota in the First Round 4-3
Photo Credits: SLAMonline