Okay, let’s be real: Everyone knew that a third straight NBA Finals match-up between the Warriors and Cavaliers was inevitable. The elite 73-9 team added a 4x scoring champion in Kevin Durant and the Cavaliers still had a man named LeBron James in a weak Eastern Conference. It seemed that there was only one squad that would even have the slightest chance at spoiling the party. The San Antonio Spurs were the only other legit championship contender last season, despite the retirement of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. They pleased many Anti-Warrior fans on the opening night when they defeated Golden State on the road with a 129-100 victory. Unfortunately, all 2017 Championship hope ended when star Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury in third quarter of Game 1 in the Western Conference Finals. Starting point guard Tony Parker was also ruled out earlier in the playoffs, leaving Game 2 in the second round with a rupture in his left quadriceps tendon. After getting surgery earlier this summer, Parker has been ruled out until at least January.
The Warriors ended the 2016-2017 campaign in dominating fashion, capturing their 2nd championship in 3 years after going 16-1 playoffs. After the conclusion of the playoffs, all attention shifted to the off-season. What big moves could potentially prevent a 4th straight Cavaliers-Warriors match-up? Plenty of big names changed teams through trades and free agency:
Trust The Process: The Sixers acquire the #1 overall pick to select Markelle Fultz
Westbrook Gets Some Help: The OKC Thunder acquire 4x all-star Paul George in a trade with the Pacers
Thibodeau & Butler Re-United: The Timberwolves acquire Jimmy Butler without trading Andrew Wiggins
Stevens & Hayward Re-United: The Celtics sign forward Gordon Hayward on another 4th of July Splash!
Houston, We Have Two Playmakers: The Rockets acquire Chris Paul in a sign and trade
The biggest move for the Spurs this off-season was the addition of forward Rudy Gay. Gay can get buckets at will, averaging 18.7 points in 30 games with the Kings last season before suffering a season-ending rupture in his left Achilles tendon. Now with the San Antonio Spurs, he will likely come off the bench to back-up both forwards Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge (assuming the Spurs do not trade him). Gay has only played in the playoffs once in his 11 year career, losing in the first round of the 2012 playoffs as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. This will be Gay’s 4th NBA team and by far the best coach and teammates he has ever played with. For the Spurs, they were able to get Gay for a reasonable price of $17 Million over 2 years. He can provide instant offence to take some of the scoring pressure off Kawhi & Aldridge and should adapt well when the Spurs elect to go small. There may even be several instances where Gay closes games and could even start when Pop elects to rest certain players. The biggest adjustment for Gay will be his willingness to come off the bench and play team-first basketball after primarily starting for most of his career and always being a top-2 scoring option on his team.
Was the Gay signing the best possible move for the Spurs this off-season? Many people thought the Spurs’ top priority would be signing a point guard. Even though Tony Parker is determined to come back strong after his leg injury, he is 35 years old and only averaged 10.1 points last season (his lowest since his rookie season back in 2001). His leadership will be key in the locker room and on the court, however, his best days as a basketball player are long behind him. After the 2017 playoffs, rumours surfaced that Chris Paul (who could opt out of the final year of his contract) and the Spurs had mutual interest. It seemed like a great fit. CP3 is a versatile point guard who is an elite defender, can create his own shot, and is as good as anyone at getting his teammates open shots. Rockets Guard James Harden was able to convince CP3 to join him and the Rockets/Clippers eventually worked out a sign-and-trade deal. With Chris Paul off the table, some people predicted a possible re-union with George Hill. Hill played with the Spurs from 2008-2011 and had his best season in 2016-2017, averaging 16.9 points with the Utah Jazz. However, he ended up signing with the Sacramento Kings on a 3 year deal. Kyle Lowry also expressed interest in the Spurs but there was no way they were going to offer him a contract anywhere close to what the Raptors paid to keep the 3x all-star ($100 Million over 3 years). Rajon Rondo was another option late in free agency. He is a veteran with championship experience and a phenomenal playmaker at getting to the net and finding open shooters. After 2 weeks of free agency, Rondo agreed to join the New Orleans Pelicans on a 1 year deal.
The Spurs decided to keep back-up point guard Patty Mills on a 4 year, $50 Million deal. Mills started the remaining playoff games after Parker’s injury and averaged a career high 10.3 points throughout the playoffs. Dejounte Murray will likely see increased minutes in his second season at the back-up point guard spot. The front office still has some work to do this off-season. Most if not all point guards are off the table and the Spurs recently renounced the rights to Jonathon Simmons, making him an UFA and signing with the Orlando Magic. 39 year old Manu Ginobili is still undecided on his future and is contemplating retirement. Pau Gasol is also not under contract, opting out of the 2nd year of his contract to allow the Spurs to make some key moves. He is still projected to re-sign with the Spurs on a contract with more years and a lower annual salary.
The ultimate question is: Should the Spurs have been more aggressive in adding an impact point guard? Every NBA player considers playing for the Spurs when they reach free agency. The franchise has built a winning foundation with their humble, team-first demeanor. Gregg Popovich always seems to bring out the best in every player, leading to 5 championships in the last 2 decades. Despite having a very deep front court, the Spurs currently lack the backcourt firepower that several other teams in the Western Conference have. With the NBA becoming a faster and smaller league, the point guard is arguably the most important position with all other contending teams (Warriors, Cavaliers, Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Wizards) all having a point guard capable of taking over games and dropping 30 points on any given night. However, any basketball fan knows that you can never count out the Spurs and they will always be competitive under Gregg Popovich. Maybe they think Mills is due for a breakout season; Maybe they think Murray will flourish as he gets more experience; Maybe they want to wait until 2018 when other big names hit free agency like John Wall & Isaiah Thomas. Only time will tell if the Spurs made the right decisions but the NBA fan base is certainly due for a more exciting upcoming season.