When the San Antonio Spurs got off to a 2-5 start and were hobbled with some key injuries, it was open game for the skeptics. One nitwit even suggested that if things didn’t improve that the Spurs faced the real prospect of missing the postseason for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
Sadly, the person who wrote that forgettable sentence was yours truly in an article for HoopsHype.com during the second week of November.
Fast forward to the post NBA all-star break portion of the season and the Spurs are in their accustomed position of challenging for an NBA title.
Two points should be made of the situation.
One, you shouldn’t believe everything you read. And second, it’s both unwise and premature to begin doubting the capability of San Antonio.
In fairness to the skeptics (i.e. me) Manu Ginobili still hadn’t played early in the season while recovering from ankle surgery. Adding to the Spurs woes, Tony Parker had just suffered a sprained ankle on Nov. 7 in a 99-83 loss to Miami that dropped their record to 1-4.
So the Spurs faced the prospect of competing without two of the Big Three, while the third member of that trio, Tim Duncan was forced to play extended minutes early in the season.
Of course doom didn’t appear on the Spurs’ doorstep. Ginobili’s return provided the expected major spark. In his first 38 games back, the Spurs were 29-9.
Parker missed nine games and the Spurs still managed to go 7-2 in those contests.
Duncan, who was averaging nearly 40 minutes per game early in the season, now has his season average to a manageable 35.3 per game. Look for that total to drop over the final 31 games of the season.
Nobody does a better job of getting his team ready for the postseason than coach Gregg Popovich.
So what happened?
The Spurs have received better than expected production from Roger Mason, who is averaging 11.9 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from beyond the arc. Plus, as the Phoenix Suns will attest to, Mason has shown a penchant for hitting one big shot after another.
Duncan has in his own quiet way continued to be a 20 and 10 machine. When Parker and Ginobili were both out of the lineup, he carried the team.
Both before and after his injury, Parker has been a dominant point guard and a deserving all-star selection and Ginobili remains as one of the top clutch performers in the NBA.
It has all added up to earning the Spurs the second best record in the Western Conference at the all-star break (35-16).
The Spurs have answered the question of being an NBA title contender. The bigger question is can they win with the team intact or do they have to make a move by the trade deadline?
The Spurs can no doubt contend, but contending and winning it all are two different things.
It would appear as if the Spurs would have to add an extra piece if they have designs of winning their fifth NBA title since 1999.
Of course the Spurs have been among the teams rumored to have interest in New Jersey’s Vince Carter. And there is no doubt that adding Carter would move the Spurs right into Laker territory.
However, from this vantage point, it would be a surprise if the Spurs would be able to pull this off.
The Nets would seem to want a potential starter and a possible huge expiring contract and the Spurs don’t seem like a fit here.
Of course there could be other additions that are less expensive that could help the Spurs. For instance Sacramento’s John Salmons has been mentioned as being available and somebody like that who plays good defense and is quietly averaging 18.3 points per game, would be a welcome addition.
Of course, Salmons is scoring a lot of points on a bad Kings team, but the fact remains that he would provide the Spurs with the type of depth they need.
One problem is that the Spurs don’t have a lot to offer other teams. Dangling a player like Bruce Bowen isn’t going to bring a hefty return.
If San Antonio could add a piece, then the Spurs would be awfully dangerous. As it is now, they still will be a difficult team in the playoffs.
Still, one would have to worry about the Spurs depth unless players such as Michael Finley and Kurt Thomas suddenly find the fountain of youth.
And Duncan has carried such a big load this year, that one has to wonder if a player who turns 33 in April will wear down at all when the postseason rolls along.
Keep in mind that there are other teams that would like to have the Spurs so-called problems. With three players who are as dangerous as any trio in the Western Conference, the Spurs have the capability to beat anybody.
Whether changes are made or not, one sure bet is that nobody will relish facing the Spurs in the postseason.