Following a 116-99 game 6 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the San Antonio Spurs were exploited more in this series than they have been all season long. For years, the Spurs have always been characterized as an “old” team, but with age comes experience and that is apparent with the legacy of the organization by obtaining 5 NBA Championships.
However, the Thunder exploited that “age” factor by showing a higher level of intensity on the defensive end, where they have been known to struggle, especially in the fourth quarter of games this season. Oklahoma City outrebounded San Antonio 50-40, proving why they were the number one team in the league in total rebounds per game.
The Spurs have always emphasized team basketball and stressed ball movement on each possession to get high percentage shots. With the emergence of two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard and the signing of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge this past summer, the Spurs decided to stray away from their identity of ball movement and consistently gave these two forwards isolation opportunities.
Though they are two of the best at their position in the low post, the Thunder limited their effectiveness by forcing turnovers and undesirable shots. In the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard disappeared on the offensive end by not getting enough shots and becoming passive with the ball. During key stretches in the playoffs especially, the Spurs need their franchise player to make big plays for the team. Nonetheless, Oklahoma City proved to be the better team with incredible performances from their two-headed monster Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant night in and night out.
As for the future of the San Antonio Spurs, that remains a mystery. Now 40 years old, Tim Duncan has a major decision to make concerning his basketball future with a franchise he has led for 19 years. He was nonexistent in the playoffs, averaging 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, which we are not accustomed to seeing. We saw his role diminish considerably as David West and Boris Diaw were given more minutes to keep up with the Thunder’s youth. Also, Manu Ginobili has the same decision to make at the age of 38 with his basketball future. Both of these players with Tony Parker at the point, known as “The Big 3,” have been critical players for the Spurs franchise. This trio has the more playoff wins than any other in the history of the NBA, contributing to the Spurs’ model of consistency throughout the years. Whether or not they retire, the Spurs are expected to compete at the highest level and make the playoffs, even without their future Hall of Famers. That begs to question the moves we need to make over the offseason through the NBA Draft and in free agency. Because the Spurs won a franchise record 67 wins this season, they will have a late first round pick, so expectations may not be high when selecting a rookie. However, where we can make a splash in upgrading our roster is through free agency. There have been plenty rumors about who is expected to sign where and who is drawing interest from teams.
One of those rumors is the signing of Kevin Durant, who played at the University of Texas at Austin in college. I do not see this move happening, especially after losing to his team this year in the playoffs. The more likely signing is Memphis point guard Mike Conley, who may look to sign elsewhere after the firing of Head Coach Dave Joerger. This would give us an upgrade indefinitely by providing an extra facilitator of the offense so Tony Parker would not have to carry the load. There are also rumors that two time champion Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls has interest in making a run at a championship. Adding a rim protector to the team, along with his extraordinary passing skills, would fit perfectly the Spurs’ identity.
Recently, there have been rumblings of a possible Dwight Howard signing. I am not the biggest fan of this signing because of his history of being a distraction in the locker room in Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston. However, if he were to put his ego aside and buy into their system, I could see Howard improving the Spurs with his shot-blocking prowess. Whether or not they sign any of these players, it is apparent that what the organization needs is a playmaker and a rim protector who can play both offense and defense. Only time will tell, but it looks to be a bright future for the San Antonio Spurs in their quest for a sixth NBA title.