After being swept by the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals last season, the San Antonio Spurs transitioned into the offseason.
Many NBA analysts believed that the Spurs had a good chance of beating the Warriors if it was not for Zaza Pachulia injuring Kawhi Leonard in game one of the Western Conference Finals. So in the offseason when the Spurs did not target any big time free agents no one was surprised. Instead, they re-signed Patty Mills, Pau Gasol and they acquired free agent Rudy Gay. The Spurs also decided to let their former forward Jonathan Simmons sign with the Orlando Magic.
After these off-season moves, the Spurs looked ready to challenge the Golden State Warriors. However, on Oct. 13, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that Kawhi Leonard would miss the season opener, and that there was no time table for his return.
A week later, Kawhi was recorded struggling to walk up some airplane stairs. On Nov. 15, the Spurs finally reported good news about their star Kawhi Leonard’s injury saying, “he will be back sooner than later.”
On Dec. 12, Kawhi finally made his season debut; however, his return would be short lived. Leonard only played nine games, and in those games, he averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 block.
Leonard’s highest scoring game was his last, in which he had 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and four steals in a win against the Knicks.
A few weeks later, Kawhi was listed as “out indefinitely” and is said to be continuing rehab on his right quadriceps.
On Feb. 21 Coach Popovich discussed the likelihood of Kawhi’s return. “I’ll be surprised if he returns this season. We only have X number of games left this season, and he’s still not ready to go. If by some chance he is, it’s going to be late into the season,” Coach Pop said. Kawhi has been medically cleared to play, but numerous reports say he is choosing not to play due to his injury.
Kawhi is not the only player on the Spurs roster to be injured. Numerous Spurs players have been injured. Most notably, Rudy Gay and Tony Parker.
Gay has missed approximately 15 games this season due to a heel injury. Before his injury, he was expected to be a key piece in helping the Spurs beat the Warriors.
Gay is likely to return to the lineup in the coming games, and with Kawhi out indefinitely he will play an integral role in the Spurs rotation moving forward.
Parker has also been injured. According to Coach Pop, Tony Parker’s injury is similar to Kawhi’s injury. “What’s really strange is that [Tony Parker] has the same injury but even worse,” said Coach Pop.
Parker injured himself last year during the NBA Western Semi-Finals last season, and did not return to his first game until Nov. 25. Since his return, Parker has averaged 8.5 points and 4 assists per game. He has also been demoted to a bench role behind rising star DeJounte Murray.
Despite missing their best player Kawhi Leonard and being plagued with injuries, the Spurs still sit at the third seed in the Western Conference with a 35-25 regular season record. This is in large part due to the improved play by forward Lamarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge is averaging 22.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and shooting 50 percent from the field per game. All these statistics are up from a season ago.
Though the Spurs are sitting in a good spot in the Western Conference, they are far from comfortable. Their team is still completely dilapidated, and it is beginning to show.
The Spurs have lost four of their last five games, and are only a half game ahead of the Timberwolves for the third seed. “This is the last 23 games of the season,” said Coach Pop. “It doesn’t do any good to be wishing and hoping that somebody is going to be added that saves the day. That’s all silly stuff. These guys gotta go play for themselves and do what they do.”
In order for the Spurs to maintain their third seed spot, they must overcome their struggles before facing tougher competition down the stretch.