NBA AM: Spurs’ Championship Window Still Open?
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Championships are what it’s all about for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won four since 1999, second only to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, they’re five years removed from the last time they hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. Last season they were two wins away from returning to the NBA Finals, but the younger and more athletic Oklahoma City Thunder swept the next four games to tack on another year to San Antonio’s championship drought.
Going into this season, the odds again seem stacked against the Spurs getting out of the Western Conference. On paper, the Thunder remain superior and the Los Angeles Lakers may have surpassed them, as well, with upgrades at point guard and center in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers also made notable adjustments that should push them up the standings in the conference.
Meanwhile, French guard Nando De Colo was the Spurs’ lone offseason addition. They did re-sign everyone of relevance from last year’s team, which jelled together quickly after adding Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw late in the season.
That’s not enough to keep them from being written off as contenders by most, something that has become a preseason tradition over the last few years. Even their former starting small forward Bruce Bowen, who had his jersey retired by the franchise earlier this year, thinks last season may have been their best shot to add a fifth championship.
“I think they will always have the chance to be top three of the West,” Bowen said to HoopsHype. “I think it was a telltale situation last year as far as experience winning over everything else. As (David) Robinson said, the supporting cast of the Spurs didn’t have that kind of playoff experience. They weren’t really tested in the previous rounds. With the Thunder, they needed to do some necessary adjustments. (Danny) Green and (Kawhi) Leonard, they had never been in that position before. It was a little different. In this game you can’t just say ‘Oh well, next year we’ll get it’. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you have them. And that was a huge opportunity for the Spurs. They just got beat by a younger version of them in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They are a big three, defensive minded, young, athletic team. You can’t teach youth in the NBA. In essence, the pupil surpassed the teacher.”
The Spurs’ big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker may not be together past this season. Ginobili is a free agent at season’s end and if the Spurs once again fall short of winning a championship, there’s no telling what the future holds for either party. While the trio isn’t as strong as they used to be, there’s still one important element they bring to the table that could help them remain in the championship mix.
“I think when you have those players that have been together for that long, what they do is they enhance other people’s game,” Bowen said. “You look at Danny Green, he had a great season, the best of his career, but a lot of it was because of the big three – Manu, Tim and Tony – being able to understand the game and set guys up to be successful. You look at Kawhi Leonard, who had a fantastic rookie season. You know, when you’re able to blend in guys with a core like that, it’s not about the egos, it’s more about helping the other guys become better. Tim Duncan is no longer the Tim Duncan of five years ago. His role has changed a bit. So, if you’re able to sustain groups longer, then you have guys that are willing to no longer be the man and do whatever they can in order to help the team.”
Significant improvements from their supporting cast are pretty much the only way the Spurs can shock everyone and win a championship. Their big three – outside of maybe Parker – isn’t getting any better. They still impact the game enough, though, to make things easier for guys like Green, Leonard, Jackson, Diaw and the rest of the squad.
Only time will tell if the Spurs are making a mistake in banking on the same supporting cast that failed to get the job done last year. They’ll undoubtedly be playoff bound and have the potential to win 50 games, but it’s been over a decade since those accomplishments were what they strive for. Championships are what they’re all about now, and they appear closer to the middle of the pack in the West with the Nuggets, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks than the top tier with the Lakers and Thunder.
Knicks Pass On McGrady: The chances of former All-Star Tracy McGrady catching on with an NBA team before the start of training camp are starting to look really grim.
The New York Knicks had him in for a workout last week and decided to pass on giving him an invite to training camp. With 19 players already invited, the Knicks never really looked too promising for him to begin with. That means the search continues for the 33-year-old McGrady, who is looking for to play for his fourth different team in as many years.
It looks like it’s time for McGrady to accept the reality that there currently isn’t a place for him in the league. His best bet is to stay ready and hope that a team calls him if a need is created by an injury or some other circumstance. There’s no guarantee that call will come, but if he isn’t prepared it won’t matter if it does.
He needs to look no further than Rasheed Wallace, who the Knicks are now considering according to Marc Berman of The New York Post, for motivation. Despite being two years removed from his last stint in the league and 38 years old, Wallace is still garnering consideration from the Knicks. Berman reports that the Knicks are contemplating giving him a partial guarantee to come to camp. If Wallace is still getting looks at this point in his career, another chance could surface for McGrady at some point down the line as long as he handles his current situation the right way and learns from it.
Valanciunas Injury Not Serious: The Toronto Raptors received a scare this weekend when Jonas Valanciunas, their first-round pick (fifth overall) in the 2011 NBA Draft, suffered an injury. Valanciunas is the favorite to be their starting center. Regardless of whether he starts or not, they’re looking for big things from him as a rookie. Losing him before training camp even starts would be a huge blow.
Luckily for the Raptors, the injury doesn’t appear to be something that will keep him out for a lengthy amount of time. The Raptors sent out an official release Monday morning stating that Valanciunas suffered a left calf strain that is not thought to be serious. He will be treated as symptoms require. There is no timeline for a return to full basketball activities as of yet, but the fact that it doesn’t look serious is what matters the most for the Raptors right now.
Oregon Lands Kamezi: Last week, Rice forward Arsalan Kamezi announced that he would be transferring from the program and on Sunday night he made his decision. He’s enrolling at Oregon this week and will be applying for a hardship waiver to play immediately. Oregon was one of six high major schools he was considering. They had an edge thanks to their quarter terms, which allows Kamezi to enroll this late in the fall but still have these next two months count as a full semester.
ESPN’s Andy Katz reports that Kamezi will not go pro even if the NCAA rules that he has to sit out a year as a part of their transfer rules. Kamezi, a 6’7 power forward who averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds and two assists a game last year, is a fringe NBA talent who could definitely play overseas.
The Ducks were already slated to have a strong frontcourt this season as they look to contend for a Pac-12 championship. If Kamezi does get cleared, they’ll get a major boost who could be the difference maker in getting them into the NCAA Tournament. If not, he’ll give them a reliable presence in place of senior E.J. Singler come 2013-14.