NBA Sunday: Will Spurs Blow It Up?
Spurs Won’t Blow It Up
"We lost, do we blow it up?" San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was asked the other day in the wake of their first round ouster to the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s a fair question considering the fact that Tim Duncan—arguably the greatest power forward of all time—just turned 35, that his team has been booted out of the first round of the playoffs in two of the last three years, that he hasn’t won a championship in four—the longest title drought of his career.
It’s a fair question, but is it really possible? Not according to Popovich.
"There will be some changes, but we never get drastic in that sense," calling the idea that they’d completely blow up this team "presposterous."
After all, the Spurs did win 61 games, the most in the Western Conference, and spent much of the season looking as efficient offensively as we’ve ever seen them. While Duncan’s production was easily the weakest of his career (13.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, and 28.4 mpg all were career lows), vets like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili often looked as good as they ever have, Richard Jefferson finally seemed to fit in, and the next generation of young Spurs—George Hill, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair—often had their moments in the sun, too.
This isn’t a bad team. At all. But the Spurs aren’t just in the business of putting together good groups of players; they’re in the business of winning championships, and they might have just seen their window of doing that with Tim Duncan slam shut.
And anyway, what huge moves would the Spurs have been expected to make? There’s no realistic scenario in which trading Parker or Ginobili makes the team markedly better, and Jefferson’s prohibitive contract ends at $11 million in 2014. That leaves a cast of young guys that either wouldn’t fetch anything of particular value or are too important to the future of the franchise.
George Hill is a guy a lot of teams would love, but he’ll make $2 million next season. How are the Spurs supposed to turn that into something of more value than Hill already is?
Next year marks the end of the Tim Duncan’s current contract with San Antonio, and the end of that could also signal the end of the Spurs as an elite team. Perennial playoff team—sure, but not elite. If there were easy, or even reasonable, moves to make, the team would make them, but they’re going to give it one more go with The Big Fundamental at the helm. When that contract expires after next season, and depending on how next season goes, then the Spurs can talk about blowing it up. But not before then.
What the Hawks Do Without Hinrich
There were a lot of people that doubted whether the Atlanta Hawks had a shot against the top-seed Chicago Bulls with starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, but without him the doubts are really starting to pile up.
That’s not to say that Atlanta won’t find a way to keep the series competitive—Indiana sure figured out how to hang with the Bulls despite sporting less talent—but Atlanta had three point guards capable of running the floor, and even more guys they were able to throw at Derrick Rose on the defensive end.
Atlanta had only Hinrich, who not only was the team’s best perimeter defender before the hamstring injury, but is also the player who knows Rose and his game better than any opposing player in the league.
The fact that Hinrich, who just a year ago was starting his summer vacation after his last games as a Chicago Bull, won’t be able to play in this series is a true tragedy, not just for the novelty of seeing Hinrich and his fellow former Bulls teammate Jamal Crawford come back to the United Center to compete, but also because he was the X-Factor in this series.
Now, the Hawks turn to a player who saw only 9 minutes in the entire first round: back-up point guard Jeff Teague.
A tough series against the team that’s supposed to be the best in the Eastern Conference could come down to the play of Teague, who hasn’t been known as somebody capable of playing consistently well for several games in a row. He’s quick enough to stick with Rose, but that’s about it.
"At this point of the playoffs, everybody is going to be good," Teague told Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I just happened to get matched up against the MVP."
He’s trying to prepare himself mentally for the season by not over-thinking his game. For a young player like Teague, that could be hard.
"When I start thinking too much, that’s when things start going wrong," Teague said. "I am going to go out there and play has hard as I can and do what I can do."
Will that be enough to even come close to containing Rose? Will it be enough to keep his offense efficient and the pace of the game appropriate? And if he is able to do those things, will he be able to do them for five, six, or seven games in a row?
Not a lot of people outside of Atlanta seem to think he can, but what everybody agrees on is that Kirk Hinrich definitely isn’t the X-Factor for this series anymore; Jeff Teague is.
Pacers Could Lose Vogel and Bird
Here’s what we know about the Indiana Pacers: Their showing in the first round of the postseason proved that they’ve got a core of young players that could really cause some headaches in the Eastern Conference for years to come. We know that Frank Vogel did better as interim head coach than anybody expected. We also know that team president Larry Bird and GM David Morway have worked hard to assemble those young players and accrue the cap space they’ll have this summer and next in order to put together a winning organization again.
One would think that such positive and optimism would be enough to keep the Pacers driving full speed ahead in the vehicle they’ve been driving the last few years, but there’s been no indication that either Vogel or Bird will be back next season. The question is whether or not that would be a good thing, or a bad thing.
For Bird and Morway, who have spent years waiting for this summer, when they’d finally have the cap space to work on bringing in some free agents, the concern is that ownership may want them to hoard the cap space rather than spend it. Indiana had the lowest attendance in the league at just over 13,000 fans a game, and without consistent ticket sales it must be hard for an owner to justify spending tons of cash to bring in higher-profile players than they can technically afford.
If that’s the case, Bird told the AP he might not be back.
"My decision will be based on my decision with (Pacers owner Herb) Simon," Bird said. "If I like what I hear, I’ll probably be back. But if there’s some things he sees in the job performance I did and he’s not comfortable with it, it might be time for a new voice."
Sources within the Pacers have said on a number of occasions that Bird would be allowed to keep his job as president of the team for as long as he wanted it, but the rigors of all that travel and Bird’s growing desire to stay home and spend time with his family could ultimately be the thing that gets him to leave the Pacers.
After a season like this one, however, it’s hard to imagine Simon would want him out. Vogel either, for that matter. The group of young players they’ve got in place is genuinely exciting, and the way Vogel has figured out how to use them—especially Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough—has been nothing short of inspiring.
Now, they’ve got the second most cap space in the league, and even if they get the green light to chase marquee free agents, would anybody want to come to Indianapolis to play? The right guys absolutely would, and you can bet that they’ll explore shooting guards and power forwards as soon as they’re able to do so.
In the meantime, we’ll worry about what happens to Bird and Vogel, hoping that both end up right where they are now for at least another handful of seasons. Both deserve the opportunity to finish what they start, and if the team lives up to the expectations that have now been set for them, they won’t stay in the league’s attendance basement for long.