The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
2016-17 finish: 61-21, Western Conference finalists
• Offensive rating: 108.8 (7th)
• Defensive rating: 100.9 (1st)
Did the summer help at all?
The Spurs are no different than they were a year ago, when everyone wrote them off in their first post-Tim Duncan season, and they won 61 games on the backs of a virtuoso Kawhi Leonard performance.
Sure, they swapped rotational contributors Simmons and Dedmon for Gay and Lauvergne, and the 30-something contingent of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge are all a year older, but does anyone really expect Gregg Popovich’s well-oiled machine to run any less smoothly this season?
Simmons was a beast in the playoffs, and it was strange to see the Spurs let him walk without matching a relatively cheap three-year, $20 million deal he got from the Orlando Magic. But a healthy Gay (emphasis on healthy, considering his season-ending Achilles surgery in January) is an upgrade over Simmons, and he’s just the sort of long-toothed veteran from whom Popovich extracts a gem.
Dedmon played a real rim-protecting role on the Spurs last season before falling out of favor in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Lauvergne ranked in the 24th percentile of ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus rating in 2016-17, and a terrible Chicago Bulls team didn’t even bother to keep his qualifying offer in restricted free agency, so it may take a little more work for Pop to find value here. Still, the Spurs rotated through Dedmon, Boban Marjanovic and Aron Baynes the previous three seasons without missing a beat.
Point guard is San Antonio’s biggest question mark. The Spurs were in the mix for Chris Paul and George Hill, but settled on re-signing Patty Mills and the hope that a 35-year-old Parker can live up to this post ruptured quadriceps promise: “I will play my best basketball when I return in January.” The Spurs have also been here before, having lost Parker for double-digit games every season since 2012.
Aldridge is the other uncertainty. Two years into his contract, he’s reportedly already unhappy in a system that most players who have cycled through San Antonio seem to relish, and rumors swirled throughout the summer that the Spurs were shopping him for picks or players. How invested he is after a horrid postseason will likely determine whether San Antonio is merely good or great again.
After all, the Spurs still feature Leonard, arguably the game’s best two-way player, and were an ankle injury away from a 1-0 lead and home-court advantage against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. They may be old, but I’m not about to sign their death certificate. I’ve done that too many times before to doubt the zombie army Popovich rolls out every year in Central Texas.
Best-case scenario: Aldridge finds peace in Popovich’s system. Everyone from Parker to Gasol discovers that Hot Tub Time Machine that Doc Rivers probably still jokes about every training camp. Manu does a few more Manu things. Dejounte Murray makes a leap. One of Derrick White, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes or Brandon Paul emerges as the honorary Man, the Spurs did it again out-of-nowhere guy. Kawhi is the real MVP. And San Antonio gives us the conference finals against the Warriors we were robbed of when Parker and Leonard went down within a span of five games.
Oh, and then Aldridge opts out next summer, and the Spurs create max space for one LeBron James.
If everything falls apart: Nagging injuries continue to nag Leonard. Aldridge is lost for good. Parker never even returns to 34-year-old Parker form. Gay isn’t the same, either. Ginobili and Gasol finally break down after several million professional basketball miles. Danny Green is as inconsistent as he’s been the past two years. Murray isn’t ready. Lineups with too many too-young or too-old dudes around one superstar actually play like lineups with too many too-young or too-old dudes, not the Popovich-inspired versions of themselves who have fueled 18 (eighteen!) straight 50-win seasons.
This could happen, right? Like, this could be the year it all falls apart. Nah. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Best guess at a record: 58-24
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
– – – – – – –