When Patty Mills signed with the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason, it was the end of a golden age. Mills was the last player from the San Antonio Spurs team that captured the title in 2014. The franchise brought in All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge (2015) and DeMar DeRozan (2018) to usher in a new era of Spurs basketball but, unfortunately, the duo didn’t work out and had to leave for other teams.
On the surface, it would seem that San Antonio crashed from the heavens and is nowhere near their glory days with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. However, the Spurs are actually in a good position as they’re getting ready for the future.
They indeed lack a generational talent or franchise superstar like a Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Instead, they managed to assemble a solid young core of players who are under contract until 2023, excluding Lonnie Walker who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
In the few seasons they’ve been together, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have grown and established themselves in the league. Murray, who after suffering an ACL injury in 2018, is now putting up borderline All-Star numbers. He is slowly becoming one of the premier two-way players in the league and has taken a leadership role with the Spurs. He’s not going to become like Tony Parker but he’s going to be one hell of a ball player for years to come.
Another player that has taken a massive jump is big man Jakob Poeltl. Many people remember him being a throw-in in the DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard swap where Toronto was perceived as the clear winner of the trade after winning a championship. The acquisition of Poeltl could make the trade fairer in the eyes of fans in years to come. The 26-year-old Austrian big man is averaging a double-double and has shown signs of improvement with his playmaking, dishing out seven assists against the Orlando Magic and six against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Before the season started, I remember being shocked that fantasy experts had him as the 19th ranked center in the league, higher than guys like D’Angelo Russell, Robert Williams III, Ben Simmons, and Keldon Johnson, but he is proving that he deserves to be ranked much higher as he will be a part of the Spurs’ long-term plans.
Speaking of Johnson, he is one of the young players who has failed to fulfill expectations. After a strong showing in the Orlando bubble and a Team USA stint, KJ hasn’t made the leap people were expecting him to take. His averages of 15 points and five rebounds aren’t bad, especially in a system like Gregg Popovich’s, but the combination of bad percentages and big expectations has drawn him ire. Maybe his ceiling is just to become a solid NBA player, which would be perfectly fine, but people feel that there’s a lot of untapped potential in him.
Someone asked me if I think that the recent years of the Spurs have damaged Popovich’s legacy. My answer? Nope.
The last few years may have been rough and Pop hasn’t won a title in seven years, but if you look at the bigger picture, he’s been coaching for 25 years—which is my entire lifetime—so missing the playoffs and first-round exits were bound to happen. What you must look at is longevity—a total of 22 consecutive seasons with a winning record, four championships across three decades. Plus, he’s currently No. 3 on the all-time wins list for a head coach. You cannot let the last two bad years of his coaching career define the body of work he has done over decades.
The Spurs are currently fringe contenders and I don’t see that changing in a couple of years. Combined with the inevitable retirement of Coach Pop, the future may seem bleak for this team. However, the rising young stars provide something for Spurs fans to look forward to. The past was fun and exciting, but the future might be as great.