Requiem for a HeavyweightThe Dallas Mavericks eliminated the San Antonio Spurs from the playoffs with a 106-93 win on Tuesday. This is the first time that the Spurs suffered a first round loss since 2000, when Tim Duncan missed the playoffs due to injury. The Mavericks deserve credit for getting out of the first round for the first time since 2006--when they advanced all the way to the NBA Finals--but there will be time to talk more about them in the next few days; the Spurs' early departure seems to signal a changing of the guard in the West. Although the Spurs rather seamlessly transitioned from a Duncan-David Robinson nucleus to a Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili trio, it will be tougher to rebuild the team now: while Duncan is still capable of playing at a high level, he is also showing signs of age and it is fair to wonder if Ginobili will ever again be healthy enough to play All-Star caliber basketball. Seven of the 12 Spurs who played in the playoffs--including Duncan--are at least 31 years old and Ginobili (who was not on the active roster) is an "old" 31. Parker is their only good young player but, as great and dynamic as Parker is, I just can't see the Spurs winning a championship with him as the best player (yes, he was the 2007 Finals MVP but Duncan was still the best player on that team even if Parker was deemed to have performed the best in that series).
The Spurs won four championships between 1999 and 2007 and they have been the league's model franchise for the past dozen years or so but the Mavericks basically ran circles around them save for game two when Parker went nuts (38 points on 16-22 field goal shooting). Duncan and Parker were the only Spurs who averaged more than 8 ppg versus Dallas but just as troubling for the Spurs is that their vaunted defense has sprung some leaks--and that is a disturbing trend that began long before the playoffs: under Coach Gregg Popovich the Spurs used to always rank in the top five in defensive field goal percentage but this season they dropped to ninth, which is still decent but no longer elite. Former defensive stopper Bruce Bowen is 37 years old and he averaged his fewest mpg (18.9) since 1999-00. Duncan seems to have lost some range defensively and some bounce (he has always been more athletic than most people think but he is not as athletic as he used to be), so the Spurs could really use an athletic, defensive-minded seven footer to help anchor their defense in the paint.
The best case scenario for the Spurs is that Ginobili returns fully healthy next season, Duncan stays reasonably healthy and does not decline in terms of his skills, Parker remains an elite point guard and the Spurs acquire an athletic big man and one more wing scorer--preferably someone who can create his own shot. If all of those things happen then the Spurs could be right back in the championship hunt--but it is more realistic to expect that Ginobili will never be quite the same (based on his age/recent injury history), Duncan will decline slightly and the Spurs will not strike gold this time the way that they acquired Duncan to pair with Robinson and then found Ginobili/Parker just as Robinson was on his way out.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:26 AM