Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:
San Antonio Spurs
Training camp site: San Antonio, TX
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).
Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.
Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.
Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.
Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)
Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.
Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).
Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.