The San Antonio Spurs have won 60-plus games in three of the past four years and are arguably the best-run franchise in all of sports over the past 20 years. So their 129-115 loss to the heavily favored Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Monday doesn’t mean the franchise needs to undergo a complete roster upheaval, but even the Spurs need to tweak a few things if they want to dethrone the Warriors in the West and compete against the Cavs in the East.
Here are four ways the Spurs can put up another 60-win season and possibly take down the Warriors in 2018.
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Avoid going after a high-priced point guard in free agency
Rumors have been swirling about the Spurs possibly being interested in either Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry this summer. Though both are great individual players and can be the centerpiece of virtually any NBA team, they wouldn’t be the best fit on the Spurs. Coach Gregg Popovich preaches ball movement, and nothing stunts that more than a ball-dominant perimeter player.
Both Paul and Lowry excel with the ball in their hands, which would negate what the Spurs love to do and also keep the ball away from Kawhi Leonard. Neither point guard is ultra-athletic, an issue the Spurs are continuing to address, and both players are over 30 years old, another nagging problem for the organization.
Investing four years of max money into either player would further hamstring an organization that already has an albatross of a contract on the books – LaMarcus Aldridge’s deal – and hurt the Spurs’ ability to retain their own young free agents.
Get more out of LaMarcus Aldridge
Yes, easier said than done. Aldridge has been exposed in these playoffs as a player who lacks both the physicality to get his own shot against a smaller Warriors roster and the ability to defend. The Spurs rarely make a splash in free agency, and many assumed the pairing of Aldridge and the Spurs would be a great fit, but San Antonio is quickly finding out that the veteran big man is no substitute for Tim Duncan.
So what should the Spurs do with Aldridge in the final two years of his four-year, $84 million deal? Maybe get him more touches in the regular season so that he can be better prepared when San Antonio calls his number in the postseason.
In his two years with the Spurs, he has averaged 14.3 field goal attempts in the regular season, more than five shots less than he was getting in his final years with the Blazers. So, handle the regular season like every other playoff lock and treat it like a glorified preseason. Force feed him a bit more and see what he can give you, but make sure it doesn’t impede Leonard’s maturation on the court.
The Spurs have proven they can win 50 games in their sleep, so maybe giving Aldridge more touches will get him closer to being the All-Star big man they thought they were signing two years ago.
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Re-sign Jonathon Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon and Patty Mills
Simmons is a restricted free agent, Dedmon has a player option and Mills is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Simmons should be the Spurs’ No. 1 target because of his youth and athleticism. Though still a bit raw, he has stepped up in Leonard’s absence against the Warriors, showing the kind of grit that the Spurs haven’t always had on the roster.
Teams have no doubt seen the flashes Simmons has shown in the Western Conference finals, and those flush with cash might try to overspend in the hopes of landing the 27-year-old. If that happens, no one should blame the former D-Leaguer for taking the big payday, considering it might be the only lucrative deal he receives in his career.
Dedmon has a $3 million player option for next season and is likely to decline it after watching the NBA’s spending spree last summer. If he hits the open market, he could easily fetch double that from a team with money to burn. Pau Gasol will most likely opt in to his $16 million player option for next season, which likely will limit San Antonio’s ability to keep Dedmon.
Mills is one of the best sixth men in the league and could be in high demand on the open market. He has spent the past six years in San Antonio and might opt to give the Spurs a hometown discount that the franchise should happily accept.
Continue to get younger and more athletic
The Spurs better hope Manu Ginobili takes them off the hook and calls it a career because they can’t afford to bring back the unrestricted free agent at the same price ($14 million) they paid him this season. He’s 39 years old and will be remembered as one of the greatest Spurs in team history. But just as they did with Tim Duncan, the Spurs have to move on from Ginobili and fully embrace the Kawhi Leonard era.
And with that, they need to give more playing time to 20-year-old point guard Dejounte Murray. Tony Parker is coming off a torn quadriceps injury, and the 35-year-old has clearly lost the speed that allowed him to get into the paint at will. Parker, whose contract ends next summer, should do what Duncan did years ago – step aside and groom a younger player for the future.
Having Murray, Leonard and Simmons on the perimeter gives the Spurs speed and athleticism to compete with the likes of the Warriors and Cavs but obviously not the shooting. At least Leonard has gone from a serviceable offensive threat to one of the best two-way players in the league. If Simmons and Murray can improve as shooters, it will give the Spurs more offensive options and open the floor for Leonard.