The 2019-20 NBA season felt like the end of an era for the San Antonio Spurs, as their 22-year playoff streak came to an end.
The Gregg Popovich-mentored unit remained in the hunt for that eighth and final slot in the Western Conference, but they still failed to qualify despite their impressive run inside the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
San Antonio has truly been the epitome of consistent greatness over the years, winning five NBA titles in six Finals trips since the beginning of the new millennium.
The perennial contenders, however, look like they will tread unfamiliar waters in the coming seasons. The end of the Spurs’ Big 3 era and the departure of Kawhi Leonard certainly removed the Spurs’ cloak of invincibility.
A rebuild might just be in order for the most successful Texas-based squad to regain its dominance. Here are five moves that the Spurs should make to return to the top of the heap.
1. Keep Pop at all cost
Talks of retirement once again loomed for Gregg Popovich after his team was officially eliminated from playoff contention. But judging by this epic three-word response, it seems the 71-year-old coaching legend won’t be going away just yet:
Gregg Popovich on coaching next year: "Why wouldn't I?"
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) August 14, 2020
However, there has been some chatter about where Pop will be lending his coaching prowess next season. The Brooklyn Nets reportedly have desire to sign the five-time NBA champion coach, and perhaps they’ll throw big money at Pop this offseason.
Luckily for the Spurs, it seems that money doesn’t really motivate the soft-spoken tactician these days. The Spurs simply just need to keep him happy. Pop, after all, is the architect of the team’s winning system. He’s one of the main reasons the Spurs were so successful over the years.
It’s only fitting that when Popovich does decide to retire, it should be with the Spurs.
2. Adopt a faster pace
Pace and space have been all the rage in the league for years now, but the Spurs have typically been one of the more deliberate teams in the NBA. That started to change a bit this season.
With LaMarcus Aldridge missing the NBA restart due to injury, the Spurs picked up the pace significantly in Orlando. Their speedy guards ran amok on offense, pushing the tempo and moving the ball with precision.
For reference, the Spurs recorded an average pace of 101.14 over the course of the season. They bumped that number to 105.5 in the seeding games and posted an impressive offensive rating of 114.7. It’s no wonder they went 5-3 in the bubble.
3. Explore options with Aldridge and DeRozan
The Spurs might benefit more if they part ways with at least one of their two best players.
As talented and steady as Aldridge and DeRozan have been, they’re on the wrong side of 30 and have contributed to San Antonio’s recent defensive struggles.
The Spurs will have to play the waiting game on DeRozan, since he has until Oct. 13 to decide if he’ll pick up his player option or enter free agency. The salary cap could play a big role in his decision, depending on the effects of the pandemic.
Aldridge, on the other hand, will be entering the final year of his three-year deal with the Spurs in the 2020-21 campaign. Next season would be the perfect opportunity to trade LMA’s $24 million contract if the Spurs do wish to go that route.
Keeping at least one of these two All-Stars ensures the Spurs a veteran go-to scorer, just so they could stay competitive in the West. Or, they could blow the whole thing up by letting go of both and take in young players and valuable draft picks in return.
Re-sign Poeltl and White
In terms of ensuring the Spurs’ future, keeping Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl should be on the top of the list. White, who came as an unheralded late first-rounder in 2017, is another product of the Spurs’ effective development system. He avearged 11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 68 games this season.
White is still under contract though next season, but San Antonio would be wise to extend him early before his stock rises even more and he gets more lucrative offers elsewhere.
Poeltl, meanwhile, showed great promise inside the bubble and is a good insurance piece in the event they do part ways with Aldridge. The big man is set to hit restricted free agency this offseason, and the Spurs should keep him around.
The Spurs already made a major blunder by trading away Davis Bertans last offseason, and they should not make the same mistake with these two prospects.
Find that next franchise star
This one is much easier said than done since it involves a bit of luck. It’s no secret that the Spurs acquired the franchise’s two best stars through the draft, selecting both David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997) first overall. They also found hidden gems in late first-rounder Tony Parker (2001) and late second-round pick Manu Ginobili (2002).
Given their success in recent years, the Spurs haven’t had a top draft pick for a while who can alter the franchise’s fortunes. They might need to endure a couple of rebuilding seasons to get a high pick, or trade away some of their current assets in the coming years.