There is a lot of talk around the league right now about the San Antonio Spurs. They have a huge few weeks coming up, that could go as far as deciding the future of their franchise. Their star player Kawhi Leonard may or may not return this season, with reports over the past few days being really contradictive. The one thing we can take from that, is simply that no one knows what is going to happen.
One thing is for sure though, Leonard has been in New York, asking for second opinions on his injury. If he felt ready to come back, would he do that? If he wanted to come back, would he do that?
Just what exactly is going on here, and does the whole situation throw a dark cloud over the team as they prepare for their toughest stretch of the season from here until the end of the season.
We may never get to the bottom of the problems surrounding Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, but that is not the main issue they face right now. They have the remainder of this season to contend with, and whether Leonard does or does not play any part in it, the Spurs look to be in trouble and potentially taking a slide down the Western Conference standings.
There are three reasons that the Spurs are going to slide down the Western Conference, and here they are.
#3 NBA Scheduling Has Put Them in a Tough Spot
When you look at the NBA schedule, some teams have it easier, while some have it tough. This can change from year to year but takes into account back to back games, long road trips and how the schedule looks at the back end of the season.
When you look at what the Spurs have to come, they have not been handed the best deal from the league, they have it very, very tough between now and the rest of the season.
Let’s first take a look at the back to backs the Spurs have left, which is two. The number is fine, and any club would be happy to have just two back to backs remaining on the season. However, the makeup of those back to backs potentially makes it a lot more difficult for the Spurs to win two games that they should win. The face the Magic at home and the Lakers away from home in the second game on those two back to backs. Those are two games that they should be winning, and if they are to finish high up in the Western Conference standings then they have to win them.
However, these two are going to be tricky tests for the Spurs, after tough opening games against the Rockets and Clippers opening those two back to back series’.
Now let’s look at who they have to play.
On Thursday, March 8, the Spurs travel to face Golden State. This game puts them at a stage where they have 18 games remaining on the season. Of those 18 games, 15 of them are against teams who are either in the playoffs right now, or who are right on the edge of the playoffs. That is 15 hugely important games for both teams and ones that are effectively playoff-like battles. Four of those games also come against either Golden State or Houston, two teams that have been dominant so far this season.
The scheduling this season really has put the Spurs in a tough spot going forward, and with the way they have played recently, they are going to do very well to hold their own and come out with a winning record from their last 18 games.
#2 Big Games are When Your Stars Show Up
When a big game arrives, the likes of Steph Curry and LeBron James come to play. That is what star players do for the franchises they play for. We have just seen from the upcoming schedule that in just a few days from now, the Spurs enter a hugely important, and extremely tough part of the season.
This is when they need Kawhi Leonard the most, and where is he right now? Does anyone actually know? More importantly perhaps, where is his head right now? Does he want to play basketball for the Spurs?
I am more than happy to agree that players get injured from time to time, and that will affect their team’s chances going forward if that player is an important one. However, with Kawhi Leonard it all seems a little different to me. We have seen him play just nine games so far this season, which of course has hurt the Spurs, and their ability to contend in the west. However, has this also done damage to the teams for other reasons, and is there more to this story than meets the eye?
The official line on the Leonard injury is that he has been cleared to return, but has since been to New York to see more doctors and get a second opinion. He has told his teammates that he will be back sometime in the future, but no date has been agreed.
The first thing that strikes me is this if Kawhi Leonard felt fit enough to play, and he wanted to play, then why would he go asking for second opinions, seemingly looking for an excuse to not play?
Even if there is no truth here, and Leonard genuinely does want to play as soon as possible to help his team, doesn’t the fact he is going for second opinions send the wrong message to his teammates?
They are clearly in need of help right now, the doctor has said he can play, but now Leonard goes to see another doctor.
Surely, the entire organization is behind Kawhi right now, but the longer he continues to get further opinions and the longer this stretches on, the more damage it will do to the morale of the team.
At a time when the Spurs need to dig deep and concentrate on what is a huge run for them, the last thing they need is fractions appearing in the cam and a dislike towards their best player.
#1 Do The Spurs Have a Genuine Ambition to Succeed?
Do the Spurs genuinely want to succeed? Do they have the right ambition to do so, and make all the right moves to continually improve upon what they have, pulling themselves closer to Golden State? I’m not so sure myself.
The Spurs have never been associated with making deadline day moves in the past, and them not making one this season came as no surprise to their fans. However, if there was a time to break tradition then this season was the one.
They had an opportunity to solve a short-term problem, and also the chance to make themselves a better basketball team in the future when Leonard returns. They didn’t take advantage of that opportunity though, showing a distinct lack of ambition.
When we were at the deadline, both Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay were missing for the Spurs, they had no real star and leader on the team. It is hoped that both are back for the playoffs, and if that assumption is correct then making a deal at the deadline would have really helped their chances.
The first thing that deal would have done would be to ensure they finished 3rd or 4th in the standings, giving them home court advantage in the opening round against what is likely to be a tricky opponent.
It would have also guaranteed them avoiding the big two in the opening round, and while that may seem far-fetched right now, there is a chance that the Spurs slip down to 7th or maybe even 8th if things go badly for them.
The second thing the deal does is it gets the fans on side and it gives them hope. Imagine seeing the Spurs play well with their new recruit, and then thinking about how good the Spurs would be when Leonard and Gay return to the lineup, Leonard especially. There would be optimism around the camp, which is much better than the feeling they have right now, which is simply intriguing and a big question mark.
I’m not saying the Spurs would have won the Championship, but had they brought in a guy like Kemba Walker, they would certainly have contended more than what they will do without him. He was not the only good player available, there were more and the Spurs yet again did not deal at the deadline.
A helping hand for Kawhi Leonard, assuming he does come back this season, would have given the Spurs a fighting chance in the playoffs. However, right now they are staring down the barrel of a hugely important and tough stretch of games between now and the end of the season. That stretch could potentially push them down into the bottom four of the Western Conference playoff seeding’s, losing home court advantage, and potentially if things go really bad, forcing them to play the Rockets or the Warriors around early.