It has already started and given how close the San Antonio Spurs were to winning their fifth title, given the age of their stars and the growing powers in the Western Conference, I cannot say I completely blame anyone writing off the San Antonio Spurs.
It makes sense. It is hard to imagine this Spurs team making this run again. But how much will next year's team look like this year's team?
The Spurs summer plans hinge on a couple of things.
First, Manu Ginobili needs to decide if he is coming back for another season. While the Spurs have somewhere in the neighborhood of $18-$20 million in cap space, Ginobili's $19 million cap hold eats into virtually all of it. If he comes back it will likely be at a very reasonable price and really, I cannot imagine him playing elsewhere.
The next factor is Tiago Splitter. He is a restricted free agent and became an integral part of the Spurs' system this season. His salary cap hold is $7.4 million and his qualifying offer is $4.9 million. The question is will he re-sign for a deal close to that qualifying offer or will he get blown away with an offer from another team ala Omer Asik and the Houston Rockets last year.
Let's assume the Spurs re-sign Splitter and Ginobili for $12 million combined and do not bring back DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal. That would leave about $5 million in cap space to play with. They can get farther under if they buyout the final year of Matt Bonner's $4 million contract.
So there is room for improvement both internally and externally. Internally, Kawhi Leonard showed he is on his way to being one of the best small forwards in the league. Former player Rex Chapman tweeted Leonard is on his way to becoming Scottie Pippen-like. In the words of Andy Samberg playing Nicolas Cage on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, "That's high praise."
Externally, there are some free agents they can go after to get better.
The first two names that come to mind are Andre Iguodala and Paul Milsap. Getting Iggy might take more than $9 million a year, so a sign and trade might need to be worked out. But having Iguodala and Leonard on the wings would make life difficult for every other wing duo in the NBA. He is also excellent finishing at the rim and would make a great secondary ball handler to Tony Parker.
Milsap would beef up a front line that, despite Splitter's improvement, remains inconsistent after Duncan. Milsap is nothing, if not consistent. His ability to step out to 20 feet and hit a jumper means he can play with both Duncan and Splitter.
Tony Parker is coming off an All-NBA Second Team, Tim Duncan an All-NBA First Team. Kawhi Leonard is an emerging star.
Just feels tough to write off a team that is built around that core and has the best coach on the planet. Should be the favorites in the West? Maybe not, but you're crazy if you write them off.