Friday night, the San Antonio Spurs were not in action on the court, but they still made noise in the Association.
As first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Spurs acquired free-agent guard Kevin Martin, who was recently bought out by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Spurs were able to outmaneuver the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks for the services of Martin, according to Stein. For the Spurs, the signing of Martin is just another way to say that they are here to compete with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
When the 2015 postseason ended for the Spurs in Game 7 of the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers, it left a bitter taste in their mouths. They knew they had let another opportunity slip away to make a title run, with time running out on the careers of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Fast forward to this past offseason: The Spurs knew that if they wanted to compete with the Warriors, they needed to get younger and add offensive firepower.
R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich did just that. In free agency, they convinced forward LaMarcus Aldridge to come to San Antonio. Aldridge signed a four-year, $84 million deal to take over the power forward position when Duncan retires.
This season, Aldridge is playing the best basketball of his career, despite his scoring being down. He is averaging 17.1 points per game but shooting a career-high 50.1 percent from the field. Aldridge has not shot 50 percent from the field since the 2011-’12 season. Finally, he is shooting a career-best 84.7 percent from the free throw line.
That wasn’t the only move the Spurs made in the offseason. They also re-signed Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, who were influential in the Spurs’ championship run in 2013-’14 and represent the next generation of the franchise. Then, San Antonio added David West, which shocked many fans around the league because he only signed for a two-year deal worth $3 million. The 35-year-old veteran was a pillar in the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup for many years, bringing not only offense but toughness.
This season, West has been effective, averaging 6.8 points, shooting 56.2 percent from the field, while grabbing 3.9 rebounds in only 17 minutes per game. West has been a key cog on the Spurs’ second unit, which is what you need when you face a Warriors team that can go 12 deep on any given night.
With all the moves the Spurs made this offseason and in light of how they started the season, everyone was waiting for their matchup against the Warriors on January 25, the 38-6 challengers traveling to Oakland to take on the 41-4 champions.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, they ran into a buzz saw that night, as the Warriors cruised to a 120-90 victory. San Antonio did not have an answer for Golden State. Stephen Curry went off for 37 points, and the Spurs turned the ball over 25 times. The feeling around the NBA was that if the Spurs can’t beat the Warriors, then Golden State will cruise to another NBA Finals appearance.
“Not so fast my friend,” as ESPN’s Lee Corso would say.
Since the Spurs lost by 30 points on that January night, they have been on an absolute tear, with a record of 14-2 in their last 16 games. Just this week alone, San Antonio showed both the Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans that they aren’t finished yet… and that Kawhi Leonard is establishing the standard of an elite player.
Against the Pelicans, Leonard proved that his offensive game has reached new heights. He finished with 30 points, including 6-of-10 from the three-point range, and 11 rebounds. In that game, the Spurs ran their offense through Leonard and it was a beautiful thing to watch.
Now, with 21 games to go, the San Antonio Spurs are reloading for the playoff push. Last weekend, they signed veteran point guard Andre Miller. This week, they added Martin. Despite playing in only 39 games this season and averaging 10.6 points per game, Martin gives the Spurs another scorer off the bench.
Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News added this tidbit on the signing of Martin.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) March 5, 2016
For the Spurs, it is all about reloading to keep up with the Warriors. Luckily in two weeks on March 19, we will see how far they have come when they take on the Warriors at 8:30 pm Eastern time on ABC. That game should be special and will tell us a lot about both teams. Then in April, as the Warriors try to complete their quest of 72-10, the two teams will play twice to wrap up the regular season.
By that time, the stakes may not be as high for the Spurs, but it will be a good challenge for them. They know that the road to the NBA Finals goes through Golden State.