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San Antonio Spurs Preview - Spur of the Moment

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sas.gifSan Antonio Spurs - Spur of the Moment
Last Year’s Record: 58-24
Key Losses: James White, Jackie Butler, Luis Scola
Key Additions: Ime Udoka, Marcus Williams, Ian Mahinmi, Vassilis Spanoulis

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
San Antonio really made two moves, signing Ime Udoka and trading Jackie Butler and Luis Scola for Vassilis Spanoulis. These moves were intertwined because the Spurs couldn’t have signed Udoka without making trading Butler and Scola for Spanoulis, whose contract came off the books.

Spurs fans can cry all they want about the loss of Scola. Boo-hoo. Scola was never going to play for the Spurs and Butler had not cracked the rotation yet. Face it, Pop had no long term plans for either player. There weren’t many options available to lower their salary, which was their goal, so they made the best trade available. Hopefully Scola doesn’t become a Spurs-Killer, but the move is understandable when you consider the front office’s goal.

Udoka should add depth and youth, if you can consider 29 young. He is supposed to be a good defender with a three point shot who fought to find a place in the league. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? He is touted as Bowen’s replacement and should allow Bowen to rest more this year, helping to prolong his career.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Experience. They were supposed to be too old and too slow last year to compete with Dallas and Phoenix, but experience and chemistry brought the Spurs their fourth championship. The core of the team has been together for three championships and they understand how to win better than any other team. They proved last year that if Pop manages their minutes right, they can play with anybody come playoff time.

Two other key strengths are versatility and defense. San Antonio has shown time and time again that it doesn’t matter what speed they play at because they can do it all. Twice in the past three years they have beaten Phoenix at its own game by opening their offense up and letting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili work in the open court. They are also the best defensive team in the league. No team has crisper rotations or an understanding of team defense. Every player knows exactly where he needs to be at all times. They showed this in slowing down Lebron James, who came into the Finals on fire.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
It is no secret that the Spurs are card-carrying members of the AARP. Tim Duncan is 31, Manu Ginobili is 30, Fabricio Oberto is 32 and those are the young guys. Brent Barry will turn 36 in December. Michael Finley will turn 35 in March. Bruce Bowen turned 36 over the summer. Then there is Robert Horry at 37.

Last year the Spurs managed to avoid any major injuries by managing the minutes of the starters. Pop realizes that the team doesn’t need the top seed in the playoffs to win and they would waste too much energy trying to win to beat out Dallas and Phoenix anyways. But how long will their luck last? Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have all avoided serious injuries over the years. Duncan battled plantar fasciitis two seasons ago, but only missed two games. Ginobili has had his fair share of minor injuries, but nothing serious. Parker has also been reliable, averaging 79 games a year. Eventually one of the older players will get hurt. Pop will once again have to monitor minutes closely and give certain players (cough…Horry and Barry…cough) plenty of time off if the depth, experience and chemistry this team has developed are to carry them again.

4. What are the goals of this team?
Anything short of a championship would be a disappointment. With the Big Three and the usual role players, they should be the favorites to win. Dallas and Phoenix will pose the biggest threat, with Houston, Boston, Detroit and maybe Chicago proving potential threats as well.

This is an even year and the Spurs seem to only win titles in the odd seasons (99, 03, 05, 07), so they want to win back-to-back titles. This is the only thing preventing unanimous consensus on San Antonio’s position as a dynasty.

5. If the goal is to win a championship, will they?
As the defending champs, they have to be favored to repeat. The front office didn’t make many offseason moves, but stood pat and brought back Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn. The only real addition is Ime Udoka, who is another role player coming off the bench.

Last year the Spurs were lucky that Golden State upset Dallas in the first round. Ever since the 2005-06 Western Conference Semifinals, it feels like the Mavs have the mental edge on the Spurs. The other real threat is Phoenix. However, Phoenix might have lost some ground on the Spurs by trading Kurt Thomas away. He defends Duncan infinitely better than Amare Stoudemire can. Without him, Stoudemire wears himself out guarding Duncan and picking up fouls, thus taking him out of the Suns offense.

It is impossible to predict with any certainty what team will win the championship. Too much is dependent on playoff draws, injuries and what team is hot at the end of the season. I think there are a handful of teams with a legitimate shot at the title: San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. I would bet almost anything that this year’s champ came from these seven, and most likely from San Antonio, Dallas or Phoenix.

It is hard to pick among those teams, but I like the Spurs chances because of their experience. This team has won multiple titles and won’t collapse the way Dallas has and they are in Phoenix’s heads after eliminating them twice. That is why I think the Spurs will repeat this year.

Predicted Record: 57-25
Like last year, either Dallas or Phoenix will storm ahead and win something like 65 games while the Spurs hang back and let them go. Pop is fond of the metaphor that it isn’t the first blow to the rock that breaks it, but the hundredth. The Spurs will rest during the year, making sure they have a good seed but not necessarily the top seed, and turn the switch on after the All-Star break. It is a tried and true method for them. Last year they won 58 games, so I think 57 is a reasonable number.