Manu Ginobili's Back Problems an Ominous Sign for Aging San Antonio Spurs

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 04:  Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the hoop against Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on June 4, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It seems like players have been dropping like flies before the season starts and the injury bug has bitten yet again, this time taking out the San Antonio Spurs' longtime sixth man, Manu Ginobili, for San Antonio's season opener in New Orleans with an ailing back.

Obviously, this doesn't have much impact on the game at hand. San Antonio can probably go on the road and clean up in New Orleans before it comes home and opens the season in the AT&T Center.

There's a big, ominous cloud hanging over the injury, however, that hearkens to the concern we've had with the Spurs for the past three seasons at the very least. The core of San Antonio is old, and it's older by leaps and bounds than that of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers

San Antonio definitely has a few really good young players, punctuated by Kawhi Leonard, but its three best guys are all at least 30 years old. At least Boston has a 26-year-old Rajon Rondo and Los Angeles has a 26-year-old Dwight Howard.

It's easy to hear the eyes rolling from halfway across the country—that's right, I can hear 'em. Quiet your eyes down, people. San Antonio won 50 games last year in a season that was only 66 games long, making it 13 seasons in a row with at least 50 wins.

The thing that's impossible to argue, however, is that injuries have been at the front of Gregg Popovich's mind for the past two seasons.

Last year, Pop spent the entire season basically giving up on games (and still winning some) if the Spurs were in the third portion of a back-to-back-to-back or even just leaving older guys at home if they took a quick one-game road trip. The idea was to alleviate the wear and tear on the bodies to save them all for the playoffs, and for the most part it worked.

A problem arises, though, when trying the same type of thing with a full season. It's slightly more spread out, so it won't be as extreme an impact on the players night after night, but instead of the regular season lasting five months, it's now stretched back out to a seven-month marathon.

Three things seem to come to mind and worry me about this team thanks to the Ginobili back injury.

First, there was the Spurs' surprising loss to the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2011 playoffs thanks in part to the injury to Tony Parker. He played the entire series, but he wasn't all there. He couldn't hit a three, he had silly turnovers and he just wasn't as good out on the floor.

The problem there isn't that Parker is injury-prone, because he isn't. It's that this team relies on him quite a bit. If he runs into injury problems near the end of the season, it's hard to imagine San Antonio going deep into the playoffs.

Going further, Tim Duncan isn't really an injury-prone guy, he's just old and his game shows it. There are still games where he puts up big numbers, sure, but just watching him you can see his feet slowing down and you can hear his bones creaking.

What worries me this season is that the best teams in the West—your Lakers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Clippers and even Nuggets—have great depth in the frontcourt. The West is scattered with big, strong centers and power forwards, most of whom will tax Duncan all season long as he remains the primary defensive stopper at the Spurs' rim.

Beyond that is the nature of Ginobili's injury. If a player pulls something in his back or ruptures something, it's usually due to an extreme amount of torsion put on a guy's back, requiring surgery. What Ginobili seems to have is a back that spasms extremely often, and for a guy that twists his way around the lane, back problems don't exactly contribute well to his game.

The most concerning thing about his injury has to be Popovich's comments about Ginobili (per Spurs Nation): "He still feels his back. He tried to get on the court today and he couldn’t do it.” 

If he can't even practice at this point, it's going to be hard for him to last a full 82 games this year.