Gregg Popovich coached his team to the finals for the first time since 2007. So, how much does a squad just one win away from an NBA championship need to improve?
Exactly that. One playoff win better.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder were undoubtedly handicapped in the playoffs after losing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to injury, San Antonio proved it is a real contender once again.
Popovich will not be leaving the team, and the Spurs are not expected to be players on the trade market, so their offseason decisions consist of the draft and free agency.
San Antonio holds the 28th pick in the first round of the upcoming draft, and it is a spot very familiar to the team. International prospects Tony Parker (France, 2001) and Tiago Splitter (Brazil, 2007) were snagged as the third-to-last picks in their respective drafts by the Spurs.
Sure enough, a pair of international players, Livio Jean-Charles (SF, France) and Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil), seemingly fit the mold that San Antonio has often sought late in the first round.
Jean-Charles (6'9" tall, 7'2" wingspan) is a long, athletic small forward who can keep up with San Antonio's frantic yet controlled offensive pace and provide solid defense.
Nogueira, however, was taken in the 11-24 range of mock drafts from ESPN Insider (subscription required), Sporting News and NBADraft.net, so the Spurs would either have to trade up for the 7-footer or head in another direction.
Nate Wolters (PG, South Dakota State) is an interesting candidate because of his ball-handling skills—a topic we will discuss soon.
The Spurs also have the 58th selection, and if there is any pattern in mock drafts, it is that there is no pattern. Prospects such as Peyton Siva, Mike Muscala and Ryan Kelly go anywhere from late-first to undrafted, so who knows which players will actually be available near the end of the day.
Ultimately, the second round of the 2013 draft is a crapshoot, and the parity will cause problems for some teams. San Antonio has a history of taking risks in the second round anyway, though. Since 1999, only Manu Ginobili has made a memorable impact on the team after being a second-round pick with backup point guard Nando De Colo being the only possible potential exception.
San Antonio's best-case scenario for the 2013 draft is finding a combination of a ball-handler in relief of Parker, a versatile wingman and a top-notch rebounder.
Manu, Manu, Manu...what to do with you.
Ginobili was tasked with being the primary ball-handler while Parker was on the bench, but other than the brilliant Game 5 performance, Ginobili had a mediocre NBA Finals. Especially due to his 12 turnovers in two potential championship-clinching games, the future is murky-at-best for Manu.
The future Hall of Famer helps make up the core of the squad, but how much is a regressing and aging player worth?
Well, certainly not the $14.1 million he was paid in 2012-13, per Hoopsworld.
He does not appear to be a money-chaser, and it sure is difficult to imagine his surname on the back of another team's jersey. Expect Ginobili to be back in San Antonio, but at a heavily discounted price.
Tiago Splitter will be a restricted free agent, and the Spurs front office will not overpay for a simply decent player. With that being said, Splitter gives maximum effort (look, he got blocked by three different Heat defenders but continued to attack the rim, regardless) and is one of those mystery "only Popovich...*rolls eyes*" players.
Sharpshooter Gary Neal is also a restricted free agent, but he can be retained with a salary in the $1-2 million-per-season range.
End-of-the-bench point guard Patty Mills has a player option for next season, but he could conceivably return to his native Australia to continue his professional career. Boris Diaw also holds a player option for 2013-14, and the power forward "needs a few days to reflect," according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Fourth-year power forward DeJuan Blair poses an interesting predicament. When Splitter suffered a minor setback in the opening round of the playoffs, Blair stepped in, scored 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and did not commit a turnover over two games of work.
Blair is such a valuable asset on the Spurs bench, but he will probably head somewhere he can get playing time on a regular basis—and deservedly so. Popovich even called Blair a "true pro" despite seeing limited minutes, per Buck Harvey of Spurs Nation.
San Antonio should make a business decision and let him walk, but it definitely is not due to character issues or a lack of potential.
The Spurs have at least $22 million dollars to spend in free agency, and while resigning Ginobili would count against that number, the Spurs could make a somewhat under-the-radar push for Josh Smith or Paul Millsap.
Both players are offensive threats, capable rebounders and multidimensional defensive talents who grab some steals and block shots.
If Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford decide to pursue either Smith or Millsap, San Antonio could have an extremely talented and balanced starting rotation of Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Smith/Millsap.
Offseason decisions ultimately will determine whether San Antonio is built to earn that final victory in 2013-14. The Spurs do not have to change much, and Duncan, Parker and Leonard—the updated version of San Antonio's' "Big Three"—return next season leading the team's championship aspirations.
By drafting two system-oriented prospects, re-signing Ginobili on the cheap, keeping the majority of role players and maybe even adding Josh Smith or Paul Millsap, the team could be even better in 2013-14.
Granted, an NBA championship would not be a foregone conclusion since that Miami team still exists. But Popovich's Spurs did not shy away from the challenge in 2012-13 and nearly won the franchise's fifth title.
Hopefully next season—for the San Antonio faithful—is one that holds the crucial 16th playoff victory.
You know, just one win better.
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