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Lottery Bound?

I just got back from watching my kids’ basketball team get beat. I have to say, with as terrible as my kids are, it is the most entertaining thing I have ever seen. Surprisingly, it is fun to watch people run around on the court without a clue of what they are supposed to be doing; as long as they are six years old. Unfortunately, I am not so entertained by what I see on the court with the San Antonio Spurs. Over the last 13 years the Spurs have been the most successful sports franchise, amassing 700 wins and winning nearly 70% of their games. They have out-performed even the greatest franchises in every sport including the L.A. Lakers, baseball’s Yankees, hockey’s Redwings, and the NFL’s Broncos. I have tried to resist the notion that the Spurs may not be the team of years past, and despite all of my desperate clinging to fading greatness, they have done nothing to convince me otherwise. In the last five games we have only squeaked out 2 wins, while shooting 42% from the field and only 32% from downtown. The clichĂ© may hold true “every good thing must come to an end.” So, has the Spurs’ run finally ended?

When the season began, we were not only a playoff team, but a serious contender for the championship. Now, we have not only slipped out of contention, but we are teetering on the edge, balancing uncomfortably in 7th place in the West, just one game ahead of the resilient Trailblazers. I have long held the belief, for a sports franchise to continue being great, they must choose at some point to forego immediate success and build for the future while they are still viable. The Spurs took some steps this summer to begin that process when they acquired Richard Jefferson, but in light of this year’s disappointments, did little to continue the process before the trade deadline. With several teams salivating at the 2010 free agent class, there were plenty of motivated sellers giving us an opportunity to land younger talent or even better draft selections. In classic Spurs style we made no splashes at the deadline, but this is not our classic Spurs situation. Even though opportunity passed us by, there are plenty of chances for redemption over the next couple of years.

The Spurs rebuilding opportunities may begin with the unthinkable, missing the playoffs and landing in the lottery. As I highlighted in my “Goodbye Spurs” article, the Spurs have an extremely difficult second half this season, paired with the poor performance and nagging injuries, combine to make a perfect recipe for disaster. This decline has been imminent for several years beginning with our franchise best 63-19 season in 2005 until now. Early last decade the highly favored Lakers were in a similar situation, inconsistent play, leading to stressed prime time egos, and culminating with Shaq being shipped off to Miami. The Lakers fell from 56 to 34 wins from 2003 to 2004. Leading to a series of risks and changes that have brought them back to the top of the league, beginning with drafting a high schooler named Andrew Bynum, then in 2007 acquiring Gasol and Ariza, propelling them back into contention. This is our first rodeo in San Antonio either. In 1996 injuries and poor play, led the Spurs to our lottery miracle, subsequently landing us the best power forward of all time. If we don’t make the playoffs, at least, we can have a decent first round pick. Allowing us to pair that pick with another player and possibly trade for another star or a higher lottery pick to pursue a new franchise player through the draft.

The Spurs will not be major players in the 2010 free agent pool, but we have several quality players with expiring contracts coming up the following season. Do not underestimate the power of a massive expiring contract to a team wanting to make some moves in 2011 when players like Al Horford, Carmelo Anthony, and David West. Kevin Durant, and Tony Parker are all prizes any up and coming team would cherish. Between 2010 and 2011, the Spurs have 10 of their 14 players reaching the end of their contracts. We could see a much more conservative R.C. Buford, possibly paving the way for a big 2011 summer bringing us back to the top. If the Spurs do not believe they will be major players in the 2011 free agent pool, we could make some moves with a sign and trade, dealing draft picks, or moving expiring contracts.

The next three years could be a trying time for this franchise and the fans, but a little patience would be prudent. I’m not waiving the white flag of surrender, and believe me, I would prefer to see a miraculous turn around this year, but if the signs are right, and our season is all but over, there is a silver lining. Much like the Lakers rapid rebuild from 2004-2006, we too could find ourselves leading the West once again and fighting for another championship in just a few years. Maybe we are not lottery bound this year, but whether we like it or not our stars are getting older and the rebuilding process is closer than we think.


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