The Trail Blazers, running in place, are making a clear commitment to rebuilding. The Mavericks, acknowledging their second-tier existence, recognize it is time to reload. The Spurs, being the Spurs, went beyond both.
The most respected franchise in the league took a loaded team and simultaneously rebuilt and reloaded, as the Lakers once made a habit of doing.
That sound you hear in the Bay Area is screaming, considerable quaking at the thought of facing the New Spurs and an entire franchise running away in terror.
By essentially trading Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes for LaMarcus Aldridge and David West – while also retaining Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green – the Spurs engineered the most impressive first week of July in NBA history. It’s enough to make them favorites not only to win the Western Conference but also to bring another championship to San Antonio.
It means the Spurs are bigger and stronger and that they are now rolling toward the defending champion Warriors. It also means Warriors-Spurs in the postseason would be immensely captivating theater.
The Spurs have handed the baton to Aldridge, who in 2016 or 2017 will inherit it from big man Tim Duncan, who in 2003 inherited it from big man David Robinson. Acquiring Aldridge is a resounding statement, suggesting another four to six years of virtue and distinction in San Antonio.
And, yet, the Warriors ought to be right with them. They’ll have to devise ways to conquer the league’s latest Dream Team, but the Spurs also will have to contend with the Warriors and their various permutations.
Here are three reasons why the Warriors won’t necessarily pass the trophy to San Antonio.
1) The Spurs should be superb on offense but will face many challenges on defense
Aldridge and West are fine players with strong mid-range offensive games. Both can make jump shots, and Aldridge is a powerful presence on the low block.
Though Aldridge is a terrific rebounder, he’s not a good defender. West, whose rebounding numbers have diminished in each of the past three seasons, is not as nimble as he once was.
Neither has ever made an All-Defensive Team, first or second unit, and they’re not about to start. They’re running out of chances. Aldridge turns 30 this month, West hits 35 in August. For what it’s worth, Duncan, always a marvelous defender, turns 40 next April.
It’s tough to see this group keeping up with the racehorse Warriors. Leonard, despite his tremendous gifts, can’t guard everybody.
2) The Warriors still have the best backcourt in the NBA
The argument against this, weak entering last season, has been blown completely off the debate floor. Curry is unique marvel, burying 30-foot jumpers as easily as 3-foot floaters high off the glass. No backcourt player has as varied a deadly arsenal.
The Spurs have no answer for Curry. And if San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich were to turn to Leonard, then who takes Klay Thompson? Green is good, but not that good.
Meanwhile, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker’s body has become a victim of hard driving and high mileage. Only 39-year-old Andre Miller among point guards has played more minutes. And when you factor in postseason floor time, it’s a very narrow gap between the two.
3) A bit of meaningful math works in favor of the Warriors
One of the many philosophies under which the Warriors operate on offense is that three points always beats two.
The Spurs will lose Belinelli, who won the 3-point shootout during All-Star Weekend in 2014. It’s unlikely that Matt Bonner, 35, another long-range specialist, will return. It’ll be up to Parker and Green to carry the load, with Leonard occasionally spotting up. That won’t be enough.
No team is going to beat the Warriors shooting 2-pointers while struggling to contain their 3-point shooters.
Look, none of this is to suggest the Warriors can waltz past the Spurs. I always was convinced the Warriors would have taken out the Spurs had they met in the 2015 playoffs. The Warriors had more speed and agility by a wide margin. They would have ousted the Spurs in five or six games.
Now, though, with the New Spurs, it’s hard to imagine anything less than seven.
Should these teams meet next May, it will be a series to remember. We’d have, in all probability, Aldridge entering as Duncan fades out. Manu Ginobili and West making one last stand. Parker trying to coax one more title out of his resistant legs. Leonard and Green keeping pace with Curry and Thompson.
The Warriors, firing treys and playing ferocious defense and daring Aldridge to prove he can deliver in the clutch, will welcome the battle.