Even by the team's own standards, last year’s team was especially long in the tooth. Their average age, 31.6, was easily the highest in the NBA, the fifth time they’ve earned that honor in the past dozen years.
And the Spurs have obviously been excellent over that span, with three titles and many deep playoff runs between 2004 and today. But Duncan, Ginobili and Parker – once the younger members of those teams – were 39, 38 and 34 last year, respectively. Despite a historic regular season, their loss to a younger, more athletic Oklahoma City squad in the playoffs made the need for fresh legs all the more obvious.
Now Duncan is gone. So are David West, 36, and Boris Diaw, 34, with Matt Bonner, 36, likely out, as well. In are stopgaps Pau Gasol and David Lee, along with a number of unproven young guys (and at least three rookies) that Gregg Popovich will work into a group that includes 22-year-old Kyle Anderson and second-year guard Jonathon Simmons. The team will be four years younger next season, and it’ll likely be even younger in 2017-18.
Luckily, Kawhi Leonard had already been handed the keys to the franchise and LaMarcus Aldridge was signed to shoulder some of the load Duncan could no longer bear. With Gasol in the fold, Popovich has three go-to guys to carry the offense, while the next generation find their footing. Most teams undertake youth movements while bottoming out competitively. Not the Spurs. They’ll remain among the second tier of title contenders next season and, thus, have to be more agile in their efforts to bring up their young players.
2015 first-rounder Dejounte Murray will likely see extended time in the D-League. The athletic rookie oozes potential, but he’s still raw and somewhat position-less – people are still deciding if he’ll be better suited as a point guard or shooting guard. He may have his moments next season, but he wasn’t drafted to be a major contributor now, and there won’t be many backcourt minutes to go around anyway.
Other newcomers like center Dewayne Dedmon and forward Davis Bertans will be leaned on sooner. The Latvian Bertans brings an elite skill (three-point shooting) that should be serviceable from day one, while he slides between both forward positions. Dedmon may already be the best defensive big man on the team, but he’ll need to learn the Spurs system and keep his fouls down to stay on the floor. If he does, Popovich will be able to play a number of guys alongside him, whether it’s Aldridge, a defensively-weak player like Lee or Gasol, or a smaller guy like Bertans or Anderson.
With Diaw gone, Anderson may step into the role of the playmaking forward that can do a bit of everything. He’s spent the last two years earning his coach’s trust, and a minor breakout year isn’t out of the question.
It’s that versatility that makes this crop of young players intriguing. There may not be a future superstar among them but, that’s OK – for the first time in a while, Gregg Popovich has a number of guys to mold at once, and a less rigid team to ease them into.
In the meantime, fans may have their own adjusting to do, with next year’s Spurs playing a little more above the rim than usual.
For all the gloom that the Spurs’ offseason has produced, there is at least one silver lining: people can stop saying they’re too damn old.