Gregg Popovich found the right solution when he decided to fire head coach Bob Hill early in the 1996/97 season. Popovich, who was serving as San Antonio’s general manager and VP of basketball operations, named himself as coach, taking over a team that was crumbling under injuries to David Robinson, Sean Elliott and Chuck Person. The Spurs didn’t rally to make the playoffs that season, but they haven’t missed since.
Some lottery luck brought Tim Duncan to San Antonio and started one of the most remarkable runs of success in North American sports. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili later became important components of a team that was among the NBA’s best for nearly two decades. Even after all the stars were gone, the Spurs continued to win, extending their playoff streak to 22 games last season, tied for the longest ever with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers, who did it from 1950 to 1971.
Keeping that tradition alive seems to get tougher every year. In the Western Conference, where nearly all the contenders made a flashy summer move, DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles were the Spurs’ most significant offseason additions. They join a veteran-laden lineup built around LaMarcus Aldridge (34), Rudy Gay (32) and DeMar DeRozan (30). The team’s best hope for improvement lies in Dejounte Murray‘s return from a torn right ACL and continued progress from Lonnie Walker and Derrick White.
Playoff spots will be at a premium in the West this year, and many seemed sewed up before the season starts. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should keep the Clippers in the postseason, while the Lakers are likely to join them after trading for Anthony Davis. The Warriors will have a different look after five years at the top, but they still have an All-Star backcourt, plus Klay Thompson is expected to return sometime before the playoffs.
The Nuggets, Jazz and Trail Blazers all look strong in the Northwest, and the Rockets should also get in with a pair of MVP guards. That’s seven spots already locked up without considering other potential contenders such as the Pelicans, Mavericks, Thunder, Timberwolves and Kings.
Popovich believes in his system and has shown an ability to adapt and get the most from his players. However, surviving the Western Conference gauntlet and stretching the playoff streak to 23 might be his greatest coaching challenge yet.
We want to get your opinion. Do you see the Spurs as a playoff team, or is this the year the streak finally ends? Please leave your responses in the space below.