Look, I'm going to take a lot of flak for this one, because you're never supposed to doubt the Spurs, or Gregg Popovich, or R.C. Buford, or the culture of selflessness and mystique surrounding San Antonio. But here I am, doubting.
Because for what seems like the umpteenth time, the Spurs are in a precarious position heading into the next NBA season; they are neither title favourites nor are they lottery-bound denizens of the deep. For any other team, with a similar roster and without the benefit of the doubt afforded by countless years of winning, making the playoffs next year would essentially be a coin toss.
Many expect San Antonio to sneak into the playoffs once again this year, presumably as the loaded Western Conference's 8-seed, extending their ludicrous streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 23. I count myself as a skeptic, and not without good reason. While the star duo of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge carries plenty of name value, the reality is that the Spurs' two best players are ill-suited to today's NBA. Last season, they sported three-point shooting percentages of 16% and 24%, respectively. Neither player has a career mark above 30%.
In a league where the three-point shot dominates offensive sets, the Spurs are worryingly ill-equipped to navigate their way to a playoff-calibre offense. While the return of Dejounte Murray should excite Spurs fans, he is still early on in his development curve, and will have to re-adjust to game speed before continuing to make advances in his progress. Counting on him to make a leap in his first season back from serious injury would be a mistake.
While Derrick White showed plenty in last year's playoffs against the Denver Nuggets, locking down Jamal Murray defensively at times while operating the offense with aplomb, it remains to be seen if he can translate his mini-leap into a significant contribution over the course of an entire season. Lonnie Walker IV remains a tantalizing prospect who requires plenty more non-garbage time reps to sharpen his skills.
The young core in San Antonia sports plenty of potential, but it does not seem quite ready to accept the season-long responsibility of contention in a loaded Western Conference. With the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, and New Orleans Pelicans all likely to be nipping at San Antonio's heels for the 8-seed this year, what has San Antonio done to stem the tide of their reloaded and significantly improved competition? They added DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles.
In other words: not nearly enough. Popovich will have to author a coaching masterpiece just to get this squad within sniffing distance of the postseason. The talent disparity between the Spurs and their nearest competitors simply grew too much this offseason. Expect them to put up a fight, but to fade down the stretch as the Western Conference playoff picture solidifies.