The mightiest beast sits atop the Western throne, an already historical force who only grew in strength and title glory with the signing of Kevin Durant. Yes, I’m talking about the Golden State Warriors. But the quest for Western supremacy remains a battle, perhaps more so, as other teams attempt to claim the top spot that many assume belongs to one team.
Chris Paul flocked to James Harden and the Houston Rockets with playoff success on his mind. That pairing could become a devastating offensive factor. In spite of a quiet offseason, the San Antonio Spurs remain a massive threat to conquer the conference. They will be hungry following the hand they were dealt last season in the form of a Kawhi Leonard injury.
It doesn’t end there. Paul George joined the conference after Oklahoma City shocked the NBA with an admirably excellent move. Jimmy Butler all of a sudden has the Minnesota Timberwolves appearing to be a quality squad. With new stars entering the conference and every team circling the Warriors on its schedule, the West will provide fascinating drama all season.
Let’s break it down with takes from Tyler Birss and Mike Cortez of H&H.
How would you assess the surprisingly quiet offseason of the Spurs and do they still remain the West’s biggest threat to Golden State?
Some might read this question and think the following – the Spurs got Rudy Gay this offseason, how was it quiet? I am one of the few willing to question the Gay/San Antonio fit. Almost anything Gregg Popovich signs off should be deemed as intelligent, he’s earned that respect, but I’m not sold on a volume-scorer with the tendency to struggle on defense fitting in beautifully with the team-oriented San Antonio style. With the Warriors maintaining its core, Houston landing Chris Paul, and OKC trading for Paul George, the Spurs offseason has been quiet from a purely comparative standpoint.
Patty Mills was brought back, a signing many loved. Well, Mills is a solid and serviceable backup point guard and spot-starter, but he was underwhelming in last year’s playoffs. He and Tony Parker aren’t the most reliable PG tandem given the struggles of Mills in major moments and the age of Parker. Jonathon Simmons, an underrated/versatile player, was lost to the Orlando Magic. And most importantly, LaMarcus Aldridge remains on the roster. It baffles me that people would look at a roster containing Aldridge plus Gay and reach the conclusion that everything will be seamless.
Again, Popovich is a legend and the Spurs are always successful, by Aldridge doesn’t fit in with this team. There have been constant rumblings about him wanting to leave or San Antonio wanting to deal him. His presence remaining on the roster is a blemish on this offseason. If Gay is the biggest offseason prize, that’s a concern given his questionable contributions to team chemistry and helping the greater good succeed.
Furthermore, Pau Gasol was annihilated defensively in last year’s playoffs, a player they brought back, and it’s unclear how much Manu Ginobili has in the tank. In spite of his earned respect and admiration from fans, San Antonio would benefit more from Simmons staying and Ginobili retiring. Blasphemous, I know. What’s worse is the Spurs failing to land either Paul or Kyrie Irving, two possible (even if unlikely) moves that were rumored.
That all sounds heavily negative. That’s because I would give the Spurs a D for its offseason. I strongly dislike letting Simmons walk, and I don’t support the signing of some of the veterans San Antonio opted to bring back. Giving Gasol more than a one-year deal was truly baffling. Nevertheless, part of this question asks if the Spurs are the biggest threat to the Warriors. The answer is yes. The West is all of a sudden soft in the middle and average near the bottom. So no team is going to skyrocket and pass the Spurs. Regarding Houston, I have to see Paul/James Harden play together before making a determination on its chances to surpass San Antonio.
As the West currently sits, the Spurs did have a surprisingly poor offseason, but a great overall unit commanded by a masterful coach gives them the best chance to knock off the Warriors. I still feel that the Warriors would have beaten the Spurs in last year’s West Finals even without Kawhi Leonard’s injury, but let us not forget, the roster that has mostly stayed intact was up big in Game 1 on Golden State’s home floor before that unfortunate event. No other West team presented Golden State with a similar challenge.
While true, as the Aldridge dysfunction grows and numerous SA veterans continue to age, there’s no guarantee that the young and superior Warriors squad will provide the opening that they did in last year’s Game 1. Leonard’s injury shut the door, but perhaps the door was bound to close anyway. The Spurs offseason was a stinker – that doesn’t change the likelihood of them being the two-seed in the West and at least giving Golden State a run. I have opted to criticize the Spurs while also respecting the threat that lives in the organization’s DNA.
It was Spursian. The Spurs are the wolf organization of the league. They rarely look outside for help and when they do it’s usually a small piece. The one time they really chased a big free agent was a few seasons ago when they signed LaMarcus Aldridge. We all know how that has turned out (Spurs fans probably wish a neuralyzer was a real thing). That experience has triggered a return to normalcy with R.C. Buford more interested in building around his star than looking to form a superteam.
This offseason they signed Rudy Gay to a modest two-year deal to help take some of the load off Kawhi Leonard on both sides of the floor. The other moves were mainly keeping the core together – Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, and Pau Gasol all re-signed – once again leaning on Kawhi to be the cornerstone Tim Duncan was for so many years before. Had Russell Westbrook and James Harden not been so good last year Kawhi would have gotten the recognition he rightfully deserved.
Remove Kawhi from the team last year and the remains probably win 30 to 35 games max, especially out West. They won 61 games last year. Kawhi quietly morphed into an offensive force, becoming that guy Gregg Popovich can trust with the ball down one in a tight spot. But is that enough to take on the Warriors? Of course not.
No one can touch a healthy Warriors team, we have established that. However, if you are going to beat them you better have one of the five best guys in the league. The Spurs have that in Kawhi. With him running around the floor like an android the sum of parts around him look considerably better. Aside from LeBron James, Kawhi is the only guy who can slow down Kevin Durant (there is no stopping KD, let’s be real). If KD is slowed down it puts pressure on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to hit their shots.
That is why the Warriors were having issues in Game 1 of last year’s Western Conference Finals. The Rockets or Thunder may possess more firepower on offense, but neither have the guy that can remove Durant from the game. In order to cut the Warriors’ head off you need the best wing defender in the league. The Spurs have that guy and that is why they will always be the biggest threat. Anything they add to Kawhi just further strengthens them.