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Spurs Losing Woes Continue After All-Star Break

Season 51, Game 60
San Antonio 119, Denver 122
35-25, 3rd in the West

Something is rotten in San Antonio.

In all my years cheering for this team, I’ve never seen a situation quite like this. I’m sure everybody reading this has the same experience.

What in the heck is going on with Kawhi Leonard?

Speculation abounds; and not far behind speculation is accusation. Knowing so little, I’m loathe to do either. What we do know is that Kawhi’s injury is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and we know very little about its genesis or long-term prognosis; he is medically cleared to play; he doesn’t feel ready to play.

Everything after that is not publicly known. Pop gave a press conference last week saying he wouldn’t be surprised is Kawhi doesn’t come back. But that seemed aimed directly for Kawhi’s ears, not ours. Kawhi’s camp–when it does speak–denies any friction between the player and the organization, while new stories comes out every other day refuting that claim.

Kawhi has given no public statement in over a month. The Spurs organization seems unusually leaky, given their reputation for Cold War-era spy obfuscation.

And every day, Spurs fans freak out more and more.

Seriously, we’re not built for this. We are spoiled. We’ve had nearly 30 years of unparalleled success on and off the court.

I feel helpless as a fan. I want badly for Kawhi to come back and everything to be OK. But it certainly doesn’t seem like that will happen.

This has spilled over to my perception of the on-court product. The team is playing poorly, and it’s hard not to correlate the two. (Logically, I know it’s unlikely one affects the other so strongly, but emotionally it’s hard to deny.) Take away Kawhi, and the team is a star (LaMarcus Aldridge, who is a star but not a superstar) with a good but not great supporting cast of players too late in their career or too early in it.

Throw in the Kawhi drama, and it looks even worse.

The Spurs are 1-4 on the Rodeo Road Trip, easily the worst mark on the iconic annual trip. They have one game left against a rejuvenated Cleveland team, with a real chance to go 1-5 on the trip. They’ve lost 4 games in a row, and 6 of their last 7.

Continuing the 50-win streak is almost an impossibility at this point given how poor they’ve been playing and the difficulty of their remaining schedule (the hardest in the league). Beyond that, it’s a very real possibility that the team could finish in the bottom half of the West playoffs. Or, perhaps even out of the playoffs, a scenario completely unimaginable to the team and fans alike.

The team is able to remain competitive in most games, but is lacking that crispness and execution to finish most of them off. There is no rhythm, no cohesion, no collective will.

It is hard to watch, and even harder to enjoy.

Even more difficult, the drama unfolding off the court has most of our attention, as every day we wait for some break in the Kawhi story, some sign or tell that all is right in our sequestered and spoiled corner of sports fandom.

I don’t know when that sign will come, and if it does, that it can save this season.

Something is rotten in San Antonio.

The Spurs finish off the Rodeo Road Trip in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.

Go Spurs Go.

Depleted Spurs Lose Close Game in Utah

Season 51, Game 58
San Antonio 99, Utah 101
35-23, 3rd in the West

If you strip away the manner in which the team lost, this game actually should be encouraging. (We’ll emphasize the should be for now, as there is no encouragement in Spurs-land these days.)

Down their three best scorers playing the hottest team in the league on their own floor, this game had the makings of a blowout. Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge–who did not play–the team’s most consistent players have been a 40-year old and the #30 draft pick from a few years ago with the nickname “SloMo”.

This doesn’t inspire confidence. And yet, the team fought hard (as they typically do), and had a 13-point lead early in the 4th quarter. But continuing the trend of the last few months, the Spurs just can’t seem to have nice things. The Jazz are like the less flashy version of the Spurs (is that even possible?), and they executed just a bit crisper, shot just a bit better, and got slightly better production from their role players, eking out a 2-point victory.

The Jazz should have won. I can’t stress this enough: the Spurs did not have their three best scorers. They started the game already down like 60 points of regular scoring. The Jazz are playing amazing right now, and probably have superior talent at most positions.

Yet the loss still stung. The game felt like a chance to turn the season around. Instead, it was just another stall out in a season full of false starts, dashed hopes, and diminishing returns.

Since December 12th, the Spurs are 16-15, a .500 team. That’s 31 games, well over half the season. In that 2-month span, they have a net rating of +2.4. This is still 8th in the NBA, but decidedly not excellent. The team’s offensive rating in this time is 104.5, 23rd in the league, behind such offensive luminaries like the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, and Chicago Bulls.

That’s the problem: for most of the season, the team has been decidedly average, missing their best player, and suffering through a rash of injuries and absences from their other players. There has been no extended streak of health or rhythm, no chance to actually engage in the season. It’s been months long battle of attrition.

It’s been wearing on the team and its fans. I’m ready for the All-Star break. And I’m sure most of the Spurs are, too.

First, though, the team must complete what might be the most difficult back-to-back in the league: Utah and Denver on consecutive nights. That’s insane. The Spurs should not win on Tuesday night, but here’s hoping they do to provide some glimmer of hope heading into the extended break.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs End Homestand With Dispiriting Loss to Jazz

Season 51, Game 55
San Antonio 111, Utah 120
34-21, 3rd in the West

The Spurs are in a funk.

An extended funk that seems to have no particular rhyme or reason. Sure, there’s a bit of drama swirling around the team. But the funk started before that. Yes, the team hasn’t been fully healthy all season, but the Spurs have overcome that particular obstacle just fine in the past.

For the better part of two months, the Spurs have basically been a .500 team. It’s time to start thinking that just might be who they are.

Kawhi Leonard is not playing. Kawhi Leonard is the team’s best player. Kawhi Leonard is probably one of the five best players in the league. When you think about it in those terms, it’s easy to see why the team should be exactly average. Then you think about the roster: a couple of late first rounders, a couple of second rounders, a couple of D-leaguers, a bunch of late-late career veterans, some nice role players, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Is it surprising the team is average? Strip away the jersey, the mythos, and the culture. This is a team that should be average.

It’s hard for Spurs’ fans to accept, but it’s true.

The Spurs just played 5 games in a row at home. A “normal” Spurs team should have finished that stand 4-1. This team went 2-3, losing bookend games (Philadelphia and Utah) that they could’ve (should’ve?) won.

The offense has been a mess. Saturday against Utah, the defense was asleep. The Jazz shot 36 (!!) free throws, as they were always one to two steps ahead of the Spurs’ defense. If it wasn’t a wide open look at the rim or behind the 3-point line, the Spurs’ defender was fouling the Utah player, likely because they were moved out of position by the Jazz offense. Utah has a way of making the Spurs look bad, regardless of the team’s record. This is a feisty Jazz team. Still, the Spurs should have been ready to play, and they weren’t.

Did I mention that Jazz played the night before in Phoenix and didn’t arrive in San Antonio until about 5am Saturday morning? And yet they completely outplayed and outexecuted a rested Spurs team playing their 5th game in a row at home.

The Spurs are in a funk, and I’m not sure what solves it, besides the obvious answer. But even the return of Kawhi Leonard brings its own set of questions and concerns.

As it stands, the team is going to have to attempt to figure it out on the road, as they embark on their annual Rodeo Road Trip (RRT), not returning home again until the last day of February. Oddly, though, the RRT is only 6 games played over the span of 19 days, with a long 10-day hiatus over the All-Star break.

Hopefully they can figure some things out this month.

The RRT kicks off Wednesday night in Phoenix.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 26

Go Spurs Go!

LaMarcus All-Star

Season 51, Game 53
San Antonio 106, Denver 104
34-19, 3rd in the West

Well, that was a fun game. The Spurs finished survived a last second heave by the Denver Nuggets and held on to win their 34th game of the season. By all accounts, this game was great TV. It had dunks, three balls, Manu Ginobili playing like Manu Ginobili, technical fouls and for a large part of the game, some pretty bad defense.

The Spurs put up 60 points in a first half where Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay sat in street clothes again. LaMarcus Aldridge was nothing short of dominant in the first 24 minutes, carrying 20 points into intermission. LaMarcus All-Star. He was matched up with Nikola Jokic for most of the night, with a few mouth-watering mismatches against Trey Lyles sprinkled in. While the 22-year-old Serbian has incredible vision and a super bright future, Jokic apparently is not very good at defending All-Stars from San Antonio.

In fairness, not many people have been this year.

LaMarcus has accepted the responsibility of being this team’s best player and last night was no exception. He was miles away the best player on the court and exploited the mismatches presented to him by a scrapping and entertaining Nuggets team. We probably don’t need to get into too many analytics of his game, but for kicks and giggles, let’s summarize it in a sentence. LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points in 38 minutes on 14 of 23 shots.

It’s no James Harden, but that’s pretty good.

If we were to nitpick his game, it would be in the area of rebounding, as he finished with only five. That would be concerning, except for the fact that DeJounte Murray had 13 rebounds. I mean, when you get that kind of rebounding effort from your 20-year-old point guard, you can accept five from your power forward.

Speaking of Sweet Honey DeJounte, was this game made for him or what? He really thrives in track meets against teams like the Denver Nuggets. Denver is in a bit of a holding pattern, having stopped their downward spiral, but not quite mature enough to begin their upward climb to being a good team. So they run…a lot. And they are athletic. I’m pretty sure Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley and Will Barton have pogo sticks for femurs. They were all over the place, but so was DeJounte. He thrives in these types of games.

And so does Kyle Anderson.

It’s no secret that he’s slower than molasses in February, but as Sean Elliot mentioned numerous times, just when you think he’s in jail and about to turn the ball over, his YMCA old man game kicks in and he leaves us all chuckling to ourselves. Kyle finished with a career high in scoring, notching 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also played 34 minutes, which is evidence that he is getting the full Kawhi shift. And he deserves it. He won’t get the award, but Kyle Anderson should be a candidate for Most Improved Player this year.

Lastly, the Spurs would not have won this game tonight without Manu Ginobili. I’ve run out of things to say about him. He defies logic. It can be an around the back pass to Davis Bertans, or a rainbow three pointer, or a block on Trey Lyles in the fourth quarter, but Manu is going to compete and he’s going to entertain in the process.

I realize that there are a lot of people who have mixed reviews about the way Pop has handle the Kawhi situation. That may be fair. But no one is talking about how Pop has managed a bench unit with two Hall of Famer’s on it. Tony Parker, reunited with his old running mate, is thriving on the bench. He and Manu look like they are having fun. They typically hover around 20 minutes of playing time, but they get a different group of talent, they get a different wave of game flow, and most of all, they are probably working with the best chemistry on the team.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but if I were managing the Spurs Spanish Play-by-Play broadcast crew, I’d throw every dollar I own at Manu Ginobili after he retires and hope he becomes the Spanish version of Sean Elliot on the sideline. Pair him with Paul Casto. I forget how much of a global icon he actually is. His value goes beyond basketball and his charisma mixed with his basketball acumen would make him a fabulous color commentator for Spurs En Espanol.
Kudos Pop. Kudos Tony. And Manu, Forever.

A quick thought on Kawhi Leonard…

There are rumors. And it’s up to you to choose what to believe. It’s one thing to believe Michael C. Wright and Adrian Wojnarowkski, but please don’t believe anything Stephen A. Smith says and tread lightly with Jalen Rose (believe me instead, I am way more credible!). The latest I’ve heard as recently as this weekend is “discord” is too strong of a word. Kawhi is not angry and doesn’t want to leave. But there has been a bit of strain on the relationship due to the injury.

Apparently, the Spurs felt Kawhi was ready to go. But Kawhi, who is young and has an entire career ahead of him, including the potential for a super max contract and maybe one more after that, is concerned about the possibility of reinjuring himself. So Kawhi, sought an additional opinion, outside of team doctors, which makes the Spurs scratch their head, and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year felt he should take a few more weeks to recover.

Honestly, this makes sense, and is completely fair for Kawhi to feel that way. Like it or not, the NBA is a very different league in 2018 than it was when David Robinson played. Players now have bigger contracts at stake, but more so they have brands to maintain. Kawhi has a brand and frankly, the brand of Kawhi is in its infant stages.

Jordan Brand took a risk and signed Kawhi Leonard to their line a few years back. That comes with a huge amount of pressure, as I am sure LaMarcus can attest (also signed with Jordan). With big name players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler signed with Jordan, Kawhi has a standard he has to meet. He also has his personal brand he must continue to develop which carries with it endorsements and commercials and basketball camps and public appearances.

Kawhi does have a responsibility to the Spurs, but the Spurs also have a responsibility to Kawhi. The NBA is a player’s league. Significantly more so than the NFL, but not nearly as much as the MLB. But since David Stern moved out of the office, Adam Silver has shown his intention to allow this type of behavior for players and rightly so. The Spurs are just slower in realizing that than most teams.

And Kawhi really just fell in their lap. So they are learning on the fly too. As a fan, you can question his millennial-type behavior. I think it’s even understandable to question his toughness a bit. But if we are going to do those things, we can only do so with the understanding that this league is changed since 1999 and Kawhi Leonard is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, a super star in the best basketball league on the planet, save Lithuania’s D-League.

Kawhi deserves the chance to heal, physically and mentally. Missing 73 games out of 82 is a small price to pay for him being in the right state of mind when that super max contract is ready to be signed. This team is probably not winning a championship anyways. And God forbid the Spurs lose Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency, the odds of getting another player in the draft are few and far between. He presents you with an incredible player offensively and defensively, but he also attracts other talent. He’s bait. So give him what he wants. WHATEVER HE WANTS. If he wants to sit out the whole year, let him sit.

I still think he and Rudy Gay return after the All-Star break and the Spurs win 23 of their last 25 games or so and everything will be fine, but what do I know.

Spurs draw the short stick and get to be the first team to play James Harden after he dropped a ridiculous 60 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Magic. The Rockets are about four games ahead of the Spurs in the standings, so even though the standings won’t change much, Thursdays I-10 matchup should be a treat for everyone.

Go Spurs Go.

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