Monday, July 28, 2008

Hoopsworld: There has to be more

By: Yannis Koutroupis Last Updated: 7/27/08 4:45 PM ET | 222 times read

As tough as the Western Conference was this past year, it may be even tougher come next season. At the top of it right now is still the Los Angeles Lakers, who represented the conference in the NBA Finals this past season, and have a healthy Andrew Bynum returning. Knowing that the Lakers are about to get one of the best big men in the league back, teams have looked to improve. Longtime conference powerhouse the San Antonio Spurs may be falling behind.

The Houston Rockets added some much needed shooting and depth to their roster, while the New Orleans Hornets picked up proven winner James Posey to help add some leadership to their young squad. The Blazers were already overflowing in young talent, but are close to drowning in it now with Jerryd Bayless, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez added to the fold.

The San Antonio Spurs have been fairly active themselves this summer. On draft night they tried hard to move their first round pick, but ended up going with George Hill from IUPUI to backup Tony Parker. Once they were allowed to talk to free agents the Spurs immediately went for a home run in Corey Maggette. Considering the difficulty the Spurs had scoring last season and their lack of depth Corey just made perfect sense. Unfortunately for San Antonio, Maggette took a five-year deal from the Golden State Warriors worth nearly double what the Spurs could have offered.

Rather than getting caught up in trying to get restricted free agent J.R. Smith, who they have coveted for years but had little chance to get this season, the Spurs lured Roger Mason away from the Washington Wizards. Mason is coming off of a career year with the Wizards in which he averaged nine points a game. From there the Spurs re-signed their own free agent Kurt Thomas in a smart move that became a necessity once Tiago Splitter, the Spurs' first round pick in 2007, signed an extension with his current team overseas. The last move the Spurs made was signing Anthony Tolliver from their summer league team. Tolliver is a 6'8 shooter from Creighton that has yet to suit up for a regular season NBA game.

Roger Mason, Kurt Thomas, and Anthony Tolliver are all good signings. All three players fit a need for the Spurs. Mason will certainly be a part of the rotation, and Thomas may start. Tolliver's role with the team may be minimal, but he's a guy who can hit shots off the bench. The only problem with these signings is that there doesn't appear to be anything else following them.

With the Spurs over the cap and being very wary of the luxury tax their hands are really tied in what they can do. Right now the only way for them to add another major piece would be through trade, but that's tough to envision. The only players that could warrant something in return for the Spurs are the Big Three (Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili), and they aren't going to break that up anytime soon. They also have very little to offer in expiring contracts.

Aside from a few more training camp signings and the possible return of Robert Horry and/or Michael Finley this may be the 2008-2009 San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili automatically make them contenders, but their health becomes more vital than ever this season. With Tim Duncan nearing the end of his prime and both Ginobili and Parker playing in the Olympics that is a scary thought.

In year's past we've been trying to figure out ways how the Spurs could not win the championship. This year though we may struggle to find ways they can win it all. The Western Conference has become too good and the Spurs have simply come back to the pack with their mediocre offseason.

The Spurs made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year before losing to the Lakers in five games. They nearly were eliminated the round before by the New Orleans Hornets, who gave them all they could handle in a seven-game series. Looking at how much better everyone has gotten, it's hard to like the Spurs chances to get that far again - unless of course there is more.

If the Spurs are going to continue this dynasty and be championship contenders, there has to be.

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