To preview the Mavericks game against the Spurs on Saturday, we've brought in Josh Guyer, part of a deep team of writers who cover San Antonio exhaustively at SB Nation's Pounding The Rock, for a Q&A.
1) What are the expectations in San Antonio for this season?
Having this season shortened due to the lock out, the Spurs mentality was to continue improving where we left off and stay healthy. The Spurs got bounced in the first round by a vicious Memphis Grizzlies team that was an exact mold of Spurs-kryptonite. Everything the Grizzlies did, the Spurs had no answer to. The Spurs had an incredible regular season last year and sort of fizzled out. Not to mention the fact that our key player, Manu Ginobili had injured his arm in the last game of the season (we found out later Manu's arm was actually broken). The squad the Spurs had consisted of last year could have made it very far, if not won it all, last year. No team in the league gave the Spurs a problem--that is, again, until our players were hurt.
2) The Spurs interior defense was exposed by the Memphis front-line in the playoffs last season. Is there any reason to expect things to be different this year?
Going back into the 2010-2011 season, the Spurs tied the regular season series against the Grizzlies. In the games the Spurs lost, they did not have one of the key three players in the game. When the Spurs were healthy, we didn't have too much of an issue being undersized. DeJuan Blair is an extremely agile "mini" big-man. Tiago Splitter has added offense to his (already impressive) game. And we can't forget Tim Duncan, who has looked surprisingly spry this season. Beyond the big-men, we have another defensive juggernaut in Kawhi Leonard, a stretch 2/3 forward with arms as long as anything we've seen before. Oh, and Manu's back.
3) How many more years do you think Tim Duncan has left?
At the end of this year, Tim Duncan's contract will retire. That isn't to say he will stop playing basketball, though. I have a feeling that if the Spurs win it all this year, he will retire, ala David Robinson. In any other situation, with roster moves we have recently made, I can see us signing Duncan to a one-year salary at less than $10 million.
4) Talk a little about Cory Joseph. As a UT alum, I was really surprised when he went pro last year and even more surprised when he was able to get a first-round contract.
Cory Joseph is one of those types of players where you think to yourself, "Of course the Spurs would sign him". You get that feeling from him because you know he's a hard worker, he's smart, and he learns quickly. Having said that though, I think Joseph is a little too raw for the NBA, which is why he hasn't found a permanent slot in the Spurs rotation. Joseph has had a few stints in the NBA D-League affiliate Austin Toros. If Joseph wasn't a first round pick, I could see the Spurs encouraging him to play overseas and we'd re-evaluate his skill set in a few years (which is very typical Spurs protocol). Since he's here though, he's learning a lot from the veterans and coaches. I see him being an amazing second string guard in a couple of years.
I've got to be honest with you, none of us in Spurs-nation saw this coming. In a very PATFO (Pop And The Front Office) way, they successfully realigned the franchise going forward. Non-Spur fans will look at this trade at face value and say, "Jefferson was the better shooter" or even "they were essentially the same player". Both of these assumptions are correct, but are missing the overall point. Stephen Jackson brings all of the same assets Richard Jefferson had, but Jackson also brings a mental toughness--an edge, if you'd like-- to the Spurs. Jefferson never brought an edge, and seemed fragile. Jackson isn't afraid, and won't be afraid to step up in big situations.