As much as Tim Duncan’s longevity, as much as the arrival of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs won their most recent championship with historic depth.
You have to go all the way back to the mid 1960s, when the Boston Celtics were in the midst of their run of 11 championships in 13 seasons, to find a team as balanced as the 2013-14 Spurs. Nine players averaged at least eight points per game. Seven had Player Efficiency Ratings of at least 15.0, weighted as measure’s absolute average. Five different players led them in scoring during the playoffs, capped by their 4-1 rout of the Miami Heat.
Two seasons removed the Spurs have taken a distinctly different tact, throwing a mountain of cash to lure four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge at the expense of Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes. It was a no-brainer, of course, especially as they were also able to retain Danny Green, who followed in the footsteps of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker before him and took less than he could have gotten elsewhere to remain a cog in Gregg Popovich’s machine.
They’re still loaded with what, on paper, looks like the game’s best frontcourt as well as a guard corps that could go at least four deep. But there are potentially damaging holes — backup center, backup small forward, backup point guard — should their chosen replacements not come through.
Baynes, who turned the corner last season to earn a free agent deal with Detroit, is replaced by Serbian center Boban Marjanovic. An absolute giant at 7-3 and 290 pounds, he had one of the most productive seasons for a center (16.6 points, 10.7 rebounds) in Euroleague history. He’s also a huge liability on defense and is coming off a foot injury that precluded his participation in EuroBasket 2015, which is why the Spurs were able to snap him up for cheap.
Joseph also left via free agency, returning home to Toronto, to necessitate the acquisition of Ray McCallum as the only pure point guard on the roster besides Parker. One immediately wonders how good McCallum can be given that the Kings, perennially desperate for talent, basically dumped him for nothing. Then you remember, it’s the Kings. Spurs GM R.C. Buford said his team graded McCallum as unattainable had he been a free agent this summer, so they’re obviously not scared off by his lack of 3-point prowess.
Similar to what they might have to do at center this season, the Spurs have cobbled together support behind Leonard over his career despite never having a clear-cut backup. It’s a quibbling deficiency, the type only really good teams with an overall abundance of talent can lament. But it would be a nice asset to have, especially if Leonard gets hit by the injury bug yet again. The pickings are slim, but D-League standout Jonathon Simmons showed intriguing potential during the Spurs’ championship run at the Las Vegas Summer League.
In the luxury category, the Spurs were thrilled to pick up a player they didn’t necessarily need but can absolutely used in veteran power forward David West. Toughness and experience are high on the list of qualities you can never have enough of. West brings and abundance of both, giving the Spurs a nice option alongside Boris Diaw in their frontcourt.
With Diaw, Ginobili and Patty Mills all back and looking to recover from subpar years, the makings for another quality bench are there. But, unlike years past, many of those makings will have to prove themselves.