The San Antonio Spurs appeared old and overmatched against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2009 playoffs. It was the first time a Tim Duncan-led team was ousted in the first round since 2000. That was the year Duncan was sidelined with an injury.
The 4-1 series loss to the Mavs could point to the fact that the Spurs were without guard Manu Ginobili, who has been hampered with ankle injuries the past two seasons. But the way the Mavs ran past the Spurs, it was obvious San Antonio needed a facelift.
So head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford went into the offseason with one thing in mind: Rebuild the roster.
It’s the same general philosophy Popovich had in mind when the Spurs were destroyed by the bigger, younger and faster Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 conference finals. The Spurs brass rebuilt the roster the next two offseasons, picking up defensive ace Bruce Bowen and drafting 19-year-old Tony Parker in the first round and hitting the jackpot with Ginobili in the second round. That trio basically replaced aging veterans Terry Porter, Steve Smith and Danny Ferry.
Bowen, Parker and Ginobili would become the core group that served as Duncan’s supporting cast that helped the Spurs win championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The first order of business this offseason was to get younger and more athletic in the frontcourt so the Spurs targeted versatile forward Richard Jefferson. The 6-foot-7 forward was acquired from the Bucks in exchange for Bowen and Kurt Thomas as part of a three-team deal that involved the Spurs, Bucks and Pistons.
Popovich knows Jefferson well from his stint with the 2004 Olympic team as an assistant for Larry Brown. Jefferson fits the player the Spurs want in their system, and he also brings plenty of experience having played on two New Jersey Nets teams that reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
“It’s huge. Puts some new blood in the team,” Parker said of Jefferson. “Obviously everyone is excited, the city and the organization. It was a big move. I think we needed it and Pop and R.C. made it happen. Guys like me, Manu and Timmy came to training excited because we’ve been playing with the same team for a long time so that’s nice.”
Jefferson can create his own shot (a career PPG of 17.7), something the Spurs desperately needs. His one-on-one game will help alleviate the pressure off Parker and his presence is an insurance policy in case Ginobili gets hurt again.
“I was the first step in getting quality players they really believe in,” Jefferson told NBA TV. “I think this is a situation where I kind of have to be the glue guy. They have their leading scorer, they have their post presence, they have their outside shooter. So for me, I come in and kind of give them whatever they need. But I’ve always played my best when I have other quality players around me, and I’m looking to continue that.”
Since 2003 when David Robinson retired, the Spurs have been searching for a dependable center to pair up with Duncan. Slow-footed slugs with zero offensive skills such as Rasho Nesterovic, Nazr Mohammed, Francisco Elson, Thomas and Fabricio Oberto have all tried and failed to fill The Admiral’s big shoes. This season, they might have found THAT GUY in Antonio McDyess.
McDyess is not only a stalwart on defense but he’s also a capable scorer. After a devastating knee injury forced McDyess to alter his game, he has developed a nice face-up game and is very comfortable floating to the elbows near the free throw line. This will allow more room for Duncan in the low block and if the double team comes, he can kick it out to McDyess.
Two young guys will be counted on to bolster an aging bench: second-year guard George Hill and rookie forward DeJuan Blair.
Hill will back up Parker at the point and can also slide over to shooting guard, giving the Spurs a two-PG look in the backcourt. Popovich thinks Hill can be a Bowen-type stopper on defense.
Blair was considered the steal of the 2009 draft as the Spurs got him the second round. At 6-7, 260-pounds, Blair is Malik Rose with better skills on offense. Expect to see Blair in the rotation as Popovich will continue to monitor Duncan’s minutes.
According to an NBA.com poll that surveyed NBA general managers, 71.2% said the Spurs made the best overall moves during the offseason. The Orlando Magic came in a distant second with 17.3% of the votes.
With the Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers grabbing all the headines during the offseason, the Spurs have quietly – but efficiently – retooled and reloaded their roster to make another run at a championship.