The defending champion San Antonio Spurs are gone from the playoffs. After a cruel twist of fate that saw them face the Los Angeles Clippers in a first-round series that felt like a title bout, they’ve experienced their earliest exit in years.
Coach Gregg Popovich knows that the premature end to their season isn’t necessarily a referendum on the state of his team, but he also knows that change is an inevitable phenomenon. With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green all facing free agency — and with Tim, Tony Parker and Manu all still getting closer to retirement — a shakeup in the Spurs’ nucleus seems like a real possibility.
Monday, Popovich said the team ''will probably look considerably different.” San Antonio is rumored to covet Texas native and Portland Trail Blazers superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, who has shown something less than exuberance toward the prospect of staying in Oregon lately. The Spurs could also make a run at Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol, though he appears less likely to leave his team.
The franchise’s No. 1 priority, in any event, would appear to be transition. Retaining Leonard seems like their top job this summer, but how they supplement the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year as they head into a new era is a question of grand proportions. Aldridge or another big-name recruit could pair with him for the new iteration of Spurs supremacy, but Popovich and his staff could of course also find their next killer where no one else is looking, as they’re wont to do.
Duncan was a clear top overall pick in the 1997 draft, but Ginobili and Parker were plucked from international obscurity as the 57th and 28th picks, respectively. The last time the Spurs made a particularly splashy move on the free agent market was… never. Don’t be surprised if their makeover comes not from contract fireworks in July, but from more unseen places.
— John Wilmes