Expectations. Never before had the expectations for the San Antonio Spurs been so high. The feeling around the Alamo city was championship or bust, and rightfully so. The Spurs had one of their best offseason in recent memory, and it seemed like nothing, except the Los Angeles Lakers, could derail the Silver and Black train from returning to the NBA Finals. All of these expectations, of course, started on June 23, 2009, when the Spurs acquired Richard Jefferson from the Milwaukee Bucks for Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas and Spurs favorite Bruce Bowen.
To say we Spurs fans were excited when the Jefferson deal went through is an understatement. Spurs G.M. R.C. Buford had done it again, bringing in a career 17 points, 5 rebounds a game guy, with the ability to work off the dribble and defend. Taking on his huge contract showed the entire league, we can still contend for a ring, no matter how old the media says we are. Christmas came early to the City of San Antonio.
However, the "Jefferson Experiment" didn’t turn out like we all had hoped. This season, Jefferson had his lowest points per game average since his rookie season in New Jersey with 12.3 points per contest. It seemed at times Jefferson was just unwilling to take over when we needed him to. He would shy away from wide open shots, and never appeared to be comfortable when he was on the court. And the season, much like the Jefferson trade, didn’t turn out like we Spurs fans had anticipated.
This season had more ups and downs then a drive through the Texas Hill Country. The Spurs had three-three game losing streaks. Unheard of in the Tim Duncan era. They also lost back-to-back games four times this season. And even when the Spurs play great basketball and beat the Thunder, Lakers, Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic in a two week span, they lose to the one of the worst NBA teams of all-time, the New Jersey Nets. But the Spurs did have their share of winning streaks. They had two-five game winning streaks, as well as three-four game winning streaks.
Injuries played a huge role in the Spurs inconsistencies throughout the season. It seemed like every Spurs player dealt with some kind of injury or sickness, and because of the injuries, the Spurs second unit ended up being a revolving door for D-League players. Malik Hairston and Garrett Temple are just two of what seemed like hundreds of D-League players that played for the Spurs this season. However, one bright spot shined through all the injuries, and his name is George Hill.
The second year guard from Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana had a breakout season averaging 12.4 points a game. His commitment to both ends of the court made him coach Gregg Popovich’s new favorite player, and he has quickly become a fan favorite in San Antonio. Hill played extremely well starting for the injured Tony Parker, leaving some to think the Spurs should continue to start him in the playoffs. But Hill’s not the only young gun make a name for himself in a Silver and Black jersey.
Enter the rookie straight out of Pittsburg, DeJuan Blair. Once projected as a lottery pick, Blair fell out of the first round and into the lap of Buford who was salivating at the thought of landing such a physical player. Blair fit into Pop’s system right away, showing a natural ability for crashing the glass. Blair averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebound per contest this season, including 2.4 offensive boards a game. On January 13, he was the first rookie since, wait for it, Tim Duncan to have a 20/20 game with 28 points and 21 rebounds. He was the only player to suit for all 82 games this season.
One question, that seemed to plague the Spurs all season long, was about the future of Manu Ginobili with the San Antonio Spurs. Well that question was answered with a three year, nearly 38.9 million dollar contract extension. Ginobili is averaging 16.5 points and nearly five assist a game this season. His body appears to be at full strength and he is back to playing "Manu" basketball. He recently dropped 43 points on one of the better defensive teams in the league, the Orlando Magic.
Scoring, for once, is not the problem with this Spurs roster. Last season, there were stretches where it seemed like the Spurs couldn’t buy a bucket. But this season the Spurs are putting up points, and lots of them. They are averaging over 100 points a game for the first time since the ’95-’96 season under coach Bob Hill. But it’s their defense, the thing they take their most pride in, that has been in question all season long. For the first time since the disastrous ’96-’97 season, the Spurs aren’t ranked in the top five in defense.
This article, however, is only a recap of the first season. We Spurs purist know that the first season is just a warm up to get ready for the second season; the Playoffs. This might be the first time we are on the bottom half of the playoff bracket since Timmy joined, but believe this, the Spurs, like the City of San Antonio, will never give in without a fight. They will continue to give us, the Spurs fans, everything they have. And maybe, just maybe, they can pull off the unthinkable.