Ousted in as short a time as possible, floundering in the final minutes of what would inevitably become a game four loss, with more of a chance than they deserved, the totality of the Spurs' loss was more apparent than the Suns' victory.
It was a fitting end, I told a friend and fellow Spurs fan after the game. Being swept is disappointing, infuriating even, but at this point no one should be surprised. It seems almost appropriate that the most inept season we've seen from the Spurs in recent memory should end with a resounding loss.
The totality of the Spurs' loss is apparent. No one can make excuses, no one can try and defend what happened. When the Spurs started the season slow we said it was a bad start to the season. When they were still struggling mid-season we said it was a slump. When they were still struggling late season, we set our sights on the playoffs. One first round upset sparked a flicker of hope, and ignited a memory of what was once considered a dynasty. Four games later reality didn't set it – it punched hope of another upset in the face.
The Spurs were not playing like a mediocre team, they were a mediocre team. Even Manu Ginobili admitted the same when he said "Everybody could tell it wasn't enough. That we were not ever, probably, a championship-caliber team." We were close. But we never made it to that level."
Too often people deal only in the way things should be, not the way they really are. The Spurs should be a title contending team; Richard Jefferson was supposed to fit, the big three were supposed to be healthy all season; the chemistry was supposed to click by mid-season. All of those things were supposed to happen, but they didn't.
You can argue all you want to the contrary, but the current Spurs team can't get past the second round. The Spurs should be a title contending team, but they're not, and until the organization accepts this fully, the necessary progress can't be made.
Changes need to be made. This team isn't built to win a title, and adding one or two more pieces, like in the case of the Jefferson's addition, isn't going to fix that. The team needs an overhaul from the core out. If "rebuilding" is the word you want to use, than use it, but I don't think a team should resign itself to losing for three years in the name of getting better. The Spurs can change personnel, get better, and win in one season, but it will require drastic changes.
Richard Jefferson (12.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.0 APG)
He didn't work out, and while we all acknowledge he's a good guy and a damn fine talent, it's better for everyone that he moves on this off-season. His stint with the Spurs has clearly hurt his stock as a player, and I'm sure he wants to be placed in a system where he can excel as much as the Spurs want a player who fits their schemes better. With the freed up cap space from his departure, the Spurs should pursue a suitable replacement on the wing that is more defensively oriented.
Roger Mason (6.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Move him, now. He's under performing, and simultaneously developing an inflated view of himself. Despite what he might tell himself, he's a product of the system, and he's interchangeable with a number of similarly gifted players. Even if he were playing better, his attitude and desired salary wouldn't be worth the 12-15 points per game (max) he'd be getting.
Manu Ginobili (16.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.9 APG)
Trade him. I know we all rejoiced at the signing of his contract extension, but the amount of value – potentially long term – far outweighs the benefit of having Manu play between injuries for the next three years. He's 32-years-old in a body that's taken more damage than a 40-year-old. When healthy, he's a top tier talent, and therefore the trade value can still be considerable. If we knew he was going to play all the time in those three years, I'd feel differently, but he'll only end up playing in half of those games. The chance to get a high potential prospect or a high value veteran is too much to pass up.
Tony Parker (16.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 5.7 APG)
Parker had a down year last year, primarily due to injury. I'm all for keeping him around as a staple of the franchise, but if we can acquire maximum value for him a trade (top five positionally), we have the depth at PG to move him and balance out the roster. As highly as I regard Parker, there's a potential clog building at lead guard, and a deficiency in the front court. If the Spurs can get a high potential prospect, or already All-Star level front court player to start grooming as a Duncan replacement, they should absolutely capitalize. They shouldn't just be open to this idea, they should be actively shopping it.
George Hill (12.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.9 APG)
Hill has tremendous upside. I've already expressed that I think he's a flight risk to go elsewhere, make more bank, and be the starting PG full time. The only way the Spurs can keep him is to invest him. As long as you pay him, and ensure he has, at minimum, a Leandro Barbosa-type role, I can see Hill staying. Long term, however, I think you get the most out of moving Parker, and featuring Hill at lead guard. The Spurs can trade Parker, get massive value, and only take a minimal loss at the position. Hill is smart, tough, and fearless. He has all the necessary attributes to be a successful starting point guard on a winning team. The Spurs should sign him up for another two or three seasons at a decent rate, to see if he's really worth a big contract, and if he works out, give him his big payday to secure him long term.
Tim Duncan (17.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 APG)
Duncan is still the most important player on the Spurs, it may not be that way for the duration of his career, but for now it's still true. He'll operate in whatever capacity he's asked to, in whatever serves the team best, and for that reason more than anything he's indispensable. He can't carry a team for 82 games anymore, but with the right pieces around him he is still a suitable nucleus. He'll need more and more help in the front court as he continues to age, but for now he still anchors the paint for the Spurs. Not that they would ever consider it, but the Spurs would be crazy to move Duncan.
Gregg Popovich (50 wins and 32 losses)
Coach Pop has been the architect of the franchise, and produced four NBA championships. He has one of the highest winning percentages in pro sports. He's successfully groomed upcoming stars, drafted sleeper prospects, and phased out aging veterans, all seamlessly for the past decade. Pop is in the all time upper echelon of basketball coaches; he is on Hoop Mount Rushmore with Wooden, Auerbach, and Jackson. Even when I've questioned or criticized Pop, I've been wrong. He's proven me, and countless other writers, wrong on several occasions. There's a a part of me that's wants to question how much he still wants to be coaching; part of me wonders if his flippant attitude is starting to become indifference. Then I remember how many times he's proved me wrong. If things continue the way they did this past season, then yes, we might have to start questioning Pop as both a coach, and GM. For now, however, he's earned the right for us all to keep our mouths shut.