The San Antonio Spurs are still in the hunt for a playoff spot at Disney, but the odds aren't exactly in their favor. Before even considering the teams that they'll need to jump in the standings just to get a shot at a play-in for the No. 8 seed, the Spurs have to contend with the absence of perhaps their best player. LaMarcus Aldridge underwent shoulder surgery during the hiatus and is now out for the rest of the season. A team that was already nine games below .500 is now without 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Critics have been counting out the Spurs for years. So far, they've all been wrong. San Antonio's path to the playoffs is precarious, but not quite impossible. How will they get there? Below are the players they'll be relying on in Orlando, the teams standing in their way, and the storylines surrounding their pursuit of the Western Conference's final playoff slot.
- Marco Belinelli
- DeMar DeRozan
- Drew Eubanks (two-way player)
- Bryn Forbes
- Rudy Gay
- Keldon Johnson
- Trey Lyles
- Chimezie Metu
- Patty Mills
- Dejounte Murray
- Jakob Poeltl
- Luka Samanic
- Lonnie Walker IV
- Quinndary Weatherspoon (two-way player)
- Derrick White
- Tyler Zeller (signed during transaction window)
Players sitting out: LaMarcus Aldridge
All times eastern
- July 31 vs. Sacramento Kings, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 2 vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 4 p.m.
- Aug. 3 vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 5 vs. Denver Nuggets, 4 p.m.
- Aug. 7 vs. Utah Jazz, 1 p.m.
- Aug. 9 vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 3 p.m. (ABC)
- Aug. 11 vs. Houston Rockets, 2 p.m. (NBATV)
- Aug. 13 vs. Utah Jazz, TBD
The last stand: San Antonio has not missed the playoffs this century. The Spurs have reached the postseason 22 years in a row, the longest active playoff streak in North American professional sports, but face an uphill battle in keeping that streak alive. They currently trail three teams -- the Pelicans, Kings and Trail Blazers -- for the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, and even if they pass all three and trigger a play-in against the No. 8 seed (currently the Memphis Grizzlies), they would have to beat that team twice in a row to get in. Oh, and they'll have to do all of this without their best player, Aldridge. The odds are decidedly stacked against San Antonio in Orlando. The end might finally have arrived for the NBA's decades-long model of consistency.
The youth movement: With Aldridge out, the Spurs are down to only two rostered players who played with Tim Duncan (Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli). Belinelli will be a free agent this offseason. Aldridge and Mills expire after next season. DeMar DeRozan has a player option for next year, and is reportedly unhappy with the Spurs. In the very near future, this team is likely to look like very different, and that is going to be reflected in its roster in Orlando. With Aldridge out, four of the remaining seven Spurs that played 1,000 or more minutes this season are 26 or younger. Aldridge's minutes are likely to be filled by 24-year-olds Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl. As teams likely dig deeper into their bench at Disney, rookie first-round picks Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson may finally see real NBA action. With slim playoff hopes, there has never been a better time for the Spurs to fully embrace their future.
The successor: No restrictions have yet been announced for any coach in Orlando, but any steps taken to protect the health of older coaches could impact the 71-year-old Gregg Popovich. Whether he is prevented from coaching games or simply restricted from certain elements of doing so, it is safe to assume that San Antonio's assistant coaches will be taking on a bit more responsibility at Disney, which will inevitably lead to speculation about Popovich's eventual replacement. Becky Hammon earned heir apparent status when former top assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina departed during the offseason, but it was Duncan that replaced Popovich for a March game that he had to miss to attend to personal business. There is no telling when Popovich plans to retire or who he plans to tap as his successor, but all eyes will likely be on his assistants as the Spurs try to claw their way back into the postseason.