San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich acknowledged on Friday that changes need to be made. The 67-win Spurs lost 4-2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a second-round upset that seemed shocking, but revealed real flaws. This offseason, they could lose Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to retirement, and they are hoping that they will be able to improve regardless. Let's look at what the Spurs might do in the summer.
Priority 1: Go for another splash signing. Last year, San Antonio targeted free agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who turned out to be the biggest name on the market to switch teams. It took a couple of meetings and some roster maneuvering -- the Spurs traded away Tiago Splitter and let Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes walk in free agency -- but Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford got it done.
This time, it's unlikely that San Antonio will be able to do something that drastic, but it must at least try. Back in March, and again last week, there were reports that linked the Spurs to Thunder star Kevin Durant, who just knocked them out of the playoffs. That might seem like a pipe dream, but San Antonio should still do whatever it can to sit down with him.
The Spurs are also expected to chase Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who is five years younger than Tony Parker and would represent a significant upgrade at the position. Conley has said that he wants to remain in Memphis, but he also put pressure on the team to attract free agents. For now, the Grizzlies don't have a coach or a realistic shot at a championship. San Antonio can promise him stability and a better roster now and in the future -- Aldridge is 30 years old and Kawhi Leonard is 24, so it should remain a contender for a while.
As long as the Spurs are going to swing for the fences, they might as well see if they can meet with Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. Like Durant and Conley, Horford will be an unrestricted free agent. He's thrived in a San Antonio-esque system under former Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, and pairing him with Aldridge and Leonard would give them the most imposing frontcourt trio the league has seen in years. Again, this is probably a long shot, but it's fun just imagining what this team would look like with Horford.
Priority 2: More depth. San Antonio appeared to be one of the deepest teams in the NBA during the regular season, but its bench did not perform as expected in the playoffs. Stunningly, the Thunder's role players -- Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter -- outperformed the Spurs' supporting cast for much of the series.
"The playoffs weigh heavily on our decision making," Popovich said. "I'll put it that way. And we've relied on our bench almost every year as long as I can remember because you need to do it. If you look at the team you lose to, usually you'll find that more players played well than on your team. When we win championships, we have more players on our team that play well than the opponent. That's a simple equation, but it's true. So, we just didn't have the depth and that's why I said to lose those chances in Game 2 and Game 5 was a real killer because we really didn't have the depth as it turned out coming from our bench."
Losing Joseph, Belinelli and Baynes turned out to be a problem, even though the Spurs would surely have no regrets about sacrificing them for Aldridge. They are surely hoping that Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson and Boban Marjanovic (an upcoming free agent) can grow into reliable postseason performers, but they should also look for outside help.
Some players that might appeal to San Antonio on the free-agent market: Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams, Luol Deng, Jared Dudley and Lance Thomas. These are the sort of high-IQ, two-way players that the Spurs generally love.
Priority 3: More youth. Year after year, the Spurs have overcome a relative lack of athleticism. Leonard is one of the most physically gifted players on the planet, but San Antonio can still sometimes be exposed by younger, faster teams. That's part of what happened against Oklahoma City, just like in 2012.
"I think when you look at the team, having a little bit more quickness and youth is definitely part of the equation," Popovich said.
The Spurs will have the 29th pick in the draft, but whoever they select will likely sit on the bench for a year or two. Looking at the free-agent market, San Antonio could sure use an up-and-coming wing like Kent Bazemore or Allen Crabbe, but there could be intense bidding wars for those guys. Robert Covington, Dwight Powell (a restricted free agent), Tyler Johnson and Moe Harkless might be more realistic options.
San Antonio has no reason to completely change its identity next season, even if Duncan and Ginobili walk away. With Leonard, Aldridge and Popovich around, the Spurs should be one of the league's best teams no matter what. There are tweaks to be made here, though, and Buford should be focused on trying to find the next Danny Green or the next Splitter. That's not easy to do, but the Spurs always seem to find a way.