Not the dynasty of the good old days

A look at the San Antonio Spurs as they usher in a new era of basketball

Many cities have their own identities and associations that people have come to hold in their minds. For Los Angeles, it’s Hollywood; for New York, the Big Apple; Chicago is known to most as the Windy City. While San Antonio is known to some as the Alamo City, the San Antonio Spurs have perhaps become the city’s most significant identifier.

Their play over the course of some 30 years helped cement them as one of the best franchises in the NBA. Gregg Popovich established himself as one of the greatest coaches in the league’s history. Tim Duncan led the organization to five championships while adding countless honors himself. Yet seemingly, the door has been shut on some of the brightest days in the Spurs’ history as a new era is ushered in.

This past summer, the Spurs traded away their homegrown all-star point guard Dejounte Murray, pivoting towards a full-blown rebuild as they received future draft picks in return. Some fans were understanding, seeing several consecutive play-in appearances as treading water, below the standard the franchise has set for itself. Others saw it as a betrayal of the young player and a refusal of the franchise to build around him. Quitting, as many unhappy fans refer to it.

Whatever your opinion, the fact of the matter is that the Spurs look different this year and they are going to lose a lot of games. Maybe the most in the history of the franchise. According to DraftKings, their current over/under for projected wins is the lowest of all NBA teams at 22.5. lowest of all NBA teams at 22.5. That would be their third-lowest win total in 56 seasons in both the ABA and NBA.

“I do not have huge hopes as far as success, but am hoping that we get some lottery luck and get a high pick to build our team around for the future,” A.J. Clark, super senior on Trinity men’s basketball team, said.

This past draft, the Spurs landed the ninth overall selection, their highest since they took Tim Duncan first overall in 1997. The Spurs will almost certainly draft higher this year, with a similar incentive to vie for the top pick. French power forward Victor Wembanyama stands at 7’4” with an eight-foot wingspan and the ability to dribble, shoot and defend. He is the league’s greatest prospect since LeBron James, if not ever. Even beyond him, talent abounds with the likes of Scoot Henderson, Nick Smith Jr. and others.

But there is a full season before the draft rolls around, and with it will come an opportunity for a very young roster to prove themselves.

“My hopes for this season are that they develop their young players as much as possible. I think there is a really cool opportunity to grow the team with such young players that have a lot of potential, and by working on this development, I think it will bolster success for the future,” Claire Hale, senior women’s basketball player, said.

Among those young players are Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Joshua Primo, who enter their fourth, third and second years in the league, respectively.

Johnson made solid improvements after each of his first two years, making significant jumps as a scorer and a three-point shooter since his rookie season. He averaged 17 points per game last year, up from 9.1 in his rookie campaign, and improved his three-point percentage by 6.7 percent in just a year. With the departure of Murray, he steps into a much larger role after having just turned 23. He looks ready to fill it after dropping 21 pounds this offseason.

Vassell enters his third season looking to emulate Johnson’s success by making a jump of his own. The Florida State product improved his own numbers from year one to year two and has the opportunity to put himself on the map as one of the best young players in the NBA this season. Even with Johnson on the roster, Vassell has a better capacity to score at all three levels and could have a massive scoring improvement if he shoots the ball with more consistency than he did in his first two years.

Primo stands as the odd man out. In most past years, a second-year player would still not play much of a role in the Spurs rotation. But the Spurs aren’t the team of old, and Primo isn’t your average sophomore. He reclassified in high school to attend the University of Alabama early before being drafted by the Spurs much higher than many expected. You could look at it as the Spurs drafting a player straight out of high school, and rather than playing a year in college, he got a year of experience against the best players on the planet. He is still one of the NBA’s youngest players but had a drastic physical transformation over the offseason that could show the rest of the league why he was drafted so high.

Losses will pile up this season, and those outside looking in will surely be critical. But for those loyal to the franchise, including Hale, they’ll certainly think back and remember why the organization means so much.

“The Spurs are very nostalgic and always remind me of great childhood memories. Whether it was cheering them on during their championship run, experiencing the games in person with my dad or for school events, Spurs games were always a very positive experience from my childhood. The Spurs mean a very strong sense of community as well, which is something I have appreciated even more so as I have gotten older,” Hale said.