Where do the Spurs go from here?

San Antonio played pretty well down the stretch this season, winning 17 of its last 25 games in March and April. (That’s a 56-win pace, by the way.) The Spurs looked sharp in their first round series against the Mavs, but looked old and slow as they were swept by the Suns.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Spurs approach this offseason. They just signed Manu Ginobili to an extension, and Tim Duncan is signed for two more seasons, so Tony Parker may be the player most likely to be moved. He has one more year on his contract at the tune of $13.7 million and at just 27, he’s in the prime of his career. George Hill could take over the full-time point guard duties, if necessary.

Trading Parker would be a big shift in direction from a personnel standpoint. San Antonio’s Big Three — Ginobili, Parker and Duncan — have been together for eight seasons and three titles, but they haven’t reached the Finals in the last three tries and haven’t made it out of the semis in the last two years. This begs the question — how big of a change are the Spurs willing to make?

Richard Jefferson didn’t exactly pan out, but he’s unlikely to opt out of the final year of his contract (worth a staggering $15.2 million) and no one is going to want to take on his contract unless they’re trying to unload a bad contract of their own. Jefferson was solid in the first round (9-4, 54% shooting), and while he posted decent numbers against the Suns (10-6), he shot just 42% from the field. I was surprised to see his FG% for the season (46.7%) which was a tad below his career clip, but the better shot selection on the half court didn’t offset the fact that he wasn’t getting the fast break opportunities that he did with Jason Kidd in New Jersey.

The good news is that the only players under contract for next season are the Big Three, Hill, Jefferson, DeJuan Blair and Antonio McDyess — all good players, one terrible contract (Jefferson’s) — so with some savvy moves this offseason, the franchise could keep this core intact with the possibility of adding a good player or two. The bad news is that the Spurs are well over the cap with a payroll of $69 million for next season so they’ll be limited to the mid-level exception and below.

Competition for mid-level players could be tough this summer as there are plenty of teams with cap space that could outspend the Spurs for a player they like. The other problem is that it’s not exactly clear what this team needs. They have good guards in Ginobili, Parker and Hill, good forwards in Jefferson, McDyess and Blair, and Duncan in the middle. One thing they do need is a sharpshooting forward (like Kyle Korver?) who could make teams pay for doubling Duncan or sagging on Ginobili’s drives. Jefferson shot just 32% from 3PT, and that’s not going to get it done.

The addition of a player like Korver would likely force more defensive responsibilities onto Ginobili; Jefferson did do a nice job defensively this season. He also played quite a few minutes at power forward this season, and that’s something that Korver wouldn’t be able to do. That means more McDyess and Blair, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

If the Spurs do elect to trade Parker, they’ll need to find a third guard to play heavy minutes behind Hill and Ginobili. My guess is that they hold onto him and see how things go throughout the first half of the season. If whatever changes they make this summer aren’t panning out by then, they could move Parker before the trade deadline in order to get something for him before his contract expires next summer.

After watching that Suns series, it sure seems like whatever “it” factor the Spurs had (chemistry, execution, or some combination of the two) is fading, and the odds are very much against another title run in the near future. But Duncan is still playing at a pretty high level, Ginobili posted 20-4-8 despite playing with a broken nose, and the Spurs hit the jackpot in the last two drafts with Hill and Blair. With the right addition(s) this summer, they could be back in the thick of things this time next year.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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