The Spurs are the standard in the NBA. In the past 20 years, they’ve never missed the playoffs, made six Finals appearances, won five championships, and never won less than 60 percent of their games in a single season. The organization has been a model of consistency, even as it transitions into the future—from a post-based offense to beautiful ball movement, from David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard. But the Spurs are in the midst of their worst season since 1996-97, when they bottomed out for a chance at Duncan. They’ve been an average basketball team since December 12 (18-19) and they’ve slid even harder recently, going 2-8 over a 10-game stretch—their worst since their final 10 of 1996-97, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Things won’t get any easier from here. The Spurs have the NBA’s toughest remaining schedule, with two games to come against each of the Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, Pelicans, and Wizards. They’re also only two and a half games up on the eighth-place Clippers, ninth-place Nuggets, and 10th-place Jazz—two of whom they will face once over their final 18 games. Of the 18 teams with records above .500, only the Bucks (14-24) and Clippers (11-23) have a worse record than the Spurs (13-21) against teams above .500. The Spurs pummel teams below .500 by 8.6 points per 100 possessions, according to data provided by NBA.com/Stats, but get outscored by 1.8 points per 100 possessions against teams above .500. Only the Knicks, Bulls, and Clippers see a more significant drop-off based on the strength of the opponent. That’s a terrifying sign. It sounds sacrilegious to say, but the Spurs are in danger of missing the playoffs. Having said that, the team isn’t necessarily bad. It’s 37-27 overall and in fifth place in the West, and it has the league’s second-best defense—which is remarkable considering it’s missed Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, for all but nine games because of tendinopathy in his right quadriceps. The news cycle moves fast, so here’s a reminder, from just over a year ago, that Leonard is one of the league’s best players: With or without Kawhi, the Spurs can hang with the league’s best. The last time Leonard played, on January 13, the Spurs smoked the Nuggets by 32. And without him, on February 25, they beat the new-look Cavs by 16. But for all the signs of their sustained greatness that still show from time to time, the current regime is facing a more uncertain future than ever before.
No, Seriously This Time: Is This the End of the Spurs’ Dynasty?
The Ringer | Mar 8