The Memphis Grizzlies may have sounded the final death knell to the San Antonio Spurs as we currently know them, as a championship contender. TNT analyst Charles Barkley has been alluding to the fact that the Spurs are not even the best team in their state all season long and as the series with the (much) younger Grizzlies progresses it is becoming more evident he was right. Memphis have totally out played the Spurs, yesterday's showing reminded me of the scene in Rocky IV where Apollo Creed, not wanting to give up despite realising he is out matched, receives the final knock-out blow from Ivan Drago. A once proud fighter's demise ends in an ignomious defeat. The writing is on the wall for the Spurs.
The series is not over and they could conceivably come back to win. It has been done before but the body language of the Spurs indicates that it probably won't. Where does that leave San Antonio for the future? Their best is clearly behind them. A 61-21 record this season probably flattered them during the regular season, post-season play has shown their frailties. Tim Duncan is clearly being out-played by a possessed Zach Randolph, Tony Parker has had his share of troubles with the Memphis backcourt and Richard Jefferson is well…..Richard Jefferson. Manu Ginobili may be the sole bright spot but he is just returning from injury.
The Spurs will have decisions to make in the off-season, the core of their roster is locked into multi-year contract extensions. Antonio McDyess is contemplating retirement though should he return he claims it will be with the Spurs only. Parker is locked in, Ginobili is contracted until 2012-13 (when he'll be 36) and Tim Duncan is out contract at the end of 11-12 but will be 36 when that time comes.The normally astute front office locked in Richard Jefferson to a 3 year extension with a player option for a fourth (as if he's going to leave $11 million on the table in 2013-14) during the past summer. Franchise management's idea was to keep the core together as long as possible to give Timmy a chance at another ring while they still could. Memphis are proving that time has passed San Antonio by. The Western Conference power balance is shifting towards the younger squads – Oklahoma City, Memphis, Denver will get better and don't discount the Lakers still being a contender for a couple more years to come. The Spurs are now on the outer looking in.
Does management keep this squad together hoping that some form of age reversal remedy is found? Even if they decide to make moves the only real tradeable piece is Parker. Tim Duncan, despite his decline and age, will be given the right to finish his career with one club. Parker is the youngest of the trio (28) and is owed $50 million over the next 4 years. Ginobili $40 over 4 and Jefferson roughly the same. George Hill has shown he is capable of running the point guard spot for Gregg Popovich meaning Parker's position may be in jeopardy.
Jefferson may be almost untradeable due to the size of his contract and level of productivity not exactly balancing each other out. Ginobili may have some value but at age 33 with recent injury troubles, his contract may not entice other sides to trade for him either. A lockout certainly does the ball club no favors either. Should negotiations drag on for a prolonged period of time before a resolution, an already aged team only becomes older. Decisions need to made this summer. Whether front office makes any moves still remains to be seen, what is clear though is this incarnation of San Antonio is a shell of the championship teams of years gone by.
Just as Apollo Creed died a slow death in front of a national audience so does a punchdrunk former champ in the Spurs as each game with Memphis goes on.