Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Spurs remain in title conversation out West

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30 teams in 30 days: Spurs remain in title conversation out West

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The San Antonio Spurs

There is no finer organization in the NBA than the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise that seems to always be in the title-contending conversation regardless of who is – and who isn’t – on the roster.

For years, conventional wisdom was that the San Antonio dynasty would take a major step back once Tim Duncan FINALLY retired.

Instead of taking a step back, the Spurs continued to do what they did with Duncan – win a lot of games and scare the bejesus out of any and every team they saw in the playoffs.

To read A. Sherrod Blakely's 2017-18 team-by-team NBA previews, click here

One of the forgotten subplots in Golden State’s run towards a title last spring, was the ankle injury Kawhi Leonard suffered when he landed on the foot of Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia.

For those who don’t remember, the Spurs were beating the crap out of Golden State in Game 1 of their second-round series with Leonard getting anything and everything he wanted at both ends of the floor.

Prior to him landing on Pachulia’s foot (something that was debated for weeks as a dirty play), the Spurs were ahead 78-55.

After Leonard’s departure, Golden State went on an 18-0 run and eventually wound up edging the Spurs 113-111 before going on to sweep the series to become the first team in NBA history to open up the playoffs with 12 straight wins.

Well, Leonard’s back and will once again be on the short list of league MVP candidates due to his ability to dominate games at both ends of the floor.

For years his defense has been at an unmatched level. But it is the growth of his game offensively that has made him such a difficult and at times, dominant performer.

Leonard has finished in the top-3 of the league’s MVP voting the past two seasons.

Last season, he averaged a career-high 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game which was also a career high.

But the Spurs have proven through time to be more than just a one-man operation even when the face of the franchise (Tim Duncan) received a lot of credit for the franchise’s success.

San Antonio brings most of its core guys back, but recognized the need to add at least one more legitimate scorer to the mix.

In comes Rudy Gay, an 11-year veteran who has averaged 18.4 points per game throughout his career.

Golden State remains the team that everyone, including the Spurs, is chasing this season.

But the depth of San Antonio’s roster coupled with the addition of Gay, means the Spurs will once again be in the title-contending conversation.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Rudy Gay (Sacramento); Joffrey Lauvergne (Chicago).

Key losses: Jonathan Simmons (Orlando); Dewayne Dedmon (Atlanta); David Lee (free agent); Joel Anthony (free agent).

Rookies of note: Derrick White.

Expectations: 56-36 (2nd in the Southwest Division, 3rd in the West).

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

BOSTON – The barrage of questions for the Boston Celtics players will begin with Media Day on Monday.

As one narrative after another develops surrounding these players this season, they begin with some storylines clearly defined as issues that will be ongoing all year.

So, what are folks going to be talking about as it relates to the Celtics this season?

GORDON HAYWARD/KYRIE IRVING

Having missed all but the first five minutes of last season, Gordon Hayward’s return to the floor will be monitored closely, both by the Celtics and fans. And while Kyrie Irving did play 60 games last season for Boston, he did miss the team’s entire postseason run due to an infection in his left knee. Reports from both his teammates and coaches indicate that both Hayward and Irving are good to go to start the season.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

JAYSON TATUM

Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum developed a lot quicker than many anticipated. For stretches during the regular season and the playoffs, Tatum shined brighter than any other Celtic, which you don’t anticipate being the case for someone so young on a team so deep. So what’s he going to do for an encore?

BULL'S EYE

Speaking of a deep roster, that depth remains one of the key reasons why so many anticipate this Celtics team to be the last one standing in the East. Their across-the-board talent, experience and no LeBron James in the East are all factors that put the Celtics as the team everyone in the East is aiming to knock off.

BRAD STEVENS

One of his greatest strengths has been getting the most out of what he has been left to work with roster-wise. This season is a little different from the standpoint of him having a team that on paper, should be one of the best in the NBA. That leaves very little room for Stevens to work his coaching wizardry and get more out of this group than expected. Still, it’s a good problem to have.

IRVING'S FREE AGENCY

No topic will dominant the discussion surrounding this team more than Kyrie Irving’s free agency. Several teams are expected to make a run at him, and Irving has given no indication as to which way he’s leaning as it relates to his future beyond this season. Try as folks will, Irving is not going to allow his impending free agency become an issue inside the locker room, in part because he’s just one of several Celtics on the cusp of free agency next summer. While he’ll certainly love the company, Irving’s future in Boston or elsewhere, will be the most talked-about topic surrounding this team all season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Who will be the Celtics' leader on the boards this season?

Who will be the Celtics' leader on the boards this season?

BOSTON – This Celtics team is built to play position-less basketball, a style that lends itself to offensive mismatches.

But the downside lies in rebounding, which can be more difficult with players on the floor for whom board work may not be one of their strengths.

That brings us to the Celtics, who showed most of last season that they can find success on the boards even with players who may not traditionally be viewed as big-time rebounders.

So, who will be the chairman of the boards for Boston this season?

AL HORFORD
He led the team in rebounding last season at 7.4 per game and comes in as the odds-on favorite to repeat. The 32-year-old’s versatility to play both around the basket and on the perimeter will keep him on the floor a ton. And that will give him the best shot at making his presence felt on the glass, which will be one of the areas Boston has to find success to have the kind of season they believe they're capable of delivering. He had 14 double-doubles in points and rebounds last season and came within one rebound of a double-double on 10 other occasions.

DANIEL THEIS


This is my pick to lead in rebounding, if it’s not Horford. Minutes more than anything else are what I believe would keep Theis from leading this team in rebounds. As a rookie last season, he led the team in rebounding percentage (.160) while grabbing 4.3 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game. The 26-year-old started to show signs of becoming a 3-point threat, which bodes well for his chances at seeing as much playing time or even more, this season. And with increased minutes come a more impactful role, a role that will surely include him doing a strong job rebounding.

TERRY ROZIER


When you think of rebounding, 6-foot-2 combo guards don’t come to mind. But Rozier has already shown himself to be among the better rebounding guards in the NBA. With Boston having so many perimeter threats on the roster, that creates gaps and seams towards the rim that Rozier could easily slip into and do what he does as well as any guard in the NBA not named Russell Westbrook – and that’s rebound.

JAYSON TATUM
His length, deceptive athleticism and basketball smarts make him a player who could factor in the team’s rebounding efforts on a grander level this season. With Gordon Hayward (ankle) back in the mix along with Kyrie Irving, there’s a very real possibility that Tatum could be looked upon to become a better rebounder after averaging 5.0 per game last season. The key to Tatum’s improvement in this area will lie in his rebounding percentage numbers. Although he was fifth on the team in rebounds per game last season, his rebounding percentage (.091) was seventh among players who began the season in Boston and played more than half the season. Improvement in this area would do wonders for the Celtics.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE