SAN ANTONIO -- With less than a week before the San Antonio Spurs' season opener it's time to bust out the first mailbag of the year.
Contain your excitement please.
Every other Thursday during the regular season I'll address the relevant Spurs questions, submitted directly by real fans. To have your question submitted for the next Spurs mailbag, tweet me @quixem or use the hashtag #QuestionsForQ.
Let's get to this week's questions, shall we?
QR: Yes, but the odds are stacked against the Spurs. For one, San Antonio jettisoned a top five player in Kawhi Leonard and a perennial All-NBA caliber defender in Danny Green in a trade. DeMar DeRozan can replicate a fraction of Leonard's offensive output, but his addition is a clear loss on the defensive end. Jakob Poeltl hasn't had enough opportunity to prove himself in the league. The guard rotation -- already down Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV (for the first few months) -- is already in shambles.
Things are not trending in the right direction. And the Western Conference figures to be a gauntlet tougher than the one Thanos faced in Avengers: Infinity War.
San Antonio making the playoff means they'd have to ward off several talented teams in the conference. If we are being honest, there are at least five teams better positioned than the Spurs to make the playoffs.
Tier 1: Golden State Warriors
Tier 2: Houston Rockets
Tier 3: Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers (because LeBron)
That leaves just three playoff spots for eight teams. Can the Spurs beat out the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers for a playoff berth?
Certainly. But it's gonna be the Spurs' toughest test in the Gregg Popovich Era, considering the roster turnover and low margin for error.
QR: There's several contenders for the Spurs' starting point guard slot, with Murray likely out for the year with what coach Gregg Popovich called a "devastating" ACL injury.
Option A: Derrick White.
The 24-year-old point guard from the University of Colorado finds himself in a trial by fire this early in the season. He played just 17 games last season as he was constantly siphoned to the NBA's G-League affiliate.
White excelled with the Austin Spurs. He excelled in the Summer League. He's been a plus player at every level of basketball, except for the NBA where he received scant playing time.
That will change this year. Popovich named White the starter in Wednesday's preseason game, indicating that he'll have the first shot at landing the starting gig.
“We know what his skills are,” Popovich said. “But we have to wait and see who works with who the best, what seems to fit spacing-wise and how many basketballs we might need at one specific time in the game.”
As it stands, White is my choice to earn the spot because leaving Patty Mills in a bench role ensures the rotation remains largely the same in Murray's absence.
Most Spurs fans agree too.
SPURS ZONE: Dejounte Murray is a big fan of Derrick White
Option B: Patty Mills.
If Popovich isn't ready to throw White into the proverbial fire, the safe option is Mills. The 30-year-old guard started a career-high 36 games last season as the Spurs struggled to find a consistent option.
Given the state of the backcourt Mills may be asked to do more of the same.
“It’s going to be whatever’s best for the team,” Mills said. “Starting or not, it’s going to be finding out what your role can be and how you can impact the game.”
Mills seems better suited for the rhythm of the bench, because it allows him to launch shots without taking away from DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Option C: Veteran point guard X.
It does not seem too likely, but there's always a chance Popovich elects to dip into the free agency bargain bin for the new starting point guard. Some possible options include Aaron Brooks, Mario Chalmers, Shane Larkin, Ty Lawson and Ramon Sessions, among others.
The downside is losing corporate knowledge and acclimating a new player into Popovich's system. But, still, it remains an option.
QR: Without Leonard for basically the entire season San Antonio finished fourth in defensive rating according to NBA.com. Green appeared in 70 games and losing one of the best defensive wing combos in the league is a downgrade regardless of who fills the minutes.
Anyone with an iota of basketball knowledge can point to the Spurs roster and say, "hey they are probably going to miss having two All-Defensive caliber wings on the roster."
Addressing their departures is where it gets dicey. DeRozan and Rudy Gay will fulfill the lionshare of their minutes. Neither are elite defenders
Put it this way: if Quincy Pondexter, 30, and Dante Cunningham, 31, are the answer to the Spurs' defensive worries then, well, they'll be in serious trouble this season. I don't anticipate either carving out a role big enough to make a lasting impact on the defensive bottom line.
QR: No, because the Spurs don't have enough assets to create a trade package the Timberwolves would accept. Jimmy Butler's salary for the 2018-19 season is $20.4 million, meaning San Antonio has to finagle a trade package near that value. They could flip Pau Gasol ($16.8) and pieces for Butler. Minnesota would laugh them off the phone. Aldridge's salary ($22.3 million) is in the same ballpark, but what's the gain for either side in a straight up swap?
San Antonio's younger pieces (Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl) aren't enough on their own to land a top 15 player. The Spurs could have two first-round picks in next year's draft -- one via the Leonard trade -- to dangle in Minnesota's direction too.
Still, there's nothing of consequence to send to the Timberwolves for the embattled Butler.
QR: Now this is a fun question. After a thorough deep dive, and cursory look at made-up brunch statistics, here are the top Spurs brunch-ers in order with a brief explanation for each respective ranking.
1. Gregg Popovich
2. Pau Gasol
A slam dunk for the top Spurs player brunch-er. Gasol is towards the end of his career and brunch, by its nature, is a meal for A) millennials looking for an excuse to drink in the morning or B) old people with nothing else better to do than enjoy a leisurely meal at a fresh 11 a.m. Gasol fits the latter category like a glove.
Gasol is a man of many tastes with a penchant for indulging in the finer things. He would absolutely kill the San Antonio brunch game.
3. Patty Mills
Manu Ginobili has a case for the No. 1 spot if he were still on the team, truth be told. So his ranking is part brunch by association -- he's close with Gasol and Ginobili -- but it also feels like Mills would make a willing and lively companion to brunch.
Besides brunch is more than just a meal; it's a lifestyle. Mills seems like he's about that brunchin' lifestyle.
4. Marco Belinelli
Is it just me or does it seem like Belinelli can absolutely get down for some mimosas?
5. Lonnie Walker IV
We needed a milennial to round out the list, so we are going with 20-year-old Walker IV. He sat down with Popovich over dinner this offseason and received rave reviews from the unquestioned top Spurs brunch-er in the game. That's enough for me. Walker IV, welcome to the prestigous Spurs brunch-er list.
QR: Only every single day.
Until next time, Spurs fans.