Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:08 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
First, we retake Texas ...

Spurs

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the San Antonio Spurs finish in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST COMMENT
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
Call me stubborn, but try selling that Spurs Are Slipping stuff to someone else. Age is a concern, sure, but they weren't exactly far away last year, winning 63 games and losing one of the greatest playoff series ever.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 2
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
Another team, like the Pistons, that too many are overlooking. The most underrated moves off the offseason, leaguewide, included the Spurs importing Francisco Elson, Jackie Butler and Matt Bonner.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
The Spurs are my pick to win the title. They have all the ingredients back and seem to have more depth. In addition, they are hungry, and when they are not defending a crown, they are at their best.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
With Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and the best coach in the league, the Spurs will be in the title hunt. But with aging vets as key components (Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Brett Barry), they will need more breaks than ever before to get Duncan his fourth ring.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
Still the best team in the NBA when focused. Interesting to see how Tim Duncan returns. If he feels the need to remind us that he's that dude, Coach Gregg Popovich's squad will be tough to beat. If not?
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 5
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both look great, so it says here the league's model franchise has to be the odds-on favorite to claim its fourth ring of the Duncan Era. Only potential snag is age on the wings with Bruce Bowen, Barry and Finley.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
Health woes and weakness in the middle doomed the Spurs last season. Now Duncan's healthy, but Manu Ginobili might be worn out again, and Elson and Butler don't inspire much faith in the five spot.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
I don't know if they molt or what, but the Spurs are at their best only every other year and last year they weren't. They don't have a replacement for the aging Robert Horry, but they're still the class of the conference.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
Health is the key issue. Duncan might show slight (very slight) slippage, but with a healthy Parker and Ginobili, Spurs will be toughest team in the West.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
Questions about the center spot after losing Nesterovic and Mohammed, and there's the question of Manu coming back to championship season form. Duncan showed he's still Duncan, but Spurs showed that even with Duncan being Duncan, that isn't enough to win it all.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 1.6 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 2.1 | Standings


Pop Secret
Popovich
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
The secret to winning at the end is preparing at the beginning. So Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gets his lower back ready for the long haul with some stretches, aided by Tony Parker on an exercise ball.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Tony Parker
Point Guard
6-2 | 177
Off career year, but Pop won't be satisfied until he ups the dishes.
Manu Ginobili
Shooting Guard
6-6 | 205
Manu of Old or Older Manu? His answer is key to season.
Bruce Bowen
Small Forward
6-7 | 200
Slowing at 35, but you don't have to be a teenager to clutch and grab.
Tim Duncan
Power Forward
6-11 | 260
After career-low 18.6 ppg and 11 rpg, he's not just healthy, he's antsy.
Fabricio Oberto
Center
6-10 | 245
Little-used Argentine has one responsibility: Stay out of TD's way.
Bench: Michael Finley and Brent Barry allow Pop to go with four guards, Francisco Elson adds speed up front, and Robert Horry tries to hold on until June.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands October 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Jackie Butler
Player efficiency rating
projection: 18.26
vs. NBA avg.: +3.26
Spurs profiles

Scouting report: At 6-10, 260 pounds, Butler is a widebody who can get position in the paint and his a nice touch around the basket. He's an instinctive scorer and despite his girth also proved a decent shot-blocker. Nonetheless, Butler's conditioning is a real worry. He looked like he was carrying an extra tire last season and needs to get his weight under control.

Butler's defense isn't as far along as his offense. He's a step slow and tends to resort to fouling to make up for it, averaging more than a foul every seven minutes last season. And although he blocked some shots and rebounded well, Butler's movement on defense left a lot to be desired. Again, conditioning was part of the problem.

2006-07 outlook: Butler signed a three-year offer sheet with San Antonio, and the Knicks declined to match it so they could spend four times as much money on Jared Jeffries. Of all the inane moves that Isiah Thomas has made, this one ranks right near the top. The Knicks had absolutely no idea what they had in Butler, envisioning him as their third-string center (you know, because Jerome James will turn the corner any day now) and thus not wanting to spend anything to keep him.

For the Spurs to get a young player of this quality this cheaply was highway robbery; all they were missing was the ski masks. Players of this size who can score at such a young age have an overwhelming track record of success. Butler's five most similar players at the same age are Shawn Kemp, Eddy Curry, Jermaine O'Neal, Carlos Boozer and Chris Webber. His projected stats for next year are monstrous --18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, 54.9 field-goal percentage, and an 18.41 PER. He still needs to cut his foul rate and his calorie count, but he's been working out all summer in San Antonio and I expect him to be a revelation this season as the Spurs' starting center.


Manu Space Flight
Ginobili
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Manu Ginobili's reckless abandon is valued by the Spurs, who also are concerned about wearing out the Argentinian -- he didn't play more than 35 minutes in a single game in a season curtailed by many injuries.


SportsNation Speaks
Tony's got Eva. Paparazzi, baby. SportsNation ponders the Spurs' fate while wondering if a bench guy can get with a Weather Channel anchor.

What might be the biggest impediment to a return to glory for the Spurs?
60.7% Tim Duncan's foot
32.5% Manu Ginobili's health
6.8% Tony Parker's love life

Vote: Spurs in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Spurs

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Spurs' logo on your chest?

For Spurs fans, success is defined as winning the NBA title. Subsequently the regular season can be a bore. We need drama; we need crazy. I want Parker dumping Eva to "concentrate on his rap career" only to be seen with Teri Hatcher two weeks later.

I want Duncan with bleached-blonde dreads and a ridiculously bad Jamaican accent. I want a tuxedoed Popovich reenacting Riley's hair and sipping cognac on the bench. I want Ginobili endorsing a signature line of fine Italian leather man-purses from Prada.

You give me all that, and a wax job, and I'll get that tattoo.

Matthew Powell | PoundingTheRock.com



Coach's Corner

GREGG POPOVICH COACHING FILE
Experience: 10 years
Record: 518-252
Playoffs: 76-47
NBA titles: 3
Coach's profile

Gregg Popovich will challenge his team to keep playing the Spurs' way and trust that he will guide them back to the Finals.

His players must have heard all summer about their collective age and their possible fall from the elite NBA teams. Popovich will remind them that they set the franchise record for wins and lost in Game 7 in OT, and can be even better this year.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
The organization. Welcome to Mayberry. San Antonio is a fairy-tale place where everybody in the locker room gets along, the players are genuinely likable, and nobody feels the slightest sense of entitlement because he's in the NBA.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. There's no question this club has the best chemistry in the league.

That chemistry didn't happen by accident -- it's the result of a methodical, yet at times brilliant, approach to building a roster. The Spurs remain the gold standard for a professional basketball organization, not only winning with class but managing the cap with clinical precision.

As a result they routinely beat the snot out of their rivals without spending a penny of luxury tax. (That might change this season, but of course, the Spurs have logic on their side -- tax payments are likely to be unusually low this year.)

What's particularly impressive is San Antonio's focus on finding and developing young players, giving the team a long-term competitive advantage by continually replenishing the roster.

The Butler heist is one example, but an even better one is San Antonio's trend of drafting European players in the second round of the draft and letting them develop overseas on somebody else's dime.

Ginobili was the first example of this, but the Spurs still have a veritable AAA team playing in Europe right now -- Argentine forward Luis Scola and Lithuanian center Robertas Javtokas are NBA-quality players, while French center Ian Mahinmi and Georgian forward Viktor Sanikidze aren't there yet but are young enough to improve significantly from here forward.

More Hollinger Trail Blazers analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Ginobili
Ginobili

Sleeper: Manu Ginobili was nicked up most of last season and it showed. This season, Ginobili should return to form, attacking on offense and defense. If he can remain healthy, he could be in for a career year, possibly in all categories, as defenses increase their focus on Parker and continue to pound on Duncan.

Bust: Michael Finley is officially done as a fantasy option, but you could see that coming when he came to San Antonio. Even if Finley was needed in the long term due to an injury to either Parker or Ginobili, he couldn't provide you with adequate numbers.

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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