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With Dejounte Murray’s ACL Tear, the Spurs Hit Another Bump in the Road

The team is already missing many of the faces that propelled them to a playoff spot last season. What magic will Pop pull off now?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich standing in a barren field

It took all of one minute Sunday for doubt about San Antonio’s season to creep in. That’s how long Dejounte Murray was lying on the floor in a preseason game against the Rockets after he sustained a noncontact right knee injury on a drive to the hoop, wincing in pain. Monday, MRI results confirmed that Murray, who at 22 was already San Antonio’s starting point guard, tore his ACL:

The timeline for Murray’s return isn’t immediately clear, but a torn ACL means that he will almost certainly miss the entire season.

As if the Spurs could get any more unrecognizable: Tony Parker signed with Charlotte this offseason, and Kyle Anderson signed with Memphis. Rookie Lonnie Walker IV tore his right meniscus Friday and is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. Next in line at point guard is Patty Mills, who’s filled in many times before, but behind him is only Derrick White, a second-year guard who played in more G League games (24) than he did for the Spurs (17) last season. Some of the ballhandling can fall to shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who improved as a creator for the Raptors.

We’re not supposed to doubt Gregg Popovich. Every time the Spurs are staring down an off year, Pop gives a lesson on how to coach up a basketball team. Last season his franchise player sat for all but nine games, and the team still pulled out a 47-35 finish with a mix of over-30 veterans, 21-year-old Murray, and a reborn LaMarcus Aldridge. Many of those veterans are gone now. In addition to Parker leaving, Danny Green was included in the trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto, and Manu Ginobili retired. (Ginobili, who, again, retired, was the Spurs’ fourth-highest scorer in the playoffs.)

A transition period has been inevitable since Tim Duncan retired; it just always seemed like it would go differently. Leonard was supposed to be the next lifetime Spur. Murray grabbed the point guard torch when Parker wasn’t at full strength for much of last season. Kyle Anderson was supposed to be the next sixth man with Mills-level reliability until he signed with the Grizzlies. For so long, it felt like the Spurs were slowly cycling in new talent as they seamlessly cycled out the old. This was never the franchise that had to hit refresh on a huge chunk of its roster. San Antonio is still in damage-control mode in the wake of Leonard’s trade, making the franchise’s immediate future seem bumpy. But there was still comfort to take in Popovich’s proven record and the addition of DeRozan. Losing Murray exacerbates how challenging this period of change has been and will continue to be.

Without Murray, the newest and youngest of San Antonio’s familiar faces, the one most expected to make a leap, the optimism for one of those classic Popovich playoff runs begins to drain. These are not your mama’s Spurs.