The 1996–97 NBA season was the Spurs' 21st season in the National Basketball Association, and 30th season as a franchise. During the offseason, the Spurs signed free agent and former All-Star Dominique Wilkins, who played in Greece last season, while re-signing free agent Vernon Maxwell. However, without All-Star center David Robinson, who played just six games due to back and foot injuries, and Chuck Person, who was out for the entire season with an offseason back injury, the Spurs struggled losing 13 of their first 15 games in November. After 18 games, head coach Bob Hill was fired and replaced with General Manager Gregg Popovich. Wilkins appeared in 63 games and led the team with 18.2 points per game. However, it would not be nearly enough as the Spurs finished sixth in the Midwest Division with an awful 20–62 record.
Since the Spurs joined the NBA in 1976, this was only the fourth time they missed the playoffs. As of 2017, this was the Spurs' most recent season in which they failed to make the playoffs, due in large part to turning the lottery pick they earned in 1997 into perennial All-Star Tim Duncan. Following the season, Wilkins left to play overseas, and Maxwell was released.
The Spurs were trying to continue the success of the last two seasons which had records of 59-23 and 62-20 respectively. However they would finish a dismal 20-62, Scoring leader David Robinson was injured and was only able to play six games. Also injured was forward and three point specialist Chuck Person, who missed the entire season. Head coach Bob Hill was fired midway through the season after starting 3-15, being replaced by Gregg Popovich, who would finish 17-47. He would later be appointed head coach after the season's end. This would be the only losing season for Gregg Popovich and the first losing season for the Spurs since the 1988-89 NBA season. However the lone silver lining in this season would be winning the number one pick for the 1997 NBA Draft.