Five time NBA champions, but never back to back. The San Antonio Spurs enter the 2014-2015 season as the defending title holders, as the growing, evolving and improving core around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, orchestrated by Gregg Popovich, will try to finally accomplish the one thing that’s avoided the most successful NBA franchise in the last 15 years.
In 2000, after winning the “asterisk” championship, the Spurs were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns, losing in four games instead of going on to defend their title as the Lakers went on to win the first of three consecutive titles.
In 2004, the Lakers stood in the way of a repeat. The 0.4 shot by Derek Fisher was what everyone remembers as a declining Lakers team managed to pull through against a better Spurs team. The Lakers lost in the NBA finals to the Pistons.
Two years later, the Spurs lost to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games, knocked out in the conference semifinals. Mavs fans love complaining to this day about how the referees helped Miami win the title in the 2006 finals, but the officiating was just as badly skewed in their favor during that series with the Spurs on too many occasions.
In 2008, another repeat attempt fell short. The Spurs made it to the conference finals but were crushed by the Lakers in five games. That felt like the beginning of the end. In 2009 the Spurs lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 2010 they were swept by the Suns in the conference semifinals. In 2011 it was another first round exit. The end had to come at some point, right?
That’s the thing about the Spurs, bringing back the same roster that won the NBA championship in 2014 quite dominantly. The Spurs did need seven games in another great series with the Mavericks, but they found it quite easy dispatching of the Blazers in the conference semifinals and even easier against a very disappointing Miami Heat team in the NBA finals. The Thunder series, for a moment there, looked like it was getting out of hand, but the 2014 Spurs were too good to let the Ibaka momentum get to them.
One thing that the last six years have taught us is that ‘never’ or ‘last’ aren’t words to be associated with the Duncan-Popovich era Spurs. The roster around the core, which keeps aging but never runs out of steam and is the perfect basketball allegory for again wine becoming finer and better with time, has changed over the last four months only through the addition of Kyle Anderson, a rookie out of UCLA, who might turn out to be another huge steal by Popovich.
But it has to end at some point, right? Every team stops being great and consistently good. But does it just happen, or does it take some big ‘event’ to make it certain that an era of success, winning and spoiling the fans is over? Will it only end when Popovich, surely one of the greatest basketball and team-building minds in the history of the league, decides he had enough? Will it be when the original Big Three break up through retirements or something else?
Right now, without knowing how another year affects the older players on this team, it’s hard not to look at the Spurs as the big favorites to win the NBA title. Maybe after last playoff run, the thoughts of this team not being young and good enough are out of everyone’s minds. Suddenly, they’re the biggest favorites right from the start. It’s hard to think of the Spurs as a team that’s actually affected by different outside opinions, but maybe the different status will somehow make a difference in a Western conference that for now looks theirs for the taking.