Once again, the San Antonio Spurs are forgotten. Instead of trying to copy from Gregg Popovich and the group of players led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, the rest of the NBA is ignoring its champion and once again gets caught up in a race for max contract free agents, sacrificing a thought process and player development for expensive, instant and questionable achievements.
Every team gets players in the same way: Drafting them, signing them from free agency, which can take a multitude of forms, or by trading for them. Of the nine key players the Spurs used to win their fifth championship, four were drafted by them (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter) and another arrived via trade on draft night (Kawhi Leonard, the finals MVP).
And still, teams don’t have the patience to copy the Spurs. Tim Duncan is a player that comes around once every 10 or 15 years, there’s no argument about that. But the Spurs, even during Duncan’s MVP years, have never been about him dominating in the paint the way Shaquille O’Neal has. The concept might have changed – from a defense that was the best in the league to a team relying on its offense to the perfect mix we saw from them this season, but this was never a team that was about one superstar.
The Spurs of the 1990’s, led by David Robinson until 1997, were a one-man team. Robinson was the best center in the league on some days, although was probably inferior to Hakeem Olajuwon, especially when the two faced each other. The Spurs didn’t get anywhere, reaching only one conference final, until Gregg Popovich took over, and the team shifted its balance from just one big man to something completely different. A twin tower approach, and more.
This offseason, as have been all of those through the last four years (or maybe seven? We’ll get to that a little later), is about trying to put together a team of superstars, of max contracts, or of players worth max deals but might be forced to compromise. Look at the Los Angeles Lakers, with Kobe Bryant and their attempt to bring both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. Look at the Houston Rockets, trying to add either Anthony or James to a team that already has James Harden and Dwight Howard. They’re not alone.
Maybe it all started when the Boston Celtics put together Paul Pierce with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. That ended with a lot of hate and the team falling apart badly. They underachieved when compared with the Miami Heat – two finals, one title in five seasons together. They actually had an All-Star point guard in Rajon Rondo, but maybe trading Kendrick Perkins was the end of their chances to actually win together. On the other hand, they were one game away from making the finals in 2012.
The Spurs never seem to be in the mix for the big free agents, even when they have the cap space. There’s talk of Kevin Love next season going there. That would be an uncharacteristic move but at some point, Ginobili and Duncan are going to retire, while Parker may start declining or actually consider moving on. The team has changed around them radically over the last 12 years, with Popovich eventually finding the right formula to go all the way and come out on top. Even these great things will come to an end at some point, including Popovich’s reign in San Antonio.
The Spurs were away from the finals for six years, and had seven years between their title in 2007 to the place they are right now, going into the 2014-2015 NBA Season as defending NBA champions. A lot of teams, maybe even all of them, would have broken things up instead of sticking through – realizing what’s right and what’s wrong, and trying to fix on the fly while relying on your foundations.
The standard of coaching in the NBA isn’t good enough. Patience isn’t there. The creativity in scouting and sometimes putting an emphasis on personality and chemistry with the rest of the squad instead of pure talent just doesn’t seem to spread around. In a copycat league, teams keep trying to follow the wrong trends instead of following the right ones. Flash and money win over brains and methodical approach. It just gives the Spurs another edge as long as they stick to their guns, while the rest of the NBA is caught up in an insane arms race that is about the now, instead of being about the now and the future as well.