Everyone from Pat Riley to Steve Kerr has expounded publicly about the difficulties of sustaining success. After a while, the primary motivator — winning — is not enough. For a team that has achieved the highest levels of this game — the current Warriors squad — there is even less motivation to do the same.
This is partly because — as Nick Saban says(!) — sustained greatness is unnatural. People are biologically inclined to find the least amount of effort to achieve their goals. Doing just enough is normal. Doing beyond what is required is unnatural.
As a fan of the Spurs, this is evident in the excitement levels for a regular season wins. Apparently Spurs fans need a Whataburger in the arena to get hyped to go to the game. This isn’t a knock, it is just a fact. Spurs fans have seen the most regular season wins in the NBA over the last 20+ seasons. They have seen the most Finals appearances, the most titles, and have seen at least two hall-of-famers and probably one other (Manu).
When you see so much greatness you forget that it is actually unnatural. The average NBA city does not see this level of achievement.
I was thinking about this last night as I did not have frustration when the Spurs dropped a close game to the Sixers with a shortened squad. I know, from experience, that this is nothing to get too high or low about. Watching the Other Spurs battle the Sixers is good for the program in the long-term and will benefit everyone in the Playoffs. This has been the story for decades now and those mid-season losses to an East team on the second night of a back-to-back have never been important beyond what they were.
Because Kawhi has been injured (and Tony too, but really Kawhi) and slowly making a comeback, the normal regular season goals have been forgotten: Getting a 1 seed and winning individual trophies. Unless Leonard scores 50/game from here on in, there is no MVP award for him this season. Unless the Spurs go undefeated from here on in, there is no number one seed to enjoy.
The Spurs will finish 3rd in the conference and have to meet up with the Rockets or the Warriors in the second round. This was always going to be the case, and the long-term goal of preparing the squad for that series is happening now. We’ve seen it all before and so it is hard to be nonplussed about the journey to that spot.