In my brief time as Air Alamo guy I wrote in last year’s season preview that Spurs fans should not be mad at the situation, that OKC had too much youth and athleticism, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we got dumped by a young squad of athletes, whether that was Memphis again or OKC’s youth troupe.
I was still sad when we were eliminated- especially by the way we were dumped. I’ll even admit that I didn’t take my own advice and was the tiniest bit surprised. I thought we had unlocked the secret of eternal basketball life. Instead OKC used our powers of ball-sharing against us and undid all the good that was built up throughout that weird lockout-shortened season.
This year we have the same squad. Whereas the 2011 champion Mavs have the all-reject roster, the 2012 favorite Lakers retooled with a HOF point guard and the most athletic 7-footer in the game. The Heat replaced shooters with a HOF shooter and a former $100 million man. The Thunder still have the best scorer in the game and a lot of talent that can score and is willing to share the ball. Overall we are one year older and the competition is one year more experienced.
This isn’t unusual. Our unwillingness to tinker is our greatest strength. The Spurs value the corporate knowledge, that oft referenced Popovich phrase. It has also served to render us invisible. There are only so many words that can be written about Pop and Timmy and the Spurs Way. Everyone is content to forget about the Spurs until June, when circumstances force them to re-pay attention.
This season we have something slightly different. The NBA press has long respected yet long awaited the end of the run. Fans here have anticipated The End for a while. Some, maybe even Tony Parker himself, have already declared the end as having come and gone. That debate is for another post. This season and in all the seasons to come instead of waiting to see signs of slippage and looking for a chance to retool, I want to see how far this thing goes. Don’t trade Manu. Don’t trade Tony. Don’t tank. Let’s be like Kramer and the car salesman. I want them to say that the Spurs and that other guy went farther with the same roster (or at least the same big three) than anyone ever dreamed. I want you to be there when it happens.
What will it look like? How far exactly can this thing go?
Let’s say it is the fourth quarter 5:39 to go. The score is tied 89-89. Where does the ball go? The guy with the hot hand? Tim? He hasn’t been the unquestionable choice since about 2006. Sure, he can win the games against the New Orleans’ of the world. Sure he can use his guile and experience to steal points from Anthony Davis and the like. How about Dwight Howard? How about Perkins?
Will it go to Manu? Depending on the night, depending on the week, he may not be up for it. He is in his mid-thirties and doesn’t dispense greatness with the the same frequency anymore. In the four straight losses to OKC he scored more than 13 points once.
Tony? He is 30 now. We know who he is. We know what to expect from him. He can score in bunches early. He can disappear late. It was fun to hate on him for a while because he had so much potential and would show little flashes of greatness occasionally. He is the youngest and has the freshest legs but he is not Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade or even James Harden. He is Tony Parker, sidekick.
The correct answer is the open guy. The system that go us here. It creates open shots. The flawless execution and ruthless corporate knowledge will render all opposition talent looking foolish and two steps behind. The obvious problem is the same one that was evident last year: we need Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and all the rest to not only carry the team in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs as they did so well last year, but do so against the very best the NBA has in the highest pressure situations there are. It is an incredible specific situation to prepare for, and one that won’t appear for seven months.
It is a test of patience and focus. It is trying to beat a video game with no save points. You have to go straight through to the end perfectly. There is no room for slacking. The machine has to be well-oiled and running smoothly or some other team will be holding the Larry. There is no out. There is no guy to toss the ball to and say “Clear out. You are the offense the rest of the way.”
This is the most intriguing aspect of the following the Spurs this and every year from now until the gas tank is empty. It is far easier to manage egos of the Heat guys in their prime, supremely talented guys that can win a game single-handedly, or guiding young talents on the Thunder, who have the best scorer in the game and something to prove. The Spurs have 30-year olds to manage, young guys to groom, and role players to coach up just to have the slightest of chances. Other teams need role players to “step up” when the stars are having an off night. This Spurs team needs them every night or there will be no tomorrow.
Prediction: 55-27. Exit Second round in 6 games to LAL. Bastards.