The More The Spurs Change, The More They Stay The Same

Hey there.

How ya doin?

As most of you know, I spend most of my time covering football these days (and boy did my Iggles crap all over themselves at Oakland last Sunday), but seeing as how I couldn't possibly be any more excited about our Spurs starting things up for real on Wednesday against CP3* and the rest of the delightfully inadequate Hornets, I thought I'd venture over to Deadspin's favorite new basketball blog and write up a little preview.

Personally, I don't understand why everyone's making such a big deal about Wayne giving Manu some alfajores, when nobody made a peep about him giving Tony a wicked case of the clap.

Can someone help me out with that?

Anyway, here's your preview, after the jump.

* To me the "CP" in CP3 doesn't stand for "Chris Paul" but seeing as how this is a family blog, decorum prevents me from elaborating.

Speaking of jumping, I hear our Spurs are gonna try employing this radical strategy in certain portions of games this year, so I'm psyched. The team steadfastly refused to leave their feet the past two seasons for reasons unknown to us mere mortals. Maybe they thought it would be unsporting, or perhaps they were skeptical about the Earth's gravitational pull and feared floating away into nothingness.

Either way, the team traded for Richard Jefferson and drafted DeJuan Blair, so there is a chance, however slight, that they'll appear on the highlight shows for something besides nifty bounce passes or last second three pointers from gentlemen who spend the first 47:58 of games doing every foolhardy thing in their power to necessitate last second three pointers.

(I make these jokes now, about the incumbent Spurs being so ground-bound and unathletic, but we all know I'm going to completely lose my shit every time Manu dunks this year, just indulge me).

So what, besides the jumping, stands out about this team?

The depth definitely. There's a little bit of everything. Young guys and vets, bigmen and smalls, speedsters and slowpokes, shooters and bangers, and a couple of completely useless washed-up graybeards, thrown in just for fun.

The whole stew is eerily similar to the '02-03 squad, isn't it?

Yet it's that title team that we have the toughest time in summing up in a nutshell and attaching an identity to.

The '99 team was easily the most defensive and dominant. Really, with a still-useful Robinson and in his athletic prime Duncan, they were an impenetrable juggernaut. They clogged up the inside so well that they managed to go 15-2 in the playoffs with a starting backcourt of Avery Johnson and Mario Elie, and with whodat Jaren Jackson just so happening to have the best month of his life.

While it was gratifying to see the Spurs (and by extension Robinson) finally get their 'chip, there was something cold and mechanical about them. They won every game the exact same way: brutally dominating the paint on both ends and a hail of threes.

It wasn't boring, but it became so one-sided and clinical that it just wasn't as fun as we'd hoped.

The '04-05 club was the most improvisational and dynamic. You just never knew what they were going to do next, but it was always a thrill ride, and when the ball was in Manu's hands it was almost Youtube-worthy.

With this team it was always about the subtle things, the stuff the casual fans didn't notice. Like the way the team responded when Nazr Mohammed was acquired for Malik Rose, or those few minutes every night when we got the unfiltered awesomeness of The Pale Triangle with The Sickness, Bones, and The Bean Burrito.

Most people thought the late-season ankle injury to Duncan would doom the team, but instead it brought everyone closer and provided Tony and Manu with the chance to make an evolutionary leap in their development. Tim was never 100% the rest of the way those playoffs, but he didn't have to be. In fact, it was more fun that he wasn't. It would've been too easy otherwise.

What I really loved about the '04-05 team was the way they could clone themselves into playing the way their opponents played those playoffs, only better. They out-intimidated the Thuggets, out-chemistried the Sonics, outscored the Suns, and outslugged the Pistons. Big and bad Detroit, the defending champs, had them down nine points in the third quarter of Game 7, and still this team wouldn't fold.

The '06-07 edition played with the most edge and were the most defiant. They weren't the most talented bunch, but they had a core of old school veterans who absolutely would kill you to win. They didn't care about style points, or critics, or anything really. They were just a collection of pissed off guys, incensed about how the '05-06 season ended and livid that a fraud one-man team like the Heat won that year.

That Spurs team deserved to have their vengeance against the Mavs, but Dallas didn't live up to their end of the bargain. Instead they had to deal with the soft, whiny Suns and that stupid controversy with Horry's hipcheck to Steve Nash. The more that people cried foul, the grittier the veterans played. It's hardly surprising that they ended the playoffs on a 10-1 run, with The Big Three so concerned about LeBrick that they practically celebrated their championship during the waning moments of Game 5 against Utah.

Again though, we come back to 02'-03. What was that team's identity? Sure, we all remember Robinson riding off into the sunset with his second ring, and Duncan being at the peak of his powers, but for a team that featured four future Hall-of-Famers, weren't they somewhat underwhelming?

I mean think about it. Outside of Game 6 at LA, when they toppled the Shaq-Kobe dynasty (which was spectacularly referee-aided, mind you) do any of us remember a playoff game that team dominated from beginning to end?

Or do we remember the chokes, the near-chokes, and the miracles?

We blew Game 1 in the first round to the Suns on a last second Starbury prayer (although losing the first playoff game is a great omen, we would discover in later years).

We came from ahead to lose Game 4 at LA, and nearly upchucked a 25-point lead against them - at home - in Game 5; a game we only escaped when dear friend RoHo clanked a wide open three at the buzzer.

We gave away Game 1 of the Conference Finals to the Mavs when Dallas shot something like 61-for-62 on free throws that game and needed Steve Kerr to get unconscious to pull out Game 6.

Kerr would have another hot game to pull out Game 5 of the Finals and Speedy Claxton had to bail Tony's butt in Games 5 and 6.

Even for all of Tim's dominance in that clincher, with that 21-20-10-8 stat line, we still had to come back from double digits down in the final six minutes to beat the frickin' Nets.

That team, as loaded as it was on paper, never quite meshed together correctly and was never as good as the sum of its parts. Robinson, Ferry, Smith, Kerr and Willis were all too old. Manu and Tony were too young. Batshit crazy Stephen Jackson was batshit crazy Stephen Jackson. Really the only guys who were in their primes were Duncan and Rose.

Still, on paper they were damn good, and no matter how messy they made it look, they did win it all at the end, and that's what it's all about, right? Even if they only managed to put it all together for a quarter here and six minutes there, they had those moments of brilliance that was enough to carry them through.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Simmons' NBA preview (take a guess why), I think he's being a bit of a pollyanna in predicting us to run roughshod over the league from beginning to end. When we first assembled the roster that we have, I recall that I made similar boasts, but I've now calmed down and have tempered my expectations a bit.

Oh sure, I still think we're going to win the whole thing, but Pop will take it too easy with Tim and Manu for the first half of the season, and he'll experiment with so many different lineups that we're going to lose a few winable games here and there. It's going to take the team a while to find its chemistry, and it might never fully happen the way Pop constantly shuffles roles and rotations.

The good news is we don't need everyone to be clicking on all cylinders. That '02-03 team didn't and neither will this one. We simply need good health at the right time, that's it. This team is so deep that come the postseason they will find a different hero every night, just like those Spurs did.

It's the journey, not the destination, and while the road won't be very smooth for us, I think we're all going to be in for one hell of an interesting ride.

As for direct comparisons, try these on for size...

You have your jump shooting, defense-first center on his last legs.

Your undersized rebounder that thinks he's a bit better than he actually is.

The three point specialist who most definitely is NOT a point guard.

The has-been swingman who needs to be chained to the bench for his own good.

The grandfatherly backup center you don't want to mess with.

The athletic swingman whom you don't trust under any circumstances.

Your tall white stiff who does nothing but shoot threes and amuse the media.

The backup point guard I will like more than Tony Parker because he'll actually pass it to Manu.

The token "defensive specialist" that Pop will overuse.

The foreign project bigman who will never play.

The young wing who will never play.

The parts of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will still be played by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili though, and that's mostly a good thing, because at the end of the day we're still gonna need them to carry the freight.

Five quickie predictions:

5) Forget all the "back to defense" mumbo jumbo from Pop. This will be an offensive team. Outside of Bogans their entire roster plays better on offense than defense. They won't be the '04-05 Suns, but they should routinely crack the 100-point barrier.

4) Unlike past shooters, Richard Jefferson will not struggle or be gun-shy in his first season on the Spurs. He's never been more open in his life than he will be this season, and unlike Finley and Barry, he's coming aboard close to his prime.

3) Michael Finley, Roger Mason and Matt Bonner will all play more minutes than we want them to, while DeJuan Blair, Malik Hairston and Ian Mahinmi will play less. This, more than anything, is the main reason I'm glad I won't be writing about the Spurs regularly. There is no way I wouldn't be banned if I did.

2) Manu Ginobili will finish only fourth on the team in scoring, but he'll set a career high in assists. I'm thinking about 12.3 points per game, with 4.9 dimes. He's never had this many guys on the second unit to pass to before. He'll pick-and-roll second units to death.

I think Ginobili is going to thrive in his role as what chef Anthony Bourdain would call a "System D" or a Debrouillard. If he was a TV star he'd be MacGyver. If he was British, he'd be Bond. James Bond. If he was an Autobot, he'd be Jazz. He'll be the jack-of-all-trades that will do whatever needs to be done on any given night and only look for his own offense if the team needs it late. Should be a fun year for him.

1. And that last prediction goes hand-in-hand with this one. The Spurs will hang with the good teams with their starting unit, either leading or trailing by four points in every "shift." But when the teams turn to their respective benches for those last two minutes of 1st/3rd quarters and the first four minutes of 2nd/4th quarters however, the Spurs will blow games wide open with their second unit, by far the deepest in the league. We're just going to come after teams in waves.

We won't have the Lakers dynasty to overthrow this time, but instead something even more obnoxious and insidious. The past two years the star power and media appeal of the Lakers-Celtics-Cavs triumvirate has overtaken the NBA. It's like there are no other teams out there in ESPN land besides these three and they monopolize all the coverage and attention.

For the good of the league our humble Spurs will have to restore balance and order. I will not be held hostage to another season of Kobe-LeBron puppet commercials.

We are the team of the decade dammit and last I checked the decade isn't over. There's no way in hell that we can stand for Kobe or Shaq getting a fifth ring before Duncan does, let alone LeBron getting one period.

And we certainly can't let the Celtics, a team that with the pairing of KG and 'Sheed will shatter the "The Most Times Cameras Accidentally Showed Athletes On One Team Yelling 'Motherfucker' in One Season" record by early January, win it either. I mean, think of the children people. The children!

I can't wait 'til June when every hack will be moaning about how boring the Spurs are while RJ alley-oops another no-look pass from Ginobili, Parker whirls his way through three people before dishing it to Dice, and Blair slams home a loose ball after a Hill steal.

We're not finished just yet.

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