One for the thumb? Five in '10? It's tough odds, that's for sure. We know we’re a long shot to win it all this year – we need for so much to go right that could so easily go wrong, we need to be lucky on so many counts. These are the facts, and they are undeniable. Any sentence that starts "The Spurs are title contenders this year" must inevitably continue with the word ‘if’.
Sure, we can win...
- IF Duncan’s got something left in the tank.
- IF Ginobili can stay healthy.
- IF Parker and Hill can come back from injury.
- IF RJ and McDyess can step it up and show some pride and aggression.
- IF Bonner, Bogans and RMJ can hit their threes and not screw up too much.
- IF the San Antonio Spurs, who have been too old and washed up ever since they won their second ring, can pull it together for one more push.
All true. All these ‘ifs’ are legitimate concerns. If Lady Luck frowns on any of these counts (and she very well could) the Spurs aren’t gonna do it this year. What we forget, however – and everybody does seem to forget this – is that every team has ‘ifs’ of its own. I don’t mean wild, long-shot considerations like ‘The Cavs will contend if LeBron isn’t savaged by weasels’. I'm talking about real, serious concerns that are well within the realm of possibility and entirely outside each team's control. Let’s look at the teams whose contendership doesn’t always get the "if" treatment:
Sure, the Lakeshow can win it all…
- IF Kobe’s injuries aren’t catching up to him and/or have healed by the playoffs, and he can return to top form.
- IF Bynum comes back with full athleticism and minimal rust.
- IF Fisher has enough veteran savvy in him to avoid being an insuperable liability on both ends of the floor.
- IF Gasol, Walton, and the other oft-injured role players can stay healthy.
- IF Artest doesn’t lose his rag and disrupt the team on or off the court.
- IF this Lakers squad has the heart , the will, and the determination to grind out what will inevitably be a challenging run to the ring.
Will we witness the King Without a Ring finally live up to at least a fraction of the hype? Maybe…
- IF LeBron can be the guy from the ads.
- IF their bigs can stand up to opposing squads.
- IF they can get past Orlando.
- IF the squad has an extra gear, and their regular-season intensity isn’t their ceiling.
They went to the Finals last year, and they sure give our boys fits. They could hoist their first trophy…
- IF Dwight Howard can play smart, have heart, and stay out of foul trouble.
- IF they can get reliable, high-level production from Vince Carter.
- IF their injury-prone guys can stay healthy.
- IF they can hit from the outside the way they have been.
So really, everybody has "ifs" of their own. But ... well ... when I look at our own personal list of uncertainties, I don’t feel that bad about it. Sure, there’s no certainty to be had here, but to finish out these thoughts: we might just win this thing…
- IF Duncan’s got something left in the tank – and may I remind you of how he was playing earlier this season, and in the last few weeks? Not to mention that, if there are two things that everybody thinks they know about Duncan, it’s that 1) he’s infinitely reliable, and 2) he always saves up for the playoffs?
- IF Ginobili can stay healthy – sure, that’s always a concern with El Contusion. His body could fall apart completely tomorrow, Raiders of the Lost Ark style, and that would be that. But that’s always been true, and that fact is scant comfort to the former owners of the many scalps he’s tucked into his belt over the past few weeks.
- IF Parker and Hill can come back from injury – by which I mean the Parker whose first reaction to Hill’s injury was "Great! Maybe now Pop will have to let me play!". Parker seems to be less worried about his obviously-recuperated hand and more worried about the Spurs deciding they don’t need him after all – and, per the MRIs, it looks like Hill should be fine. He’ll miss a couple of games, and that’s a shame. But he’ll be fine come playoff time.
- IF RJ and McDyess can step it up and show some pride and aggression – and really, is there anybody who’d seriously want to bet against them doing just that? RJ’s taken his sweet time figuring out the Spurs system, but he’s been doing a pretty nice job lately, and you may recall that he’s no stranger to the NBA’s biggest stage. He sure stepped it up against our boys back in 2003. As for McDyess, here’s a guy who is famous – bordering on notorious – for holding everything back until the postseason, then making life hell for certain greatest-of-all-time power forwards. He came to San Antonio, when he could have gone anywhere, because he wanted a ring. I think he still wants it, don’t you?
- IF Bonner, Bogans and RMJ can hit their threes and not screw up too much – and why shouldn’t they? These aren’t rookies; all three are veterans, all three know the system, and all three have shown that they can come up big in the clutch.
- IF the San Antonio Spurs, who have been too old and washed up ever since they won their second ring, can pull it together for one more push – just like every year. Just like in 2005, except we’re actually a younger team now than we were then.
All our "ifs" are real. But so is my confidence that, although none can be counted on, all are not only possible but probable. What about the other, less-disclaimered contenders?
Might there be a little room opening up on this bandwagon? After all, their only chance to repeat is…
- IF Kobe’s injuries aren’t catching up to him / have healed by the playoffs and he can return to top form – and why would we expect that to happen? He’s just deteriorated over the course of the season, and even though he obviously wants badly to get back to form, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. He’s getting pissed, he’s playing in pain, and he’s not producing the way he’ll need to if he wants another ring. Sure, he might get better between now and the playoffs. But why would you expect that to happen?
- IF Bynum comes back with full athleticism and minimal rust – and what are the odds that a guy who’s already notorious for getting hurt, and whose current injury is taking an unusually long time to rehab, is going to be suddenly at 100% in a few weeks? And even if he is, do you really think that a young guy who’s never been the most high-BIQ player is going to go from a long hiatus to suddenly fitting into his first high-pressure playoff push?
- IF Fisher has enough veteran savvy in him to avoid being an insuperable liability on both ends of the floor – and if Tony can’t dominate him. Which, let’s be honest, he can. And will.
- IF Gasol, Walton, and the other oft-injured role players can stay healthy – always an "if," and no less so for the Lakeshow than for anybody else.
- IF Artest doesn’t lose his rag and disrupt the team on or off the court – and hey, it’s not as if he always, always ends up doing that, right? It’s not like he’s already started jacking up dumb shots and picking up dumb technicals, right? Right?
- IF this Lakers squad has the heart, the will, and the determination to grind out what will inevitably be a challenging run to the ring – except any signs that this might be the case have evaporated over the course of the season. Last year Bryant was running on rage; he’d been humiliated the year before, so he drove his squad out of a weak and injury-plagued Western conference and beat a young and frankly mediocre Orlando squad. Where’s that motivation this year? Where’s that fire? Can you honestly say that this team doesn’t look more like the pre-’09 squads that did okay right up to the point where they met a team that wanted it more?
Everybody is dead certain that LeBroom – ahem, I mean Le-has-been-in-the-league-for-seven-seasons-now-and-has-never-won-a-single-Finals-game – will invariably end up challenging Jordan’s lifetime ring collection. The problem is, he’ll only have a prayer of getting started this year…
- IF LeBron can be the guy from the ads – which he never, ever has been.
- IF their bigs can stand up to opposing squads – so J.J. Hickson has to find a BIQ somewhere, Jamison needs to learn the system and stop sucking in a matter of days, and Ilgauskas needs to find a way of not looking washed up other than in comparison to the Tragicomedy Formerly Known as Shaq. I would like for Mr. O’Neal’s new nickname to be ‘The Irrelephant’, and invite you to join me in making it happen.
- IF they can get past Orlando – which they couldn’t last year, and for my money Orlando did a better job of improving than the Cavs did since then.
- IF the squad has an extra gear, and their regular-season intensity isn’t their ceiling – unlike every single year of the LeBron era.
I’m scared of these guys, and that’s no lie. But you know what? If we meet them in the Finals, they’ll only be able to beat us…
- IF Dwight Howard can play smart, have heart, and stay out of foul trouble – which I don’t think anybody would bet on.
- IF they can get reliable, high-level production from Vince Carter – which would require somebody introducing Carter to the concept of 'reliability'.
- IF their injury-prone guys can stay healthy – the difference being that our big injury concerns are gutty, proven winners, whereas Orlando’s are something called a Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter, who has been known to quit on teams just out of respect for tradition.
- IF they can hit from the outside the way they have been – they do tend to live and die by the trey. Which is fine, except against the best perimeter defense in the league.
In summary, this is what I have to say about the 09-10 Spurs: they can win it all. I won't bet the house on it – a lot of things could happen to wreck our hopes. But that’s true for every squad that ever stepped onto the hardcourt, and as far as I’m concerned our liabilities are less daunting than those of our probable opponents. I’ll put it in the simplest possible terms:
The Magic will only win if they do something they’ve never shown they can do.
The Cavs will only win if they’re something they’ve never shown themselves to be.
The Lakers will only win if they’ve got something they appear to have lost.
The Spurs will only win if they do what they’ve always done. In this life, everybody takes their chances – I’ll take ours.