It's a New Year, fellow Pounders, 2011 is here. Besides the hope and excitement that a new year brings, this is always that time when we look back and revisit the last year's happenings. So in lieu of a TWSS this week, join me as I take a look back at the top stories regarding the Spurs in 2010.
Before we get to the top five let's take a gander at the stories that just missed the cut. In 2010 the San Antonio Spurs increased their record of 50 win seasons to 11 in a row. This is an unprecedented achievement in today's NBA. Think about it; even the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers had mediocre seasons over the last decade, missing the playoffs and getting bounced early, and the Lakers are the only other team that can compete with the Spurs over the last 10 years in terms of championships. They have had slightly more success as far as titles, but when you look at consistency (being at or near the top every year) nobody matches the Spurs. There have been only three teams to ever get as many as 10 seasons in a row of 50+ wins. The Lakers got 12 from 1980 thru 1991 and the Celtics got 10 straight from 1959 thru 1968. The Mavericks currently have a streak of 10 seasons with 50+ wins. Leave it to my friend who's a Mavs fan to point this out.
The other big story that I can think of that will miss the top 5 is the Spurs avenging their 2008/2009 playoff loss to the Mavericks and beating Dallas in round one of the 2009/2010 playoffs. Dallas had managed to grab the 2nd seed and was considered by many to be the top threat to the Lakers in the West. The Spurs meanwhile had just escaped being the 8th seed and were not considered to be much of a threat with an ailing Parker just getting back from injury. The table was set. Revenge is a meal best served cold and it was delicious. The success was short lived, but beating the Mavs is always an enjoyable win for Spursdom and ending their season is such a fashion is, dare I say, stupendous.
On to the top five stories of your Spurs in 2010.
5. Spurs get swept by Suns - Clearly changes are needed
After the Spurs go and crush the hopes and dreams of the Mavs, they promptly get run out of the playoffs unceremoniously by the the little franchise that could, the Suns. It's the first playoff win the Suns have had over the Spurs since 2000, when the Spurs were without Duncan. The Suns were just too much offensively for the Spurs and the Spurs couldn't keep pace. The Spurs got owned by Goran Dragic for crying out loud! Go here if you'd like to re-live a bad set of 4 games. By my count the Spurs held the Suns under 25 points in a quarter only 4 times. The closest game was the last with a final score of 107-101. It was so bad that the Suns fans acted as if they had won a title. Silly Suns fans, championships are for Spurs and a part of a this complete breakfast. Pop was upset enough to tell R.C. Buford he "wanted a [bleeping] bench". It was clear that the Spurs were in need of some changes in both personel and strategy, the question was how much change? The lessons from this embarrassing sweep were hard learned, but they seem to have sunk in so far. The Spurs have smart people making decisions and they needed not to overreact. I'd say they've done a fine job.
Not even the GOATPUFF could overcome the Suns in the Spring of 2010.
4. Richard Jefferson opts out of contract and then re-signs for 4 years. - Really?
So, it's not a stretch to say that Richard Jefferson was a disappointment in 2009/2010. I might go so far to say that he was a disaster. It was painful to watch the Peanut last year. He couldn't get it, he was lost and was not to be found. He went from being the "Big 4th" to "Princess Peanut" fairly quickly. The Spurs owed RJ in the neighborhood of 15 million dollars in 2011 if he didn't opt out of his contract in the Summer of 2010. Surprise of all surprises, what happens? Jefferson turns down $15,000,000.00. That's a lot of zero's to be letting go. When I heard the news I was thrilled. I couldn't believe that the biggest disappointment of Spurs since Derek Anderson was going to let the team off the hook. How lucky for us? I didn't know what the team was going to do for a small forward, but it couldn't have been any worse that what was on the floor last year. So what happens then? The boys in the front office do the unthinkable, they re-sign Jefferson. REALLY? REALLY? That guy? Was I the only one seeing this? I know I couldn't have been. I know the argument was that there were no other better options to be had either in the draft or via free agency (all valid points) but we are talking about the guy who Duncan told that if he didn't suck he'd help the team. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of quality play. So the Spurs, despite my better judgement, signed Jefferson to a 4 year, 38 million dollar contract. Wonderful, 4 more years of that. As you all know, I am not infalible. RJ 2.0 has been great this year....well for his standards. He's been very solid both when his shot is on and when it's not. He doesn't get plays run for him very much and hasn't seemed to care. It's as if Manu has rubbed off on him, a dream of Spursland fandom, to be sure. To RJ's credit, he worked hard this offseason from all accounts even traveling around the country to meet with different coaches on the Spurs staff to try to improve. Rage is finally raging the way he was meant to rage.
That's right Georgie, hard work pays off.
3. Spurs sign "Best big man in Europe" Tiago Splitter - Help is on the way
So ever since 2007 Spurs fans have been waiting for this Tiago Splitter guy. We all thought he was coming over in 2008 and possibly in 2009. No dice. As we all watched the Spurs get run out of the playoffs by the much disdained Suns, there was some hope. Would this mysterious Splitter ever come to Spursland? Josh even went so far as to create www.WeNeedTiago.com. The Spurs fandom clamoring for the Euro player could be heard around the world. Splitter, meanwhile, proved his mettle by taking uber-underdog Caja Laboral to the ACB Finals, and beating the perennial power, FC Barcelona, 3-0 while earning Finals MVP honors. Splitter made all the Spursdom happy when it was announced that he and the Spurs agreed to terms on July 9, 2010. The Spurs were able to sign Splitter to well over the rookie pay scale and thus make the move from Spain worth it for the Brazilian. Splitter has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been held back by injuries and an apparent lack of trust by Pop. Tiago seems to have all the necessary tools to be a very very solid big man. He's got defensive instincts that are very solid and footwork that reminds one of the GOATPUFF (ok, may be a slight overstatement). He's raw and probably needs to put on some pounds, but the 7 feet of Deliciousness, as he is known to his lady fans, has all the tools to be the big man the fans have been hoping for.
That's right ladies, 7 feet and he can rebound.
2. Spurs extend Tony Parker's Contract for 4 years $50 million - locking up All-Star PG
So the early to mid part of 2010 saw all of Spursdom discussing the future of one Tony Parker. All sorts trade talk went back and forth on why and why not to trade, re-sign or just let go of the French star. There were calls for Parker to be traded to any number of teams with a mere smidgen of talent and of course the Spurs would only receive the said smidge in return. It was a crazy time, there was a "Trade Tony" camp and a "Keep Tony" camp. Name calling ensued, of course Tony got called the most names, Frenchie McWonderbutt being my personal favorite. Finally, all of that was laid to rest when Parker and the Spurs agreed to a 4 year $50 million extension in October. It was a happy day for all Spurs fans who understand that equal value wasn't available for Tony's services. Parker is, while sometimes frustrating, a very valuable piece in the Spurs machine. He does things this teams needs and (thanks to a very shrewd deal by the front office) will be doing so for the next several years. With this deal, Parker showed what kind of team player he is. Surely he could have and would have gotten more on the open market, but he backed up his talk of wanting to stay in San Antonio and gave the Spurs a very nice home town discount. Something else I love about this story, if you Google "Tony Parker re-signs with Spurs", the first several stories that come up are from New York media outlets talking about how Parker isn't going to be coming to the Knicks. I know the Knicks haven't be relavant for almost a decade, but I still love seeing that market get all bent out of shape when they don't get what they want.
Tony has got his game face on after staying in San Antone
1b. Spurs re-sign super guard Manu Ginobili - All of Spursdom rejoices
I told you I'm not infallible. I somehow thought that Manu re-signed in '09, but have been corrected and will now bring you story 1b. In early 2009 the Spurs were not in talks with The Sickness, Gino had even told people that he wasn't sure he'd be a Spur in 2010/2011. There was much crying and gnashing of teeth when we all heard that. However, to their credit the Spurs front office came through yet again. Of course Manu kind of made them do it by playing like a video game god for about 2 months. He played so well that there was talk that he'd be the 3rd or 4th best free agent on the market. We're talking about the national media here folks, not just Texas media. It was insane night after night The Anomaly just went out and dominated. He was clearly the best player going for that stretch and it wasn't really close. He helped the Spurs close the season on a 19-9 run without Tony Parker. R.C. Buford and company took notice and promptly inked the Argentine for three more years. Again, Manu gave the Spurs a home town discount, sort of. The Spurs payed him the max they could, but it was stil less than what Ginobili probably could have gotten on the open market. This re-sign of Ginobili was imperative if the Spurs were going to have any more runs at a title in Tim Duncan's career. To their credit, albeit later than I would have liked, the organization realized that and got the job done, much to the delight of all the fandom.
Yes! I made the list, finally!
1a. Spurs off to their best start ever in the 2010/2011 season - Surprise Surprise
As I type this here on January 3rd, the Spurs have played one game in the new year and currently sit at a NBA best 29-4. Not even the most optimistic of Spurs fans would have predicted this kind of start. To me this is really several stories rolled into one big ball of success. You have the previous 4 stories that directly impact this one. Plus you have the much smaller stories of the Spurs re-signing Matt Bonner and acquiring Gary Neal who have both been great. The drafting of James Anderson, while limited by injury, he appeared to be on his way to being a very nice piece to this team. You've got the story of Antonio McDyess coming back for what appears to be his last year and still playing effectively. Then there is Tim Duncan working even harder and dropping even more weight to become as healthy as he can be. Another overlooked story here is that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili didn't play any basketball this summer. Richard Jefferson, DeJaun Blair and George Hill have all improved with another year in the system and improved "corporate" knowledge. Gregg Popovich has committed to tweaking his system to fit what this team is best at doing. The front office made smart move after smart move. The Spurs early success has been an effort from every side. John Ludden has a great story that talks about what the Spurs did in the offseason and are doing in the season that has helped propel them to this great start. If you haven't read that article, you should.
This team is playing to win every game against every opponent. The Spurs are currently 14-3 against teams above .500 and thus 15-1 against teams below .500. They are bringing it every night with, talent, hustle and professionalism. Pop has talked about how he doesn't care about having the best record, about how all he wants is for this team to get his system and the reason they're winning at such a clip is because they are getting the system and executing it. This team is far from perfect, but they are gutting out wins even when they don't play their best and that is the mark of a very good team.
A perfect example is the game on December 28th against the Lakers. Duncan and Ginobili combine to score 11 points on 4-19 from the field. Think about that. How many times over the last 14 years could you say that the 2 best players (with apologies to Tony) on a Spurs team have that bad of a game and yet the team goes on to beat the defending champs by 15 points? That's unheard of, it's crazy talk, it's ridiculous! How outlandish has this start been, you ask. Check out Cap's State of the Spurs for some statistical evidence.
Clearly, this team is special and should be enjoyed this new year. No other Spurs team has had this kind of success, let's enjoy it while we look forward to what the new year has in store. As a fan in the fandom in Spursland and member of Spursdom, I wish a Happy New Year to you and yours and Go Spurs Go!