Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
I know San Antonio has a game against the Jazz tonight, but Thursday is a special day, because the Spurs play the Portland Trail Blazers, which means that Dave (who runs the excellent Blazer's Edge) and I have a built-in excuse to chat, bicker, emote and cajole each other for up to 10,000 words or so.
We do it because it's fun, we get to know each other's teams better than we otherwise would, and because you guys love it so much. What follows is a conversation that began before the season started and continued well into November, and tomorrow we'll run the rest of the exchange that Dave and I are putting the finishing touches on right now. Enjoy.
Lookey here. Another year, another variety show from Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and special guest stars. Surprise, surprise.
If this year's Western Conference really was a TV show, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be like Conan O'Brien in their first year on the big stage. The Lakers are trying to play Jay Leno, the old favorite getting his spot back. But you guys are freakin' Johnny Carson. "Hey! Remember us? We were better than both of you! 'A little black dress, Sinatra, and the Spurs. Name three things that never go out of style. Hiyoooo!' Now get off our lawn, whippersnappers!"
The only difference is Johnny is resting in peace now. You guys just keep coming back. At what point can you be officially classified as undead? Should we all just stock our teams with action-hero wannabes when the silver-and-black-clad Zombie Apocalypse comes to town?
"Riiiinnnnngs! Riiiiiinnnnngs!" (plod, plod, plod, plod...rookies emit girly screams and run for the locker room)
So, what can we expect of the Spurs this year that we haven't already seen?
Yeah, it seems like we Spurs fans are in much the same position we've been in the last couple years. And the years before those. And the years in between the championships. And the years with them. And the years before those but after the first. And ... I was about to say that they all run into each other somewhat, but that's not really true since it's been five straight years without a parade on San Antonio's river walk. You know, that's the first such stretch since 94-98, but I still feel grateful for what this club has been able to accomplish since they swept the Cavaliers in '07. The best record in the West two years in a row while sporting a core that everybody's been calling old since David Robinson was still playing.
Last year was the first time that Manu has been healthy in the postseason since that last ring, and the first time since '08 that the club made the WCF. (Coincidence? I think not.) But if we're going to choose TV shows for Western Conference teams, then I'd go with comedies instead of talk shows, which means that the Thunder are the show that raked in the Emmys, Modern Family; the Lakers are The Office, they keep adding pieces but can't seem to recapture the previous magic - could it be the end?; and the Spurs would be Seinfeld - even after the historic eight year run ended, you keep running into the genius who created the whole thing, Larry David/Coach Pop, and his pet project, Curb Your Enthusiasm/offense unleashed. Not to mention the issue of deciding where Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her success with Veep fits into this whole thing. You'll have to figure out a match for that one, as it's beyond me.
As for something new to expect out of the Alamo City, there are only two possibilities. First, there's a chance that, depending on how well Kawhi Leonard takes to being a featured scorer, you could see someone crack one of the top three spots in scoring besides Tim, Manu and Tony for the first time in nearly ten years. Though realistically, that'll take at least one more year to accomplish. Second, there's the sublime passing of Nando De Colo, the lone rookie on the squad. He is Parker and Diaw's fellow countryman, and as far as I know, I was the first to compare him to Ricky Rubio, although I'm certainly not the only one. I realize that's high praise, so I've tempered it to a poor man's Ricky since he plays shooting guard instead of point, and because the Spurs are so stacked at the wing that he'll be hard pressed to get much playing time this year.
And look at you throwing out the memes that PtR is so familiar with: zombies and GOML! You're really out to make me feel at home, aren't you? But I guess it ought to be me who is reaching out to you, since once again you're in that difficult time of rebuilding. Here I am yakking away about a recent past of trophies and rings that just happens to coincide with your favorite franchise's traipsing through one of the least fortunate runs in the history of The Association. What a bad host I am. How do you cope? And what hope for greatness do you see in your current players?
Hold on, stop. Nando De Colo may be the greatest name ever. "Hello ladies, I am Nando De Colo. It means, ‘The Dance of Love'. And yes, that means exactly what you think it does. And no, I know you don't speak French. That is why I have translated for you. But let us forget all that and explore our passion for each other."
If my mom had named me Nando De Colo I would have had a lot more fun in high school.
As for your other question, we in Blazers-land don't say, "Rebuilding". We say, "It's fall." Leaves turn gold, knees of centers shatter, we all carve pumpkins and rip the gooey insides out like we were doing arthroscopic surgery on Brandon Roy's knees.
But alas, no more! Roy is a Timberwolf. (What is the singular of that, anyway? Likely the only singular thing about the ‘Wolves.) Greg Oden is in some kind of basketball limbo doing his best Scarlett O'Hara impression:
"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be injured again. No, nor any of my teammates. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be injured again."
Of course he's not with the team anymore either, so us Blazer fans are all, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
No, we have new hopes now. You'll have heard of a guy named Damian Lillard. He comes from Weber State, where everyone majors in Grills and Grilling Accessories. Despite the small-college pedigree he's poised, pretty quick, and has a deadly shot. He'll have ups and downs as a rookie but he's for real. Center Meyers Leonard from Illinois needs work on his fundamentals and presence but his lateral quickness is amazing for his size. He'll likely end up a versatile enough center to start. Theoretically that completes an eventual starting lineup, which should make us happy.
Alas, "Happy" and "Blazers fan" are mutually exclusive conditions. This team still has several issues:
1. The bench is populated with players whose jerseys should read "Future Cap Space", leaving Portland about as much depth as a Miley Cyrus autobiography.
2. The roster carries about as much inside scoring punch as the Olsen Twins. Running and shooting threes looks fun until you find a team that defends well. Then it looks like 14 points a quarter.
3. Portland's new kids on the block play so little defense they might as well be dubbed "One Direction", leaving Blazer fans praying that the rigors of the season will turn boys 2 men...or at least into some kind of conscientious defenders. If we were so inclined we could field a front line of J.J. Hickson, Luke Babbitt, and Adam Morrison right now. Why not just dunk the ball in the opponent's hoop and save the trouble?
4. Being neurotic, Portland fans naturally assume that Leonard will go down with some kind of chronic, incurable affliction soon. As the Bard said, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness leeched out of them under multiple scalpels.
5. Although the Blazers are incredibly mobile as a team they lack experience, technique, and bulk. I hope they work hard enough to compensate on the glass but if not...well...you haven't seen this much pitiful rebounding since that "Newly-Divorced 50-Somethings" mixer. The energy will be high early, but mid-season and beyond???
Oh, and most of the Harry Potter movies kinda sucked but the last one was pretty good. Just throwing that out there.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. It's a young team. The season is new. Some hope the Blazers can squeak into the 8th playoff seed. Others hope they'll stink so bad that we'll all be having Shabazz parties come June. Likely the team will end up in the mushy middle with another mid-range lottery pick. But hey, they've done well with pretty much every non-#1-overall pick, so maybe that's not a bad thing. If we have to wait three freakin' years for Peter Jackson to complete one simple Hobbit story ("Pardon me, Master Bilbo, how would you like your eggs today? Poached? Could you please recite the recipe for that in six different fictional languages?") then I suppose we can wait a few years for Portland's talent to accumulate and gel.
By then, of course, this incarnation of the Spurs will have disappeared into the mists of legend like Númenor, the Bull Moose Party, and McRib sandwiches. So tell me, do you guys have a post-Timmy plan in place yet or is it just, "La-la-la! La-la-la! We shall live for-eevvvvv-er!" What happens when the curtain comes down for the last time? Or do you even care yet?
Of course we care. We care like crazy. But what is there to do about it? Players like Duncan only come along once every generation or so. That's why when you get them, you have to do your best to maximize their time in the uniform; thus the Spurs' plan to reverse the aging process for our venerable big man. He was allowed to proceed as most people do from birth to age 35, but then he has Benjamin Buttoned himself into a reverse aging regimen. Thing is, you probably think I'm joking, but you'll swear I'm right after you've seen him play for a couple of times this year. He's lost another 15 pounds and for the first time in his life you can actually see some definition in the muscles of his arms. It really is kind of a striking transformation, although he's still short of attaining a David Robinson-esque physique. He's on his way there though, after an entire career's worth of being a bit more on the un-defined side of things.
But beyond his physical transformation, you're almost sure to be surprised by Tim's play. He's as light on his feet as he's ever been, and he's even pulling off spin moves against double-teams that include the opposing point guard, like this play from last Saturday's game against the Jazz.
I ask you, does that look like a 36-year-old man? I think not. (Neither does his PER, which is currently 2nd in the league, behind that Mr. James character in Miami.) And this isn't the way he's been playing for the last two to three years. So I have no other explanation for it other than that he is now on his way back through his years and is headed toward his youth, and a fate that will end with his being cared for by his family as his body once again becomes that of a little baby. Tragic? Maybe. Unlikely? Certainly. What other explanation can there be?
But to seriously answer your question about the future, it's really hard to focus much on it right now for a number of reasons:
1. The team is playing so well currently, and has been for so long as you pointed out, that imagining the end of this era right now seems a bit premature, and almost ungrateful.
2. As a rule, the San Antonio Spurs franchise is pretty tight-lipped about trades, acquisitions and the like, so bringing up the topic initiates a scenario fraught with a fairly large serving of the fear of Pop. Add to that ominous setting Duncan's standard response to any reporters asking him about his plans for the end of his career ("Are you trying to get me to retire?") and you begin to get a picture of how hard it is to judge what's going on behind the closed doors of the AT&T Center's team rooms.
3. The one thing that Coach Pop has said, is that he thinks Kawhi Leonard is going to be a star. And you know he doesn't hand out what kind of praise lightly. And so if he's actually correct, then the transition from the Big Three to the next phase of the Spurs' incarnation will likely be a phased-out kind of thing. Tim and Manu are obviously the oldest and while it's anybody's guess as to how long they will be able to play, with each passing year the team is more and more Tony Parker's, which means that the possibility exists that Tony could bridge the years between the past and current comprised of Duncan's dominance plus Manu's all around flair, and Kawai's whatever he's-going-to-be. And that's all I've got to say about that.
As for the man with "the greatest name ever," I agree that our Nando not only won the genetic lottery, what with his preternatural court vision and overall ballhandling skills, but the nomenclature lottery as well. (What would be a better way to say that: the cognomen lottery; the noun of address lottery; the appellation lottery? You choose.) And as you'd expect for a name like his, the fans are going to respond with some pretty fun nicknames. We've gone with SpurNando (complete with re-written lyrics to ABBA's 70's hit "Fernando") and Nando Calrissian, complete with the requisite image of De Colo's face Photoshopped onto Billy Dee Williams' body in a Star Wars setting.
I can't believe that you quoted such a long speech of Scarlet's from "Gone with the Wind," and didn't include, "because tomorrow is another
day season." The thought of Oden dressed up in Southern finery (hoop skirt, petticoats and all) with a dashing Blazers' fan leaning rakishly against a wall - well, it's a picture that doesn't easily leave my mind's eye. I can see the conversation ending with:
"I only know that I love playing for you."
"That's your misfortune."
You say the Blazers' young center "needs work on ... his presence" and that strikes me as something a teacher would write on the report card of a continually truant student. But when I think about it in terms of a basketball player, I get nowhere. Would you like to unpack that one for me? Aside from that, Meyers Leonard is a pretty cool name too. I love the double-last-name approach, especially when there's a chance of tossing in a brand name and going all Oscar-Meyers Leonard on somebody. Not to mention the fact that both of our teams now have a guy named Leonard on them. That's a bit unusual. Of course it's nowhere near the 13 Johnsons of the 80's. Yes, that's a link to a rap song about all of the guys who played professional ball with the same surname as Magic, at the same time he was winning titles for LA. It's exquisite.
Singular of Timberwolves is indeed a bit weird. Perhaps you could avoid it altogether and say, "Roy of the Timberwolves," or something Braveheart-sounding like that.
And now I will punt it back to you with the following: please tell me more about this Damian Lillard character. Because the first game I ever saw him play was when the Spurs visited Portland, he looked like anything but a rookie. Honestly, I was stunned with how well he played, and it reminded me of the first time I saw Russell Westbrook. Shoot, I think he even did some Chris Paul-esque things out there as well. If this is what he looks like in his first year, what do you think he has a chance to become?
to be continued tomorrow...