Been a while since I’ve written anything here, but then its been a while since the Spurs have truly made me a believer. Don’t get me wrong, I always believe, but more in that way that US Presidents always believe they are gonna create peace every time they sit down with the leaders of Israel and Palestine. There were inklings last year. First in the west, save for a few Popovich throw-away games, we were the best team in the league. Still, the defense was never there. I felt too much like a Phoenix Suns fan last year.
Yes, I felt like this kid...it was terrible.
I don’t know if a team has ever run-and-gunned their way to the Championship, but I’m willing to bet no team has ever truly small-balled their way there. I love Dice, Bonner, and Blair but I never truly believed those guys could get us there when one of them was constantly on the floor. Too much old, too much ginger, and too much short, respectively. Splitter had an up-side, but for some reason he never quite got the burn to fit in. Memphis had too much big, too much 7’, and too much perimeter defense. Manu’s arm was too broken.
How he's not always broken continues to boggle my mind.
Even with an intact Manu though, I’m not sure it was our year. He played up to snuff with Kobe or LeBron for much of last year, but those guys were in the playoffs too, and they didn’t win either. All this talk of last year is making me depressed. Lets talk about something I like a lot more—this year.
I am so psyched by this year’s team. Early additions, late additions, everything. I don’t need to remind you all of how well everyone is meshing together but I will anyways. Everyone is meshing together really well.
Did I mention I'm psyched?
The difference, as it has always been in basketball, is chemistry and talent. Lets start with talent. The team has finally gotten a much needed injection of youth and athleticism. Whether its Kawhi flailing his arms at Dirk, Danny Green stealing inbounds passes against Oklahoma City, or Gary Neal raining three pointers against Dallas, this team has found a new core. The old-guard are still just as essential, but remember the game against Dallas (the won we lost). Popovich did what he is want to do against a team when we’re losing by 20+ points. He threw in the towel and sent in a squad of youngsters to send a message to his starters. You don’t play hard and you sit out. What Pop probably didn’t expect was what happened next. A lineup of Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, and James Anderson went on an incredible run turning an 18 point deficit into a 9 point lead. Mavs fans must have been thinking—how did this happen, and more importantly, who are any of these guys? Green nailed a shot to win it, a microsecond after the buzzer and we lost in OT, but no matter. That game was a turning point for this team. That was when the chemistry showed up. We didn’t just have youth, we suddenly had a team where even Popovich felt comfortable playing anyone at anytime. This includes Captain Jack and Boris Diaw. Really all across the board, this team is athletic, it has a high basketball IQ, it can score,and maybe most importantly, it can play D. Too often in teams of past (cough 2008-2011 cough) there was two to three too many guys who I did not trust in their roles. Whether it was Michael Finley who could shoot but not play defense, Bonner who could shoot but not play defense, or Richard Jefferson who never seemed to do anything really wrong, but then again, never seemed to do anything right either.
Don't even get me started on this guy
Too frequently, there was a lineup that I knew was not very good on the court. Finally, I’m starting to believe that no matter the score and who is on the court, this team will come through when it needs to.
On a couple of side notes, I thought I'd discuss a few things I find interesting. First off, I think Stephen Jackson’s return will help this team immensely. Already I expect greater things of him than I ever did of Richard Jefferson. There has been some, albeit limited, question of whether or not this is an upgrade for the Spurs. There should not be. Jackson is a real competitor who has true heart. RJ 2.0, love him or not, never fit into the system. He did an admirable job redefining his game to make himself useful, but he remained the square peg that could not fit into the Spurs’ glaring round whole on both offense and defense. He never looked comfortable in our system and never looked like he knew what to do to improve that. Jackson has already shown that he knows where to be, what to do, and exactly what the Spurs need at any time. I keep telling myself to temper my expectations for this trade, but what the hell, this trade will make us better and make us a true championship contenders. How’s that for tempering expectations?
That's not quite his heart, but you get the idea.
This brings me to an interesting second point. I’ve always heard Pop say that he would retire when Duncan does. Best to go out in a blaze of glory, get off the wave before you hit the shore, and a number of other analogies. I don’t know anymore. I think Pop is having fun. I think his original fear of playing rookies has turned into a care-free desire to nurture and develop them. Kawhi’s immediate presence as a late-minute player is just one example. Pop seems totally into this finding young talent with an upside and mentoring it into something useful and amazing. Tim Duncan is not the player he used to be, but his transition from elite perennial MVP to slightly above-average starter has been almost imperceptible because of the core of young guys who have stepped up to the plate. Sure Parker and Ginobili are still something to behold, but at any given time Duncan is surrounded by quality talent. This is in no small part due to Popovich. My point is maybe Pop won’t retire. Maybe in addition to wine collecting, he’s found a second hobby, collecting young talented players and developing them. Maybe he’ll stay the coach for a while and see if he can do what he’s never had to, develop a winning team without a guy like Duncan around to anchor it. Just a thought, nay a suggestion for Pop (since he obviously reads PTR and pours over our advice, much like he savors a 1974 French Riesling).
Or maybe he'll return to his true passion.
Okay, well Go Spurs Go. Can’t wait for the playoffs. I think this is our year. I say that every year, but I really mean it this time. Also if someone could tell me how to center images, that would be great.