The season is coming to a close and the yearly awards are about to be decided. One that Spurs fans have their eyes on is the Defensive Player of the Year award since Tim Duncan is a likely choice this season. Even with all of his All-Defensive Team honors, Tim Duncan has never won Defensive Player of the Year. Do you think he finally wins it this season? No. He better not because I should have had it before him. So you're going to get a very jealous individual. No, it's so hard being in a small market to truly get the recognition that is necessary. When you look at it, for so many years, he should have been MVP more than twice. I think with the way the game is shaped, maybe they feel like "Oh, he has enough awards. He has championships and yadda yadda yadda, so he's OK." But I think he has had a fantastic season and it's because of his love of the game - as far as taking caring of his body the way he has and being able to turn over the reins at times to Tony without having any issue with it. I think that speaks volumes about the player he is and there is no award for a player like that. I love him dearly and I'm so proud of what he's been able to do this season, especially with all the naysayers and folks that talk about or focus in on the deficiencies as compared to all the good things that player with his talent can bring.
Duncan jokingly credited his blocking to being "old and slow." You spent quite a few seasons around Tim, are you surprised at all at his current level of play for an almost 37 year old big man? No, I'm not surprised because I know the time he puts in. There was a time in the summer when we were running together and I said to him, "TD, you love the game, don't you?" And he said "Absolutely, just as you did." And because of that, when you truly love something it makes you want to work as hard as you can at perfecting the craft. You don't take things for granted; you change what is necessary in order to be better. We went out to dinner - and this is the same guy I would see eat a steak, maybe my steak as well, and also some other things that were probably not the healthiest but were awfully tasty - but we were out and he ordered a sandwich with no mayonnaise. I was like, "How do you eat a sandwich without mayonnaise?"
But it's because it is what is necessary and what is required of him now. And it's for the love of the game, it's not the money. He's not motivated by that. He's not motivated by the fact there aren't many people left in his class, as far as when he came into the NBA. It's truly about the love and the perfecting of what he has done and wanting to continue on as being a leader for the Spurs.
Well, Tim Duncan almost has a smaller version of himself now with Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi is finishing his second season and, even just at 21 years old, his play has been remarkable. Is Leonard that "X factor" for a successful Spurs playoff run? Or is it someone else? I think it's more about the role players making sure they do what they need to do so that Tim, Tony, and Manu can be special. It's hard for them to be special when the role players aren't doing what they need to do and that includes Kawhi. I don't it's a matter of Kawhi trying to be something that he's not just yet. Too many times you have people that want to place expectations on players and that's one thing that I hate to hear people say. "Oh, Kawhi is the next Bruce." You don't know what he's going to be. He can be so much more than me. He's young, he's athletic, and he has future ahead of him that we know nothing about just yet.
When it comes to the "X factor," I really think it's the role players. Last year, throughout that 21-game win streak - until [Oklahoma City] came onboard - everyone was shooting the ball well and everything was great. But when the role players were needed most, they weren't able to give that lift as they had in prior rounds. It's important for guys to knock down those open shots when they get the opportunity to keep teams honest with Tim, Tony, and Manu.
The Spurs role players vanishing last post-season - How can that mentally impact a player, especially the young role players, going into the playoffs? What's in the past is in the past. It's not about worrying what took place before, just about the process of getting better. The game of basketball is exactly that. You have your great moments and you have your moments that aren't so great. So it is a deal I'm sure Pop is constantly dealing them, "Hey, all I can do is draw the play up and all you can do is execute." At the end of the day, when you shoot it, you either make it or you don't. And if you don't, you try to get a stop where it's not detrimental; it doesn't pull away from the team. I think because it is something that guys have been doing for so long, as far as basketball is concerned, it shouldn't affect them to the point where they're having sleepless nights.
Sometimes the most simple things we create so much controversy over is in our head because were constantly thinking. But you got guys that understand that it's truly just "play the game that we've been playing for so long and let the chips fall where they may." But you got to be able to do that with a clear mind.
Tony Parker said recently that Manu's goal is to be back before the playoffs. Manu obviously wants to get into game shape and develop a rhythm. Problem is, Bruce, Manu hasn't been able to do that all season. The Spurs obviously need Parker to win a title but do the Spurs title hopes still rest on Manu becoming the Manu of old? I don't know about "the Manu of old" but he's a necessary piece in that. I think when you look at the whole group, everyone is needed. They're going to need Matt Bonner to make shots. They're going to need Stephen Jackson to make shots. They're going to need Manu's creativity, to be able to create shots that some of those players can't create like he can. And Tony as well, so you're going to need things from everyone. It's not just one guy, it's not just Manu. It needs to be Tim, Tony, Manu, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and so forth.
You know firsthand how physical the playoffs can get. Should guards, like Tony and Manu, with lingering leg issues try to come back before the playoffs? Is that wise? Or should they just try to get as much rest as possible? I don't think you can ever have an issue with having too much rest for playoffs with guys who have logged a lot of minutes and have to deal with so many things that the season presents. I think Pop is the best coach at regulating guy's minutes, if they've gone too much or if they need rest. He's done a great job with that ever since I was there so I can't necessarily say that a little rest or no rest at all is particularly good or bad.
The Spurs are neck and neck with the Thunder for the top seed in the west but they're in a balancing act of trying to get rest and trying to keep home court advantage. Is rest and health more important than the top seed? I think so. You've got a veteran ball club with the Spurs as far as guys that understand what it takes to win. Pop understands - Tim, Tony, and Manu as well - how important it is to win out on the road. Home court doesn't guarantee you victory. You still have to go out and execute and do the things necessary to get those victories. I think last year - if there was ever a testimony of how having home court and not taking advantage - they got it but they lost. You have to win on the road in order to win in this game.
Coach Pop has dismissed it before in the past but teams look ahead at possible match-ups, like who they might face and prefer if they have the one seed versus the two seed? As a player, you don't. As a coach, you have to. "If it starts today, we'll play this group but if something else happens, we got to be able to prepare for the other club. Lot of times, they have film on different teams they've played against and once they know who exactly they're playing against, they go into the process of preparing for that team. You can't prepare until it's all said and done. If you put all your eggs into one basket and you think you're going to play this team. Next thing you know, there's an upset. You have to go back and it disrupts everything that you do.
As usual, the West is particularly strong again this season. Which team do you think is the most likely to pull an upset over Oklahoma City and San Antonio and go to the finals? I don't have a team upsetting either of those two. I think one of those two teams will end up representing the West.
If those two teams were to meet up in a Western Conference Finals rematch, what would be the key for the Spurs to get past the younger and more athletic Thunder? I think health will be the issue. I don't think Oklahoma is as good as they were last year. You have the same group coming back for the San Antonio Spurs but now they're a little gimpy. I picked the Spurs over the Thunder to go to the Finals because without James Harden, you take away creativity and someone who can facilitate the offense. He's someone who can give you baskets and create his own shots. The ball was in his hands quite a bit in the fourth quarter along with Russell Westbrook. So now you have Kevin Durant who is trying to create and get others involved and that is not his strong suit. His strong suit is scoring. You have different things going on. Kevin Martin is not the player that James Harden was for the Thunder and they're still trying to figure out a way of incorporating him into their system.