"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before." - Jacob Riis
This is the quote that Gregg Popovich has adopted for his team, his locker room. Prioritizing the value of perseverance, continuing on when it seems that futility is at hand, the emphasis of examining a continuous process instead of a focus on immediate results. It pervades the Spurs' play: weathering an opponent's run and building a steady run themselves, conceding low-percentage plays like midrange jumpers instead of threes and layups (even if the opponent puts on a run with those shots) all the while playing their motion offense, even if I (at times) calling for more isolations and postups to vary the attack.
Even the past history of the Spurs shows this approach in full. Tony Parker started as a waterbug with a great knack for finishing, yet had no jump shot. And over the years, he had received little acclaim, with media and enthusiasts alike less ready to praise the Wee Frenchman like the Chris Pauls, Russell Westbrooks, and Rajon Rondos of the league (some, as late as this season, also put Stephen Curry above him). But Pop kept on pounding the rock of Tony's career and eventually, he had fashioned a magnificent poing guard out of the rough project he had chosen not to draft (until R.C. Buford made his appeal for a 2nd tryout).
Speaking of Buford, his moves also reflect the Pounding the Rock philosophy of the Spurs franchise. Instead of building a roster from flashy, blockbuster trades, he built on the existing cornerstone that is named Tim Duncan and surrounded him with Parker, Manu Ginobili, and at first a veteran group of role players (Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Fabricio Oberto, Nazr Mohammed) then, as the Big 3 aged (whether into their primes like Parker has in recent years, out of them, as in Duncan's case, or showing their age, as in Ginobili's case), fit in younger talents whose biggest edge was showing they understood the philosophy.
Danny Green went from a decent all-around wing in college to a second-round pick by the Cavs, to being cut twice by the Spurs, to starting in the Finals and setting a Finals record (and one shy of a playoff series record) for made three pointers. George Hill was an unheralded pick by the Spurs in the deep 2008 draft; soon enough, he became the Spurs' third guard behind the Parker/Ginobili backcourt, and in what might have been the most talked-about trade of Buford's career, eventually became the starting point guard of an Indiana Pacers team that took the Heat to a seven game Eastern Conference Finals.
Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal were a draft-and-stash and an undrafted free agent from the 2007 draft class, respectively, both of whom were signed by San Antonio in 2010. Splitter went from riding the pine his rookie season to setting a career high in free throw percentage and games started this season. While Neal, despite having a low ceiling, mediocre defense, is a streaky guard who the Spurs have had on a very resonable rookie minimum salary until July 1.
And there are still rocks which remain unsplit, so to speak. The aforementioned Hill trade brought in a San Diego State forward named Kawhi Leonard, whose biggest assets were his great length and large hands. As he played as a 4 in college, he had yet to develop the corner 3 the Spurs offense emphasizes and expects from its wings. So it was a very pleasant surprise that he averaged 37% from 3 his rookie season, and although Spurs fans and Pop alike considered him the future, perhaps the experience of facing LeBron James in the Finals (where he had 19 and 16 in the final game) have catapulted him into the franchise's present. The scary thing is that he's only 21, and no one - possibly not even Leonard himself - has an idea of his ceiling. The rock is still being pounded, but the hundredth stroke has yet to arrive, and that simply means that Kawhi Leonard is just beginning.
So what do I see in this team's offseason? As with last season, I don't see PATFO panicking and trying to net a big name in free agency right away. Pop and the team felt they were close last season, and they were even closer today, coming within a few possessions of Larry O'Brien number 5. I feel like Tim Duncan has at least (the man is 37, yet plays like the best big man in the league) one more run in him, and Tony Parker will hopefully be healthier and probably even better next season (seeing as he's improved every season), leaving the biggest question: what's the future of Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and the team's other free agents?
And, these questions - like the rock being hewn by the stonecutter - will have their answers revealed in time.