[Editor's note: Yesterday, Aaronstampler posted an excellent story as a farewell to DeJuan Blair. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and do so now. It does an excellent job of telling the history of the Grizzly Blair as a Spur, and it's the set-up for virtually every point theghostofjh makes in this piece. - J.R. Wilco]
While I agree with a good number of Aaron's points, I disagree with his conclusions, and those of the Spurs, regarding Blair. We should not have gone away from him. Not in 2010-11 for McDyess. Not in 2011-12 for Diaw. And not in 2012-13 for Splitter. Not as a starter, no. And not during the regular season, or playoffs.
Winning is about a whole host of things, many of which are obscure, but can be the difference between a win and a loss. Playing consistent, conservative defense is important as a team, but it is not necessary, desirable, or even possible for every important player on a team to exhibit this trait. We should have encouraged Blair to remain in shape, used positive reinforcement to get as much compliance with the "Spurs style" as possible rather than jerk his minutes around when he forgets to tie a shoelace. Blair should have continued to start the halves, with Splitter and Diaw in reserve getting comparable or more minutes, and Splitter usually closing with Duncan. And again, offense and defense go into winning games (not just defense), along with a host of other intangible factors. In my opinion, Blair should have always kept a meaningful role as a starter on the team. The reason the Spurs got so close to a Finals win last year was 90+% because of the jump in Leonard's and Green's game, the resurgence of a 36-37 year old Duncan, and the MVP caliber year from Parker, not because we went away from Blair.
I'm a big believer in, "the proof is in the pudding". And to me, that proof is the "percentage" in; the Spurs regular season W-L record with Blair as a starter. Only one Spurs player has a higher win rate as a starter since 2010-11; the great Tim Duncan, and only by a fraction of a percentage point.
Sure, Blair has his weaknesses, but as a 20 mpg. starter he has many strengths that are consistently overlooked. Most of them are intangibles that most observers do not properly weight and evaluate. I've gone over this many times before, and will not elaborate again.
DeJuan's numbers dropped in some categories over the last couple of seasons because we kept trying to get him to be someone he's not. We kept trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. We attempted to force him more and more into a narrower and narrower role as he began to regularly start with Duncan (e.g., both of Blair's 20-20 games were not in a starting role with Duncan). Pop let Blair be himself his rookie year, and part of his 2nd year. Then he got into being more exacting with him. The more Blair naturally couldn't fully accommodate, the more exacting Pop became. Instead of applying positive reinforcement, it was negative punishment. Not a good idea with a player like Blair.
In the end it's Pop's team, and the two of them simply had too many differences in style and temperament. Obviously, if someone had to go, Pop or a valuable role player, it would be the role player. And ultimately that's what happened. It wasn't necessarily that the Spurs couldn't go the farthest with Blair as the starter. It was just something that Pop on a personal and philosophical level was just not comfortable with.
That's pretty much all she wrote. So good luck to DeJuan in the rest of his career. I hope he finds the right situation at some point over the next couple of years. That could be huge for his prospects. And of course, good luck to the Spurs, who are very lucky (not all luck, of course) to have struck gold with Kawhi Leonard. If the big three stay healthy and hold off meaningful decline, he (and perhaps Green) can keep in the team in contention for at least another year or two.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Who's taking all of the Spurs' shots? Playoff edition
- The Top 10 Spurs Games of Last Season
- J.R. Wilco talks about Greg Oden, DeJuan Blair and Gary Neal on the Phil Nassens show
- Spurs Announce 2013-14 Preseason Schedule
- The End of the Gary Neal Era, Manu turns 36 and TrueHoop interviews a "Spurs Fan"