Pathology of the Spurs: Part 7 - A remarkable run

Tom Pennington

The conclusion of the Pathology series.

This is the second part of the luck discussion which is itself the fourth section of an examination of the foundations of the Spurs franchise. The first three sections were: Robinson, Duncan and Popovich. The fourth section of Luck is made of two parts. If you missed the first part -- examples No 1 through 25 on how much a role simple luck has played in the culture and the success of the Spurs -- click here.

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26. The Spurs pulled out all the stops in courting free agent point guard Jason Kidd, whom they had just vanquished during the Finals. Pop wanted him and gave Kidd the full pitch, while Duncan showed him around town. Kidd wanted to join the Spurs, but his wife wanted to stay in the New York area to be a television star, so he passed. A 21-year-old Parker was very upset the Spurs chased after Kidd in the first place, and while Pop and GM R.C. Buford continue to insist that they had a plan for the two to play together, Parker doesn't buy it to this day and it would've been very hard for them to fit Kidd, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili under the salary cap once the two young Spurs guards entered free agency.

Look, you can understand why the Spurs chased after Kidd. Outside of 2010, Parker's stock was never lower than it was after the 2003 Finals, in which he slumped badly down the stretch and the team needed Speedy Claxton to bail them out at point guard. You can understand why Pop didn't trust him fully. But it's hard to see either him or Ginobili -- two guys who excel with the ball in their hands -- developing fully with Kidd dominating possessions, and I doubt even Pop or Duncan would've been happy in the long run with Kidd, since he would've attracted more national media attention. Kidd saying "no thanks," to the Spurs was a blessing in disguise. (2003)

27. Duncan and Parker battle through minor injuries early in the season, leaving second-year man Ginobili to deal with four future Hall-of-Famers pretty much by himself in an early-season game against the Lakers. He almost pulls it off, as the Spurs lose in double over time. Still, the game is generally regarded as Manu's NBA coming out party, as he never came close to doing anything like this his rookie year. (2003)

28. Hedo Turkoglu was such a bust during his one season with the Spurs that they quickly scrapped any thought of signing him long term and chose instead to sign Brent Barry, a much better fit on the team for a thousand reasons. Parker certainly (Hey-o) approved of the move. (2004)

29. Larry Brown got the Team USA head coaching job for the 2004 Olympics. If you watched Brown coach in the NBA, you quickly learned he didn't trust or respect foreign players or youngsters. So putting him in charge of the Olympic team, where he buried LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the bench (not to mention Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire) in favor of a Stephon Marbury-Allen Iverson back court, it was really the perfect storm for Team USA to really under-perform. Even playing their best lineups they might not have beaten Argentina in the peak of their "Golden Generation." Ginobili was named MVP of the tournament (you can watch the entire semi-final win over the U.S. here if you like) and there's no doubt that coming off the high of that tournament boosted his confidence to an all-time peak, priming him for an All-Star season and a kick-ass playoff run. (2004)

30. Thank God for Isiah Thomas. The embattled former GM of the Knicks traded Nazr Mohammed to the Spurs for Malik Rose and his overpriced contract. Finally, the Spurs had an actual big-man they could play alongside Duncan. (Rasho Nesterovic was just too soft when it mattered.) Without this trade, the team has no chance to win a title in 2005. Repeat, no chance. (2005)

31. Duncan sprains his ankle late in the year. Why is this good news, you ask? Because it gave Parker and Ginobili the reins for the final 15 or so games of the season. They didn't have The Big Fella to bail them out on both ends of the floor. Instead they had to ignite the offense for the full 48 minutes. The guard-oriented motion offense you've come to love these past few seasons started right here, in late March of 2005. Duncan's injury would prove crucial for the upcoming playoffs. (Plus, it gave him a much-needed breather.)

32. The Robert Horry Game. No big deal, just won the Spurs a title is all. They probably lose in six if not for Horry's 21-point explosion during the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 5.

33. The NBA passes the amnesty rule, as a way to save awful GMs like Thomas from themselves. Mark Cuban uses it to get rid of Michael Finley, who is owed nearly $60 million dollars for the final three years of his contract. The Spurs pick him up for peanuts and Findog pays back his former employer with a huge Game 6 on the road with the Spurs down 3-2 in their second-round series, and a couple of big shots in the heartbreaking Game 7 loss. Finley would go on to hit the buzzer-beater game winner in an overtime regular season tilt against the Lakers next season that turned the corner on the Spurs' season and ignited their Finals run. (2006)

34. Joey Crawford ejects Tim Duncan from the bench for laughing in a late regular season loss at Dallas. Not only does this get Crawford suspended for the playoffs by David Stern, but in light of the refereeing debacle during the previous Mavericks-Heat Finals, in which Dwyane Wade was awarded like 4,352 free throws, there was a lot of pressure on the league to call the games straight regardless of star power or market size. (2007)

35. The upstart, "We Believe" Warriors upset the 67-win Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, removing the Spurs' toughest obstacle. San Antonio had lost three of four regular season match-ups to the Mavericks the year after that crushing seven-game loss in the second-round. The Mavs would've obviously had home court advantage had the two teams had a rematch, but that was a series that never happened. (2007)

36. Parker breaks his hand. This injury sucked at the time, but Parker's lengthy absence (and prolonged, season-long slump afterward) gives George Hill the opportunity to shine, relatively speaking, in his absence. Hill benefits from getting some starts, even in the playoffs. (2010)

37. Parker plays so poorly after returning from injury that the Spurs are able to sign him, to a below-market extension well short of the max. (2010)

38. Coach Ginobili draws up a play. Messing around late in the preseason, Pop let Ginobili draw up the final play with the Spurs trailing by two late against the Clippers. Manu diagrams a play (well, really it looked like an indecipherable mess on the greaseboard but I'm sure it made sense to him) for Neal, who buries the three and earns a spot on the team as an undrafted free agent. Neal pays dividends in the form of a season-saving shot (for the moment) in Game 5 against Memphis. (2011)

39. Pop and Gino decide to pick up the pace. Bothered by the sluggish pace of the team down the stretch in the 2010 season and fully cognizant that Duncan is starting to slow down, Pop calls on his guards -- especially Ginobili -- to run, run and run some more. Picking up the pace on offense, relying less on Duncan and doing everything possible to rack up the wins early on so that the team doesn't have to waste their legs fighting for a playoff spot in April. The Spurs start 25-3. (2011)

40. Richard Jefferson is an unmitigated disaster. Pop and Buford quickly come to realize that Jefferson will not solve the team's long-term plans at small forward from an athleticism, intelligence or competitiveness standpoint. They needed a Plan B. (2011)

41. Danny Green doesn't give up. A player of little renown, Green was picked up off the scrap heap after the Cavs let him go, then was cut quickly by the Spurs because of his attitude, got the message, begged Pop for another chance, got cut again, signed again, and even saw some playoff time. (2011).

42. Parker plays like crap against the Grizzlies in the playoffs. He gets torched by Mike Conley so badly that nobody wants him in the off-season in trade, when reportedly he could've been had for a top-seven pick. So Pop decides to deal his "favorite player," instead. (2011)

43. The Pacers, impressed with Hill's play the past two seasons and loaded at small forward with Paul George and Danny Granger already on the roster, flip draft pick Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs. (2011)

44. Pop decides to take in some international basketball in the off-season. He notices that Parker, who had been a huge disappointment the past two seasons particularly from a leadership standpoint, was a different man when playing with his national team. He was a fiery leader and in total control of every aspect of the team. Pop tells Parker to play with that kind of attitude for the Spurs and the lightbulb turns on for the Frenchman, taking his career to another level. (2011)

45. Ginobili breaks his hand early in the season, which opens up more playing time for Leonard and Green, who benefit greatly. (2012)

46. Jefferson is so unspeakably bad that he, too, loses minutes to the young wings and it becomes apparent he doesn't have a future in San Antonio when Leonard continues to get better and better. (2012)

47. The Spurs flip Jefferson to the Warriors in a three-team trade involving the Bucks for Stephen Jackson, who gives the club a badly-needed edge and energy jolt. The Spurs, who'd also welcomed back Ginobili to the lineup at that point, awaken from their slumber and start destroying everybody. (2012)

48. Boris Diaw does everything short of eating Michael Jordan to get the Bobcats to buy him out. And what do you know, his best friend plays for the Spurs and they could use another big. Diaw immediately gives the team another dimension as a passing big-man and leapfrogs DeJuan Butler in the rotation. Well, maybe leapfrog is the wrong term, but you know what I mean. (2012)

49. Leonard becomes self-aware. In a regular season game in which Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are all out at Chicago, Leonard leads the Spurs to a convincing win, doing it all on both ends of the floor and thoroughly outplaying Luol Deng. It was a sign of things to come in the postseason (2013)

50. Russell Westbrook hurts his knee against the Rockets. The top-seeded Thunder go down meekly to the Grizzlies in the second round. Not to say the Spurs wouldn't have beaten them in a rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Finals (particularly without James Harden), but I wasn't exactly weeping when I heard the news. (2013)

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So there you go, from Robinson's rise and fall to the impact it had on Duncan, whose instant success allowed Pop to build the franchise the way he wanted from top to bottom, especially after he found two diamonds in the rough in Parker and Ginobili, to all the lucky breaks that brought the team to where it is now.

The culture of the Spurs is a complicated, intricate, mysterious thing. The public doesn't really get them and the national media doesn't even bother trying to explain them for 11 months a year because the team so actively pushes against the coverage. Pop and Duncan loathe it, Ginobili is accommodating to a point but he prefers his relative anonymity after being treated like a god in his home country, and even Parker has come to the conclusion that he'd rather do without the attention after seeing its downside, thanks to his much-publicized divorce from Eva Longoria.

That the Spurs are allowed to exist in their cocoon is in itself a product of considerable luck. Duncan, their biggest star, is seen as "boring," partly because of his position, partly because of his personality, and partly because of his fundamentally-sound style of play. Ginobili and Parker are hard to sell because they're foreign and neither are high-flyers. The team makes it policy to steer clear of controversy or the police blotter and you don't see the Spurs engage in public feuds or "beefs" with other teams or each other. There are no Shaq-Kobe internal squabbles. Finally, the team's geography, in which they're far removed from either coast and stuck in the middle of football country, gives them some protection as well. They just couldn't exist like this in New York, Boston or LA, no matter how much Duncan or Popovich pushed against it. Even being in San Antonio itself, a town that only has one professional team, allows them the luxury of controlling the local press on some level, with the organization having given a clear, unmistakable "we're the only show in town so you better treat us right" message to the local press, especially after their first title in 1999.

No matter how you slice it, however you attribute the credit pie between Duncan, Pop, Ginobili, Parker, Robinson and plain old dumb luck, there's no arguing the fact that what the Spurs have given us the past, oh, 25 years has been a joy and a pleasure more often than not. The enormity of it all is really something to behold. A market like this is just not supposed to be a haven for four Hall-of-Fame players and a Hall-of-Fame coach, yet it has been. Since my childhood you could pretty much write the history of the league in eight franchises: The Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks and Heat. That's it. That's the list (with apologies to Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing). All of these teams have their own story, but seven of them have gone through valleys, with several of those lasting years and years. Only the Spurs have had that sustained success, with that one year of suckage being so necessary and crucial for all that followed.

It's remarkable. There's just no other word for it. It's remarkable.

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