Yeah, it's those evil referees out to get you, Pop.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eh, the winning streak had to end sometime, and really, this team isn't built for Western Conference fogafinis (who is?).
Still, we had it though. I mean we fucking had it. Both games. An eight point halftime lead on the road in the first and a 5 point lead with less than four minutes to go in the second. What more could we have asked for? To come out in the second half and play like a completely different team... I mean, I know I sound spoiled and I shouldn't be so upset... but damn that was disappointing. The whole team just stopped competing. It's like a boxer that was winning on the scorecards for the first six rounds, doing everything right, and when the other guy lands one solid punch the guy's knees go weak and he's done. We just didn't punch back. And the Phoenix game? I can't even rationally talk about the Phoenix game. I would blame the zebras, but that would just make me sound like a pathetic Suns fan.
So instead I'll blame two people mainly. You'll never believe this either.
Pop and Frenchie.
I know! What are the fucking odds?
Pop, ever the big picture guy, has been waiting for a stretch like this for a while. The team was a little too happy with themselves, a little too confident, (wouldn't you be with The Domoninator on your side?) a little too filled with nonchalance, c'est la vie, ennui and other French words that mean the opposite of Tenemos cojones peludas inmensas.
He did everything but lay the dreaded soft card on the club when he said after the game that "We're not at the same level we were at last year at this time, even though we seem to be situated relatively well in the West. This team isn't as good as last year's team. We have significant improvement that we have to make both mentally and physically if we're going to be able to contend for the championship."
That comment seems, I dunno, pretty freakin' ballsy, coming from a coach who proudly claimed the other day that he still didn't think it was important to cobble together some kind of rotation, no? I mean, I know Pop is kind of stuck in the unusual position of having to wait until Barry comes back to have his roster set for good, but really he'd be in the same position if Bones was injured, right?
(Actually, Brent is injured).
Do you hear Phil Jax whining about not having a rotation down yet because Bynum isn't back? Please. It's March for crying out loud Pop, earn your paycheck and make a couple of fucking decisions already. It's not too much to ask for, is it? When Barry comes back from his banishment, this team will have 13 veterans on its roster. You can't seriously tell me that all 13 are good enough to contribute to a championship caliber team's playoff run. Pick your 10 best and let's GO. Maybe, to ease the temptation of playing everybody, you should only dress 10 guys per game. It doesn't have to be the same 10 every night, but just 10. Too crazy?
All I know is that Pop heaps on loads upon piles upon mountains upon oceans of adversity on his innocent unsuspecting warriors. No other team has a coach who constantly dicks with their roles so much, from game to game. One day you're the 12th man, the next you play 27 minutes. One day you're the team's savior, scoring 44 points, the next you're the third banana. One day you're Mr. Finals MVP/Mr. Hollywood/Mr. Now, the next you're the guy whose job it is to get the ball to BigNose and get the hell out of the way and oh please don't screw that simple task up or we'll get Jacque Vaughn to do it.
There is not one guy on the team who can say his role has been stable for ten consecutive games. Not one. Even Timmy, some games he's the offensive/defensive bedrock, the foundation of everything we do, and other games he's asked to merely be The Admiral at 33 - rebound, block shots, get the ball to the guards who can score. Whatever. Tim can handle it. Nothing phases him except for crummy refereeing. And God has he been bitching a lot to the zebras lately. Like every game and every other trip down court. It's getting incessant. Can't Pop talk to him about that? It never does Tim any good and the more he whines the worse he plays. But anyway, as I was saying, I don't think his role within the offense bothers Duncan at all.
And Manu is a trooper. I don't think he minds being yanked back and forth from the starting line-up and bench so much. He's mostly gotten it down cold by now, though I'm surprised he hasn't slugged Pop in the face yet after the umpteenth time he's had to suffer playing with Horry, Vaughn, Udoka and Oberto.
But Tony? No, Tony cannot handle this. You hear me? CAN NOT. It's very unrealistic to expect him to function well when one night he's starting along Findog and he knows him and Teeemy have to be the show the first six minutes of the game and the next night Manu's in and he's foshizzle THE MAN these days so you can't just freeze him for eight possessions at a time like you used to in the good ol' days. The Wee Frenchman is showing all the signs of a man who is about to undergo a nervous breakdown. His game is a mess. His court vision is all but gone, his jump shot is awry, he doesn't get to the hole as frequently because EVERYONE is backing off him these days and he wastes countless possessions per game dribbling, dribbling, dribbling the clock away like Starbury, not knowing who to pass it to or whether he should "go into attack mode."
I think the little guy's confidence and his mojo is gone. Something happened to him when we were winning all these games in a row. Maybe something happened to Pop as well. Once again, he trusts/favors Gonzo more than Frenchie, and the toothpaste is out of the tube.
We could handle this back in '05. Back then Tim was three years younger and dominant. Manu still had the springs and the league still didn't think much of him back then. The club was younger, tougher, much better defensively. Bowen could shut his guy down night after night after night. Horry was not just among the living but an actual asset.
Those Spurs are gone and they're not coming back.
The team we cheer for now is unfathomably old. Unprecedentedly old. Outside of Parker, our youngest contributor is Bonner, and he's no athlete. This team needs Parker to be, if not as good as Manu, at least in the conversation. The past two years he was. There was actually an argument, a debate about this. The Hollinger crowd had their stats for Manu, the Cro-Magnons had the traditional "per game" averages for Tony.
Now there is no argument. The right guy won. It's not even close anymore. You'll get more debates about Manu/Tim than you will about Manu/Tony these days.
Here comes the unfortunate part: We need the old debate back. Tony's 25. Manu's an old 30. We need Tony to act like the second best player on the team, and on some nights even the best. We need him to be hungry and confident and certain of himself. We need him to be the guy I grudgingly respect instead of the one I openly mock.
But he can't do it without Pop. Pop needs to love Tony and tolerate Manu instead of the other way around. But Pop can't leave Manu on the bench because Michael Finley is awful. Like OH MY GOD HE IS SINGLEHANDEDLY KILLING US awful.
I don't know what the solution is. We have a roster full of role players that no one fears and who struggle to hit open as hell shots. Manu has to retreat to God damn near the half court line these days to get the ball from the point guard and initiate the offense because too many people are paying attention to him everywhere on the court and nobody else is fast/athletic/coordinated/alive enough to get open near the basket and occupy defenders.
We hardly get any fast break points and we're awful at finishing at the rim as a team. On both ends of the court we are at a massive disadvantage in youth, size, speed, athleticism, yet our coach, the very man who put these limitations on us, refuses to admit any of these basic truths. The Spurs on defense will not lock down any Western team for more than a six minute stretch here, a good quarter there. They're too good and talented, we're too old and slow. It's not about positioning, blown assignments or boxing out. It's about raw physical ability. If how well the game was played was based on how well you understand what you're doing, then 55 year old coaches would be playing one another instead of the players.
Pop has gotten a lot of mileage - A LOT OF MILEAGE - out of his system, his personnel evaluation skills, his philosophies on the game. The truth of the matter is the guy is simply lucky as shit. He shamelessly tanked his way into Duncan falling in his lap. He drafted an Argentine guy with the second to last pick in the draft that wound up being part Larry Bird and part Sarunas Marcuilionis, but with Michael Jordan's desire to win. His GM had to beg him to work out Tony and then they got lucky again that Kidd spurned them.
The bottom line is that for all of Pop's supposed genius, he is actually pretty similar to Phil Jackson. He had the best player, he had another who was a top 15 player, and another on top of that who was top 30. It's not exactly miraculous to win with that formula. The reason it worked was that the role players were young enough to contribute. Now, it doesn't appear to be the case.
All I know is that he has nobody to blame but himself. You can't let talents like Scola and Udrih walk for nothing. James White wasn't unsalvageable. We're not finding the Brandon Basses, the Jermerio Moons, the Monta Ellises.
It's pretty dangerous, as far as I'm concerned, that our coach does not feel he has the ability to reach young American players or the patience to nurture foreigners who aren't quite as gifted or passionate as Ginobili or Parker.
Or maybe the front office just doesn't work hard enough. I wish I knew.
Either way, we are coming upon the playoffs. This will be it, or should be, for at least a third of the roster. We need to bid adieu to Horry, Finley, Stoudamire and Vaughn. If Bowen is brought back, it must be in a limited capacity. Thomas is old as hell too and next year we'll have two new centers, right? Barry might very well energize us a bit, maybe even "save" the offense this playoff run. But as much as I like him, I'm not at all thrilled about the years on his new contract.
Solutions? I'm short on solutions. I guess it was a good first step, playing Bonner over Horry, but I have zero faith in Pop sticking to that, so I can't get too excited. Unless he is waived off the team, the specter of Horry will always be there to haunt us.
Manu has to return to the bench permanently, to help Tony and to give us that bench scoring. Plus it helps Pop control his minutes under 32, and that's a good thing overall. If Finley sucks too much to start than go with Udoka. Even if he misses shots, he might - MIGHT -play some defense.
Finally, when Barry comes back, assuming he's healthy and able, a big assumption at this point, I'd scrap both Mighty Mouse and Vaughn and go with the Barry-Manu backcourt when Tony needs a blow. It doesn't matter who is the point and who is the two, they can alternate for all I care. They're smart enough to figure it out. Offensively this should be pretty potent. Defensively, we'll be in a little trouble, but not as much as you'd think. First of all, it's not like Vaughn or Stoudamire were shutting down any of the small quick guards either. At least Barry has length, if nothing else. Secondly, I would recommend that we just go into a pure zone when Tony is out, or maybe have Bowen take the point guard. Whatever. If we pack the lane in as much as possible, it shouldn't be too bad for 12 minutes a night.
Defensively, we'll figure things out as much as we can. Between Tony, Manu, Tim, Bowen, Thomas, Udoka and Oberto, we have enough guys who are average to good defensively. Offense is where this team is really struggling, playing below their potential. The ball movement isn't there, Timmy isn't dominating his guy and Manu is running on fumes waiting for Parker to figure his shit out.
So yeah, I'm a little concerned about the upcoming stretch of games.