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Is there a Star of the Spurs?

What is a star? Is it the best player on the team? The one who carries the biggest load? The guy who scores/rebounds/defends/assists/steals the most? The player who brings it every night, no matter what? And what is it? These questions can be answered in many different ways, but is it odd that we're asking them about a team that has the best record in the league?

Below is a conversation I had yesterday with Lauri in the comments of the Suns' game recap. It raised a lot of issues in my mind and made me consider what I think A Star is.

JRW: Manu is the star of this team. He may not exert himself every night depending on who else is hot, or who the opponent is, or whether he's preserving his energy for the 4th in case it's needed - when it often hasn't been.

I'm not saying that he can just turn it on an be awesome whenever he feels like it, although that often appears to be the case. There are some nights when he just doesn't have this shot going, but that doesn't make him any less important to the Spurs. He is the star because he'll still make an impact on the game (in crucial moments as in nearly insignificant ones) regardless of how hot his shooting hand(s) are.

He's playing at an exceptionally high level this year in every facet of the game. And he is, it should not be disputed, the star of the team.

Lauri: "And he is, it should not be disputed, the star of the team."

I'm going to dispute it, whether you think it "should" be disputed or not. I think he is one of the stars of the team, but not THE star of the team. I fully expect to get the usual catcalls one risks here if one doesn't elevate Manu to the most exalted position, but I don't care.

The whole point of the Spurs organization is NOT to have one player without whom the team cannot win. Could we win without Manu? I don't know. Hopefully I won't have to find out. He's one of my favorite players, not just on the Spurs, but of all time, and I adore his fierce brilliance and his careening style and I don't want to be deprived of it. But I don't think Manu is the only one who can make an impact on a game regardless of how hot his shooting happens to be. What I've seen Timmy do nearly every game this season (Where are his slo-mo gifs, by the way? I wouldn't mind seeing a gif of that sequence of blocks last night, the way he moved under the basket, his mastery in the post, oh, I could cry) is in no way, at least to my mind, less responsible for our success.

JRW: "I don't think Manu is the only one who can make an impact on a game regardless of how hot his shooting happens to be."

I'm not proposing that Manu's the only one. Even RJ2.0 has shown the ability to contribute in many ways (his recent rebounding comes to mind) when he's not shooting as well as he did to start the season.

My point isn't that Manu is the only one for which this is true. My point is that the team is depending on him more than in years past, due to Pop's obvious preference to rest Duncan as much as possible. It would be silly to discount what Tim does nightly, or say that his importance to the team has lessened because his minutes have decreased. Anyone familiar with the team should be able to punch holes in such a theory with relative ease.

The difference with this year's team is not that the ability of any of the Big Three has significantly changed, but in whom the team is leaning on. Maybe you could say: whom the team is choosing to lean on. When you look at the roster, it's like looking at a workbench. All of the tools are necessary and important, and some jobs could be done with one or another tool. But that doesn't make any of them less needed.

Over the last few seasons, we've seen what the Spurs can do with Duncan carrying the load early in the season. The team is very good with Tim as option #1. Very, very good. And I expect it to be the case through most, if not all of the playoffs. But right now, the way Pop is choosing to play, I see that Manu has taken on the starring role so that Duncan can be used less, and sit on the bench during the 4th quarter more often.

Lauri: Are you saying "Manu Ginobili is THE star of the San Antonio Spurs," or are you saying "So far this year, we have depended on Manu more than we have in the past, giving him the starring role in certain situations so that we are better positioned come playoff time"? I thought you were saying the former. If you were saying the latter, I can board that train.

JRW: Feel free to hop aboard, Lauri. This is indeed my thesis:

"So far this year, we have depended on Manu more than we have in the past, giving him the starring role in certain situations so that we are better positioned come playoff time."

Right now, it's about role, not about soul.

Tim is still the centerpiece of the team. He is the octopus bartender in the Looney Tunes nightclub scene that is the Spurs franchise. But this regular season (if I may switch metaphors) he's willingly taking an understudy role while allowing Manu to star in his place.

But I doubt not that it's still his place, and I expect the playoffs to prove this time and again.

Lauri: Ah, we disagree again. As assonant as the original sound bite may be, I think it's about role and soul.

And I don't really follow how "Manu is the star of this team" translates to "So far this year, we have depended on Manu more than we have in the past, giving him the starring role in certain situations," because to me they don't mean the same thing. I don't know if I would characterize Timmy's role as that of "understudy." His play, limited as it may be, just seems too integral to our incredible start this season (as does that of Parker, Jefferson, et al). But we'll see how the season continues to spool out. It could well be that by the end of next spring we can point to one particular player as THE star of the San Antonio Spurs, but I kind of hope not. Honestly, I've never really understood why that's necessary to begin with. Maybe it's human nature (which would make me . . . inhuman?). I like it when a team is functioning so well together that you can't say, not even with craftily manipulated stats, "that guy, that one right there-HE'S the reason we made it to the championship. HE'S the star." It's possible to have a great team without stars when the team is the star. Right now, that's the kind of team I feel like we have.

And I love that.

I believe that teams have stars. There are different roles for different players at different times, but teams DO have stars. Every championship team, going back 25 years, has had a bonafide star, except for the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

When I watch the Spurs play this year, I see Manu with the ball in his hands determining the direction of the game, more than I have in years past, when he was more on the edges of the play waiting and ready if his number was called.

Earlier in my life (before the five jrwlings) I did a lot of acting in the theater, and the term "understudy" doesn't mean waiting in the wings for the star to get sick or be replaced. Understudies often have roles themselves, albeit lesser roles, for whatever reason. So saying that Tim is an understudy right now allows for him to still have a role, just not the featured star role that he has had in years past. Just because Manu's not the best player on any given night doesn't mean to me that he's not the star, because the same was true of Duncan for so long. Yet no one would argue that it wasn't Duncan's team in those years.

I think that the entire argument is fascinating, as well as subjective and completely up for debate. Because all of my previous arguments are based on my point of view and the fact that I view "teams having stars" the way I do. A different person with differing views on teams and stars is, by definition, going to feel differently about this topic. This is why I am so interested to see a continuing discussion in the comments, in order to determine the way that the rest of PtR feels about this topic, whether the team has a star this year and just how important that is.