Fraternizing with the Enemy: Jeff Clark & JRW Talk Spurs at Celtics
The Spurs are in Boston and it's time for some Fraternizing. We have another first time partner today, Jeff Clark, who heads up the metropolis that is CelticsBlog.com. Their version of the story is here, so venture over and see what they have to say. And as always -- stay classy San
Boston Harbor in the evening
I just read that the Spurs have had their big 3 of Duncan, Manu, and Parker on the court together only 18 times this year, yet Popovich has them rolling again. Is it about time for him to get coach of the year yet? (Note: if my history is flawed and he's actually won it before, forgive my lack of San Antonio expertise). Here in Boston we've got an appreciation for what you guys are going through and we remain impressed. What's the secret to his success?
Pop and the coach of the year award: well I guess there's no need to apologize because I don't even know myself whether or how many times he's won it. Individual awards are really treated with quite a bit of disdain in San Antonio. And any reporter who asks pop a question about a certain milestone he has passed, career wins for exam, should be ready to receive an answer something along the lines of "Well, it just means you're getting old," before he moves on to the next question.
So suppose the fan-ish reaction would be that he deserves twice as many as he's received (or at least one for every championship season if he's never won it) but there's really only one way to keep score in the Alamo city and that is with championships. Nothing else even registers on the radar.
As far as the secret of his success is concerned, I guess I have quite a few different jovial answers for that, but the truth may be even more interesting than any of those standard quips. Watching him work with this team this year and all the new pieces, all the young players, all of the injuries he's had to deal with in order to work out a playing rotation, a roster (being president of basketball operations, he's as engaged in trade and acquisition negotiations as any other coach and only) while still providing some kind of comfort zone for all the guys -- well, not only has it been impressive, but I think I have seen something in him that's probably always been there.
I'm pretty sure the man simply sees things differently than anyone else in the world. I'm guessing here, but I don't think that people with his type of thought process and his mental strengths go into anything resembling sports and entertainment. The man what's the Air Force Academy and was rumored to be a spook for the CIA, once upon a time, and there's supposedly a bit of a blank spot in his official military service dossier.
Whether that is nothing more than a rumor, or whether it's absolute truth, it points to the fact that he's as much of an iconoclast as you can have in the fraternity of NBA coaches. What the boils down to, I suppose, is that his feel for developing teams and organizing men to achieve a common goal is second to none. He won't add anyone to the team whose talents and character aren't exactly what he's looking for, and once he gets the kind of player he desires then his system changes in order to maximize their talents in a way that they are able to bring the greatest amount of benefit to the team without straying outside of their comfort zone.
There, I was able to describe it without going into X's and O's this time. I'd pat myself on the back if the Spurs didn't look down that kind of thing!
Now for you: It's been a bit of a rough, up and down season for the Celts, but they've won five in a row and 7 of 10 and sit at the top of the Atlantic with just enough room to cross their legs without bumping Philly. Has this year been more stressful than fun, with the injuries, the losing streak, the trade rumors and then finally this good stretch?
"Rough, up and down season?" That's pretty much status quo in Boston - its never easy. I guess how fun/stressful it is depends on your perspective. Many of us went into the season believing that we only had an outside shot at competing for a Championship so expectations were set fairly low. Around the trade deadline the debate was how or when to close the door on the era - either by blowing it up at the trade deadline or by waiting till the offseason to start over. The latest run has vindicated those of us that wanted to let it ride one more time but we know there's a long, long way to go till June (or whenever the Finals will be in this crazy year).
Everyone talks about the old guys on the Spurs, but how has the younger generation contributed to the success of the team?
This team would in no way be as successful as it is this year without the younger generation's contributions. After last season Gary Neal was a bit of a known quantity but there's no way anyone could have predicted the way that Danny Green has carved out a spot for himself in the rotation through his all-around play. He's led the team in scoring, he has rebounded far above what is expected from a shooting guard, and he's played defense far beyond what I expected of him from the small amount that we saw him with the Spurs last year.
And as much of a fan crush I have on Green, his contributions pale in comparison to those of our rookie, Kawhi Leonard. A physical specimen at 6 foot 7 with those crazy long arms of his, he was making his mark on the defensive end from his very first game of the season. But he plays small forward and everyone knows that the 3 in Pop's system is going to have to be able to stand in the corner and shoot threes. And what was the biggest knock on Leonard coming out of college? His outside shot, of course. So what is he averaging now in his first season in the NBA? Over .370, with splits for February and March at .474 and .432 respectively. He's learned the Spurs system so quickly that he not only occasionally plays the four, but he gave the front office enough confidence to trade Richard Jefferson and slide Leonard into the starting lineup. And I'll be starting to do crazy things like grab a rebound and dribble all the way down the court to finish the OMFB on his own, which was previously only the domain of Tony Parker.
I've decided that I'm done being tentative about his chances and I'm starting to call him a future star already. The things he's doing at 20 years old are that amazing.
I've always respected Garnett's game and talent, but suspected for quite some time that his on court persona was a bit put on. I'm finally of the opinion that while there's certainly a bit of the showman in him, he's sincere with the expressions of intensity that get so much publicity and have started so many discussions. How do you see KG's personality, and is that very different from how you regarded him before he was traded from Minnesota?
If there's one thing that KG is NOT it is fake. Sometimes his actions reflect the fact that he's perhaps trying too hard to be intense, but it isn't an act. He understands that much of basketball is about effort. Talent only gets you so far, so to win, you have to outwork your opponent. He's blessed with a motor that always runs and the attitude that he's always coming at your throat. That absolutely makes him look and act like a jerk sometimes. At times it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but at the end of the day I know what he's all about and I respect him enough to let him make those choices without judging him too harshly.
The bottom line with him is that he has laser focus on winning, but unlike Kobe he focuses on the team. He'll do anything to make the team better. Sacrificing his stats, his body, anything for the win. If you aren't wearing the same color jersey, you are the enemy and you are nothing to him (even if you might have gone out for a bite to eat the night before). In that light, I'd say there aren't enough Kevin Garnetts left in the league.
On that note, when is the end of the Duncan era? What's the outlook going forward and is there a clear plan outlined for the future?
The end, the outlook, a clear plan? None of those things exist for Duncan at this point. He made it pretty clear at the beginning of the season that he wasn't going to have many conversations about whether this is his last year, just because his contract was expiring. And his numbers are backing him up. Sure they're down from his career highs, but his per minute numbers are as stellar as they've always been. Pop has gotten him extra rest this year and every game after Tim has shown his old vintage MVP level of play.
And as long as that keeps up I am fine with a hazy view whenever I try to look into the future. If I had to guess I would say he signs fir another two or three years at the end of this season and is productive through the end of it.
Rajon Rondo just fascinates me. From his freakish athleticism, to his insane defense and rebounding prowess, with his strengths of vision and play creation added in -- it's just such a compelling package. And yet none of that draws me in like his clashes with the team's authority and his difficulties with the outside shot. How do you think Rajon is best described? Do you think he'll ever get consistent with his jumper, and will he always butt heads with his coaches and GM's?
Oh, I've stopped trying to describe Rajon Rondo in less than 11,000 words. In some ways he's like Jazz music (unpredictable but beautifully soulful) and in some ways he's like Good Will Hunting (so smart that he thinks he's above "the system"). But at the end of the day he's just Rajon Rondo. I guess I get the criticisms about his shot because it is so easy to spot. It is a tangible flaw that you can track and plot and point at and laugh at if you so chose. But is that flaw any worse than Steve Nash playing defense like a turnstile? Yet he wins back to back MVPs because he can shoot. No disrespect to Nash, I love his game, I just think every player is flawed. The net impact of Rondo's game is a huge plus, so I'll take it.
By the way, those perceptions of Rondo are why he will likely not be traded any time soon. His actual value is higher than what people will put on him so Danny will never get the value he would want in return. Which is fine with me. I'd like to see him retire in Boston after many more championships.
How do you match up with the Thunder? What about the Lakers or any other teams that could be contenders?
Now that Boris Diaw, Steven Jackson and Patty Mills have joined the Spurs, I don't think there's a team in the West that the Spurs would have real difficulty matching up with. That may not equal a Finals appearance, but instead of thinking that everything has to go perfect for the Spurs in order to win, I can now actually see some room for error and success still possible.
The Spurs have taken something like eight of the last 10 games against the Thunder, and while it's dangerous to judge the Lakers based on the regular season, they really don't strike much fear into my heart with how thin their bench is, now that Duncan has cleared that this team is the deepest he's ever played for. They seriously play 13 deep, and while that's generally not a good sign for a championship contender going into the playoffs since everyone generally settles on their nine best players and leaves human victory cigar duty for the rest, in a season like this one where the first and probably second rounds will have back-to-back games in them -- it's not going to hurt!
The injuries to monitor this year have done nothing but save his body the extra wear and tear of the compressed season while giving much-needed experience to all of the wings -- and it has paid off amazingly well. The Spurs are only two back of the Thunder now and only a half game behind the Heat. they've made this run while continuing to give the starters days off on back to backs, and with the bench not only outscoring the opponent's bench but often, as was the case last night against the Cavaliers, the opponent's starters.
Doc Rivers generally seems to be widely described as being a mediocre coach early on, a pretty fair one during the championship years, and and excellent one in the last few years. Is this a fair representation of his journey, or not?
Well, first it should be noted that he won Coach of the Year in Orlando (before being fired). Second, it should be noted that just like players, coaches have strengths and weaknesses and grow over time. Doc has an absolute talent for communication. The press loves him, his players love him, and when he's done coaching he will be able to do any TV gig he wants. That communication is key to getting players young and old to buy in to his system. Early on there were whispers that he didn't have the best X's and O's skills, but you have to wonder how much of that had to do with coaching Gerald Green and Ricky Davis. It has been noted a number of times that he's one of the best out-of-timeouts play callers in the league. Whatever his shortcomings have been, he's learned to lean on good people to do what they do best. Be it Tom Thibbodeau or Lawrence Frank or whomever. I think all those are signs of a good coach.
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett couldn't be further from each other in personality, but they actually have somewhat similar games. Each is a fantastic defender who plays unselfishly and relies on outside shooting. If you don't mind, could you talk about the history, the legacies, and the mutual respect those two have for each other. You know, like in less than like 11,000 words.
There's that words limit again. You know how long winded I can be! How about I try to do it in a single paragraph? Ahem.
Hard-working, defensive minded players who can score and control the game with any aspect of their talents that they choose to focus on. Champions who can't rest while there's still more to excel at and challenges to pursue. I feel like I know Duncan's character pretty well and I believe that there's not a player in the league that he doesn't respect. I don't know Garnett nearly as well, but I once saw YouTube compilation of all the guys he'd got intense with, and at the end of the video, there was Duncan standing in front of him after a play, and KG just nodded at him and the two walked away from each other.
Last question: What's it like rooting for and blogging about a team that has as high profile a fan as Bill Simmons? I find his writing highly entertaining and up until the end of the lockout I'd read everything he'd ever written for ESPN/Grantland. Does it make it easier or harder to do what you do for CelticsBlog knowing he's out there being all Simmonsy?
Simmons is great at what he does and I like and respect the guy. What he does and what I do are two different worlds, so I don't have any problems with that and don't feel like there's much overlap. With that said, if you catch me comparing the Celtics starting five to characters from Saved By The Bell, then send me a can of gas and some matches so I can light myself on fire. There can be only one Bill Simmons - NO ONE DENIES THIS.