Chemistry, Continuity and Discipline

First, a little rant.

The Spur's consistency over the years has been nothing less than astounding. They have made the playoffs for about 40 years straight, or about as long as Duncan has been playing. This year, as usual, they are indisputably one of the best teams in the league.


Most teams would love to have ONE year like that. The wins, the gorgeous intelligent style of play, the complex simplicity, the mind numbing consistency. The Spurs have a great mix of chemistry, coaching, personalities, and yes, of course talent. Take the time to enjoy it.

Beyond the wins, enjoy the way the players interact, the way role players accept their roles without snide media "leaks". Enjoy the way the stars sit on the bench when asked and cheer on their teammates. Not their inferiors, their teammates! No finger pointing, no pompous or condescending bullshit.

So quit clamoring for blockbuster trades that are unlikely to result in a blend as sweet, as harmonious, as inspiring. If a trade happens, hopefully we are lucky enough to keep the other stuff working as well, but rarely can a star player just step in like that. This team may or may not claim a title, but simply adding some talent does not automatically make them more likely to win a title. Ok, Rant over.

How did the Spurs get to this point?

Luck? Obviously, the bounce that sent one Tim Duncan to San Antonio. Also, who would have guessed quite how good Manu Ginobili would be and how perfect his personality was for this team? What if Manu had been a little more the type Pop probably preferred back then, a little less wild and unpredictable. Who knows how that would have turned out. Obviously the Spurs never saw how good Tony Parker would have turned out to be or they would never have tried for Kidd.

However, I would argue that luck like that is not so unusual. Many teams get franchise players, and most teams get players that exceed expectations. I would also argue that it was not just luck, the Spurs created an environment to maximize the potential of each of these players. Duncan was not allowed free rein until he perfected his defensive skills. Manu was allowed to be who he is instead of what Pop wanted him to be. Tony was pushed hard every year, yet Pop has carefully managed the growth instead of trying to do everything at once. Notice how Tony improves in one area every couple of years. Sure, he works hard, but Pop never pushed him to do everything at once, just one direction at a time. Writer's hint, that last sentence uses this newfangled writing technique called foreshadowing.

The Spurs have been the same every year. Getting older but still good because of their chemistry and continuity. And that tells you exactly how the Spurs got to this point. Continuity and chemistry. Each helps the other. Good chemistry makes it easier to keep continuity as players want to stay, and continuity helps keep good chemistry going. Tony could easily have gone to NY and maybe would have if he did not enjoy playing with Tim and Manu.

Obviously three players are not enough especially as they get older and that is where it gets tricky.

The Spurs prefer tweaks over massive landscape changing trades. It is not that they don't understand the need for talent, it is simply that they have other priorities as well. It is not that they will not change - witness the transformation from a primarily defensive team to a well oiled offensive machine - it is that they will change deliberately and with more lasting effects. To give a dieter's analogy, no drastic crash diet that gives the illusion of quick and easy weight loss, they prefer the slow and steady lifestyle shift that will improve the body and keep the weight off.

What's that you are muttering? Richard Jefferson? Other teams make trades like that regularly, but this was the one time the Spurs tried to rush the process. Let's call that the exception that proves the rule.

Most people (including myself) have compared the Spurs to the Celtics, but a better comparison is the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, I know, nothing alike, but there are some similarities. Franchise big man, unconventional but great (get over your hate, you know it is true). The added advantages of deeper pockets and bigger market. What they have not had: Continuity. Every year Cuban wants to tinker and play and trade, always trying to upgrade talent, even letting key pieces of a championship core walk to try and land bigger and better talent. He simply does not get that this is not an all-star game, you need a team! Actually, thinking back to the Celtics, a seemingly minor trade like moving Perkins mentally destroyed that team. Moral - do not make trades just for the sake of making trades. Continuity matters!

Let's step away from basketball for a second. For many years I worked damn hard but never made much progress. Every evening after work I was toiling trying to learn languages, music, photography, painting, squash (the sport, not the vegetable), etc.. and yet never got anywhere. A few years ago I finally realized the problem - I was jumping around from project to project and would switch before getting the core understanding needed.

I made a drastic change in my approach. Got rid of almost everything non-core. A garage full of books (one wall lined with fiction, the other with educational stuff to learn from). Got rid of the camera, the piano and other instruments. Got rid of the umpteen language tapes and other learning toys. (Yes, you read correctly, tapes, not mp3s or CDs. Yes, I am that ancient).

The next two years I learned only one major new thing: salsa (the dance, not the sauce), eventually joining a dance troupe. But although it was only one new skill I learned more each month than in years and years previously. Once I felt pretty solid in dance I bought a camera again and focused on that for a few years (no pun intended). Within each genre I added one thing at a time, e.g. shoot with single lens, then multiple lenses, then added off camera lighting. The key is to not add too many things, yet stay motivated enough to really work hard to improve in the few prioritized target areas. Sadly I am partially back to my old ways right now, flailing around trying to do too much and so need to simplify again. However I did learn my lesson and keep practicing my core competencies so did not lose anything this time.

The Spurs, to me, follow the same model. Don't try to change too much at one time or you will get nothing. If you do make changes do not lose what you are already good at. Motion is not the same as progress. There is value is being settled and feeling at peace and yet improving, instead of frantically rushing around and not knowing what the top priority is.

Seems like common sense, but oh so difficult to stick to the plan. A team that has the FO, coach, players, and most important the discipline to do this is so rare, take the time to really appreciate it.

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