It turns out the Spurs don't flop
The NBA instituted a flopping fine this year and has recently cracked down on Lebron James, David West, Lance Stephenson, and Tony Allen. If you are wondering how the anti-flopping crusade works, the first thing to mention is that no rules actually changed. The league reviews what they considered to be borderline flops and the players that are actually found guilty of engaging in this behavior first get a warning (in the regular season) and then get fined incremental amounts for repeat offenses, starting at $5,000. At the time the ruling took effect, I said that it wouldn't really do anything to change the way players act. And it didn't. You can still see guys embellishing contact and only the most egregious instances receive the league punishment.
I don't think flopping is a big deal because the referees rarely blow the whistle on plays where there is no contact. On plays where there actually are fouls, I don't mind how theatrical the players get, for the most part. But I wouldn't be surprised if I said that to a fan of another team and they discounted them as the words of a fan of the "Spurs -- the masters of flopping." The more irrational of Spurs detractors have long asserted that not only did the Spurs flop the most, but also that the tactic was also a key component to their success. It wasn't strange to hear cracks about how Manu would lose half his salary on flopping fines when the news of the measure were first announced.
And yet he never received even a warning. Of all the Spurs, only Parker did.
For all the talk by casual and not so casual fans about how much the Spurs flopped -- with the NBA even including Tony Parker in their instructional video for referees -- so far the Silver and Black have a close to pristine record with the league office charged with reviewing flops. That doesn't mean that the Spurs have flopped less this year; they haven't. Every team flops, and the Spurs are no exception. To embellish a foul in order to draw attention to contact is a part of the game. But it does mean that the Spurs' reputation was perhaps exaggerated. That the Spurs haven't broken some non-existent rule -- one which is not even well defined -- cannot be worn as a badge of honor. But after all those years of hearing about how the Spurs were ruining the game, it is a bit satisfying to see other teams and players get branded with the scarlet "F".
Farewell, Coach Bud
Mike Budenholzer was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Danny Ferry made the call almost instantly to Pop's long time assistant. Mike and Pop met at Pomona-Pitzer when Pop was far from the household name he is today, and Bud stuck around for 15 years. Pretty much everyone reacted to the news by saying something like "It's about time he got a shot" or "Good for him," and I think if the Hawks add a few pieces, it'll be a great landing spot for Bud. He will have a quiet but efficient big man to build around in Al Horford, and Jeff Teague could play the poor man's Tony Parker to Horford's poor man's Duncan. He seems to have the support of the GM, and since they almost have no players under contract, I'm assuming they will basically redo their roster to fit his vision.
It's always tough seeing guys leave after spending so much time with an organization, but it doesn't mean he won't ever come back. When Pop decides to retire I'm sure Budenholzer will be one of the names at or near the top of the list to be his successor. And this way he will get a chance to cut his teeth before jumping in to succeed Pop, if that's what ends up happening.
The Spurs will still have a more than competent assistant coach for next season in Brett Brown, and Ime Udoka might take on a more substantial role. Pop might also add someone (T.J. Ford?) to the staff. As much as I like Bud, I doubt his absence will have a big effect on the competence of Spurs' coaching staff.
After the Memphis series, I hope I never have to make the case for spacing again
Spacing seems to be a strange concept for Spurs fans, mostly because it usually comes up when someone wants to defend the polarizing Matt Bonner. It's also hard to comprehend just how important spacing is when your team has always prioritized it. We've never had to suffer through a broken offense caused by lack of outside shooting because the Spurs have made a point of finding deep-threat shooters to pair with the Big Three. And with Tony and now Tim able to hit from mid range consistently, the Spurs usually have at least four players that have range on the court at all times.
But watching Memphis try to run their offense without having shooters to space the floor for Randolph was just painful. Quincy Pondexter looked like a game-changer out there simply because he could hit a three. As good as Tony Allen, and to a lesser degree Tayshaun Prince, are defensively, they absolutely choked out all the spacing from the Grizzlies offense. With Marc Gasol's mid range jumper not falling consistently, they had no off-ball shooting threats. You could see the Spurs just leaving those guys open to pack the paint, and while Allen was at times able to exploit it by cutting hard to the basket, you can't run a successful offense without someone stretching out the defense.
Finding a couple of wings and ideally a big that can hit from outside without killing you on defense is not easy, but it is something more and more teams are realizing is a must. If the Grizzlies want to continue running their offense through Zach Randolph, they will need to devote serious time and effort to finding the right pieces to put around him, perhaps even at the cost of some defensive devolution. If one lesson from the Spurs loss to the Grizzlies in 2010/11 was that a team can't win solely with offense, the lesson from this sweep should be that a team can't win solely with defense, either.
It's the little things that make the Spurs the Spurs
It was announced that the Spurs would be participating in the Las Vegas Summer League. To most of us that's not a shocking development. The franchise has been participating since 2007, when they started placing an emphasis in finding and developing young players. While most franchises are represented either in Las Vegas or Orlando, there have been times in the past couple of years when teams like the Nets, Sixers, Celtics, and Raptors, to name a few, didn't think it was worth the cost and chose not to participate.
The Spurs don't operate like that. They have their own Summer League team and it has proved useful, as it not only allowed them to see what Gary Neal could produce but also helped them keep tabs on former second round picks, from James Gist to Ryan Richards. Unlike many franchises, they have their own D-League affiliate where they developed Cory Joseph and gave Aron Baynes and Nando De Colo some run this year in an effort to familiarize them with the Spurs' sets. They have an analytics team and scouts with great knowledge of the game both in the U.S. and Europe, like recent hire Trajan Langdon.
Having the presence of mind to understand that those little things are worth spending on is one of the reasons the Spurs are the model franchise. Other teams might have more financial resources, but the Spurs understand the value of spending to detect and develop talent. The result is a roster comprised mostly from players the Spurs drafted or signed before any other team even knew they existed. Only Boris Diaw, Tracy McGrady (if you are counting him) and Matt Bonner had established NBA careers before the Spurs signed them, and yet this team swept its way into the Finals. That's the payoff of due diligence in scouting and the dedication of resources to making sure that talent is harvested. And yet some teams still don't get that the devil is in the details.
By the way, is it June 6th yet?