Since the onset of the Tim Duncan era, NBA pundits have praised the San Antonio Spurs' front office for their player development and draft selections. Over the past few years, however, the Spurs have lost some key pieces of their management, which may leave some Spurs fans (including myself) a little nervous heading into the future. A few recent NBA articles and interviews could perhaps provide some solace for Spurs fans as we begin to look into the opaque window for the post-Big Three era.
Now it's no secret that the Spurs have had a lot of foreign talent in their franchise. During the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Seth Wickersham at ESPN The Magazine had a creative take on what the Spurs' management has done to attract international athletes and why they have been successful doing so. Here's a fun anecdote that begins the piece:
"Stone cold" is a distinctly American term. So you could forgive Tiago Splitter's question. The San Antonio Spurs are in a scouting meeting, moments before tip-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Assistant coach Brett Brown is explaining a defensive alignment -- a "red," where two Spurs defenders switch off a pick. To emphasize his point, Brown declares it a stone-cold certainty the Spurs will face that situation in tonight's game.
Nine of the Spurs' 15 players this year were raised and trained outside of the United States -- an NBA record. Cultural and linguistic confusion happens often on this team. Enter Splitter, a 6'11", 28-year-old center from Brazil by way of Spain, who this season was the latest to consummate the transition from overseas superstar to selfless Spur. Splitter raises his hand, narrows his brow sharp as a rooftop and says, "What is stone cold?"
The team laughs. Head coach Gregg Popovich laughs. Splitter laughs too -- but he still needs an answer. So Brown explains what he meant. Then Splitter turns to Patty Mills, a guard from Australia, and whispers, "Stone cold isn't in Rosetta Stone."
Their work with international players is just one of the many cogs that has helped keep the Spurs' machine rolling over the past decade. Another reason is that the management understands the role of every player in the system. Greg Jordan recently published a fascinating interview he did with Ron Shapiro, a renowned sports agent. He talks about why certain franchises have been successful, and his field of work gives the reader an untapped, interesting perspective on sports that is definitely worth checking out.
The most important thing is the owner lets the implementers do their work without interference. The Spurs are the mirror image. I'd say that is the fundamental distinction - the owner who controls the finances and resources lets the front office do what it has to do to create the best possible team. Peter Holt with the Spurs lets R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich do that in the same way as Ozzie and Harbaugh.
Despite all of the coaching and managerial departures for the Spurs in the past few years, they may have found another gem in scout Dave Telep. Telep is a highly respected scout throughout the basketball community and could provide some valuable insight on American draft picks (yes, it is possible to draft within the US, Popovich). While the article was published almost seven years ago, DraftExpress's Jonathan Watters posted an awesome conversation he had with Telep that is definitely worth looking at if you want to see the type of work Telep could do for the Spurs.
It is really, really difficult. There are no rules to follow when evaluating a guy. The tough thing is that you have to balance production with potential. You really have to know that player. You have to know his age, his work ethic, and his academic capacity. Does he have desire to get better? Who has he surrounded himself with? What is important to him? That is just in terms of off the court.
Then you have to look at him as a basketball player. Where is he right now? How far can he go? Why is it that he is not where he needs to be? You have to a make a judgment call on whether or not he is capable of getting where he needs to be. Sometimes I will see a kid and want him to be better more than he wants to be better. There are so many different ways to look at it, but at the core the key is to achieve a balance between production right now, and potential for the future.
So, basketball fans, what do you think? Are you concerned about the post-Big Three era? Could Telep be a difference maker in next year's stacked draft?