The San Antonio Spurs have had a great deal of success over the past two decades. A large portion of this can be attributed to the brilliance of Gregg Popovich and the careful approach of R.C. Buford and the rest of the front office.
Over the years, that front office has developed a reputation as one of the league's best because of draft picks like Tony Parker 9taken 28th) and Manu Ginobili (taken 57th) -- as well as mid-season pickups like Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Gary Neal.
But is this reputation a fair representation of the Spurs' place in the league? As Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm recently brought up,
What's sad is there are a lot of teams that DO do a lot of things the Spurs do. But we don't see that, because the results aren't there.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) June 27, 2014
Many teams have had brilliant picks over these past two decades, but no one team has maintained the franchise-building draft successes that have been characteristic of San Antonio's run of greatness. This success stems from the harmony of the other parts of the organization and the picks themselves. In a recent conversation I had with J.R. Wilco, he noted that:
Some teams evaluate talent and draft well. Some teams draft and stash. Some teams develop their players. Some teams coach well, develop systems, keep cores together for chemistry and continuity. But I don't think any organization does all of them together as well as San Antonio does. The Spurs might not be the best in every single area, but they're excellent in every category.
If the front office of another organization has a run of fantastic drafts, but the players are being mismanaged and underdeveloped, the GM won't get a word of praise, will he? So if you want to say R.C. Buford gets too much credit, fine. Also say that Pop gets too much. Chip Engelland gets too much. The players get too much. And it happens every time any of them are called out for being excellent without the whole organization being recognized.
This idea is akin to a human body's cells. The function of a particular cell depends on its structure. The root of how cells are made lie in their DNA. Errors in the DNA lead to errors in how a certain cell is made -- this can cause many kinds of disease. Sickle-cell anemia, hemophilia, and Tay-Sachs disease all arise from a point mutation within a sequence of DNA.
In a sense, the front office of the Spurs is the team's DNA, because it is the front office's job to assemble the team's parts, its cells. An error in how the team is put together will end in a dysfunctional team. But the end result of a team does not end in its foundation, just like a body does not function perfectly just because there are no errors in its DNA.
The cells in the body, no matter how well they are put together, still have to act together and maintain homeostasis. They have to regulate the body to stay within its functional limits. This is why the body sweats when it gets too hot, why the heart rate increases when the body needs oxygen, why muscles shiver when heat is needed. Without the body's ability to maintain homeostasis, life cannot be.
The personnel that the front office gathers all have to work together. The coaching staff has to make the right decisions in how to develop a player, and players have to respond appropriately to that coaching. The scouts have to bring the right observations to the coaches. The coaches have to adjust their game plan based on the opponent and what the team is capable of. And the players need to be held accountable to learn the schemes, watch film and know how the opposing team plays.
When people try to assign credit for the Spurs' success, the front office, Gregg Popovich, and the players are all judged as different entities, and usually one of them is determined to be the reason for the organization's achievements. "It's because of the front office." "It's because of Gregg Popovich." "It's because of Tim Duncan."
Those are the wrong answers. The question itself is also flawed in its inception.
The Spurs' success is the Spurs' success, and to give one part of the organization more credit than the others is a disservice to the whole.
That is the forgotten beauty of San Antonio's system. No one cog in the system does its job perfectly. They know that mistakes are going to be made, but they move past them, which helps each piece do its job just as consistently as possible. So they work together. The front office provides the canvas, the coaching staff the paint, and the players are the strokes. They do their parts and let the lines fill themselves in.
When each part of the Spurs' system gets the job done, it's miraculous to watch. It's transformed Danny Green into one of the league's best 3-and-D players, given Tiago Splitter the confidence to be a viable starter and defensive monster, and provided Boris Diaw with the framework he needed to excel.
There isn't too much you can do with a series of first round draft picks in the late 20s. At some point you've just got to take the best talent available. And yet, it seems strange to think that San Antonio has garnered so much praise for picking guys like DeJuan Blair, James Anderson, and Deshaun Thomas, all of whom any front office may have easily chosen if they were in the Spurs' position, as well.
And with the 30th pick in the 2014 draft, the Spurs selected Kyle Anderson. Immediately after the pick, Bill Simmons and company deemed this pick a steal. Another genius pick for a genius front office.
As far as I'm concerned, that's a bit too kind. The Spurs have two needs at the moment: a backup wingman and an athletic big. There weren't many big men by the end of the 1st round, so the Spurs were effectively narrowed down to three options in Cleanthony Early, Glenn Robinson III, and Kyle Anderson. From there, it's pretty much open season to take your pick.
Kyle has yet to even play a minute for the Spurs' Summer League team, and I have already heard many questions regarding his ability to continue his style of play in the NBA. He is slow, a subpar defender, and has a 13.4% body fat percentage which is higher than Fatty Mills' from the 2012-13 season (13.0%).
But Anderson can snatch boards and drop dimes. He can knock down the three and attack the rim, even if he does so at a snail's pace. He has the length and size to one day be an average to above average NBA defender.
Kyle Anderson may pan out for the Spurs as a backup small forward. He certainly has a solid coaching staff to address his flaws. One day, he could even end up being the Boris Diaw 2.0 that some claim him to be. But any way his career turns out should not be used as fodder for or against the front office; they did their job and made the best pick they could. Now it's up to the rest of the cogs -- Anderson, Pop, Coach Engelland, the team -- to put in the work and make sure that Kyle becomes a Spur.
That's what I would call a success.