Manu Ginobili had a big game the other night against the Pelicans, with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including a season-high five three-pointers, and afterward, when asked if he had benefited from having had the two-game road trip off, his answer made my ears perk up.
"It doesn't mean that resting, I'm going to have a game like this, that's for sure, but my body sometimes needs it," Ginobili said. "If we could play two games a week instead of four, I feel like I would have a much better season."
It got me to thinking. Why not two a week instead of four then? You're on the Spurs. Your coach is Gregg Popovich. You guys can do whatever the heck you want.
Remember, Ginobili had a month layoff following testicular surgery and in his first game back against Sacramento he was brilliant, scoring a season-high 22. That's when he first noted that he would expect that kind of performance from himself if he had all the time in the world to rest and recuperate. He also said recently that he hasn't closed the door on returning next year, and neither has Duncan for that matter, at least not publicly.
As you know, the Spurs aren't exactly a team of spring chickens. Talking heads have reminded us all season long that big free agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge was added to give the team youth and athleticism. Aldridge is nearly 31-years-old. The two fresh-faced rookies on the squad, Jonathan Simmons and Boban Marjanovic, are 26 and 27, respectively. Tony Parker, the junior member of "The Big Three," is only 33, but he's been around for so long that every game he passes another legend such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley or Dominique Wilkins in games played or minutes or some such milestone.
Now, Tim Duncan and Ginobili may both be headed for retirement. -- that certainly seems to be the way to bet. But for the sake of argument, let's say they agree to return for one more year. What's to stop Pop, a long-time admirer of the European game with Ettore Messina as his chief lieutenant, from adopting a more European playing schedule with his graybeards?
Ownership isn't going to object, especially not with Duncan and Ginobili on the books next year for a fraction of what they're worth. The fans won't mind, since getting to watch the future Hall-of-Famers for another 40-50 games obviously beats not getting to see them at all. Their other teammates won't mind, because when the vets sit out it'll just mean more minutes and shots for the rest, and the Spurs have been transitioning all year long to being Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge's team anyway.
Really, the organization has had such lofty standards for so long, where literally every season is championship or meh, that regular seasons practically seem like the preseason around here -- used for practice, experimentation, trial-and-error, etc. -- with the wins-and-losses being secondary to process. While the Warriors are openly talking about wanting to attain every record under the sun, and seem to be willing to kill themselves in order to achieve them, the Spurs to a man have made it clear they don't care about their record, their seeding, their home streak, or anything else.
As Parker said after the Pelicans game, "I don't think about trying to have a good regular season, or how many games we win. It doesn't matter, really. At the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won."
So why wouldn't the Spurs, who have been trendsetters in so many respects throughout the Popovich/Duncan Era, not take Popovich's proclivity for resting his vets to the next logical step and have Duncan, Ginobili, Parker sitting 30, 40, even 50 games, playing them however much or little they feel like they should to keep them sharp and in shape, with the sole focus of having them fresh and healthy for the playoffs?
And it doesn't have to be strictly about keeping them out of back-to-backs or always making sure they have three days off or not having them play on the road or whatever. After all --and this is weird-- the splits say that Parker, Duncan and even Ginobili have been at their best this season on SEGABABAs, with no days off.
The beauty of this is that there is no black and white here. The only rule is that there are no rules, which if you think about it is exactly the way Popovich has been operating this whole time. He can operate totally by feel and instinct and whatever he thinks is appropriate to maximize his team's performance, free from blow-back or scrutiny, the envy of coaches and execs across the league. Who knows, maybe Kirk Goldsberry, signed on to help the analytic department can help PATFO determine what playing schedule would be ideal for each guy.
Organizational depth and out-of-the-box thinking have been two strengths of the franchise for years. It would be in keeping with their methods to test the limits of how much rest could benefit the team in the big picture before finding the demarcation line for diminishing returns. They sure haven't hit it yet.
And if you think this is just a feeble attempt at me grasping at straws for one more season of Tim and Manu, well, guilty as charged.