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The Spurs are sacrificing their culture in pursuit of Durant

The Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge last year and are now getting a meeting with Kevin Durant. What is happening?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Let's not be coy here and bury the lede for a thousand words.

I don't think the Spurs will sign Kevin Durant. I don't believe they'll get him this season or the next one. I don't think his decision will depend on commitments from Gregg Popovich, or Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili.

I don't think he'll join the Spurs on a boat. I don't think he'll play with the GOAT (puff).

I don't think he'll play for them in the rain. I don't think in their colors he will train.

I don't think he'll jot his initials in the box. I don't think Pop is a sly enough fox.

I will not cheer for him in my house. The Spurs won't need more attention from the mouse.

It won't matter if Green exits or Kawhi goes ham, Durant's not coming, fan I am.

I can certainly understand why this news would at least disappoint you, if not flat out upset you. Acquiring someone of Durant's stature would change the balance of power in the league. Not only would it mortally cripple the Thunder, but it would elevate the Spurs to favorites over the Warriors in the West for next season and beyond, regardless of whether Duncan and Ginobili decide to continue playing.

What's significant isn't that the Spurs will lose out on the Durant derby but rather that they're reportedly being granted a meeting with him and his representatives at all. It speaks not only to their status around the league, that they're viewed as more of a desirable free agent destination (for Durant, anyway) than bigger market teams like the Lakers, the Rockets, the Mavericks and the Wizards. Gregg Popovich and Duncan have that kind of cachet around the league. LaMarcus Aldirdge kicked that door open for the Spurs last year, and things are never going to be the same for them anymore, for good or ill. They're no longer the league's little engine that could. They're power players now, in spite of their market, in spite of their aversion to press and publicity.

Heck, it could be for players like Aldridge or Durant --or even for Leonard as an incentive to stay-- the way the Spurs treat outside attention could be seen as a point in their favor, not a deterrent. There's less local media, fewer national drop-ins, and the message is always controlled.

Even if the Spurs don't truly believe they're going to get Durant, it's a radical shift of organizational philosophies and priorities that they're going to try, that they'd be that willing to move things around in a significant way to make it happen, whether it means saying good-bye to Danny Green or Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, or even the notion of doing the unthinkable and moving Tony Parker.

Sure, they chased Jason Kidd in 2004 and got pretty close, but neither Ginobili or Parker were that established as players back then. The franchise didn't have the same culture, values or sense of continuity. The only true untouchable on the roster was Duncan. The situation is different now. There are many names and faces we associate with the Spurs besides Duncan. There are several guys who've been here for years were vital to the 2014 champions.

It makes for a fascinating paradox. What made the Spurs unique is the success they achieved while building organically, with all their vital components picked up through the draft or off the free agent scrapheap, but now they're trying to leverage the capital that success has given to their reputation by trying to maintain it the way the Lakers or Yankees would -- by signing established, expensive stars.

The best comparison I can make it Atletico Madrid in soccer. They built up their team through their youth academy and got good enough to compete for La Liga titles and to advance deep in the Champions League. They were able to use the success they achieved to sell those young players for huge profits and invest those profits to buy youngsters from elsewhere at good value. A couple cycles later (these things happen more quickly in soccer, with rosters churning every two or three years for most clubs and almost every player moves on except for rare exceptions) they've gotten good enough at buying low and selling high while at the same time continuing to mine talent from their own pipeline to where now they're now able to buy expensive "name" players in their primes or slightly past them.

It's well and good if a team can maintain those parallel tracks, being able to sign pricey free agents but at the same time to find and develop cheap rookies. It's just a lot more complicated to do both in the NBA where there is a salary cap and where the best players A) have far more influence on outcomes and B) earn a higher proportion of the team's payroll. Also, the draft structure is different. There are no youth academies attached to certain teams here, no pipelines. The draft is a crapshoot that is part democracy and part meritocracy (but in reverse, where the worst teams get rewarded).

My point is that while I understand why the Spurs are doing what they're doing and don't blame them for it at all, I do wish that their success didn't change their modus operandi. They got Leonard with the 15th pick, Parker with the 28th, Ginobili with the 57th, George Hill with the 26th, Tiago Splitter with the 28th, Cory Joseph with the 29th and so on. Maybe the other teams are smarter now and it's harder to find the diamonds in the rough. Maybe the only reason they did it the hard way in the first place was because they had no other choice because the Jason Kidds of the world wouldn't come to them.

On some level I think PATFO understands that the whole circumstance of them landing Duncan --an injury to David Robinson the one year a generational player was available and then winning the lottery to get that guy-- took such incalculable good fortune that odds are severely unlikely for them to ever be that lucky again, so they're hedging their bets against the unlikelihood of ever finding another Duncan.

But they found three Hall-of-Famers in Ginobili, Parker and Leonard through conventional and humble means. As crazy as the notion seems, if they did it three times (plus several more on a smaller scale with not only people like Hill, Splitter and Joseph but the reclamation projects like Green) then why should we assume they won't keep finding them?

The Spurs will keep operating on twin tracks. They'll keep hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, in both free agency and the draft. I think they've lost some of what made them cool,  an identity all their own. They just want to be Another Good Team now. It's fine, but it's not the same.