Spurs fans are still trying to come to grips with the reality that a legendary big man, someone who for many defines the city of San Antonio even more than the Alamo, will not be with the club anymore. There has been a collective mourning, emotional tributes from coast to coast and a real, legitimate fear that the Spurs will never, ever be able to recover from his departure.
Man, it's going to be so weird watching the Spurs play without Boban Marjanovic.
All joking aside, it's understandable if the Spurs' trade of Boris Diaw to the Jazz slipped through the cracks for us a bit, if not intellectually --we were aware it happened-- then at least emotionally. The community of Spurs fans were on such a heightened state of anxiousness, on pins and needles awaiting Tim Duncan's decision that other team transactions paled in comparison.
And man, that's unfair to Diaw, who will be a part of Spurs lore in his own right forever for his contributions to the 2014 championship.
No, he wasn't their most valuable player in the playoffs overall or in the Finals against the Heat, but make no mistake, the Spurs simply don't beat Miami without the versatile, multi-faceted Frenchman. Heck, they don't even get past the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals without him.
Consider this: Diaw saw action in 331 regular season games with San Antonio. It might surprise you to learn that he's played more games for them than for the Bobcats or the Suns, teams that casual fans could more readily associate him with. So it's perfect that Diaw never scored more than 26 as a Spur (in fact, he cracked 20 just five times) and had his best night in that fateful Game 6 at Oklahoma City.
Diaw canned three triples in that game, including this one that had ESPN.com's Zach Lowe gushing because of the ball movement that begat it...
To put that into perspective, Diaw made two three-pointers, total, in March and April this past season. He canned two more in 10 playoff games.
It's funny, how much winning and playing for a serious operation can change a reputation. Diaw left the Bobcats under somewhat acrimonious circumstances. His effort was questioned, his weight ballooned, and they ended up buying him out of his contract, freeing the Spurs to pick him up for the prorated veteran's minimum for the rest of the 2011-2012 season. Yet when we look at his career log, the great majority of the highest scoring games of Diaw's career came in Charlotte.
He played in 37 games for a Bobcats team that went on to finish 7-59 in the lockout-truncated season. He then joined the Spurs and they immediately won 10 in a row and 30 of 32, including 10 playoff games. It took a reunion with Tony Parker, his France national teammate and longtime friend, for people to realize that Diaw was miscast as a scorer, that his ideal fit has always been as an overqualified role player, a cuddly version of Robert Horry, a guy who can do a little bit of everything.
Diaw was drafted as a teenager by the Hawks to be a point guard, a French Magic Johnson, and passing was always his best asset. It's what allowed him to transition so smoothly with the Spurs, with practically no adjustment period. He finally got to play with like-minded teammates --many of them internationals-- who saw the floor in a similar way, who cut and moved and found the open man.
He was, in many ways, the crucial missing piece for the Spurs, the guy who allowed them to play big and small simultaneously, who provided a fulcrum from the high post as a passer or driver, who Manu Ginobili could pick-and-pop with at the three-point line and who could bedevil smaller opponents in the post with his "cream shake" moves. If anything, he was frustrating to watch for fans, and I imagine maddening at times for Popovich to coach, because he was just so damn talented. There was nothing on the floor he couldn't do --he was even sneaky good at chase-down blocks-- but the effort level came and went. Diaw was a fun-loving free spirit, someone who loved life and was legendary for his off-the-court exploits, so it wasn't too surprising to see his energy and focus wane at times.
What made him work for the Spurs --what made it practically impossible for you to ever get mad at him, really-- is that the team was so good that it didn't matter if Diaw wasn't feeling it on a Tuesday in February at Minnesota. He showed up and made a difference against the Thunder and Heat, two small-ball, athletic teams San Antonio struggled to beat.
The 2013 Finals was a star-crossed one for him. He went from being benched for Game 3 to capably guarding LeBron James later in the series, to being unable to secure a fairly significant rebound in Game 6, to total disaster in Game 7. 2014 was his redemption, as it was for many Spurs. Technically, Pop started Matt Bonner in Tiago Splitter's place in Games 5 and 6 against the Thunder, but Diaw got the lion's share of the minutes there, and the Thunder had no answers defensively for how he opened up the floor. They resorted to a three guard lineup, which allowed Diaw to brutalize Derek Fisher in the post.
Against Miami, all pretense was dropped, and he was in the staring lineup by Game 3, with the series knotted 1-1. While Leonard deservedly took most of the headlines, Diaw was brilliant as a playmaker and glue guy. The Heat defense forced him to essentially be the point guard, hard trapping Parker or Ginobili time and again. Diaw made the correct reads in the ensuing 4-on-3 power plays. He had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in Game 4, a watershed game for the Spurs that made it clear to both teams that the series would have a different outcome than the previous year. They sliced the Heat to ribbons, and it wasn't a coincidence that Popovich played Diaw 37, 36 and 38 minutes in Games 3-5.
In the end, Diaw gave the Spurs three-and-a-half valuable, productive years before falling off last season. Maybe he got lost a little with the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. Maybe it was just a natural decline of skills at 33 years of age. Maybe he needed to be needed to give his best. All we know is he struggled in the semi-finals against the Thunder's big-men tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and ended his Spurs career with an unseemly DNP-CD.
I'll go on the record right now that Diaw will be a contributor for the Jazz. He'll come off the bench and create open shots for people. He'll help them make the playoffs and cause match-up problems, the way he always has. He might even cause a headache or two for the Spurs.
It's going to be weird, the first time San Antonio plays Utah next year. We'll see Diaw check into the game and a collective "Oh yeah, Diaw's on the Jazz now," thought bubble will pop up. It won't be a sad or bitter feeling, we won't be angry or resentful. Diaw came to the Spurs when his professional reputation was at its nadir, there were some good times, some great times and some not-so-great times, and it came to a similar end the way it has with other stops in his career. It will probably be hard to feel much of anything. Sometimes I think we're going to spend the whole year in a fog without Duncan.
But like Duncan, that 2014 championship wouldn't have happened without Diaw, a friendly, popular guy in the locker room and someone the Spurs came to rely on in their biggest moments.
Boris Diaw was a Spur, a good one, and he will be missed.