The Spurs squared off against a zombie on Saturday night.
It’s hard not to feel an overwhelming amount of sympathy for the New Orleans Pelicans, a team who were recently told by their franchise player that he no longer wished to play for them anymore. The Spurs stared into the abyss of star-player uncertainty last year with Kawhi, but even then there was always a sliver of hope that he might wind up riding back into the lineup to save the day. All we had to do was hold the line, keep things running, and hold out hope.
Obviously that didn’t work out, but at least we had hope. What do you play for if you are on the Pelicans right now? The NBA season is a slog. It’s one giant existential boulder that every team is perpetually pushing up a hill night after night. That boulder seems overwhelming when your best teammate is sitting on the sideline in a tan sport coat watching you push. It probably feels like a death sentence when you know for sure that he’s about to leave.
There’s lots of opinions about what the Pelicans strategy should be for dealing with Anthony Davis’s trade request. Obviously, with a player of his caliber, there is almost no chance of recouping equal value in a single player. Do they accept the Lakers’ Pu Pu platter of recent high picks and hope they have better luck developing them? Do they hold out hope that someone like Boston will offer up a star player that they can put back into their in-stadium hype videos? Do they just burn it all to the ground, stockpile draft picks, and start this whole sordid process over again?
If that all sounds pretty bleak, well, that’s because it is. Losing a star player is tough in any case. Losing a top 10 player in the league is devastating. Losing a generational talent like Anthony Davis? That’s the type of thing that franchises don’t recover from. Even the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise lauded the world over for it’s stability and infrastructure, were not immune to this phenomenon. How many “is this the end of the Spurs?” articles have we all had to read since last summer? Shoot, I even wrote some of them.
In the wake of Kawhi’s exodus, experts and fans alike thought that the Spurs should tear it down and tank. There might even still be people who think that. Every time they lose a game right now I feel like I spend the next day watching the Express News’s Jeff McDonald attempting to talk people off the ledge to no avail.
Maybe time will prove those people right, but games like this make me obscenely thankful for the path the Spurs are currently on. We get to watch interesting basketball night after night. We have an endearing cast of wily veterans and talented young guys pulling together to try to make some noise in the middle of one of the most competitive playoff races in the history of the league. This is maybe one of the most fascinating regular season Spurs teams I’ve ever watched and we have the privilege of getting to see them wear SPURS across their chest.
Go ask Sixers fans what their favorite memories of The Process are. Go ask Kings fans how much fun picking in the lottery has been for the past decade. Go ask Knicks fans about the white knuckle ride their entire existence has turned into while betting their future on Kevin Durant walking away from a 99% chance of winning another title so that he can play for...the Knicks.
The Pelicans team that we played on Saturday is entering into the wasteland right now and I wish them all the luck in the world. Maybe the Spurs aren’t going to pick up another banner anytime soon, but instead of bottoming out they chose to fight. They chose to not accept the premise that one player leaving meant everything had to start over.
They are going rage against the dying of the light for as long as they can and I am so grateful that we get to be a part of it.
- Is it possible that the bats are a part of some elaborate prank that other franchises are attempting to play on us? It feels like some Snidely Whiplash style corporate subterfuge gone awry. I’m imaging rival executives a couple of years ago sitting in their offices on a conference call saying, “the Spurs think they’re soooooo great. All high and mighty over there with their winning culture and their stable front office and what have you. How can we take them down a peg?” Then someone else chimes in like, “well, you know, I’ve got a bat guy I can call” and then they just went with it. Now, the AT&T Center has a rogue bat colony and everything’s grown beyond their control. This is the only explanation that makes sense.
- I think voices within the ranks of Spurs fans stepping up to defend Pau Gasol are probably growing more and more sparse by the day. He certainly looks a little creaky out there and, especially now that his shot isn’t falling as regularly, his value in stretching the floor seems to be withering away. His defense is suspect and he’s not quite athletic enough to to fight for rebounds. So why is Pau the first big man off the bench right now? I don’t have any answers for you. What I do have is the scorching hot take that I think Pau Gasol still brings a modicum of value to the table. He’s just so smart and he’s seen so many things over his career. You can see it in his positioning and his court awareness. His body can’t quite execute the moves his brain is telling him to make, but the knowledge is still there. I think all the time about how much I wish we could meld Pau’s brain into Jakob Poeltl’s body and, absent some sort scientific breakthrough in the next few weeks, I can’t think of a better way to do that then keeping Pau around. Having him watch video with the young guys. Being on the bench to offer insights. Even getting into the game and directing traffic on the court from time to time is valuable. Look, I know it’s an awfully big contract to shoulder for a glorified assistant coach, but that cost is sunk and at this point theres no reason not to try and wring as much value from it as we can, right? Also, every once in a while he does cool passes like this and that makes me happy.
- The end of this one got a little nervy there, didn’t it? Bruno Passos did a great job in the game recap talking about how Pop seemed happy to let some of our bench guys sink or swim out there as the 20 point lead dwindled down into single digits. I’m sure that this experience will be invaluable to those guys as a learning opportunity but, man, can you imagine if the Spurs had let this one slip away? I think I would’ve maybe slipped into a coma that lasted until after the All-Star break.
- I thought this was an encouraging performance from DeMar as he continues to work his way out of this shooting slump. His shot is off and it has been for a while, but he continued to find ways to have a positive effect in this game. He instigated things on offense. He drew defenders as he drove into the lane and found open guys. He drove to the basket and got to the line a lot. I saw him repeatedly fighting for loose balls and rebounds and, maybe most importantly, he never stopped shooting. I love that. The shots are going to start falling eventually, it’s just a matter of time. As our own Dave McGinnis pointed out on the PtR twitter feed last night, “The Venn diagram of Spurs fans who trashed LaMarcus his first season with the Spurs and DeMar this season is a circle.”
- MARCO WATCH: It’s impossible to fully separate out my favorite move that Marco Belinelli employs on his various journeys around the hardwood. Each one is a beautiful and unique snowflake that deserves to be lifted up on high and praised as the precious gift that it is. However, we only have so much time and you’ll be able to read all about them in the book I plan to publish down the road about him. One thing I’d like to highlight that he’s been doing recently is this thing where he decides that he needs to take a big ol’ running start before launching up a three. A couple of times last night the ball would find it’s way to Marco out on the wing. As much as he would probably love to take the shot immediately, he instead tries to create a little space first. Now, he’s not the biggest and he’s not the fastest and he’s not the most athletic...but he is, by a large margin, the most Marco. Instead of putting the ball on the floor, he throws it to the big man at the top of key and then just immediately follows after it. He then receives the handoff while running his man into the impromptu screen, before executing one of his signature off balance heaves. It’s like I always say, “When life gives you lemons, make weird three point shots out of it.”