At the height of their dynasty, the Spurs were known as the model franchise not just in the NBA, but all of sports. There was no drama, their stars had an unbreakable bond, role players were treated with equal reverence, and 99% of the time all the players got along.
As is well known by now, a lot of that was due to the team-first philosophy of Gregg Popovich, made all the easier to orchestrate thanks to the unselfish nature of The Big Three. Pop held (and still holds) team dinners on the road. He sought players with not just the right skill set, but the desired mindset as well. They had to be “over themselves”. If anyone didn’t follow those guidelines, running any risk of disrupting the team chemistry, they were out. Simple as that.
However, things aren’t so cut-and-dry these days. Building chemistry is harder than ever thanks player movement. (Let this settle in: heading into the 2019-20 season, almost half of the players in the league changed teams, with an average of just over 6 new players per roster.) Despite the league’s best efforts to encourage players (especially stars) to stay with the teams that drafted them via extra incentives (plus harsher penalty for teams operating well over the salary cap), the possibility of extra money has not stopped many flocking to big markets to create super teams to try and win championships.
The risk of losing players for nothing and the demands from players themselves are triggering more and more trades, often harming relationships, severing ties, forcing unwitting players into new homes or situations they didn’t ask for (DeMar DeRozan being a prime example), and leaving fractured teams behind in their wake.
Over at the mother site of SB Nation, Michael Pina has taken a deep dive into the new challenges teams are facing today when it comes to building team chemistry, with a lot of attention focused on what we know as “The Spurs Way” that may or may not be all but dead as teams still try to emulate their success with Popovichian techniques. With insight from several players and coaches about the new realities of the league, it’s well worth the read, so be sure to go check it out.