A few years back, I wrote a piece about how the Spurs had transitioned to “non-contender” status:
“This is a post I first thought of writing several years ago, when the Spurs were still in their heyday. I wondered what it would be like to write for a team that did not have a chance to win it all. With those teams, the players know they won’t win it all, the coaches know, the announcers know, the fans know — and people like me who write about the team know it too.
. . .
Each year, even this one, Spurs fans know that the team will be the best team it can be, even if that team is not a championship contender.
Let’s just look back and appreciate how remarkable the past twenty years have been and move forward recognizing a new and different reality.”
Now Spurs fans face yet another new and different reality — not making the playoffs at all. While the team made a valiant effort in the Bubble, the Spurs fell just short. Now the playoffs begin without the Spurs.
What are Spurs fans to do during the Bubble NBA Playoffs? I know some fans will simply ignore the playoffs, or perhaps watch them dispassionately. I can’t do that. I am both a Spurs fan and a basketball fan. And whenever I watch a game, I root for one team to win — or occasionally for one team to lose. (See, for example, the Houston Rockets.)
Last year, it was easy to pick a team to root for — the Toronto Raptors were Spurs North, with a Spurs-like international roster and two ex-Spurs in the starting line-up. Spurs North was able to take down the Death Star Warriors, even though the Raptors cause was aided by a few light saber injuries to Warriors stars. So who to root for this year?
I will first discuss the Eastern Conference teams with an actual shot to make the Finals, so don’t expect anything about the Orlando Magic or the Brooklyn Nets — though it was reported this weekend that the Nets are trying to convince Gregg Popovich to coach them next year. Nope, not going to discuss that. Or even mention it.
Ex-Spurs on the team: Coach Mike Budenholzer, George Hill
Gritty over-achiever: Pat Connaughton, second round pick by the Nets
Reasons to root for the Bucks: A mid-market team like the Spurs, but unlike the Spurs, the Bucks haven’t won since a 1971 team led by pre-Kareem Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson. Very well coached by long-time Spurs assistant and Pomona-Pitzer Sagehen alum. Coach Bud has crafted a unique offense with 7-foot centers stationed 25 feet from the basket — which also helps those 7-footers get back to defense to stifle opponents’ fast-breaks. Ex-Spur George Hill led the league in three-point shooting percentage. League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the league (other than his brother) whose last name has the letters n,m and p back to back to back.
Ex-Spurs: Marc Gasol. Oh, wait. Strike that.
Gritty over-achiever: Fred VanVleet, undrafted, generously listed at 6’1”, but has become a star: 17.6 points, 6.6 assists per game, 39% from three.
Reasons to root for Raptors: Residual good feeling from last year. Winning again after losing their best player would be an amazing story. Kyle Lowry is a gamer. Extremely well coached by Nick Nurse, whose last head coaching job before the Raptors was in England. Did you even know England had a basketball league? Coolest road jersey — the North red jersey with the white stripe.
Gritty over-achiever: Daniel Theis, undrafted, 28 year old second year player from Germany (something I didn’t know until right now)
Reasons to root for Celtics: Excellent young talent that plays very well together. Very likable coach Brad Stevens successfully transitioned from coaching NCAA mid-major Butler to the most storied franchise in NBA history.
Reasons not to root for the Celtics: They are the Celtics. Stupid Celtic green. Stupid parquet floor. Red Auerbach. Paul Pierce. Ray Allen used to play there. No ex-Spurs. Nope, not going to root for the Celtics.
Gritty over-achiever: Malcolm Brogan: Second-round pick out of Virgina
Reasons to root for the Pacers: Another mid-market team, never won an NBA title. Team always seems to fly under the radar with a bunch of guys who play hard. Victor Olapido has made a remarkable comeback from injury. TJ Warren has become the Bubble Breakout star. And with everything that has happened, it would be good for a team with a Black coach to win. As long as that coach is not Doc Rivers.
Gritty over-achiever: Duncan Robinson, undrafted. Started college career at Division 3 school, now starting in the NBA. 44.6% three-point shooter. Spurs fans have to love this guy’s name.
Reasons to root for the Heat: They are no longer the Big Three Heat from years back — you know, the team that the Spurs crushed in the 2014 Redemption Finals. This team is much more likable with a breakout star in Bam Adebayo — what a great Flintstones name.
Ex-Spurs: Coach Brett Brown, hereinafter referred to as “Former 76ers coach Brett Brown”.
Gritty over-achiever: Shake Milton, second round pick, 43% from three, another great first name.
Reasons to root for the 76ers: Don’t bother. Ben Simmons is out for the playoffs, and the team was not very well-constructed even with him — not enough shooting. I didn’t root for the 76ers when I went to college in Philadelphia and the team had Dr. J. Why would I root for them now when I don’t live there and they don’t have Dr. J?
So, Spurs fans. In your new non-playoff team status, which Eastern Conference team do you want to make the NBA Bubble Finals? Remember, this is not your prediction of which team will make it, this is who you will be rooting for.
What Eastern Conference Team are you rooting for?
This poll is closed