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Who Will Spurs Fans Root for Now? Western Conference Edition

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It won’t be the Spurs, so who would Spurs fans like to see win the West?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I cannot watch a basketball game without rooting for one team or the other. It could be a random NBA game in January, a March Madness game between East Carolina and South Virginia State, or — of course — an NBA Playoff game.

Unless I have a pre-existing predilection (like rooting for the Spurs or against the Clippers or any James Harden team), I will often root for the team with the most “Spursian” qualities. In this usage of the term, “Spursian” refers to the most similarities to the prime Spurs teams from approximately 2012 - 2016. Those teams featured ball and man movement, numerous passes, an international cast of players, solid defense, low draft picks and/or reclamation projects, excellent coaching and perhaps most of all, selfless players who were not too full of themselves — good teammates. When deciding which team to root for, having a former Spur on the roster also helps. Especially if it is Danny Green.

The more of these boxes a present day NBA team can check, the more likely I will root for them.

By the way, the present version of the Spurs checks some of those boxes, but not all of them. For instance, this year’s team seemed to score most of their points on isolation ball by DeMar Derozan, Dejounte Murray or Rudy Gay. Also, “solid defense” is not a term we used much for the 2020-2021 Spurs. That being said, even those iso-players were excellent teammates, as far as I could tell. These players weren’t going off-script when they attempted to break down their defender one-on-one — they were doing what they do best. Which also puts these Spurs into the “well-coached” category.

This year’s version of the Spurs is no more. Which means it is time to ask our annual question: Who do Spurs fans root for now? I will give a quick summary of the eight remaining teams in the Western Conference playoffs, with a note as to each team’s Spursian quotient, followed by a quick poll asking who you will be rooting for. As always, we are not asking for you to predict which team will win, only who you want to win.

Let’s start at the top, and work down from there:

UTAH JAZZ: Even though they were generally predicted to finish somewhere in the middle of the playoff pack, the Jazz wound up with the best record in the league. And this was without the services of their leading scorer from last year’s playoffs, Donovan Mitchell, for much of the last half of the season. (Mitchell is expected to play when the playoffs begin.) The Jazz are an extremely Spursian team, with international talent, outstanding ball and player movement, and a strong defense keyed by likely Defensive Player of the year Rudy Golbert. Their coach Quin Snyder is from the Spurs coaching tree. As such, they are a solid 8 on the Spursian factors, and would be higher if they had an ex-Spur player on the roster. (Sixth man Jordan Clarkson is from San Antonio, so that helps.)

PHONEIX SUNS: If the NBA had an award for Most Improved Team as it does for Most Improved Player, the Suns would win. Even with the second best record in the West, and the league, no one is picking them to go very far, especially since that number two seed has earned the Suns a match-up with the defending champion Lakers in the first round. That alone makes them an underdog seemingly worthy of support. On the other hand, they have Chris Paul. On the third hand, their coach Monty Williams is from the Spurs coaching tree and is, by all accounts, a great guy. Monte gives them a big plus on the Spursian factors, as does their style of play. I give them a 7 on the Spursian quotient.

DENVER NUGGETS: Along with the Jazz, Denver has the highest Spursian quotient of any remaining team, with two foreign players in the starting five — probable MVP Nikola Jokic and a wonderful passer from Argentina of all places, Facundo Campazzo, now starting at the point. The fact that Jokic was a second round pick (like Manu) and Campazzo was undrafted, make them even more Spursian. They also have Javelle Magee, who may be from Mars. The Nuggets were also built through the draft and good trades, not through high-priced free agent signings. Even without an ex-Spur coach or player, I give the Nuggets a solid 8 on the Spursian scale.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Hey, finally a team with an ex-Spur player. To make it better, the ex-Spur won a Finals MVP for the Spurs in the culmination of all things Spursian in the Redemption Finals. But the ex-Spurs player is persona non grata for SpursNation, and the Clippers have always been personas non grata for me. With no other ex-Spurs other than Kawhi Leonard on the roster, I give the Clippers a Spursian quotient of 2. Why did I choose 2? It seemed insultingly low, without being cruel.

DALLAS MAVERICKS: On the plus side, the Mavs’ best two players are international players. They also have one of the most popular of the ex-Spurs in Boban Marjonovic, who doesn’t play very much, but it is fun when he does. The Mavs also benefit by having one the NBA’s best coaches, even if he looks uncomfortably too much like a young Jim Carrey. But for SpursNation, Dallas has been a main rival for too long to get many Spurs votes. More importantly, the Mavs offense often devolves into the European version of the Harden Rockets, with Luka Doncic dribbling back, forth and around a high ball screen until Luka decides to make a great pass to another Mav who has been standing around for a while. All in all, and as much as Luka is a great player, the Mavs get a Spursian quotient score of 5.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: I was born in Portland, as was my mother and brother, so I have an automatic rooting interest for the Blazers. I also own an authentic Blazers NBA jersey with Dresie 22 on the back — long story, but a good one. The Blazers’ best two players are four-year mid-major guys, and the Blazers are one of the few teams (like the Spurs!) who are their city’s one major league team. The primary knock on the Blazers is that they have not been a good defensive team for decades. They also have Carmelo Anthony, a very non-Spursian ball-stopper playing a major role. As a result, their Spursian quotient is a 5.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS: The Lakers finished 7th in the West and had to survive the Play-in tourney to make the playoffs. Raise your hand if you predicted that before the season. Yeah, me neither. The Lakers then needed a last-minute 3-pointer from Lebron James to get past the Golden State Warriors and avoid a one-and-done game against the winner of the 9 - 10 seeds. (A cool thing about the Play-In tourney is that the 9 - 10 match-up was essentially Game Seven for both teams. As was last night’s Grizz - GSW game.)

Even though the Lakers are well-coached, play solid defense, and have two international players, they are definitely not Spursian. They are built around two superstars who were drafted Number One, but not by the Lakers. Offensively, they rely of those two stars to score or create, with the rest of the team constituting the dreaded “supporting cast”. This leads to a Spursian quotient of 4 and my prediction that the Lakers will not do very well in the poll below.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Watching the first quarter of the Spurs - Grizzlies Play-In game led me to ask how the Grizzlies finished only 9th in the West. The next three quarters answered the question, though the Grizzlies defense on the Spurs best two players showed that they can beat anyone if their sometimes clunky offense scores enough points — especially if their foreign-born center puts up another 23/23 game. The Grizz also have ex-Spur Kyle Andeson, who would have fit in well with this year’s Spurs — Slo Mo was the 30th pick in the first round, one below the dozen or so Spurs picked 29th. The team’s coach, Taylor Jenkins, started his professional coaching career with the Austin Toros (now the Austin Spurs), pushing the Grizzlies Spursian quotient up to 7.

OK, Spurs fans, time to weigh in. Who from the West will you be rooting for as the playoffs begin?

Poll

Who are you rooting for to win the West?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Utah Jazz
    (221 votes)
  • 13%
    Phoenix Suns
    (97 votes)
  • 19%
    Denver Nuggets
    (142 votes)
  • 2%
    LA Clippers
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    Dallas Mavericks
    (63 votes)
  • 8%
    Portland Trail Blazers
    (61 votes)
  • 3%
    LA Lakers
    (27 votes)
  • 11%
    Memphis Grizzlies
    (79 votes)
711 votes total Vote Now