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Determining which Western Conference teams are worth rooting for

The odds are pretty high that the Spurs won’t be vying for a championship, so who is worth rooting for in the West?

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One of the reasons we all enjoyed the Beautiful Game Spurs teams was their continuity. The Big Three were “our guys” — drafted by the Spurs, grew up with the Spurs, succeeded (and failed) as Spurs, retired as Spurs (ignoring Tony Parker’s brief stay with Charlotte, which I contend never actually happened). And the Big Three took over for the classic Spurs Legacy player, David Robinson.

Of course, Kawhi Leonard grew up with the organization and was well on his way to becoming a Legacy Spur until he wasn’t — which made his departure so infuriating to Spurs fans. Other key players may not have been drafted by the Spurs, but they had been cut loose by prior teams, and found success once they joined the Spurs. Patty Mills. Boris Diaw. And, of course, DannyGreen!! All of them qualified as Spurs Legacy Players while they were on the team.

Other top teams of the past were largely made of Legacy players — teams that had grown up together, suffered on the way to the top, and made it. The Showtime Lakers were manned by players drafted by the organization who stayed and played with the same core group. They grew up together, and their fans did so too. For the Lakers, it was Magic, Worthy, Cooper. Even Kareem started at UCLA and then came home to L.A. after a few years with the Bucks.

For the rival Celtics, it was Bird, McHale, Parish and Ainge year after year after year. Later, the Utah Jazz, who never made it to the mountaintop, became synonymous with Malone and Stockton, with supporting Legacy guys like Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey and Jeff Hornacek. The Chicago Bulls championship teams were led by MJ and Pippen, who had never played anywhere else. They also had Legacy guys like John Paxson and Dennis Rodman, though Rodman later became a guy who bounced from team to team. Fans of those teams weren’t rooting just for laundry, they were rooting for players who truly were Lakers, Celtics, Jazz and Bulls.

Each of these teams also had legendary coaches — as did the Beautiful Game Spurs. Of course, the present-day Spurs just happen to have the same coach.

But other than Gregg Popovich, this season’s Spurs team won’t have many Legacy guys. Maybe Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassel will be someday, but it is a bit early. Jakob Poeltl has probably become a Spurs Legacy guy even though he was not drafted by the Spurs. Four years of great effort and defense will do that, but the fact that he is the longest tenured Spur speaks volumes. Last year’s team had three players who were on the way to becoming Legacy Spurs — but all three have left. Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray each fit the Spurs model: very late round draft picks who fit within the Spurs system and either became excellent players (White, Murray) or flashed that potential (Walker).

While I will still watch the games and root for the young guys, this year will be tough. Are we supposed to want the Spurs to win, knowing that this year’s team is designed to do the opposite?

Because it will be difficult to get very invested in my favorite team, at least for this season, I will need a second Western Conference team, or a third, to keep up my NBA interest. Because the Spurs won’t be contenders, I need the alternate teams to be contenders. That eliminates the Rockets, Thunder, Jazz and Kings, not that I would ever root for those teams anyway.

I want my non-Spurs alternatives to be Legacy teams, not the opposite — teams primarily made up of Mercenaries. Mercenaries were not drafted by the team, did not grow up with the team, and their primary connection to the team is the paycheck. To pick a team at random — this year’s Los Angeles Lakers. They have only one returning player who started his career with the Lakers, second year undrafted guard Austin Reaves. The remainder of the Lakers are Mercenaries. The other Los Angeles team is the same: the Clippers have just one returning player who they drafted — Terance Mann. Nope, I won’t be rooting for either L.A. team., and I am fairly certain that other Pounders won’t be doing so either.

Let’s look at some other Western Conference contenders. The Phoenix Suns are a mix of young potential Legacy guys such as Devin Booker, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges, along with Deandre Ayton, who tried to escape Phoenix but failed. (As a reminder, Ayton was a restricted free agent so desperate to leave sunny Phoenix he signed with Indiana. Sadly for Ayton, the Suns matched.) The Suns also have several Mercenaries, led by Chris Paul. And the Suns’ owner is a Truly Bad Guy. I will NOT be rooting for the Suns.

The New Orleans Pelicans are an interesting team, but without many Legacy types. Zion Williamson may become one, but he will need to stay on the floor and out of the wonderful New Orleans restaurants. The Dallas Mavericks are similar, with only two returning players drafted by the Mavs — Maxi Kleber and some guy named Luka Doncic. Whether to root for the Mavs depends on how much you enjoy watching Luka run endless pick and rolls. With Jalen Brunson not around (he Escaped To New York) to initiate the offense every once in a while, we may see even more Luka this year that last. Not for me. And since the Timberwolves are not a Legacy team and may or may not be contenders, they are out. (Actually, I think the T’Wolves may be this season’s surprise team with their Twin Tower attack. Still won’t root for them...) The Trailblazers may make the playoffs, but a lot of things will need to break right, and I was born in Portland, but.... No.

By process of elimination, we are down to three Western Conference teams, and lo and behold, all three qualify as potential Legacy franchises, one young, one medium and one old.

The young team is the Memphis Grizzlies, having drafted and developed their best two players — the incomparable Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Three other crucial players, Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks, were drafted elsewhere but have only played for the Grizzlies. They also have DannyGreen!!, though he is on rehab from his ACL injury suffered in last year’s playoffs. And the Grizzlies are coached by Spurs alumni Taylor Jenkins, who coached with the Spurs, the Austin Spurs, and was an assistant to Coach Bud at both Atlanta and Milwaukee.

But while the Grizzlies hit many of my Legacy markers, the other two teams have just a bit more.

The Denver Nuggets have their own Big Three, all of whom were drafted by the Nuggets. First and foremost, of course, is Nikola Jokic. The Joker just earned huge Spurs Legacy points by announcing “I want to be the Tim Duncan of the Denver Nuggets. But I need to win a couple championships to be him”. Whether Jokic reaches that goal (and “a couple of championships” is a bit short of the Great Duncan standard) depends largely on the health of the other two of the team’s Big Three: Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr., both of whom missed all or most of last season with injuries. But if they are back and at full strength, the Nuggets could be a Legacy-type team I can root for. Especially because super-daughter Alissa lives in Denver.

The final team is the Golden State Warriors. They have a true Big Three who have played together seemingly forever, play a very Spursian motion offense, and are coached by Pop’s good friend Steve Kerr — a former Spur himself. They are also built for the long term, refusing to trade their good young talent for instant gratification. And as a former Shooter myself – and occasionally one now — I can’t help but root for the best Shooter ever Steph Curry to have at least one more run. I know this may not be a popular choice in San Antonio, but that is where I have settled. I will root for the Warriors and their Legacy guys against every other NBA team — except one. Go Spurs Go.


Which Western Conference contender will you root for? (When the Spurs aren’t playing, of course.)

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Dallas Mavericks
    (12 votes)
  • 43%
    Denver Nuggets
    (81 votes)
  • 15%
    Golden State Warriors
    (28 votes)
  • 1%
    Los Angeles Lakers
    (3 votes)
  • 7%
    Los Angeles Clippers
    (13 votes)
  • 19%
    Memphis Grizzlies
    (36 votes)
  • 2%
    New Orleans Pelicans
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Phoenix Suns
    (8 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now