Spurs show blueprint for consistent greatness

The Sports NetworkJune 15, 2014 

San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The San Antonio Spurs are the yardstick by which all other teams should be measured.

Not just all other NBA teams, any team, anywhere. Be it a bar-league softball team, your parents' bowling team, the Harlem Globetrotters, or even the vaunted Miami Heat, everyone should gander at the Spurs and aspire to be them

From top to bottom, the Spurs have made a commitment to winning championships. They did it again, for a fifth time Sunday night.

Starting at the top, its Gregg Popovich, the master of molding young minds and teaching them team basketball. That's a skill not being taught at the AAU level, nor is it routinely practiced at the collegiate level.

Basketball became an individual game. It's isolations, sprinkled with an occasional pick-and-roll, or, pick-and-pop. Popovich showed the world that team basketball is alive and well. It thrives, but only does so with the proper mix of talent. Selfless, smart men can buy into a system and produce championship rings.

Popovich has decided that running a functioning, fluid offense is still viable in 2014. The Spurs throw hundreds of passes a game. They make Gene Hackman's Norman Dale from "Hoosiers" look like a genius. Dale wanted five passes before a shot. San Antonio scoffs at that number. Why so low?

And this up-tempo, high-precision approach just landed the Spurs a fifth franchise title. They dispatched the Heat in five games, the last three were embarrassing mismatches of LeBron James and company. All four wins were by 15 points or more.

It furthers the narrative that what the Spurs are doing is correct - the team will always prevail over the best player.

And how did Pop and general manager R.C. Buford assemble this unified group?

It always helps getting lucky in a draft year when a transcendent talent is available.

Tim Duncan is the best power forward to live, and even though he's played more center in recent years, he's still one of the best of those in recent memory. If you look back at the San Antonio roster from its first championship in 1999, it was Duncan, David Robinson and certainly not a cast of unknowns, but no one else is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Duncan is the only one left on the roster from the winning team of 15 years prior. Two years ago, Duncan rebuilt his body after breaking down in seasons leading up to that. Last season, he was All-NBA First Teamer, and this season, he was a victim of numbers in making one of the three All-NBA teams.

The Spurs started with Duncan, but built an incredible cast through hard work and brilliant scouting.

Tony Parker - 28th pick.

Manu Ginobili - 57th pick.

Kawhi Leonard - acquired in an increasingly lopsided trade with the Indiana Pacers for George Hill. All Leonard did was win the Finals MVP.

Boris Diaw - cut by the Charlotte Hornets, who were the worst team in history.

Danny Green - cut twice by Popovich, now a starter for an NBA champion.

"They've gotten over themselves is what we always talk about. It's absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that," Popovich said.

The Spurs brass isn't afraid to go the foreign route. The podium after the game was littered with flags from countries all over the globe. It looked like the closing ceremony for the Olympics.

They also draft players other team shy away from for various reasons, be it minor injuries or, gasp, if the player's measurable statistics like vertical leap don't jive with others.

So many teams try to put superstars together. Hey, it's worked for four years for the Heat and netted two championships. The Houston Rockets want to put as many All-Stars on one roster as affordable by league rules.

San Antonio wants players who aren't bigger than the system. They want players who play and are willing to sacrifice individual numbers and possibly accolades, for the good of the team. It's a silly notion in 2014 when everyone in athletics strives to make ESPN highlights. The Spurs want to win titles.

They put their money where their mouth is. Duncan makes $10 million a season. Parker is at $12.5 million. Remember those numbers next time you gander at Kobe Bryant's $25 million deal. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili all could've made millions more, but in order to bring in the best talent, they took less. See what the Heat players do this offseason when faced with the same dilemma.

"That's how team basketball should be played. Selfless," James said of his foes Sunday night.

After having their hearts ripped out in last year's Finals, the Spurs came back with vengeance. They didn't beat the Heat, they demolished them to the tune of a plus-70 point differential. Can anyone figure out how the Heat won Game 2 at this point?

And the Spurs have done it since Duncan's arrival. They always contend and they've done so in the brutality known as the Western Conference. Along the way, San Antonio had to contend with the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Bryant and Shaq, Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks, some tough teams in Sacramento and Portland, the Phoenix Suns, who changed the league with their offense and the rising Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Spurs have evolved. Early in the Duncan regime,San Antonio dumped it to him, or David Robinson, in the post. Since, Parker has become the focal point, alongside the ball movement.

Perhaps the strongest testament to support the theory of unity was that the Spurs didn't have a great, or obvious choice for Finals MVP. Leonard was deserving, sure, but the fact that everyone contributed at such a high level, and no one really distinguished themselves shows what a great team this is.

And remember which group will have a parade. Yes, the Heat are excellent and won two titles, but as skills have eroded and bodies broke down, James was the only one consistently contributing. He is the best player on the planet and wasn't enough to handle the Spurs.

"We're a true team," noted Parker.

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