Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
Note: This was technically slated for the Heat-Celtics recap, but that post went in a different direction so I’m running this as a stand-alone post.
I’ve been asked a few times (okay, twice, but that’s enough to make it blog-worthy) about which team I’d rather the Heat face should they advance to the NBA Finals. And my answer goes beyond basketball reasons; the Heat would rightfully be underdogs to the Spurs and probably the Thunder. With the Thunder seemingly having more flaws the Heat could exploit, they should be my pick. But my hands-down choice to face Miami is…the San Antonio Spurs.
I’m passing on facing the team that may kick our ass for the team that will definitely kick our ass.
The reasoning is quite simple:
The Heat would likely lose to either team. But how the aftermath would unfold changes everything. Over the 15 seasons of the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan era, the Spurs have never won fewer than 50 games in a full 82-game season. We thought their last gasp occurred in 2011 when they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by an upstart, eighth-seeded Memphis team. With all that said, I’d never count out Popovich and Duncan’s Spurs, but realistically, their run HAS to be coming to an end soon, and this may be their farewell tour. And how are they going out? With a dominant championship run featuring quite possibly the greatest Spurs roster of any of their title-winning teams.
I was never a fan of their brand of basketball, but the Spurs have won me over. Maybe I’m getting older and gaining a greater appreciation for their throwback style of play, but I appreciate the trust and cohesiveness of their starting five, the reliability of their role players, and the way in which everyone is content doing whatever it is they need to do, all in the best interest of the team. I made the case during the Heat-Pacers series that Indiana built their team the right way, but not in some moral sense that allows pompous writers to start getting didactic about sportsmanship and hard work and not taking the easy way out, but the right way in the pragmatic sense, that this was the only way they could build a contender. Well, it goes quadruple for the Spurs. Like the Thunder, they get no credit for not botching their top pick in a draft with a future Hall of Famer, but as the Clippers, Wizards, and Blazers will tell you, a big man with the first-overall pick is no sure thing. The Spurs deserve tremendous credit for everything else they’ve done to support Duncan and establish an environment conducive to winning.
The Spurs play in a city that isn’t exactly a choice destination on superstar’s wish-lists and they don’t have the appeal of other free agent hotbeds, so they took the long-term approach and established themselves as a credible, drama-free organization, one in which players who do decide to go there know they’ll have a chance for a ring every year and will have their skills utilized efficiently and effectively. Yet they still take the approach of building from the bottom up via the draft, hence why no one worries about stats or minutes but simply getting the best shot: They never bring in anyone who would have a corrosive effect in the locker room in the first place, and thus, they get everyone who is there to buy into their system.
General manager RC Buford and Popovich know that, pending injury, they’ll be in the mix every year, which precludes them from assembling a roster with high lottery picks. Yet their genius is readily apparent in how they’ve mastered the ability to scour the lower rungs of the draft class and build their starting lineup and depth with foreign players (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter) and unproven commodities with upside (the ACL-less DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard), all coming via mid-to-late round picks.
In a recent edition of The B.S. Report, Grantland’s Bill Simmons mentioned a conversation he had with Knicks center Tyson Chandler. Chandler was describing his disappointment in not re-signing with the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and was still frustrated with how his exit went down. Chandler apparently mentioned how he felt the Mavericks mishandled his departure in a way an organization like the Spurs would not. Of course, he has never played for the Spurs, which speaks volumes about the reputation the franchise has established across the league through their treatment of players and their positive atmosphere minus any dysfunction.
But the Spurs’ greatness is nothing new; it’s been celebrated since 1999 and is continuously celebrated. And that gets at the heart of why I’d much rather the Spurs advance. The Thunder would be new. We could read more into their title and what it means in the big picture. And I’m nowhere near ready for that.
I’m not ready for the summer-long Thunder lovefest, the talks of dynasty, the “Will Durant wind up as the best player since 2000?” discussion that the fill-in Around the Horn and PTI hosts will prattle about in late June. I’m not ready for Russell Westbrook to do some lame gimmicky bit with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. I’m not ready for every bandwagon NBA fan to be sporting a James Harden beard this Halloween. I’m not ready for Serge Ibaka to get drastically overpaid by the Nets. (That might happen anyway, but a title would make it much worse.) I’m not ready for Derek Fisher to get Robert Horry-levels of love for his rings rather than being recognized as the right place, right time complementary player he is. And most of all, I’m not ready for the lazy and so-blatantly-obvious-any-half-dignified-writer-should-ignore-it narrative relating to the dichotomy between LeBron James and Durant and how their disparate fates are some kind of karmic balancing of their opposing egos, an angle that will surely result in some groanworthy, vomit-inducing Rick Reilly column that definitely ends with a line like, “Humble Kevin Durant gets the last laugh, even if you’d never hear him chortle.”
So even if Miami might match up better with Oklahoma City, I’d much rather raise my glass and have a fifth toast for the Spurs’ dynasty.
After all, I don’t expect a lot of surprises from a party I’ve been to four other times.