This season, in broader context


When Tim Duncan began to decline (some decline, huh?), the popular line had it that the Spurs’ decline would mirror that of their franchise player. The logic was straightforward: as Duncan goes, so goes the Spurs. We’ve learned that isn’t the case. My worry was more nuanced.

You’ve heard me say it before, but the Spurs’ ability to attract a championship supporting cast was fueled by veterans who signed on for an opportunity to chase a championship alongside Tim Duncan. Duncan was the draw. Not the city of San Antonio. And never the promise of more money. It was always Tim Duncan.

Not anymore.

The draw is the opportunity to play in Gregg Popovich’s system. It’s Tony Parker. It’s Spurs culture. It’s Pop himself.

It’s the confidence that the front office can always shore things up by adding a Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter or Kawhi Leonard. It’s the confidence that the front office will manage its books and never the saddle the team with a cancerous contract. It’s the confidence in the ability to improve through the internal development of guys like Danny Green.

The Spurs have it figured out.  Players understand this.

Add yet another championship to the list…and, yeah, San Antonio will continue along as an attractive destination for I-Want-to-Win free agents.

Eventually replacing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili is a tall order, but we’ve learned that it’s not an impossible one. The Spurs are already showing the way forward. The future is a happy place.

The Spurs have already transitioned beyond their last championship era, the one built around a dominant Duncan and worldclass defense. We’re not at the end of those days. A new day is already here.

So when the conversation comes around to “How much longer can the Spurs put great teams on the floor?”, the answer is not two or three years. And, with no disrespect to Tim Duncan, the answer is no longer, “Duncan is the window”.

The correct answer? Indefinitely.

  • Zach R.

    I’m excited at the prospect of the FO looking to add Roy Hibbert with the savings on a new, shored-down contract for TD this summer.

    A guy can dream, right?

    Nic Batum would be cool too.

  • TheRealDirtyP1

    “It’s the confidence that the front office will manage its books and never the saddle the team with a cancerous contract.”

    Hello Richard Jefferson? Yes they got rid of him, but that contract was bad. Never say never.

  • Anna

    As long as the Popovich system is sustained once Pop himself retires (seemingly around the same time Duncan does)!

  • Nick

    Agree with all of this. Even if you look at when Finley came here, every team courting him sent our their superstars and the GM with a blank checkbook. The Spurs sent Pop.

    The same was true with Caron Butler. Pop was honest and has a way to connect with players on a human-level than any other coach (at least from the way I hear players talk about him).

    When it comes to execution and the ability to connect with players, there’s no coach in the history of the game better than Pop.

  • David

    Wow, This is the FIRST article I’ve read on this website that I would consider is off the mark :-(. Make no mistake, if Timmy was currently playing like the 08-11 Timmy, this team is not a contender. For whatever reason, Duncan has lift and quickness again. Without Duncan, this franchise has ZERO rings. Not sure how you can say we’ve learned how to Replace Duncan??? We have not replaced Duncan. Manu and Parker are great, great players, but they are not “Superstars.” It would be ludicrous to say Parker is a top 5 all time PG or Manu is a top 5 all time SG. Duncan is the best PF of all time! We are so lucky to have seen this run of championships, but unless the Spurs can “truly” replace Duncan with another “superstar,” it may be years before we see another Spurs river parade.

  • lvmainman

    This is a delusional article to think that the Spurs are positioned for CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER SUCCESS WITHOUT DUNCAN.

    I can’t believe what I just read. Take off the rosy colored glasses and get a clue. Duncan is the straw that stirs the drink. The last 20 of 21 champs are due to Nowitzki, Bryant, Garnett, O’Neal, Jordan, Olajuwon, and Duncan.

    That’s 7, count them again, 7 players responsible for the last 20 of 21 championships. And one of them is named Tim Duncan.

    Spurs are positioned without Duncan for playoffs, ala Jazz or Nuggets, sure. CHAMPIONSHIPS??? No.

  • SpurredOn

    Playing with Duncan, and playing the Duncan way is still quite the draw to any player that wants to be coached. How many players have made money and perhaps even All Star games but are aware that they haven’t been properly coached? The Duncan way, to me, is still a draw (of which he and Pop are truly interchangeable). Players that have gotten over themselves are ready for the Spurs, as they likely see “if the HOF Tim Duncan can be unselfish for the team, so can I.”

  • Alixander

    I think some of you need to take a chill pill. True that this team could never have won a title without Timmy D being a Spur, those rings would be amongst the tons that the Celtics have, should they have won the Duncan Sweepstakes. I think what Timothy is saying is that now potential FAs have more reasons than just playing next to Tim to chase a ring since Pop is considered the best coach in the NBA, hands down. They also see a well run team – don’t give a damn what the voters say, RC should have won EOY for 2012; TP & MG in place and are looked upon as star quality athletes (David you are on crack, if TP or MG played in a larger market they would be looked upon as rock stars). In addition, for the dufus who complained about RJs contract, the Spurs saw a chance to gain some added firepower for very little in return and took a swing and whiffed. So what? RC parlayed that contract into a gutsy baller in Cap’n Jack, who is going to have 1 year left on his deal. This team is well managed and extremely well coached. There is no reason to believe that this team can’t reload and continue to be ultra competitive for the NBA title for years to come. How many people thought that the Spurs were 1st or 2nd round fodder this season? Too many to count….but with a shrewd front office, top notch scouting department and Pop running the ship, we have a better shot than most teams in the NBA. We have not even touched the fact that there are players the Spurs are developing overseas to pick up where our stars are leaving off. Davis Bertans, Ryan Richards, Nando De Colo and so on. I see where you are coming from Timothy. Go Spurs Go, Win One For The Thumb!!!!!

  • deeds130

    This team still needs TD desperately. And a TP or some other lead guard playing at an all-star level. The Spurs haven’t shown they can attract Free Agents. Last year, we were shunned by C Butler and J Howard. Has this year’s success changed that? We’ve certainly made Josh Howard’s choice look foolish, but are we suddenly a destination? I’m sure Hibbert stays in Indy, but it will be interesting to see if J McGee takes meetings around the league… being that he’s Irish, I think he’ll land in Boston, but it will be interesting to see what cachet the Spurs have earned. Batum was likely headed to SA after Portland failed to extend him, but now the Blazers need him (if they can’t buy themselves an Eric Gordon) way more than the Spurs do with Green and Leonard in the fold. Regardless, Danny Green has redeemed the James Anderson pick. But other than that, we are still short on future all-stars… so we still need our aging big 3 to take us as far as we’ll go.

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  • Metsox

    I will have to respectfully dissent also. While I think the Spurs make better decisions on average, I don’t see their success continuing when Manu and TD are done.

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    I have to say it, What big man has played significantly better in this year’s playoffs than Duncan? No one from the Jazz, no one from the Grizzlies, no one from the Mavs, No one in the Eastern Conference (Garnett and Hibbert are playing well but not better), certainly no Thunder player. Everyone is crazy excited about J. McGee but his best game is Duncan’s average game.

    So you say Pau Gasol – not this year my friends. He looks so old, disheveled, and like he might have problems with his internal organs or something.

    Bynum is the only one that can match what Duncan can do from the Center – Yes I said it – the Center position where Duncan really plays. And Bynum is a head case so he disappears from way too many games.

    I have just convinced myself, Duncan is playing as well as any big man this year. 26 pts – 10 rebounds – 2 blocks. The graphic I saw listed Shaq, Kareem, and another Hall of Famer. It did not compare Duncan to this current crop. Because even at 36 he is still the best. To even compare him to any active player other than Kobe is an insult…and Duncan is better at a TEAM sport than Kobe. (Kobe could win a game of HORSE though!)

    Go ahead Durant and Lebron compete for regular season MVP, Duncan wants another Finals MVP…

    You do not replace Duncan, you do the best you can when he retires.

  • Stijl

    Love the optimism. Not so sure that “without” a star (or 2) players would transcend their talents to San Antonio (or any other nba team) regardless how good/great the coach and system may appear to be.

    Now WITH a superstar AND a great coach and system…I would think it’s a no brainer for experienced (and still talented) players to WANT to play for a team. But to think it would all be based on Pop’s “success”…that success no matter how good Pop has been has been predicated on the greatest PF to ever play the game along with two happenstance great players drafted for next to nothing at the time they were drafted…IMHO just won’t happen anytime soon again for this organization.

    But…the premise and hope would be great. Ongoing winning seasons with grandeur of eternal championship possibilities until the day I go to the grave…a bliss fan life that would be.

  • theghostofjh

    From Varner:

    “Eventually replacing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili is a tall order, but we’ve learned that it’s not an impossible one.”

    No, they cannot be replaced. What we’ve learned is that we can compensate effectively in the midst of their inevitable decline. Can we win another title post TD/Manu, and Pop? In time, I suppose, but it could be a very, very long time.

  • Tess

    If Tony can prove he’s a legit ongoing MVP-candidate point guard (and I think he can), then even as he gets older, that in itself is a draw. How many guys loved to play with Steve Nash? Lots.

    Great front office, great coach, great point guard, great weather, no state income tax — unless you’re looking for big-market media stardom or the nightlife you get in Miami or L.A., the Spurs are an ideal destination. And if that’s what you’re looking for, the Spurs were never going to be the right fit.

    The other secret weapon the Spurs have on their side is player development. It’s not just that their drafting is brilliant; I genuinely believe that a lot of the guys they picked are better NBA players because they were developed by the Spurs coaching staff. If Tony had gone to a team that let him jack up a bunch of shots off isos instead of having to learn to see the floor and play within the system, I don’t think he would ever have become the player he is today. I think Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Gary Neal have higher ceilings here than they would on most teams. Ginobili and Duncan arrived here as obviously special talents on day one, but if Leonard develops toward his theoretical ceiling the way Parker does, he has the potential to be another true homegrown All-Star like Parker.

    And if we have another several years of Parker playing at an elite level as Leonard grows to a high level as well, who’s to say that we can’t keep doing it? And if we have cap space to sign real stars at some point, who’s to say we can’t land the next superstar tired of playing for a crappy franchise?

    I don’t want to be accused of being delusional, so know that I do realize that a lot of what I just said is predicated on things breaking just right and luck coming our way. But if the Spurs can manage the handoff from Duncan to Parker and still keep playing at a high level throughout, there’s no reason we can’t sign stars and develop stars in house, and continue to be one of those teams that’s always in the hunt.

  • Titletown99030507d

    We would still need a Superstar big to go with Parker and Kawhi to even sniff 1/10 of the success the core 3 has had.

  • Titletown99030507d

    To add to the above post. Replacing a Manu in his prime (05′ MVP finals in my book) is not as easy as you think. Add a Superstar shooting guard to the list above.

  • Gomezd

    I think the article make sense. If the system pop and the culture are enough of a draw for free angents then it becomes possible to draw the kind of player that can take a team to the championship. Doubt it will be a player of TDs calliber, that is to say a player that you can build several championship teams around, but you can get a sort of CP3, Derrick Rose or Dwight Howard, players that can lead a team to one or 2 championships. Winning championships doesnt have to end with TD/Manu/TP and we shouldnt have to wait until we bottom up to pick a one in a lifetime talent free agency can do that.

    Now wether San Antonio will become a desired free agent destination simply on the draw of the organization and coach I think it is being overly optimistic, but certainly not impossible.

  • David

    Just because his last name is Mcgee does not make him irish.

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  • deeds130

    Next you’ll be telling me Shaq O’Neal ain’t Irish either. Explain the accent then.

  • Mark H

    Rather than being a harbinger of the “new normal,” this year might just be a perfect storm of unusually good decisions, unusually happy circumstances, and unusually highly motivated FAs, motivated I might add not necessarily by the Spurs mystique but for more personal (though still professional) reasons. One can say, however, in favor of the rosy predictions, that the new CBA, though it’ll be a devil for everyone, seems to play into the Spurs’ operational philosophy. But, competition being what it is, I expect many franchises will adjust and by necessity wind up operating more like the Spurs. Which could mean, many of the imitators might fail miserably, or they might plod along in the fog (like most do now), or a sufficient number will succeed, leading to diminishing returns for someone, perhaps us. Put all this aside and one thing’s for sure: no matter nice the future turns out to be, we’re all going to have a Tim Duncan hangover someday.

  • BO O

    “Put all this aside and one thing’s for sure: no matter nice the future turns out to be, we’re all going to have a Tim Duncan hangover someday.” Well said Mark H

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  • DorieStreet

    A very good and insightful writeup, Timothy. Gregg Popovich’s system works; and it worked very well since opening night tipoff last December 26th. The best performing player averaged 32 minutes per game; all other starters and reserves averaged 28 minutes or less. One of the three best players missed the first half of the season, then averaged just 23 minutes a game coming off the bench. One starter was traded after 2/3 of the season went by. A player with a puny 2 year, 28 game league resume starts 38 of 66 games; a rookie starts 39 games. These and the other odd, low risk, seemingly low reward acquistions came together and blazed their way to the top of the standings at season’s end and rolled two-thirds of the way in the playoffs. It was truly remarkable. The Spurs franchise today is analogous to those great Broadway plays–it’s not so much who’s in the roles, but can they perform the roles to make the plays great. Stars in the plays eventually move on, but the production still continues. The new day is here, but outside perception won’t see it that way until the principals of the past era are gone– when the Nos. 21, 20, and 9 are no longer seen on the court. The 2011-12 Spurs are a harbinger a successful future.

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