Waiting for Godotnobili, with Danny Green



“[The OT Spurs-Mavs game] will make our bench so much deeper when our injured guys come back.”

— Danny Green

January 30th found me driving up the I-95 at the crack of dawn to my home in Richmond — I had work in two hours and I’d been visiting my girlfriend at UNC. (She’s still in college, as I perhaps should be.) Instead, I work as a statistician. Fittingly, I tend to find myself calculating out silly things in my head. This time I’d used my GPS to make an estimate about when I’d be back to Richmond with some basic assumptions. Next I’d estimated the amount of time it’d take me to shower, get my business casual swag on, find my ID, and jet it to work under normal traffic conditions. But to my surprise — in my rush to get out of Chapel Hill early — I found I actually had a spare 10 minutes to burn and still get to work on time. I knew the minutes existed: I’d left early and done the legwork to earn them. The sun was rising.

Stopping the car alongside the road, I walked the bridge by the Lake Gaston. I’d watch a sunrise.

• • •

Danny Green isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it’s a few shades of wrong and we can drown a cruise ship in caveats without getting at the heart of why it’s so meaningful. There have been a million pieces on why the Dallas game (despite the loss) was valuable, and there could be a million more before it truly sinks in. They’re wonderful pieces. Brilliant in aspect, thoughtful in perspective. And they’re right. It was a great game, however you choose to give it context — in a purely aesthetic sense, it was fantastic. More than that, the confidence our bench guys gave themselves will reap benefits over the long season. But the exact conceit Green implies here strikes me as tad foreign to its core — not to the NBA, but to reality: Green’s math implies a stark calculus of addition. But as we see time and again, it’s a calculus of decomposition.

You do not simply add a fully healthy Manu to a fully clicking bench.  You do not simply make a shot and win the game you lost. For all you add, you take away in equal measure. For every 20-30 minutes of Manu Ginobili that you add, you must take away 20-30 minutes where Neal, Green, Anderson, and Kawhi can get their games rolling and have the nights of their careers. You trade youth for antiquity, the unexpected for the steady hand. Or is it so steady? So too does the cold calculus of decomposition stare back at us, this time in the form of age, wear, and the tear of seasons long past. How good will Manu be, back from injury? How good will TJ Ford be upon his return? They may be wonderful, they may be awful. They could be revelations, they could be unrecognizable. There is an element of risk in the return from an injury, at any age — but it’s doubly so for a player past 30 whose game depends on his otherworldly grit and tenacity. The risk adds to the uncertainty around the late season. And to no small extent, it makes me dread the return of our star as much as I can’t wait for it.

• • •

As I watched the sunrise, I was taken aback. And I laughed at myself.

When I was a child, I used to mock one certain gradient palette in Microsoft Word. It was called “sunrise”, I believe — it was black, auburn, blue, and hazel. And I hated it. It was the worst gradient Microsoft Word had to offer, and for some reason I never really understood, my teachers always used to use it in their handouts. I grew up in California, and moved around to various parts of Arizona. I’ve never been one to watch sunrises, as I’m quite the night owl, but I do consider myself something of a sunset connoisseur. And being from the southwest, I was used to beautiful, majestic sunsets — royal magenta over the darkest blues as bright orange clouds faded into the horizon. Beautiful sparkling moon over all of it. Some gorgeous stuff. Things to write home about.

But this sunrise? Nothing particularly beautiful about it. It was boring. In fact, as I saw it, this sunrise was the gradient. I was shocked. If this was the only sunrise I’d seen in my life, I’d be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the gradient I had so thoroughly mocked as a child was the truth of the situation. And it made me think, consider, dwell. What had I been expecting, really? I’d never seen a sunrise over a lake. Not once. I’d simply assumed the lake away, I’d thought it would turn out perfectly. I’d paid no attention to my rear-view, through the trees, and I hadn’t noticed what I was stopping to see. I expected that I’d get to see a drop of Aivazovsky. But not every sunrise is beautiful, not every sunset pretty. Sometimes they’re positively dismal. Dreary. Unexpectedly lacking in the beauty we’ve come to expect.

I realized something, though, as I was standing on the hill and staring over the artificial lake reflected in my glasses: Just because this sunrise lacked beauty, form, and disappointed me didn’t mean I had nothing to learn from it. It was a terrible sunrise, one that broke my expectations in twain and wasted a good five minutes of my drive catching some air and staring at a boring spectacle. But from it came a bit of coming-of-age contemplation. Black. Auburn. Blue. Hazel. The worst gradient in the world. The gradient Bill Gates saw fit to place before me, perhaps out of personal spite.

But was it accurate? Patently so.

• • •

We don’t know how Manu is going to look when he comes back. We don’t know what this Spurs team will look like when the season ends. At this point, we find ourselves spinning our wheels and idly tossing out challenging statements about how good we’ll be when we get Manu back. And we hope, and pray, and do all sorts of silly things as we await our savior. But expectations are often a burden and hopes are an invitation for disappointment. And Danny Green seems to understand that. He’s saying – nothing more or less – that the bench will be more prepared to play well, when our golden child returns. And that’s a point worth holding onto. After all, it’s true. It’s real. It’s tangible. Manu will be back, and TJ will be back, and the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Perhaps they’ll be the same team, perhaps a different team, perhaps a worse team. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And there’s only one way to be happy, when you’re this buried under the weight of your hopes and dreams: Expect nothing. Appreciate everything. And watch with a smile as the bench shows us glimpses of our future.

And never use that damn gradient.

  • Hobson13

    You made some excellent points in this article.  The point that’s rarely been talked about for the last 4+weeks is “We don’t know how Manu is going to look when he comes back.”  The fact remains that Manu has only played 1 week of NBA ball in the past 7+ months.  My theory is that it takes Manu a while to get back to full strength especially if he comes back this month when we are on the road away from home and practice facilities.

  • Bob

     Manu actually started out playing pretty good. He was shooting 59/52/94.

  • Len

    I like the point of this article – You just never know.

    Pop, Peter, RC, the team and us fans just don’t know what exactly Manu will bring after this latest injury.  In addition, all don’t know exactly what Manu’s presence will do to harm or help the bench players who’s minutes will diminish.  Everything said on the subject is just speculation. 

  • Vjk333

    Manu is proven though! He is our best player these days. Not only that, he is an excellent leader; he lifts and builds those around him. To suggest that the Spurs are going to be worse is ridiculous. Manu is a game changer. When he is back Danny Green may fade away. Or maybe T.J. Ford will lose a spot in the rotation. But the Spurs will be better. Even though Ginobili is streaky, he has been our most consistent all-star caliber player.

    I say we do know the Spurs will be a better team with Ginobili back. Absolutely.

  • sven

    Good read. Liked it a lot!

  • Bob

    Manu and TJ will help the offense get better. I really think all they should be focusing on is their defense. They need to be able to get a consistent defensive effort and not let it affect their offense.

  • Sam

    i know that manu will be taking minutes from our bench players (green, anderson, kawai, neal)  ,   but my question is y does rj  still gets 30 minutes a night when he reverted back to his old useless self.    y don’t we move green to starting lineup  in his place.  the guy plays great def. and can rebound and shoot the 3 well.

    and we have kawai who can play sf position.  or maybe when manu is back     we can have  parker, manu, green, duncan ,   ( whoever)   .             and   rj  can play from bench    and honestly 20 minutes a game is more than he deserves.    maybe that will motivate him .    

  • DorieStreet

    The last quarter of the Mavs game this past Sunday night shows me that the coaching staff can and need to explore all options on who can be on the court when Manu – and TJ Ford – returns to the court.
    The Spurs’ bench seemed to have taken on the Houston Texans’ mantra – “Next Man Up” (can they succeed during the RRT?). It is up to the coaching staff to blend the inspired play of the role players with Manu as he rounds back into shape so everyone on this squad knows they will be counted on – and given the opportunity -to contribute to this season being as successful as it can be-  especially come playoff time.

  • DorieStreet

    If Pop does it right, Manu won’t be taking minutes from the youngsters. I’d sacrifice a game or two – or three (since there are so many BTBs on the schedule) to play some ‘small ball’ for guys to keep their confidence and keep sharp. RJ and Bonner are veterans; they can give up minutes knowing that Pop will count on them to perform no matter the amount of court time they get.

  • Dpwheels

    You’re a really great writer, Aaron. I’ll start looking for more of your articles. go spurs.

  • Anonymous

    “I found I actually had a spare 10 minutes to burn and still get to work
    on time. I knew the minutes existed: I’d left early and done the legwork
    to earn them. The sun was rising.”

    I used to be able to do that in my youth.  Nowadays…if the sun is rising before I’m at home…it’s only because I got lost at around 8:00 pm trying to get home.

    Nice write up. Envy the youth and passion.  Good job.

  • http://twitter.com/nudityJ nudityjfandango

    I think its interesting that we used to need Manu to keep the second unit alive. now though it feels like we need Manu to keep the starters rolling, the second units got itself into a real groove.

  • GMT

     Yeah, he was playing phenomenally, but it is his shooting hand that got injured. That could potentially set him back quite a bit.

  • Jwill1919

     There’s no way TJ loses a spot, ever since his injury we’ve been desperate for another PG to handle the rock and give Tony a break.  What you’ll see is Cory Joseph back to Austin for the remainder of the year and James Anderson’s minutes will completely disappear.  Unfortunately, I’d much rather see RJs minutes disappear and go to Green/Kawhi/Anderson.

  • rj

    not gonna lie. alot of fluff in this article……

    chose alot of poetic, personalized ways to say we have no idea what this team will be like when ginobili returns. a bit pretentious?