Despite having a 37-year-old Tim Duncan, a 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and a 31-year-old Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs have won over 60 games this season. In fact, they also will have the best record of any team in the NBA this year. But to the Spurs, this success has become commonplace. While the Spurs nurse their fourth 60-win season since 2003, 29 teams look on envious, but no longer surprised.
Since Greg Popovich took over the head-coaching job way back in late 1997, the Spurs have only finished under .500 once and have won 50 or more games an astonishing 16 times. During Pop’s first year as coach, the team finished 20-62, yet their poor record allowed them to select Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in the NBA draft and the rest has been history.
As a matter of fact, the Spurs have made the playoffs every year for the past 17 years, winning the NBA championship four times. The only season they did not win 50 or more games during this run was a strike-shortened season where the season itself was 50 games long. The Spurs won the NBA championship that year.
What San Antonio has is perhaps the perfect combination of talent, veteran leadership and coaching. There is no doubt that Greg Popovich deserves a spot amongst the all-time great head coaches. His winning percentage is third all time, trailing only Billy Cunningham and Phil Jackson.
Perhaps what makes Popovich truly unique, especially for this age, is that he has done all of his winning with the same core group (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker) for the entirety of his coaching career. Duncan alone is a surefire hall-of-famer, while the other two are all-stars who just happened to be the perfect fit for the perfect system. The Spurs are quiet, refined and dignified. They are rarely flashy, yet rely on teamwork and efficiency to consistently dismantle opponents.
Perhaps what is truly a testament to Popovich’s coaching skills, however, is the fact that other than their core three, San Antonio can throw any combination of random players out on the floor and turn them into winners. Due to their success, the Spurs have not had many early first round draft picks, yet they always manage to find steals in the season draft.
Players like Kawhi Leonard, George Hill, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter have all been productive in recent years for the Spurs, despite being later first-round picks. This, too, is a testament to Pops, as he is able to juggle the development of young players while winning games. When Danny Green entered the league, he sat the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers, yet just a few years later with the Spurs he was transformed, breaking the record for most three point field goals made in a finals series for the season by an individual player.
Despite the tremendous success of San Antonio Spurs, everyone knows that their dominance in the game of basketball cannot last forever. Manu Ginobili is getting older, and is production is slipping (albeit slowly). Tim Duncan is also human, and his age will eventually catch up to him. Tony Parker, while only 31, will most probably be the last Spur left of this dynamic trio; however, barring a few amazing drafts and signings, his final days will not be as glorious as these. That begs the question, how long will the Spurs be this good?
If this season has been any indication, they are not done yet. Tim Duncan seemed to be slowing down during the 2010-2011 season, when he averaged 13.4 ppg and 8.9 rebounds per game in 28 minutes per night; yet despite a reduction in minutes, his averages have slightly risen the past few years. Obviously he is not nearly as durable as he was during his younger years, but he and Ginobili make the Spurs as dangerous as ever for this year.
The loss of Duncan and Ginobili will impact the Spurs franchise just as much off the court as they would on it. Their veteran presence, knowledge and image have no doubt helped Popovich maintain his image and poise during his tenure as coach. Duncan, one of the greatest power forwards of all time is calm, kind, soft spoken and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Perhaps he could work his way into the Spurs front office or coaching staff upon retirement and ease the inevitable transition process?
Regardless of who the Spurs have, they will remain a winning team, as long as Greg Popovich is their coach. How much they win is still undetermined, however. As fans of the game, we should appreciate just what Pops has done for this generation of the NBA.
We must acknowledge that we are witnessing the sunset of the golden age of the San Antonio Spurs. They are truly an amazing team in the league and are up there with some of the best teams of today. They may not be as powerful as the Heat’s big 3 and their championships, or as dominant as the Thunder with their high powered duo of Durant and Westbrook, yet they know how to win, sustain success and play like a team better than any other team this century. They deserve to be recognized for that.