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NBA / Aug 30, 2012 / 2:00 pm

San Antonio Is Finally Behind The Times

Tim Duncan (photo. Jonathan Mannion)

Tim Duncan (photo. Jonathan Mannion)

They’re our perpetual under-the-radar on-the-radar basketball sweetheart. We’re going steady with the San Antonio Spurs. A conversation about the Spurs is spoken out loud, and heads nod vigorously because we know. Don’t you love Tony Parker? Only if others knew his Value like we do. The Spurs are in the know, an anonymously revered work of art that only the cultured discuss in whispered voices.

Except it’s a lazy and misappropriated reverence whose validity has flitted along over the years if only because it perpetuates an always present in-the-know media arrogance. It’s pompous and self-aggrandizing wish-wash, and the Spurs are it’s polarizing beacon. You don’t know basketball if you don’t appreciate the Spurs. And they’re a go-to conversation kicker, the perfect devil’s advocate to your Lakers-Heat-Thunder discussion. Really, what about the Spurs? Look at me, bringing them up when you had forgotten about them. But I didn’t forget.

San Antonio is a regular season juggernaut, a not-so-distant cousin of the New England Patriots. There’s a facade of dominance with both teams, that reeling off season after season of successful campaigns somehow mitigates playoff failure after playoff failure. Not that either team has never won. Of course, both are multi-year champions of arguably dynastic tenure. But it’s been eight years since New England actually won anything (no matter how close they came. Twice.), and another five for the Spurs. Yet, at the very least, New England has shaken its roster and watched the leaves fall off, transforming from defensive juggernaut with a QB capable of occasional magic to, well, the 1999 Rams. But San Antonio has looked more or less the same over the years, repurposing and reinventing their team identity without swapping out any core parts. There’s Tim Duncan, there’s Manu Ginobili, there’s Tony Parker. The rest is a revolving door of mediocrity.

Clearly that was viable for the greater part of nine years, as the Spurs racked up four championship trophies and R.C. Buford became the anonymous patriarch of his very own general managing tree. The legend grew organically, and Gregg Popovich‘s brutishly candid and laconic words invigorated the unkept secret conversation. “I want some nasty” wasn’t just a meme-inducing phenomenon or a splice of coaching genius. It was an endorsement of the secret, that the enlightened really did know things and could continue writing and pontificating and purporting with high-browed impunity.

Some still cling to the Spurs as is, citing their temporary eradication of the youth-galvanizing Thunder as The Proof. And there’s the apocryphal speculation, that San Antonio would have stood a better chance against Miami. But the Spurs face a body-bruising reality in the coming years. If they want to recapture the NBA title, they’ll have to get through the Lakers or Thunder and Heat. And, if they can’t quite snag another top two seed, they’ll have to go through all three. So that secret is no longer so secretive. Really, it’s just tired adulation because San Antonio is behind the curve.

The 2012 offseason didn’t move the needle. It’s misguided to relabel the NBA as perimeter oriented, these days. The whims of the game change yearly, and it just so happens that the best teams were of the perimeter variety. The real change has been versatility, and San Antonio simply lacked the roster maneuverability to match OKC’s varied lineup looks. R.C. Buford only straightened out his own closet this offseason, re-signing Tim Duncan and Danny Green and Patty Mills. No first-round draft pick, no free agent signings, nothing. And it’s an ironic lack of awareness, especially when San Antonio has thrived on value-based pickups and castoffs, the garbage of other teams. And now the NBA’s top tier is full of lineup versatility, so San Antonio’s hole is only growing. Still, it would be lazy conjecture to completely throw away the Spurs chances at a title. But sometimes more really is more.

What’s San Antonio’s biggest weakness?

Follow Dylan on Twitter at @DylanTMurphy.

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