Spurs’ Profile Opposite of Timberwolves
The Spurs lost on national television last night to the Thunder in game four of the Western Conference playoffs. The best of seven games series will send the winner to the NBA Finals against the Eastern Conference playoff champion.
The Spurs are tied in their series with the Thunder and despite playing with an “elderly roster” might advance to the finals for a second consecutive season. The Spurs’ franchise is dramatically dissimilar to the Timberwolves.
The success of the Spurs and failures of the Wolves is a tale told in numbers and about people. The Spurs have been in the playoffs for 17 consecutive seasons. The Timberwolves haven’t been to the postseason since 2004.
The Timberwolves’ first season in the NBA was 1989-1990. Since then the franchise has only once advanced to the conference finals. That was in 2004 and was preceded by seven years of first round playoff exits. During the period from 1999-2014 the Spurs won four NBA titles. The most recent championship was in 2007, but last year the Spurs led the Heat 3-2 in the finals only to lose the last two games.
The Spurs’ “Big Three” consists of power forward Tim Duncan, 39, shooting guard Manu Ginobili, 36, and point guard Tony Parker, 32. Duncan was on the first Spurs title team in 1999 with superstar center David Robinson, long ago retired. Despite becoming an elite team after that first title the Spurs kept excelling in the draft and on the court. Ginobili was a second round choice, the 57th player selected in the draft. Parker was the team’s No. 21 pick in the first round.
But the Spurs’ draft expertise hardly stops there. The Spurs have accepted for years that their “Big Three” is aging and with declining skills the remaining roster had to step up. The club’s personnel decision makers, starting with coach Gregg Popovich, have built a deep roster with players possessing complementary skills and a team-first approach.
The starters include 22-year-old small forward Kawhi Leonard, a rising star with rare athleticism and a pair of the largest hands in the NBA. The Spurs found Leonard available in the 2011 draft after 14 other players were taken ahead of him in the first round including Derrick Williams who the Timberwolves selected with the No. 2 selection.
Starting center Tiago Splitter was the No. 28 pick in the first round of the 2007 draft. Along with Splitter, Duncan, Leonard and Parker, the Spurs have shooting guard Danny Green as their fifth starter. Another late first round or second round pick? Nope. The Spurs acquired Green after the Cavaliers gave up on him.
The Spurs have been committed to finding players with varied approaches including high interest in players from other nations. Nine players on the roster are from foreign countries including key reserves Ginobili, small forward Marco Belinelli, forward-center Boris Diaw and and guard Paddy Mills.
Popovich is an extraordinary teacher and motivator. He’s been exerting his will over the Spurs franchise for 18 seasons. How good is he at passing judgment on personnel, developing players, and making the right moves during practices and games? Good enough to be the longest tenured coach with one franchise in not only the NBA, but also the NFL, NHL and MLB. Meanwhile, the Wolves have gone through five coaches since Popovich took over the Spurs.
Starting to get the idea the Spurs are extraordinary at finding and developing talent despite rarely having a lottery pick, or even late mid-round pick? Now compare the Spurs with the Timberwolves who have owned six top 10 picks in the draft since 2008, and in 2009 even had four selections during the first round. The results? Not a single winning season during that time period and only two lottery draft choices remain on the roster, power forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio.
Since Love joined the team for the 2008-2009 season, the Wolves haven’t even been close to a .500 season record except for 2013-2014 when the club finished 40-42. According to numerous reports, Love is so frustrated with losing he wants to be traded. While the Wolves’ All-Star wants out, the Spurs’ “Big Three” have stayed so long in San Antonio they are legends and their careers aren’t over.
The Spurs almost defy logic with their success and are searching this spring for another NBA title. The Wolves are occupied with other searches like trying to figure out either how to keep Love (he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year) or score big by trading him for draft choices and players. And apparently trying to find a coach after Grizzlies’ coach Dave Joerger said he will stay in Memphis instead of coming home to Minnesota, his native state.
Decisions about Love and the new coach will be led by Flip Saunders, the Wolves’ second year president of basketball operations. Down in San Antonio things aren’t in such disarray. Not only has Popovich been around a long time but general manager R.C. Buford has been with the Spurs since 1994. This spring he was named NBA Executive of the Year. It’s been a good spring for rewards because Popovich was named NBA Coach of the Year (twice in the last three seasons).
The Spurs? Remarkable.
The Wolves? Not so remarkable.