TrueHoop: San Antonio Spurs

Future Power Rankings highs and lows

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:08
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The future of the Spurs and Cavs looks bright. Not so for some of the marquee franchises, including the Lakers, Knicks and Nets.

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Spurs picked as title favorites in 2014-15

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Gregg Popovich's team was the fifth-most likely to win it all last season, but with hardly any roster changes, they're the favorites this time around.

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Kyle Anderson, a Spur all the way

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
7:13
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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The San Antonio Spurs' Kyle Anderson on being Spursy, going from New York to Los Angeles and his love for the Colombian national team.

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The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Don't go just yet, Timmy

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
9:35
AM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Tim DuncanAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesTim Duncan will be back for 2014-15, but his eventual retirement is becoming harder to ignore.
For my entire life, I'll remember that the Spurs won their fifth NBA championship on a Sunday, because that particular Sunday was Father's Day, and that was the dopest thing of all. Here's how I would currently (and likely forever) rank the top three of the all Father's Days I've experienced as a dad:

3. Father's Day 2007

My twin sons were born. Oh, man. I couldn't believe that this happened like this. These were my first kids, they were the first boy grandchildren my parents had, they were twins, and they CAME OUT ON FATHER'S DAY. That's Disney movie stuff. They actually weren't due for another five or six weeks, so they had to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital while their lungs developed or whatever, but it was totally worth it because they got to listen to Game 4 of that year's NBA Finals between the Spurs and Cavs, which is why they came so early, I'm assuming.

2. Father's Day 2011

I received a copy of Bloodsport on DVD.

1. Father's Day 2014

The Spurs won the championship, their greatest ever, erasing from history the stink of 2013's Finals loss (and also, FYI, erasing my desire to put my head in an oven, which is a thing I'd thought about doing at least once every day after they lost the way they lost).

Here's another thing I'm always going to remember from that day, though: The real possibility that Tim Duncan would now retire.

Prior to two Sundays ago, I'd never really considered that Tim Duncan would eventually stop playing professional basketball. I mean, I understood that it was something that would eventually happen, but I'd never considered it more tacitly.

But after Game 5 of the Finals, after they won and everyone was asking him if this was it, if that was the end of his career, he ducked the question. He dodged the question. He sidestepped the question. He never said yes. But he also never said no. And I remember watching it and suddenly becoming overwhelmed with terror and appreciation.

Tim Duncan is going to retire.

Of course, it didn't happen. He recently announced that he's going to play out this final year of his contract -- but for the first time, it hit me:

Eventually, he will. And that’s devastating.

Two things about this realization:

1. I don't want Tim Duncan to retire by winning an NBA championship. I don't imagine he does either. "Going out on top" is the dumbest romantic ideal that I can think of.

I mean, I'd for sure like to see him win another one. I'd like to see him win 50 more, really. But I want him to play until someone beats him, until someone tears his trophy away from him. That's how you die. That's how you finish a career. You don't win and then retire, unless you’re David Robinson and you’ve never done anything wrong in your whole entire life.

You win until someone murders you and becomes champ.

There was this interview Michael Jordan did with Ahmad Rashad last year (or maybe the year before that) for NBA TV in which, when discussing the end of the Bulls' run, he alluded to that:

"It was a very sad situation because we never lost in the Finals," Jordan said. "I never knew what it felt like. At least if you're gonna -- if you're gonna be king of the hill, [be the king] until someone knocks you down and shake their hand and say, 'You enjoy it.'"

I'm inclined to agree with him. Tim Duncan is one of the greatest winners in the history of the NBA. I hope he finishes his career trying to win. That's super noble, and that's the only way I've ever known him to be. That said:

2. I don't even know how to handle the thought of Timmy retiring.

The Spurs drafted him when I was 16 years old. I'm 33 now. I now have a wife and three sons, and Timmy's been with me longer than all of them (and he's way better in the post than they are, too).

I've rooted for him, cheered for him, celebrated with him and commiserated with him for more than half of my life. Ours is a one-sided relationship, but it's one I care about deeply nonetheless. He has, for almost the past two decades, defined my existence as a basketball fan, which, if I really think about things, is probably a sizable part of my existence as a human.

What do I do when he's gone?

What do I do when he's no longer protecting the rim? What do I do when he's not gobbling up rebounds? What do I do when he's not banking in jumpers from the left block? What do I do when he's not throwing down that same one-handed dunk from right underneath the basket? What do I do when he's not protesting foul calls? What do I do when he's not putting his arm around Tony or Manu or Kawhi or any other Spur on the way back to the bench during a timeout after they've done something really great or really terrible? What do I do when he's not on national TV with a bad haircut (or, in most instances, no haircut at all)?

WHAT
DO
I
DO
WHEN
WATCHING
A
SPURS
GAME
NO
LONGER
MEANS
WATCHING
TIM
DUNCAN
?
:'(

Oh my god, and what about the Spurs? What about MY Spurs? What do THEY do when he's gone?

For so long, being a Spur has meant the same amazing/beautiful/predictable thing. As soon as Timmy retires, with Pop following behind him, all of that is going to change. I'm sure they'll try to keep their systems in place, but I'm also sure it won't be the same. Basically everything I've known about my favorite sports franchise, the one team that I've cheered for my whole entire life, is going to be different.

The Spurs will be different.

San Antonio will be different.

I'll be different.

Dang.

Go, Spurs, go.

Stay, Tim, Stay.

Tim Duncan willing to pay the price for titles

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
9:30
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Bryant/DuncanNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhile Kobe Bryant keeps cashing massive checks, Tim Duncan is using salary to "buy" more rings.
Four days after lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the fifth time, Tim Duncan quietly opted in to make a team-friendly $10,361,446 next season. Which reminds us: Wait, Tim Duncan made roughly three times less than Kobe Bryant did last season? How could this happen?

The answer to the question of how can Duncan make so much less than Bryant while being more valuable these days is, paradoxically, “Because Duncan earned it.” After he garnered more than $200 million over the course of an illustrious career, Timmy splurged on his own team. Anyone who’s arguing that the Spurs are “built, not bought” ignores how the buying is part of the building. Duncan didn’t “sacrifice” for his squad so much as he used his money the way he wanted.

Duncan didn’t just help buy the Spurs a few more title chances, though. He purchased pressure on other stars around the league, stars who might hear calls to “pull a Duncan” for the good of the team. You can almost hear fans and media chiding, “Why can’t you be more like Duncan?” the way a parent might remind an imperfect son of his perfect older brother.

We’re already seeing this in Miami, where Dwyane Wade’s biggest supporters would urge him to conspire against his bank account. Because of a CBA designed to kill super-teams, big-money players have greater incentive to consider philanthropy as a means to legacy.

With that in mind, the Heat and Wade stand at a crossroads. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade have opted out of their contracts after a Finals in which “Big Three plus scraps” certainly wasn’t up to the task. The first two could recoup their money on the open market, but Wade almost certainly cannot. At age 32, he’s staring down either the Kobe path or the Duncan path. It remains to be seen if he opts for the superstar money that hinders his team, or elects to conserve his body and his team’s cap space the way Duncan has. What Wade chooses might say a lot about how he thinks about himself in relation to his franchise.

The contracts Duncan and Bryant took on the “back nine” of their careers spoke to what made them great in their primes. Duncan was celebrated as the selfless teammate, whose mastery of his craft was viewed as more utilitarian (“fundamental”) than artistic. He is heralded as a man who wins for the sake of winning, as though you would learn some ineffable truth of how a win happens if only you could read his mind. The below-market deal is illustrative of how Duncan was willing to subsume for victory.

Bryant was celebrated for being a brilliant “alpha dog” who won on his own terms. Perhaps Kobe would never have become Kobe if he was so willing to sacrifice. After Shaquille O’Neal left, Kobe fandom replaced some of what had been fandom for a title contender in Los Angeles. The Lakers were hopeless, but entertainment and drama could be found in whether Bryant put together a streak of 50-point scoring performances.

Then the Lakers got Pau Gasol, won two titles, and Bryant’s status reached another echelon. Though succeeding with his team, “The Mamba” developed a cult of personality that was based on self as opposed to team. Bryant’s brand of machismo was about embracing the big shot and consuming the spotlight that came with that responsibility. This isn’t to say Bryant was a bad teammate -- just that a Lakers fan might wear a shirt showing Kobe’s five rings as though his accomplishment superseded the squad’s.

Eventually, Bryant’s body betrayed his brand of triumphant individualism. The Achilles tear took him down, and took down the Lakers. Perhaps his massive post-injury contract can be rationalized as paying a star for past good works -- cue Jurgen’s disapproving glare -- but Bryant had already been well-compensated in his time with the Lakers. The cap-killing extension looked more like a franchise eating itself because it ceased knowing how to be anything other than a vehicle for its star’s fame.

It’s a testament to the power of Bryant’s play and status that the Lakers bid against their own future in paying homage. It’s also a testament to how denial can be corrosive to goals. The Lakers (and Bryant) suffered an inability to accept that Bryant’s body couldn’t cash the checks his legend kept writing. In contrast, the Spurs (and Duncan) have long accepted that Duncan can’t keep functioning as the main reason for success, that his minutes need lessening, that his roster needs furnishing. An acceptance of reality, combined with Duncan’s willingness to play the part of someone who wins at his own literal expense, extended San Antonio’s title window.

With these two examples before them, can the Heat and Wade accept reality? Even if Wade does the hard work of accepting his limitations, there’s no guarantee he blesses that admission by giving up millions. Being a Duncan is hard, expensive work.

San Antonio Spurs' grinding halt

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:49
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
The San Antonio Spurs are great at exploiting an advantage that was hiding in plain sight. Sometimes it's a simple discovery, like how 3-pointers from the corner are just a bit easier than other shots from behind the arc. Sometimes there's more nuance to their edge, like how Manu Ginobili creates these open corner 3s by leaping out of bounds for his passing angle. It's not a natural thing to jump out of bounds with the ball in your hands. Or it wasn't, until the Spurs made the hammer set a normal way of doing business.

Jumping out of bounds might go against basic basketball instinct, but this team has thrived with the counterintuitive approach that only later looks obvious. The 2014 title winners pulled off another pioneering coup in playing their best guys significantly less than anyone else would. Tony Parker led the Spurs this year with 29.4 minutes per game. Tim Duncan led the team in total minutes with 2,158, nearly a thousand fewer than what his Western Conference Finals opponent Kevin Durant logged (3,122). By the end of that series, Durant had played 1,192 minutes more than Duncan -- roughly the equivalent of 25 total NBA games.

Perhaps the minutes difference factors into two of the most memorable plays from that series. Kevin Durant slipped and fell with the season on the line. Old Man Riverwalk sunk a huge basket over a lively Thunder double-team. The Spurs went on to trounce Miami in possibly the most lopsided Finals of all time. There were many reasons why this happened, but San Antonio's team certainly looked fresh at a time in the season where teams are worn down. In victory, the Spurs are an object lesson in the value of rest. It's not just about winning in the postseason, either. The Spurs had the best regular-season record with this approach, too.

So will all the other teams follow suit? Not so fast, when you take into account that stars have to buy into a program where minutes are rationed. We have a system in place that rewards the individual for overworking himself. The more you play, the more likely you are to win All-NBA, All-Star, All-Defense and MVP votes.

It's not an entirely illogical bias, either. When weighing who should get an individual award between two equally qualified candidates, it makes sense to lean on minutes played. Parker and Kawhi Leonard are slight exceptions to the rule, in that they garnered second-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defense, respectively. For the most part, it's difficult for a guy playing fewer than 30 minutes to get proper recognition.

Take Ginobili, who, statistically, has an argument over Kobe Bryant on a per-minute basis. Now, before you throw the laptop out the window, keep in mind that I'm not saying Manu was better than Kobe. I'm just saying that you'd expect more than two All-Star appearances from a guy whose advanced stats (offensive rating, win shares per 48 minutes) compare favorably to an all-time great.

Low minute totals helped keep Ginobili healthy, but that also diminished his reputation relative to his skill set. His 2006-07 season might have been his finest, but a 16.5 scoring average looks unimpressive on its face. Ginobili is one of the best passing wings ever to play, but he's never averaged five assists per game.

That's the real killer when it comes to playing fewer minutes: Your overall numbers look mingy. Chris "Birdman" Andersen killed Jamal Crawford in the advanced stats, but Crawford scored 18.6 points per game and Birdman scored 6.6. It's no wonder the former won the Sixth Man of the Year award.

As John Hollinger used to note, the Most Improved Player award is often really just a reflection of which good player finally got minutes. Per minute, there isn't much statistical difference between 2011-12 Paul George and 2012-13 MIP-winning Paul George. Indiana's rising star saw a 1,014 minute increase in 2012-13, which made his raw stats look better. More minutes means more credit.

[+] EnlargeSan Antonio Spurs
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWith a bench as deep as the Spurs', Gregg Popovich had no trouble managing his team's minutes.
The Spurs don't care if we ignore their individual greatness on account of low minute totals. So what if early-season criticism of Leonard's progress was mostly based on minutes played? He won Finals MVP in the end. They've found this awesome market inefficiency with a "less is more" approach and are just fine if other players can't trade accolades for effectiveness.

But since the Spurs are showing us what works, perhaps we should learn from them. If the goal of these awards is to acknowledge great basketball, then we could stand to lean towards quality over quantity.

It might also be wise to look at how other incentives fight against great basketball. The Spurs are famous for not subjecting older players to back-to-back games. For this approach, Gregg Popovich paid -- quite literally in the form of a $250,000 fine for the Spurs -- when San Antonio excused its best players from a nationally televised game versus the Heat. The NBA's a business, and Popovich's choice worked against those interests. In that context, the fine made sense, but it also reflected a subversive truth: The Spurs are giving us the best possible team basketball while working against what basketball is used to being.

Basketball is used to being a place where stars are perpetually present for the 82-game grind. It's a game that sells its heroes, and for those heroes to be heroic, they must be impervious to the fatigue of 82. The problem is, this isn't realistic. There are more games than means for physically coping. Logging 40 minutes per outing might help with awards voting returns, but returns diminish on the court. Maybe it's time to give more credit to the guy who plays less.

Postseason MVP rankings

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
3:56
PM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Here is our final look at the top 3 Postseason MVPs:



Check back Tuesday for our Insider column, breaking down the Top 10 Postseason MVPs.

Why Kawhi?

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
1:44
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
Archive
Marc Stein and Amin Elhassan discuss Kawhi Leonard's NBA Finals MVP performance .. along with some "What Next" questions for LeBron James.video

Spurs, model of success

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
1:42
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Arnovitz breaks down the Spurs' fifth title with J.A. Adande and Doris Burke.

video

It's not LeBron, it's the rest of the Heat

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
12:51
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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If you’re blaming LeBron James, you’re missing the point of what the San Antonio Spurs just did.

As much as we want to reduce this game down to heroes and legacies, basketball has grown out of the isolation-era 1990s. It’s a team sport, and while superstars can have a big impact on the outcome, they don’t wholly determine it. Remember that as you watch highlights of the balanced, Euroball-style Spurs picking apart the Miami Heat from all angles, leading to a 104-87 NBA Finals-clinching win in Game 5. If Miami wants to forge forward with LeBron, they have to be more than a vehicle for his talents.

When the series started, it was easy to convince yourself these teams were similar. They spread the floor, worked defenses in pursuit of corner 3-pointers. Both were creative, versatile units, dedicated to and successful in uncovering analytically savvy shots. Both lived by the mantra of moving the ball, not letting it stick for too many Hero Ball possessions.

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Charles Trainor Jr./Getty ImagesThe Heat could not match the depth and teamwork of the Spurs.
The final four games of this series revealed the magnitudes of difference between these two squads in a way that reflects less on Miami’s superstar than on the cast that surrounds. San Antonio delivered an unrelenting fire hose of points from everyone, save for the ball boy. Before Kawhi Leonard took the honors, there were multiple plausible candidates for Finals MVP. The Spurs were a team in the truest sense, and the Heat had dissolved into LeBron-dependence.

For his efforts, James ended the series with an average of 28.2 points on 68 percent true shooting. This wasn’t a repeat of the 2011 Finals, where James really was subpar. He showed up in this series. His teammates did not.

The points James scored might as well have been water poured into a bottomless bucket. In Game 4, James claimed more than 90 percent of his team’s points in the third quarter. That was the extreme of what happened all series. James was scoring efficiently, surrounded by teammates who couldn’t. The points that did come were futile because San Antonio was scoring more on the other end, buoyed by a better bench, and veterans with fresher legs.

Ironically, Miami’s silver lining is they got crushed. Had they lost this Finals by a play, or even by a game, it’d be easy to convince themselves that little needed changing. Instead, they’re starkly confronted with a mandate to make necessary moves. They put a lot into Dwyane Wade’s maintenance plan this season and the upshot is they can’t rely on like they used to, at least not until he develops an accurate 3-point shot.

The Heat also learned the extent to which they could trust Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole -- not a whole lot, it turns out. Erik Spoelstra’s starting lineup with Ray Allen at nominal “point guard” might be a window into the future. A team with LeBron doesn’t necessarily need to be playing 6-foot tall guys. They have a big guy with point guard skills. There’s little reason to play a little guy if you’re not getting the offensive punch many smaller players bring.

Above all, Miami should look to San Antonio as a model for how to handle their stars’ minutes. Tim Duncan was able to win championships 15 years apart because he was adequately rested along the way. James played nearly 38 minutes per contest this season. That figure has to come down if the Heat are to rise -- and that figure will come down only as the quality of the rest of the roster comes up.

The work speaks for itself

June, 15, 2014
Jun 15
10:48
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Gregg Popovich says you don’t deserve anything -- you just go play. That’s honorable, but it seems fundamentally just that the San Antonio Spurs won a fifth NBA championship Sunday night.

Another title for the Spurs confirms a bunch of optimistic beliefs about the the way the world should work: process matters more than politics; people should be valued for what they can do rather than what they can’t; a meritocracy can thrive if it emphasizes the right things.

Devotion to the process doesn’t always yield the desired results. In basketball, this is called heartbreak, and for the Spurs, Game 6 of June 2013 was a case study. Yes, there were a couple of self-inflicted miscues -- Tim Duncan comes up short in the paint, Kawhi Leonard misses a free throw, Manu Ginobili can’t snare a rebound -- but the Spurs didn’t deserve that.

Then again, you don’t deserve anything. You just go play. And the Spurs lead the world in just going and playing.

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Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAfter a nightmare end to the past season, Tim Duncan didn't need a Game 6 to win championship No. 5.
Praise such as this for the Spurs always sounds a little quaint. The ideas themselves feel precious or even stuffy, almost too obedient to authority. “Commitment to process” sounds like homework. Basketball and fame are supposed to be raucous and disorderly. What’s the point of being a rock star if you can’t act like one?

But very, very few institutions actually function like the Spurs because it’s insanely hard to get dozens of people to buy into the same vision. Those that do, such as the Spurs, are the true, honest-to-goodness nonconformists. All that well-timed stuff they run and the fundamentals and pounding the rock and never getting too high or too low and coming back unfazed after losing a lead 5.2 seconds from a banner and reclamation projects such as Boris Diaw and rodeo road trips that build character and Pop’s wizardry and knowing which mid-first-round pick would grow into the Wing-You-Need-In-Today’s-NBA and last-possession plays that actually resemble real basketball sets and almost never making bonehead personnel decisions and generally treating everyone in the office like an adult and having incredible command of the NBA’s bargain bin -- none of that is normal.

In exchange for their buying in, players earn trust, whether they arrived in San Antonio as a first overall draft pick or on a bus from the D-League. With the game on the line, Popovich will design an opportunity to get that former D-Leaguer an open shot, even when most coaches would just ride their Hall of Famer against a double-team. R.C. Buford appraises talent not by the standards of current trends or conventional wisdom but by a steadfast belief in process and innovation. Duncan might not speak to a young teammate for a calendar year, but don’t mistake aloofness for indifference; he’s just sizing you up before he dives in.

The most gifted players have every right to leverage their talents into power and have a voice in where and with whom they want to work. Duncan claimed that authority and chose to spend his capital on establishing a culture. He wants pro basketball to be about the work and to sell itself on the strength of the game’s actual appeal rather than the atmospherics or drama. That’s Duncan believing in the craft of basketball.

Tony Parker quickly signed up when he arrived in the NBA. He spent the first phase of his career working to earn trust and has rewarded his investors ever since. So did Ginobili, a charismatic stylist as a player but completely uninterested in personal branding. Leonard, often miscast as a creation of the Spurs culture who might have wallowed elsewhere, wasn’t sculpted by the team in its image so much as he found a suitable place to work his magic.

What the Spurs create on the floor is a testimony to all this. Both the offense and defense operate on a collective trust and the principle that if you inspire people to use their instincts, they’re capable of being both smart and creative. That's what gets the junkies so giddy. So when Ginobili slings a pass to a cutter off a ball fake, or Green fools a defender with misdirection, or Duncan slips a screen on a whim, or Diaw drops a no-look interior pass to Splitter that fools everyone, or Parker improvises, or Leonard cuts into open space, or Pop draws up a gutsy play call for a last possession, it’s the product of a happy marriage between order and self-expression.

Almost every owner likes the idea of being a “servant leader” -- in the parlance of business speak, someone who shares power for the sake of the cause -- but Peter Holt has pledged his trust to the people who work for him. How many owners willingly sit in the background and cede total authority to their coaches and lead execs for the better part of two decades?

Most coaches and basketball operations people work to keep their jobs, and their decision-making suffers because of it. They fall into the trap of convention, afraid to assume risk because the consequences are too steep. Popovich, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Buford, Spurs players and staff resolve problems differently.

That combination the Spurs have achieved is what most of us want out of professional life. We want to do something we love. We want the freedom to experiment and to know that if we’re true to the process, we won’t be deemed a failure, regardless of the result. We want to work alongside people who root for us to be really good. We want to know that if we have to wind the clock 12 full months after being so very, very close, everyone will exhale, regroup and stay with it.

Like Duncan, we want it to be about the work.

TrueHoop TV: Spurious LeBron Reaction

June, 15, 2014
Jun 15
7:13
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
TrueHoop TV Live's Amin Elhassan is on the scene in San Antonio gauging reaction to the FAKE news that LeBron is considering playing for the Spurs next year.

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Game 4: Domination

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
1:23
PM ET


Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals through the eyes of TrueHoop TV. Game 5 is Sunday.

Heat running on empty

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
3:05
AM ET
Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
Archive
J.A. Adande and David Thorpe join Marc Stein to break down the weary Heat's stunning and ongoing fade in their fourth consecutive trip to the Finals.



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