- Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Nearly any team serves as fodder for the rumor mill, save for the best one of the past 15 years. Somehow the current title favorites are chopped liver in a league replete with rotted gristle.
In theory, the San Antonio Spurs would be a great landing spot for a star desperately in need of a winning experience. Like the Lakers, they have space for a 2015 Love signing. The Spurs also have trade pieces, depending on what they’re willing to part with and whether the Wolves value Tiago Splitter’s rim protection.
While some Spurs fans might scoff at the suggestion that Love would help the cause, there is the issue of how San Antonio replenishes what the Big Three leave behind. As Herbert Stein’s Law dictates, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Just because Tim Duncan has been successful long enough to feel timeless doesn't mean he's immune to time's ravages.
So, the Spurs could use a guy like Love, and a guy like Love could use a team like the Spurs. But with some rare exceptions, you don’t see the Spurs thrown into this mix.
Perhaps it’s a sign of respect that the Spurs aren’t invited to free-agent hypefests. They’ve succeeded for so long without playing this game. As other teams flock to the reality TV spectacle of wooing the latest available star, the Spurs quietly build on the "corporate knowledge" amassed by incumbent stars. When they head hunt, they’re looking for bargains, not big names. In 2012, Boris Diaw was cut by arguably the worst team of all time. Soon after, the Spurs looked past the belly folds and found gold in his perceptive play.
Maybe it’s that there’s something almost dirty about the recruitment process that doesn’t jibe with how San Antonio is thought of. It’s difficult to envision Team Pop engaging in the debasing hucksterism of desperate middle-aged executives throwing themselves at the feet of a distracted 20-something. Then again, maybe the aversion to going after free agents is just rooted in a failed bid for Jason Kidd back in 2003.
There’s also, let’s face it, the perception that San Antonio isn't a desirable location. Even if the current Spurs players like it just fine, superstars are assumed to prefer bigger cities and the attention that comes with living there. Nobody's running to the Riverwalk.
That's the rub, I think. We're quick to focus on where superstars might want to live rather than where they might win. This is quite logical, too. If I was blessed with superstar talent, I’d probably trade championship chances to not live in, well, we’ll leave that part blank. The point is that a few NBA cities don’t stack up livability-wise to places like Los Angeles. Factor in how a few of these desired cities offer more fame by virtue of being media centers and it’s no wonder we start the free-agent gossip there.
This gives lie to the notion that NBA stars are myopically obsessed with winning, though. They don’t "only care about winning," in contrast to what many of their stated platitudes suggest. If these guys were solely focused on winning, their agents would be leaking tales of interest in the Spurs. Through intensive social media stakeouts of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and now Kevin Love, San Antonio doesn’t really come up.
No, the modern superstar isn’t all about winning. This isn’t an indictment, by the way. Nobody’s all about anything. Michael Jordan might have been considered a homicidal competitor, but it’s doubtful he’d sacrifice his first born for a trophy (I said "doubtful." We can’t be sure.). Even those who lack perspective on these matters have their limits.
We as a basketball media collective are the same way. A championship might be the organizing goal of this NBA endeavor, but we're only so interested in that when it comes to San Antonio. Show us a Spurs Finals victory, and we'll write some nice things to be sure. But I doubt we'll pore over the result with the gleeful intensity we'll devote to Kevin Love and his suitors. This isn't an arbitrary media decision either. We're serving the fans, whose aggregate interest in the on-court success of the Spurs often gets dwarfed by other concerns.
Just as the Spurs appear to live in an ethereal plane above free-agent wooing, they also float a level above the compelling drama of sport. Spurs stakes feel small, as there will be no finger-pointing or panic moves in the aftermath of defeat. Or, from a media perspective, no fun to be had. So we'd rather focus on the draft and how a bunch of transactions could conceivably one day add up to something that will never approach the success San Antonio has accomplished.
The Spurs have shown us a lot over the years, but the collective lack of interest -- from us, from superstars -- in joining their journey shows us something else. The basketball media and fans aren't as obsessed with winning as we lead on, and neither are the NBA's superstars. That doesn't make us bad people; it just means we have interests beyond the competition itself. With all that said, it'd be entertaining to see Kevin Love break the mold by choosing the dynasty nobody wants to join.