TrueHoop: R.C. Buford
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Spurs are winning with several players, including recent Bobcats castoff Boris Diaw, who couldn't stick on far worse teams.
Jerry Krause, then general manager of the Bulls, was once ridiculed for saying "players don't win championships, organizations do." It wasn't the idea that organizational excellence is vital to winning teams that got everyone riled up. It was that at the time, Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, was one of those players.
These days you'll hear similar responses to praise for Spurs GM R.C. Buford: "Well I'd look pretty smart if I drafted Tim Duncan, too."
But now that Duncan's no longer an MVP candidate, is Duncan really the reason the Spurs are good? Can his presence really explain how Danny Green and Boris Diaw, players deemed unworthy to play for two of the worst teams in the league, are starting on the best team in the NBA?
The 2010 Cavaliers team that Green couldn't make went 19-63. This year's Bobcats, the worst team in NBA history, finally trimmed Diaw's overweight contract and body from their roster after starting 7-37.
This isn't some brand-new phenomena, either. Tyson Chandler was the second-best player on the Mavericks championship team just months after not even starting in Charlotte.
What we're learning is that there's more to building a great team than just accumulating all the best players. It's about acquiring and developing players in a system that maximizes their abilities.
Green is a 6-6 shooting guard out of North Carolina who, in his third season, shot nearly 44 percent on 3-pointers (ninth in the NBA), can defend three positions and owns a handle solid enough to play some point guard. Sounds like a can't miss talent, right?
Except while everyone else whiffed, Gregg Popovich and company hit a home run when they picked him up off the NBA scrap heap.
The frenzy to acquire top talent in the NBA market is sometimes compared to an arms race: gather the best weapons or be destroyed by those who do. But the Spurs have sustained their excellence not by picking up shiny new toys, but by dusting off misused or underdeveloped players and applying them in a system that brings out their best.
This effect is not exclusive to the Spurs. In his book, "Basketball on Paper," ESPN Director of Production Analytics Dean Oliver notes that really good teams tend to stay really good even longer than the life of one superstar's career. "Parity has pulled on the bad teams, but the good teams have resisted," Oliver writes. "Even ten years down the road, good teams seem to be able to maintain some comfort level between themselves and .500."
Translation: really good teams tend to break the cycle of rise and fall in the NBA.
When a small market team like San Antonio pulls it off even as its meal ticket talent declines with age, it's clear that being good in the NBA is about much more than player acquisition. Players are human after all, and hardly a static commodity.
There is mounting evidence that developing a smart system is another essential ingredient. For instance, an offense that relies on 3-point shooting and motion, and seeking out players that can fit into the system rather than players that fit conventional notions of "value." Such a system can endure even when the principle cogs must be changed out from time to time.
Five years ago, no one would have predicted that Tony Parker would lead a team to the best record in the NBA. But Parker, and the Spurs system, both developed in order to do just that.
That takes synergy between the coach who designs the system, the GM who helps finds the players and the owner who writes the checks -- not to mention all the people running research and crunching numbers behind the scenes.
There is talent in San Antonio's system, sure. But it's also true that in San Antonio, the system brings out the talent of its component parts.
Maybe Jerry Krause was on to something, after all.
- From a discussion at Wages of Win about the salaries and earnings of NBA players: "That’s right; the lottery [not the NBA draft lottery] has produced almost twice as many millionaires in the last year as the NBA has in the last twenty years!"
- Zach Lowe of The Point Forward on the union's disclosure of some vivid details of Thursday's negotiations: "It was an extraordinary public accounting of a private negotiation, one clearly fueled by anger over the alleged misrepresentations Silver and Holt gave reporters a few minutes earlier. We have seen nothing quite like it so far in these talks. It is discouraging. And the anger matters. The two sides need to cool off now, and it is unclear when they will meet next."
- Belgrade is a basketball hotbed. When Serbia took on France in EuroBasket 2011, you could hear hoots, hollers and moans emanating from alleyways in the Serbian capital. Acie Law has joined Partizan Belgrade and has been blown away by fan passion: "I've never seen anything like it, you don't see fans like that in the United States."
- A nice story in the Sporting News about SEEDS Academy, Amadou Gallo Fall's basketball school in Senegal. The piece includes a clip of a documentary, "Elevate," by filmmaker Anne Buford -- San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford's sister.
- Rex Chapman on owner-player vengeance: "League owners possess much resolve. They've vowed athlete-payback 4ever. Branded into memory are their yrs of daily P.E. dodgeball beatings."
- One ancillary benefit of the lockout? Stars like Stephen Curry who traditionally deliver boilerplate quotes are now expressing their sincere opinions.
- Raja Bell to Dan Le Batard and Stugotz on 790 AM in Miami: "I feel like that is their target to shoot just below the bar, so it looks like they are negotiating and in fact there is not a real attempt to negotiate.”
- If you didn't catch HoopSpeak Live yesterday, you missed some compelling stuff from Bomani Jones and Larry Coon. Jones speaks about how $5 million players have $5 million dollar bills, while Coon revisits the contentious issues that are dividing the camps in the labor negotiations. Equally as entertaining, with a whole lot of whimsy, is Zach Harper, who stops by 48 Minutes of Hell's 4-Down Podcast.
- John Wall in a Dougie-off at a Reebok promotional event.
- LeBron James gets zinged on twentysomething dramedy "Happy Endings." (Hat Tip: Ball Don't Lie & Your Man Devine)
- Magic big man Brandon Bass tells Zach McCann that he's spending his time in Orlando working out with Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. On his to-do list? Extending his range beyond 18-20 feet.
- J.J. Hickson makes aliyah, as he signs with B'nai Hasharon in Israel, replacing Trevor Booker on the roster.
- Can you name all the D-League teams? You've got four minutes on the clock. Go.
- Metta World Peace would like some company. Via his Twitter feed: "It's not a weird question to ask where the fellas at. I can't entertain 100's of ladies alone. My party yesterday was all girls."
The Spurs biggest test might come in the offseason. Could the Mavs give the Lakers a test in a 1-8 matchup? And the Raptors are testing the patience of even their most loyal fans.
Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Gregg Popovich has carved a unique place for himself in the pages of sports history. He's a Hall of Famer, both as a coach and front office executive ... It's an elite little club, chaired by Red Auerbach. Invariably, failure follows on the heels of such attempts. It's not an infrequent thing to see an elite coach attempt to hold an office in General Management concurrent with their gig on the sideline. Some find success, but it's a rare thing. Usually, it ends in a mess. Gregg Popovich has not only walked that tightrope, but he's done so hopping on one foot while juggling bowling pins. Or, put differently, he's shown olympian balance, especially with the rigors of small market shaking the line at either end. Men like R.C. Buford have done much of his heavy lifting, but Pop's singular genius is almost without peer. That genius will be tested this offseason."
Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Let's talk Dallas. We wrote them off. You did, too. Don't lie. Liars go to hell, Billy. We all wrote them off and chanted 'Thank You, Cuban!' along with the Nets' twelve fans (and we are still right to have done so), and figured they would embarrass themselves on the way to either a first round playoff exit or missing the dance entirely. Well, the first round exit still seems likely, but embarrassing themselves doesn't. [Jason] Kidd is playing the best ball he has in years, [Josh] Howard is back to full force, Dirk [Nowitzki] is so damn consistent we should all be taken to court for the crime of not appreciating it, [Jason] Terry is their sixth freaking man, and they have depth all over the place. When this team is playing well, and if you watch them right now, they're playing really well, they're still a loaded team with a ton of playoff experience."
Arsenalist of Raptors Republic: "The Pacers laid down a beating to remember on the Raptors and unlike the last time we were in Indiana, there was no comeback to feel good about. The question raised during this hammering was whether the Raptors were playing really crappy or were just putting out a crappy effort, the answer's probably a potent mixture of both ... I realize the game doesn't mean much but there's this thing called pride that tends to disappear from this unit at times and makes me question every single character on this roster ... When we were down by 41 in the third quarter nobody on the bench or on the floor looked peeved about being sodomized. A result like this significantly diminishes the value of that six-game winning streak because as much as winning games says about your basketball potential, a loss like this says even more about your character and mettle, something which should be a prerequisite for any Raptor next season. The varying effort that the Raptors play with scares me because it tells me that the problems go beyond talent and strategy but are deep-rooted in their spirit."
(Photos by Glenn James, Barry Gossage, Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)