Spurs general manager R.C. Buford had just finished his afternoon yoga class, and work was already encroaching on his hard-earned serenity.
“I have to find a coach,” he said, referring to the vacancy former assistant Brett Brown left to become the head coach in Philadelphia.
Such is the price of success.
In a realm where the only constant is change, the Spurs have achieved a level of consistency unmatched in NBA history with 14 straight seasons of at least 50 victories. They’ve won four championships in that span, and came mere seconds away from a fifth last season.
Opposing teams might not have Tim Duncan to build around, but they’ve done what they can by raiding the Spurs’ leadership ranks in the hopes of duplicating their organizational structure.
Brown’s poaching brings to four the number of former Spurs assistants now leading franchises of their own: him, Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Jacque Vaughn (Orlando) and Mike Brown (Cleveland). Include former coaching intern Monty Williams (New Orleans), and it’s five. (In addition, Doc Rivers, Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson all played for head coach Gregg Popovich.)
The Spurs’ influence is even greater in the front office, where six general managers claim Spurs ties: Dell Demps (New Orleans), Danny Ferry (Atlanta), Rob Hennigan (Orlando), Dennis Lindsey (Utah), Sam Presti (Oklahoma City) and Kevin Pritchard (Indiana).
That makes more than a quarter of the NBA that is attempting to model what Popovich likes to call the Spurs’ “program.” But, Pop being Pop, even he scoffs at the notion that they’ve figured anything out.
“Oh, hell, I don’t know anything about innovation,” he told Sports Illustrated earlier this year
“Here is my innovation: I drafted Tim Duncan. Okay? End of story.”
Buford was similarly self-deprecating before the draft, noting that he’d love to be in the position to draft another franchise-changing, Springfield-bound 7-footer.
Critical as talent is, the Spurs have proven that there might be something to Jerry Krause’s assertion that organizations, and not just players and coaches, win championships.
Jerry West, a man who knows a little bit about team building, pinpointed three keys to the Spurs’ success
* Identifying potentially good players other teams don’t want.
* Developing those players.
* A consistent system.
Nifty qualities, but exactly how
do the Spurs implement them? Get as many smart people together as you can, and give them all a voice.
Popovich summed up his philosophy in a recent piece about the Budenholzer/Ferry partnership in Atlanta
: ”If everybody feels empowered that they can, without fear, give their opinion on something and it doesn’t affect their position, now you have something powerful working for your organization and now those ideas are out there and they can be taken and they can be used and we don’t give a damn where the idea came from.”
Not just an epic run-on sentence, but fascinating insight on exactly what makes the Spurs the Spurs.
With his gruff demeanor and military background, Popovich would seem to be a totalitarian control-freak — the exact opposite of someone encouraging input and feedback. And there are certainly elements of that. As Manu Ginobili said in the aforementioned SI piece, “Once he is convinced that is the way, then that is the way
. And if you don’t follow, you end up in the Pop doghouse.”
In which Ginobili has spent his fair share of time. But as he also noted, there is often a healthy discussion preceding any decision. For example: When Parker began lobbying Popovich for more offensive responsibility, he not only didn’t tell his budding young All-Star to kiss off, he actually listened.
“You can talk to Pop,” Parker said. “A lot of coaches, you can’t.”
That collaborative spirit pervades every corner of the Spurs organization. Buford and Presti successfully persuaded Popovich to give Parker another look after an underwhelming predraft workout. The same thing happened with the Kawhi Leonard trade, when Budenholzer wore down Popovich’s reluctance to swap George Hill.
How many overseers, especially those with his pedigree, would be so flexible?
Which is just one of the many reasons, including the assortment of Hall-of-Fame talent, why it’s far easier to imitate the structure in San Antonio than it is to actually duplicate.
Link to story: Spurs Nation » Duplicating the Spurs’ structure isn’t so easy