Are the Spurs the Anti-Cavs?

February 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Sports | 2 Comments

Two smallish basketball cities, two once in a generation superstars, two legitimate title contenders. There are many similarities between the Cleveland Cavaliers of the last few years and the San Antonio Spurs. So how did two team that have so much in common achieve such different outcomes? One continues to be a perennial title contender while the other is quickly slipping into basketball irrelevance.

In the end, it all comes down to management.  One team took what it was given and nurtured it, the other simply relied on the one talent it was given to deliver a title to them, until that talent decided to go to south beach and it was all over.

With the 19th and 29th largest TV markets respectively, Cleveland and San Antonio can both be considered small-market teams. Teams that if not successful on the court would soon cease to be financially viable. Both teams, on glorious May days in 1997 and 2003 had the ping-pong balls fall their way and picked up the players that would change their NBA fortunes. A lot has already been made of Tim Duncan‘s decision to stay with the Spurs after the 2000 season and the similarities to Lebron‘s own “decision” this last summer, so I won’t focus on that.

Instead, I would like to look at the current Spurs team and use it as an example of how to build (or rebuild in this case) around a superstar.

After last season, I have to admit that I was among the skeptics who believed that San Antonio’s title contending days were over. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were too old and they didn’t have enough young pieces around them. What was worse, they were still good enough to always win 50 games, get into the playoffs, and ensure that we would never draft higher than 20th. I was sure that they were doomed to suffer a slow decline into irrelevance.

Tony Parker

Of course, the Spurs front office shared none of my pessimism. After all, this was the same front office that snagged Manu Ginobili with the second to last pick in the 1999 draft and then again Tony Parker at 28th in 2001. So, in 2008, with their original championship squad aging, GM R.C. Buford and Coach Greg Popovich set out to do the impossible and prove the first time wasn’t a fluke. Their task?

To rebuild while still staying relevant.

They started by using their 26th pick on a little known guard out of IUPUI named George Hill. A year later, they added to that by selecting Dejuan Blair with the 37th pick. Both turned out to be brilliant moves. Moves that left other GM’s scratching their heads and wondering how they let those players slip past them on the draft board.

And the Spurs kept adding, piece by piece.

In 2010, they finally convinced 2007 draft pick Tiago Splitter to make the jump to the NBA and signed 26 year old rookie Gary Neal. In the draft they added sharpshooter James Anderson with the 20th pick and resigned Richard Jefferson to a much more cap friendly contract.

The results?

At 46-10 the Spurs now boast the best record in the NBA and have quietly thrown themselves back into the thick of the title hunt. By themselves, none of these pieces were huge (and some have yet to reach their full potential). By themselves, none of these players could win the Spurs a title right now, but they don’t need them to. That is what they have Tim, Tony, and Manu for. They simply needed the pieces to take their play-off contending team and convert it into a title contending team while also strengthening them for the future. Which is exactly what Buford did.

In the same way, as title contenders, the Cavaliers did not have the luxury of high draft picks and sure fire hits.

So what did they do in the years directly after they hit lottery gold in 2003? How did they seek to create a title contender around their meal ticket?

Well, let’s see.

In 2004, with the 10th overall pick, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Luke Jackson (Luke who???). All told, Luke played two years with the Cavaliers and averaged 2.7 ppg. The next year, the Cavs only pick was Martynas Andriuškevičius from Orlando at 44th overall. He never played for them and was eventually traded for Eddie Basden who also never played for them.

Basketball player Luke Jackson.

They drafted this guy!?! - Image via Wikipedia

Finally they selected a player you may have heard of in the 2006 draft. That player? Shannon Brown selected with the 25th overall pick. Two years later, before he could reach his potential in Cleveland, he was traded to Chicago in return for a past his prime Ben Wallace and journeyman Joe Smith.

In that same draft, they did manage to pick up Daniel Gibson who would prove to be a solid if unspectacular 3 point shooter, but that was the lone slightly bright spot in their sordid mess of draft debacles.

The next year, 2007, the Cavs didn’t have a single pick, having wasted them all on worthless trades for the likes of Sasha Pavlovic, Jiri Welsch, and the slightly useful, if unspectacular, Anderson Varejao.

By the time the Cavaliers finally made a meaningful draft pick in 2008 (J.J. Hickson), it was too late, and by the time he was ready to contribute, Lebron already had one foot out the door.

While San Antonio was making draft steal after draft steal, Cleveland was busy bungling away any chance they had to build a legitimate contender around Lebron James.  It’s no wonder he finally had enough and decided to go somewhere with a second legitimate scoring threat.

That’s why I have every faith that San Antonio will continue to be contenders long after Timmy finally hangs up his spurs. That’s why the Cavs now find themselves staring up from the central division cellar.

Cleveland could learn a thing or two from the Spurs.

Then maybe next time they get a once in a generation, hometown superstar, they won’t screw it up.



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  1. yeah nice

  2. I have done extensive research on this subject, and agree completely with the way this was written. I only wish I had the eloquence to put it into quality writing. I will certainly make a link to on my site.

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