Construction of a champion

Bucks would do well to use Spurs as model
by Truman Reed
Bucks.com Writer

Do your homework diligently.

Look for character, selflessness and substance over style.

Maximize each of your draft picks, whether it is the first or the 60th.

Find employees who possess versatility, but assign them roles and don’t hire too many of them to do the same job.

Make teamwork a priority and require it of your personnel.

Now that the rest of the National Basketball Association has seen the San Antonio Spurs follow these directives to the 2014 NBA championship, maybe the road less traveled will soon become more populated. For now, though, the Spurs are the kings of that road.

San Antonio captured its fifth NBA championship by defeating the Miami Heat 104-87 in Game 5 on June 15 to win the 2014 NBA Finals 4-1. And the Spurs followed a map dramatically different from those used by their predecessors as NBA champions.

Of the 15 players who helped San Antonio dethrone the two-time defending champion Heat, only one entered the league as a lottery pick, let alone the No. 1 overall pick. And that solitary man wasn’t tearing up the AAU circuit during his elementary and middle school years.

No, Tim Duncan was swimming.

Fortunately for the purity of the game and the threatened future of fundamentals, Duncan’s reluctance to swim with sharks, his growing frame and his rapid discovery of success at a different game detoured him. That detour led him from his native Virgin Islands to Wake Forest University. His four-year stay there earned him a degree that fulfilled a promise he made as a 14-year-old to his dying mother and launched a career that has taken him beyond both of their wildest dreams.

The Spurs have done a lot of things right to earn their place in NBA history, but they needed some luck to get there, too – both bad and good.

Early-season injuries that ended the seasons of David Robinson and Sean Elliott sent San Antonio sprawling to a franchise-worst 20-62 record in 1996-97. But two other teams – the 14-68 Vancouver Grizzlies and the 15-67 Boston Celtics – entered the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery with better odds of landing Duncan, everyone’s choice as the No. 1 pick.

Fate smiled on San Antonio, though.

The Spurs spun their way onto the top of the draft board, snared Duncan, and he is still rewarding them 17 years and five championships later.

Duncan, aptly nicknamed “The Big Fundamental,” has gone about his business with little flair and a blank expression, much to the delight of those of us who respect the old-fashioned way and don’t get to see it much anymore.

Duncan has never put himself above the game or his teammates or his coach – or above their collective objective. And he has never deserted San Antonio for a bigger, flashier or more lucrative place to spread his prolific wings.

Duncan will quickly admit, too, that he hasn’t become a five-time champion alone.

The manner in which Spurs management has complemented him has been unprecedented in the NBA’s 65-year history. At the same time, though, it gives other franchises – particularly those in small markets – more hope than arguably any other championship model in league annals.

Duncan, as noted earlier, is the only lottery pick on the Spurs’ 2013-14 roster. By contrast, the 2012-13 champion Miami Heat had seven, and the 2011-12 Heat had six. The Los Angeles Lakers title teams in 2008-09 and 2009-10 both had five, while the 2005-06 Heat had a whopping nine.

Furthermore, the current Spurs cast includes five second-round draft choices – Jeff Ayres (known when he was drafted as Jeff Pendergraft), Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Patty Mills – along with Aron Baynes, an undrafted free agent.

Gregg Popovich arrived in San Antonio’s head-coaching seat under the radar, too. His only previous head coaching experience prior to taking the Spurs job came at Pomona-Pitzer, an NCAA Division III school in California.

Popovich, over the last 17 years, has made himself a cinch to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

At one point between the Spurs’' five title conquests, one admirer referred to them as the United Nations of the NBA. Team management, Popovich and his coaching staff have done a masterful job of finding and blending players from all over the globe.

Argentina (Ginobili), France (Tony Parker and Boris Diaw), Brazil (Tiago Splitter), Italy (Marco Belinelli), Australia (Mills), New Zealand (Baynes) and Canada (Ayres and Cory Joseph) are represented on the current roster of the Spurs, who also have the only New Hampshire native (Bonner) in league history.

The Spurs have been there and done this before.

Their two most recent NBA title conquests prior to this season came with just three lottery picks on their roster – Duncan, Melvin Ely and Robert Horry in 2007 and Duncan, Horry and Glenn Robinson (drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucks in 1994) in 2005. No other NBA champion since 2003 has gone the distance with fewer lottery picks than the Spurs did in 2005, 2007 and 2014.

Here’s hoping the Bucks hit it big with their much-anticipated 2014 lottery pick. Look no farther than the latest NBA Finals, though, to realize how vital it will be for them to surround him with the right teammates, wherever and however they find them.

 

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