Overlooked C's, Spurs Do it the Right Way

Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan

Both Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan know what it means to belong to a franchise that is committed to winning the right way.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

WALTHAM, Mass. – There must be some type of nation-wide vendetta against the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. They’re overlooked each and every season despite all of us knowing darn well that they will wind up in the championship discussion.

The Celtics and Spurs will meet Wednesday night in TD Garden and it’s no surprise that this game won’t be played on national television. It’s just another example of those on the outside overlooking two of the model franchises in this league.

These organizations don’t play the most exciting brand of basketball. They’re built around older players who have lost some luster over the past five seasons. They aren’t going to guarantee higher ratings than younger teams like the Heat, Lakers, Clippers or Thunder, the latter two of which will be playing Wednesday night on ESPN. Yet they’re always there in the thick of things in May and June, and that’s what makes them who they are.

Boston and San Antonio couldn’t care less what people on the outside think. What matters to them is what is done inside the confines of their own locker rooms. They’re successful year-in and year-out because they do things the right way, from top to bottom.

These cycles of success are built around an incredible level of leadership these teams possess at every level. Their coaches, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, are quite possibly the two most respected head coaches in the game. Their general managers, Danny Ainge and R.C. Buford, are masterful at piecing together rosters while prioritizing substance over style. Lastly, we cannot omit the amount of leadership these two teams possess while they’re actually on the court.

At the top of the totem poles stand Rivers and Popovich, who are viewed by nearly every NBA player as ‘player’s coaches.’ There is no definition for that term, but in short, it essentially means that these guys look out for their players and have a two-way channel of communication. It isn’t necessarily their way or the highway; they’re open to receiving meaningful feedback from their players.

Rivers and Popvich run their teams with a similar mentality and persona. They aren’t about themselves, and they don’t want their players to be, either.

Rivers played in San Antonio for two seasons while Popovich served as the Spurs’ general manager and vice president of basketball operations. That short amount of time was all it took for Popovich’s mindset to be engrained in Rivers forever.

“He’s influenced me quite a bit,” Rivers said Tuesday afternoon. “I just think the way that he plays, the way he coaches, and just his personnel, their character, how they’re trying to build their team. I think it’s really important.

“Get the right guys, not the best guy. Get the right guy for your team. I think they do that better than everybody in the league, and I think everyone should follow that.”

Rivers says “they” because he’s referring to both Popovich and Buford. The two work hand-in-hand as they put together their roster each and every season.

The same can be said for Rivers and Ainge here in Boston. They know what they want – high character, accountability, skill, and intelligence – and they do their best to go out as a team and get it every offseason.

Attacking the offseason with that plan led to quite a turnover in Boston this summer. The Celtics have 10 new players on their roster compared to the team that competed in the playoffs last season. For the time being, they are in the midst of developing their camaraderie and banding together as one.

San Antonio is already there, and it has been for a decade-plus. The Spurs have had a relatively consistent roster over the years based around three incredible players: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

“The biggest thing is they haven’t changed much,” said Rivers. “They’ve changed style in little ways, but Ginobili, Parker and Duncan are still there. That’s where it’s different than everywhere, including us. We have changed. And that’s what makes them so consistent.”

Rivers is correct. The Celtics have changed. But they still have three cornerstone players who have established a culture over the past five-plus seasons. The rest of Boston’s roster understands that it can fall in line behind Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, and that they’ll be led in the right direction.

One player who is following that trio’s lead is rookie Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is young at only 20 years old, but his prime years of NBA fandom came during the climax of these two organizations’ recent success. Either the Celtics or Spurs have appeared in five of the 10 NBA Finals, combining for four titles, since Sullinger turned 11 years old. Sullinger knows that these two organizations have a lot in common, and to him, it all starts with those leaders on the court.

“You have greats in a couple of positions that can pretty much put you over the top at any time,” said Sullinger.

In reality, the Celtics and Spurs have greats sparkled in throughout their organizations. Rivers and Popovich, Ainge and Buford, and both Big Three trios all understand what it takes to win. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. And they’ve done it in the right way.

“I think you’ve got to sacrifice,” Rivers said. “I think everybody’s got to get themselves out of it. You know me, I can’t stand guys that are into themselves and not the team and all their worries are about them personally instead of the team. You’ve got to take yourself out of the team, and I probably learned that more (from San Antonio) than anywhere.”

No wonder why these organizations are so great. No wonder why they’re in the championship mix at the conclusion of every regular season.

The wonder is why these two teams continue to be overlooked.