Blueprint To The Program
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
There are certain words that identify an NBA man as a former member of the San Antonio Spurs organization.
Call it codespeak.
Better yet, SpursSpeak.
When you hear words like The System, you know you might be talking to a Gregg Popovich-schooled Spur.
But when you hear several references to The Program peppered in an NBA conversation, then you definitely know you are in the presence of a Pop player or coach or general manager.
Such was the case Wednesday when one-year Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry introduced the team's newest head coach Mike Budenholzer at a Hawks press conference.
Watching the two former Spurs together was like watching New Orleans Coach Monty Williams and GM Dell Demps two seasons ago at their Hornets/Pelicans intro day, or Orlando Coach Jacque Vaughn and GM Rob Hennigan at their Magic debut together a year ago.
Program this, System that.
In one 40-second sound bite Wednesday--three minutes into his intro speech--Coach Bud dropped the code words five times.
"As far as The Program that Danny and I want to build going forward, what that Program is going to look like, what it's going to feel like, is a group of competitors. I think he and I both value competitiveness, and a group that's really committed and focused to improving daily, both individually and as a group and as a team.
"We're going to bring a System here, where we're organized defensively, we're organized offensively, we're going to execute, They're going to know their roles and we're going to hold them accountable. And all of that within a System. So that's The Program that I look forward to building with Danny."
It is kind of cool to see The Spurs Way become The NBA's Way--The Hawks' Way, The Magic's Way or The Pelicans' Way.
So often in the past, an NBA team would try to pluck a coach off the Pop Tree (Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Vinny Del Negro, etc.), but not couple him with a Spurs GM who was fluent in setting up The Program correctly.
That was not the way Owner Peter Holt, President/Head Coach Popovich and GM R.C. Buford set up shop during their 21st Century run in San Antonio.
After all, ex-Spurs coaches need GMs who get the right pieces that fit into both The Program (competitors, young men with character, veterans who aren't full of themselves and have nothing to prove) and The System (team defense first and a motion share-the-ball offense right alongside).
Hawks GM Ferry, in his first go-round running a team in Cleveland, had a successful five-year stint getting the Cavaliers deep into the playoffs from 2006 through 2010, as did his first hire, Pop's former assistant coach Mike Brown.
But they also made a mistake or two in setting up The Program in the way that San Antonio did.
Together, the two former Spurs would ultimately surround LeBron James with declining, high-priced, overpaid talent at the end (Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison) in an effort to win a ring.
The Cavs were so close to a championship that they thought the best way to please future free agent LeBron was to weigh short-term interest over long-term interest--whatever gave them the best chance immediately to win a title.
But the process in doing so wasn't necessarily the traditional Spurs Way.
And they ended up losing LeBron to the Miami Heat, while never winning a championship with the Cavs.
That is why it was so telling that Ferry's first move a year ago, one week into his new job with Atlanta, was trading Joe Johnson's monstrous four-year, $89 million contract with the Hawks. He essentially traded the former All-Star to the Brooklyn Nets for a bunch of expiring contracts.
The only three 2012-13 Hawks who are still on the Atlana's payroll are Al Horford, Louis Williams and Jeff Jenkins.
Thanks to Ferry's maneuvering, Atlanta only has $18.6 million on next year's payroll, with an expected salary cap of $60 million looming on the horizon.
That is what made the job so appealing to Coach Bud, who as Pop's right-hand man and a 19-year Spur, has had opportunities to coach other teams.
With this new clean slate in Atlanta, Budenholzer and Ferry can remake the team in their own image: The Pop Way or The Bud Way or The Ferry Way. Call it The New Hawks' Way.
Horford is undoubtedly one of the key pieces of any Big 3 component. And with Ferry's salary-cap manipulation, the Atlanta organization can pursue whoever else they choose--via free agency, a trade or perhaps even the draft--in an effort to build a winning franchise.
It is exactly what Hennigan and Vaughn are doing in Orlando, after ownership shuttled out GM Otis Smith and Coach Stan Van Gundy a year ago, along with All-Star Dwight Howard.
The Magic now have Nikola Vucevic, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and enough cap space to land numerous free agents in the future.
It is what Demps and Williams are doing in New Orleans--with a little help from the Commissioner's office--restructuring the famous Chris Paul trade for future assets.
Anthony Davis is certainly the centerpiece of the new Pelicans, while Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, for now, are their two biggest investments at the moment, not to mention the No. 6 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
These are the three NBA organizations that feature the Spurs combo pack of Coach-&-GM all trying this new formula for an old blueprint of success.
After all, this is definitely The Program at work, set up originally by the Spurs, but also already duplicated well in Oklahoma City by Thunder GM Sam Presti, himself a former Spurs assistant GM.
Though Presti no longer has the Spurs head coach he initially hired to run the Thunder (Carlesimo), his principle of developing through the draft to get a Big 3 ala Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, was replicated nicely when Presti landed Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who is now with the Houston Rockets.
That is why the Thunder rank No. 2 in ESPN's Future Power Rankings that cover the next three seasons, while it also explains why nine Spurs-connected head coaches and general managers have teams that rank amongst the Top 22 in these rankings (No. 2, No. 4, No. 6, No. 8, No. 10, No. 15, No. 18, No. 19 and No. 22).
The Spurs Way is currently connecting with nearly one-third of the NBA's teams.
That is why it is no surprise to see teams like the Hawks, Magic and Pelicans try to take The Program to a new level.
It's funny when you look back for perspective.
The NBA has gone from a Be Like Mike league in the '90s to a Be Like Pop scene in the 21st Century.
Only thing is, the Like Pop mantra has nothing to do with selling a soft drink.