Who has two thumbs, is extremely jealous, and kind of bitter, yet also amazed, while thoroughly intrigued? This guy. Right here. I'll admit a tiny part of me is jealous to see the San Antonio Spurs advance to the NBA Finals for a fifth time since 1999. Oh, how I wish that my favorite team were able to achieve even half the glory as the Spurs. Oh how I yearn for a front office who's shown the ability to "get it right" far more often than not. I long for the day when my team has a coach who is not afraid to go to the drawing board, trash almost every method that’s gotten him to where he is today, and start over.
Question for you. At any point since 1998, have you looked at the Spurs and thought going into a playoff series, "Man, those guys don't have a chance."? Most likely your thoughts on the matter ranged somewhere in between, "They're going to dominate" or "Popovich will figure something out". I think Coach Pop has etched his name into the Mount Rushmore of coaching greats with this latest achievement. As great as Tim Duncan is and has been, the Spurs success in my opinion starts with Popovich. It would be easy to dismiss his career with the typical cynicism we have towards coaches who are blessed with the privilege of having Hall of Fame Players. But then you have to account for the players whose games have elevated while playing with the Spurs. (For the sake of this article pretend that Richard Jefferson thing never happened.) Then you have to consider how the Spurs used to be a slow grind it out team centered around Tim Duncan. Now, they play a much faster pace, they shoot more three's, and Tony Parker has become the focal point of the offense. Most coaches cling to their "methods"; scoffing at the idea of change. History has shown that way of thinking only gets you canned.
Better dust off the ol' resume
Another question for you. How many times have you, amongst friends, made a list of top players in a certain position? More than a few I bet. It often starts with Chris Paul, then some combination of Rajon Rondo, Derek Rose, Deron Williams, or Russell Westbrook. But we always seem to forget Tony Parker. Perhaps I'm still in awe over his 37 point close out game against one of the best defenses in the NBA. But I'm just gonna call it now. Tony Parker is the most underrated player in the NBA. Maybe he's overshadowed by Duncan, and Popovich. Maybe European players get overlooked. I'm not sure what it us, but in terms of most unappreciated stars, Parker is right at the top. Even when he won Finals MVP in 2007 it didn't seem like he was viewed as the team’s best player at the time. He didn't get that distinction until 2010 at least. Tony Parker has the superstar game with none of the superstar baggage. Well, expect for that time he got beat up while hanging out with Chris Brown.
Oh and this...
Popovich has mastered the art of getting guys to buy into the system. San Antonio has got to be one of the most selfless teams in the NBA. Anyone who comes in with an ego is quickly removed before being allowed to fester in the locker room. (Hey Stephan Jackson, keep your head up man.) Every guy on that team only cares about winning. Take Dejaun Blair for instance. At one point he was a starter. During the regular season he got a decent amount of time in the rotation. But during the playoffs he's barely sniffed the court. Most players would have bitched their way onto another team. Instead he waives his towel and cheers from the sideline. How about Danny Green? When he was drafted, one of the guys on the ESPN set, I don't remember who, but the first thing he says is, "Danny Green out of North Carolina......He's a really good dancer." He did nothing in Cleveland. The kid was practically out of the league when he suddenly pops up on the Spurs roster. Now he's playing a major role on a potential championship franchise. Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills; the Spurs take these guys off the garbage heap and resurrect their careers. If we could somehow get Gregg Popovich and RC Buford to run for president I think this country would be in great shape.