I try to resist the draw each time. I tell myself that it’s not worth it. That it will only result in heartbreak and disgust. That the last time was really the last time. Of course both you and I know that last time was not the last time. I’m like a lover that won’t go away. Or an alcoholic.
At least my drug – potential – is not as harmful.
Each year the Spurs have a new case of potential. This year it’s more pronounced than normal. Ian Mahinmi. DeJuan Blair. Marcus Haislip. That’s not even including the overseas potential with James Gist. In the past it was James White, Beno Udrih, Jackie Butler and Francisco Elson. The names, positions and styles change but the irresistible nature of potential stays the same.
My dilemma is one based in rationality. I know that each of the players, despite their potential, is a long shot to become an integral part of the Spurs for a number of reasons. Only 450 basketball players can fill roster spots at a given time, which is a very small number in regards to the number of professional basketball players around the world. The NBA is for the elite basketball players, not just those that are good. Numerous experts time and time again have stressed that the players who make the NBA typically have one skill that they are exceptional at such as three point shooting, defense, rebounding, etc. A player who is mediocre or even good at a number of skills is less likely to make and stay in the NBA than a player who is exceptional at one skill.
The difficulty of making a NBA career is even more pronounced with the Spurs. It’s no secret that Pop prefers to sign and play veterans. Just look at how long Jacque Vaughn stuck around and actually saw time on the court. If Pop has the choice of developing a young or raw player or playing a proven veteran who might not have as high of a ceiling, he typically goes with the veteran who can contribute immediately. He has this luxury with a core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, preventing him from needing to take chances. This lack of athletic, young players was evident last year and fans universally lamented this deficiency.
I know that the chances of Marcus Haislip becoming a consistent contributor are slim. I know that James Gist is a long shot to become the athletic three/four that the Spurs have not had during the decade. I know that Ian Mahinmi is foul-prone and extremely raw, limiting his chances of sticking with the Spurs in the long run.
So why do I keep caring about these players?
Potential is an insatiable drug, tantalizingly tasty yet so very often fleeting. I watch the youtube highlights, read the articles telling me how good the player could be and follow the message boards where so-and-so is the answer to all the Spurs problems. I convince myself that Jackie Butler’s high PER is indicative of a great low post player and ignore the fact that he is unproven and horribly out of shape. I see James White jump from the free throw line, put the ball between his legs and dunk the ball and envision him stuffing alley oops from Parker. I watch Beno Udrih win a Rookie of the Month award and think he is the back up point guard of the future. Three players full of potential and three disappointments.
Potential is an inately fascinating idea, tapping into the American Dream that we can somehow improve our position in society through hard work and perseverance. I see Bruce Bowen go from Cal State Fullerton and bounce around overseas, CBA and the NBA before becoming one of the best defenders in the league and an integral part of multiple championships, and I see this opportunity in every player. With hard work James Gist can develop a reliable outside shot and strong defensive skills, carving out a place on the Spurs roster. I want these players to succeed. Not only for the Spurs sake but for my sake because that reaffirms the message I have been fed since I was a child that anything is possible.
Of course I know that not anything is possible. There are limitations. Still, this potential draws me in time and time again. I grow cynical and skeptical but I know that I will always come back, drawn by the irresistable nature of potential.