Sustained excellence is the hardest thing to achieve in sports.
Both the New York Yankees and the San Antonio Spurs have been able to achieve this difficult task through savvy draft moves that founded the core of their championship teams. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobilli and Tony Parker were all drafted and spent their entire careers with the clubs that drafted them.
They combined to win nine titles over the last 15 years and have only missed the playoffs once each over this time period. They are the standard of excellence in their respective sports. But what both of these teams also share is a history of impulsiveness when making moves towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
The Spurs traded away Leoandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola before they ever played a minute of basketball in America. The Yankees did essentially the same thing trading away Jay Buhner, Fred McGriff and Al Leiter as very young players and they spent little or no time with the Yankees. The Yankees saw what could have been first hand in 1995 when the Yankees faced off against Buhner’s Mariner’s team and Buhner hit .458 against New York and helped defeat the Yankees in five games.
You could say the Spurs had that moment in 2010 when Dragic tore up San Antonio’s defense en route to Phoenix sweeping the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. And while that was a harsh reminder of what could have been. I would argue the “what could have been moment” happened in this year’s playoffs against Memphis.
If you add Luis Scola to the ’10-’11 Spurs’ team you would be adding a top five power forward in basketball to a front line that was badly outmatched against the Grizzlies. While he may not have the size everyone covets, being 6’9” and 245 lbs. he makes up for that in skill. He brings to the table 18.3 points per game and a 18.43 PER while playing 32.6 minutes a game. Not to mention good post moves and a nice little mid range game that stretches the floor. He would have been a great fit for the Spurs’ offense. His game would have brought a huge improvement over a banged up Antonio McDyess who only could play 19 minutes a game and brought 5.3 points and a 12.81 PER to the Memphis series with him.
And if the Spurs win that Memphis series and go on to the NBA Finals, which was very possible, would the Spurs have traded George Hill to the Pacers for a bunch of promising unknowns?
The Spurs are now facing a future that isn’t quite clear. Will Kawhi Leonard become the defensive stopper and offensive player they hope he becomes? Will Corey Joseph become the floor general they project him to be? He didn’t show that type of promise in Big 12 play.
The answer to these questions is, who knows. And indirectly because of one bad trade involving Luis Scola, the Spurs are put in a position where they had to pull the trigger on a trade of one of their most beloved players and put them in a light rebuilding mode.
That’s how delicate things can be in the NBA, where the margin for error is at times razor thin. The Spurs have gotten it right most of the time and so do the Yankees, but it took the Yankees years to recover from their bad trades to back on track again championship wise. I hope the same won’t be said about the Spurs.