It's safe to say that gone are the great defensive days of the San Antonio Spurs. During their dynasty, the Spurs would defy teams from scoring the ball and leading that charge was Bruce Bowen. The defensive stalwart helped the Spurs win three NBA titles before retiring and having his jersey No. 12 retired last season.
Now an ESPN basketball analyst, Bowen feels the Spurs' decision to remain in largely tact and still rely on the "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is a sound decision.
I think when you have those players that have been together that long, what they do is they enhance other people's game. You look at Danny Green; he had a great season, the best season of his career, but a lot of it was because of the Big Three – Manu, Tim and Tony – being able to understand the game and set guys up to be successful. You look at Kawhi Leonard, who had a fantastic rookie season… You know, when you're able to blend in guys with a core like that, it's not about the egos, it's more about helping the other guys become better. You know, Tim Duncan is no longer the Tim Duncan of five years ago. His role has changed a bit. So if you're able to sustain groups longer, then you have guys that are willing to no longer be the man and do whatever they can in order to help the team.
Bowen is right, however, it was mainly a team implosion versus the Thunder last season adding to the crushing series loss. Green fizzled out, Parker's strengths were nullified by OKC's defense, Gary Neal couldn't find his shot and much more. Yet the experience will help the young players of the Spurs which should prove to help in a deep playoff run next season.
As for the Spurs' chances at title number five next season, Bowen feels San Antonio still has a shot despite other teams in the Western Conference improving.
I think they will always have the chance to be in the Top 3 of the West. I think it was a telltale situation last year as far as experience winning out over everything else. As Robinson said, the supporting cast of the Spurs didn't have that kind of playoff experience. They weren't really tested in the previous rounds. With the Thunder they needed to do some necessary adjustments. Green and Leonard, they had never been in that position before… It was a little different. In this game you can't just say 'Oh well, next year we'll get it'. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you have them. And that was a huge opportunity for the Spurs. They just got beat by a younger version of them in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They are a Big Three, defensive minded, young athletic team. You can't teach youth in the NBA. In essence, the pupil surpassed the teacher.
I am sure many Spurs fans hope Bowen is right but with the lack of size heading into next season, it might be the team's un-doing should they draw a Lakers team with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard or the Thunder once again.
And speaking of championships, Bowen chimed in on which of his championships he won was his favorite.
I've got two. The first one is always the best because so many have played this game and never got one: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone… These guys are legends of the game and they don't have a championship. And I really like the 2005 title playing against Larry Brown's Pistons. He was like a grandfather for me, he invited me and my family to his house for Thanksgiving dinner. No coach ever did anything like that for me, so that left an impression on me. He was the head coach in San Antonio when Pop [Gregg Popovich] was the GM there. So many circles that are so close together that the '05 championship was the most fulfilling of the three because of Larry Brown.
And because of his all-out hustle and willingness to defend the opposing team's best player, Bowen's jersey will never be worn again. Something he is still honored to have.
It's funny because so many times I remember Tony Parker used to talk about it. He was always saying "They have to! We've accomplished so much, they gotta retire our jerseys". I tried to stay in the moment. It was one of the greatest honors that I've ever had in basketball and I'm very much appreciative to the organization and the city of San Antonio for that. I know it was a little different as far as what I did. I think I brought a whole new meaning to the word defense and how necessary it is in order to win championships. So to be recognized for my contribution among my teammates, that was fantastic.
What do you have to say, Spurs fans? Do you agree with Bruce about the team's chances at title number five next season or is the championship window closed?