Destination Dynasty


The San Antonio Spurs are not a dynasty. They never have been.
Sports is a realm traditionally meant to be resolute, clearly defined, a world where the scoreboard always trumps subjectivity, one where shaky ambiguity is seldom seen. There are rules – even unwritten
ones – for how things work, how things are viewed. It’s supposed to be simple. So long as we all keep our off the wall opinions and bleeding biases out of the picture things tend to remain simple – too bad we never feel content to let them stay that way.
There are gray areas, the situations which aren’t so clearly defined, the ones that keep feeding ESPN and SI the juice that keeps their squeeze going; the kind of stuff that keeps the bloggers entertained. Somewhere in the midst of these clouded issues somebody – someone obviously lacking baseline intelligence – decided we could just make shit up, that opinions would decide these things.
I’m all for opinions, my ink sees daylight because people put a premium on opinion, especially in the world of sports. But when it comes to stamping somebody with a DYNASTY label or not, that isn’t the way it works.
There are rules for this stuff.
One of those rules really is simple: you have to win two in a row – you have to repeat. Until the Spurs do that, they’re no dynasty.
The Celtics, the Bulls, the Lakers – beyond just having collected multiple titles, what sets these teams apart from other past champions was their ability to win consecutive titles. If you look at a list of past NBA champions, their names jump off the page, not only because of the quantity, but because of the way their winning years are spaced together. They bought a large chunk of league history in their name, not just individual lots here and there.
Granted, a repeat is not the only criteria for determining a dynasty. The Pistons and Rockets both won consecutive rings, yet neither of them can be considered a dynasty with only two championships in franchise history.
The Spurs have got the general quantity right, what they need is at least a two year span where they can say no one touched them. Once again, they have that chance, the chance to stake out their claim in NBA historical real estate, the chance to repeat and separate themselves from other champions, to catapult themselves into the upper echelon of great teams.
Winning championships on an on-again/off-again pattern isn’t enough. Something about that reeks of inconsistency, primarily because it seems to go against what being a dynasty means. Unfortunately, being inconsistent when it comes to back-to-back titles is what the Spurs are known for. You can’t spin this – it’s history. The Spurs have never won a title after winning the year before. It’s gotten to the point where people now expect the Spurs to lose the year after winning it all; there’s nothing dynastic about that.
The Spurs have neither the reputation or the aura of those great dynasty teams because they’re expected to lose now. A team facing the Spurs in the playoffs isn’t going to be intimidated, but expectant, almost certain they have a shot knocking out the defending champs.
It gets worse, too. So far the Spurs still have a shot at shakingthis stigma, if they repeat this season, all this goes away, and nothing keeps them from the dynasty mantle. But if they lose again, once more failing to repeat? That’s it, their legacy will be that of a great team, who could never win back-to-back, always one step away from true historical greatness.
No one wants that. That is why it’s more imperative than ever for the Spurs to finally get over this hump, and get a repeat.
The primary competition for the Spurs is out west. The scramble out east is interesting in itself, with the Celtics, Cavaliers, Bulls, and Pistons all having at least some kind of shot at the Finals, but the truth is there’s no definitive front runner in the east. The Cavaliers are the reigning Eastern Conference champions, sure, but after the way they were thoroughly man-handled in the Finals last season, I don’t
think it’s fair to even call them a threat to the Spurs for at least another season, and a couple of personnel moves.
As far as I’m concerned the Pistons have had it. And the Bulls, while they do have a legit shot in the east, aren’t on the level of the Spurs. The Celtics are interesting, despite their shocking lack of depth, they do have a tremendous big three in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. If they manage their way into the Finals, Boston would be the biggest threat to the Spurs, primarily because of a big man like Garnett, who can not only defend Tim Duncan, but provide a consistent diet of low-post scoring. Couple that with the propensity of Pierce and Allen to catch fire on the perimeter and you have a formidable foe, even for the defending champs.
The Celtics would go down because of their lack of depth. Not only do they lack a solid bench, but even their starters outside of the big three (Rajon Rondo at point and Kendrick Perkins at center) are questionable. Furthermore, while Garnett makes them able to contend with Duncan, they have no one capable of guarding Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Even though they’re the best the east has to offer in terms of challenging the Spurs, I still don’t see them taking out the champs in a Finals match up.
With respect to the Eastern Conference, the Spurs have never lost in the Finals. I think it’s safe to assume whoever they face from the east is going to be processed in a rather routine fashion. As I said earlier, the primary threat is in the west.
I’m not going to discount the Dallas Mavericks entirely just yet. Say what you will about their debacle against Golden State in the playoffs last season, but top to bottom they may be the most talent laden team in the Association, and they did have a stellar regular season record. They lost for very specific match up reasons; Avery Johnson has had a long summer to figure out his team’s issues (and hopefully Dirk Nowitzki has used that same time to grow a pair), so I expect Dallas to be the same level contender they were a couple of seasons ago.
The Mavs certainly aren’t the front runner in the west, they aren’t even the single greatest threat to the Spurs, but they are going to compete for the division title, and should they meet the Spurs in the playoffs, they will be hell to deal with.
There is, however, a singular threat that poses a serious obstacle for the Spurs – the Phoenix Suns. Lost in all the controversy and chaos of their playoff series last season (and the referee scandal that would bring more controversy), I think perhaps people forgot just how good Phoenix is. I’m not going to go back and start debating rules and actions from last season, but I will say that had certain incidents not gone down, that series easily could have gone either way.
When you talk about competition for the Spurs, you really throw the regular season out, unless you care that much that Dallas may edge out the Spurs for the division title by a game or two at most, if they edge them out at all. Competition for the Spurs comes down to playoffs, and in that realm a ‘threat’ is someone who can even manage to stay in a series for six games with the Spurs. The idea of a team with a legitimate shot at ousting the defending champs in a seven game series doesn’t seem likely, unless you start counting on the repeat jitters and the Spurs beating themselves.
The chance that Phoenix could be the team to beat the Spurs this season is not only real, but likely. In a series that should have been the Western Conference Finals and gone a full seven games, the Spurs were able to prevail, but not by a large margin. The difference came this offseason, when Phoenix made a significant acquisition by picking up veteran free agent Grant Hill, who briefly considered coming to the Spurs. The Spurs did little more than acquire Ime Udoka, the promising defensive player from the Trailblazers. Not to knock Udoka, who will be a nice addition, but more needed to be done. The Spurs have never been miles ahead of their Western Conference competition, they were inches ahead, and Grant Hill may have closed that gap for Phoenix.
Looking back on past championship seasons for San Antonio, and the immediate years that followed, this season is the best chance they’ve had to repeat. A strong veteran core is returning, not only with championship experience, but the experience of knowing the pressures of repeating, having already dealt with that after the 2005 title run. It feels like Tony Parker has achieved a new level in his game, and if Manu Ginobili can remain healthy, he could be looking at a career year as well.
But the Spurs have had promising opportunities at a repeat before. Ultimately, they have to get it done. Lack of offseason acquisitions aside, they can still overcome Phoenix, and handle anyone in the east. But for that to happen there must be an insatiable hunger, a steady consistency, and a machine efficiency all season long.
This is it. This is the season in which the Spurs will either destroy the stigma of not being able to repeat, or permanently etch it in history. The Spurs have won titles before, this is their chance to push the franchise farther and higher than it has ever gone before, to a elevate their so far scattered run of championships to a crescendo of dynastic proportions, an epitome of basketball greatest – it’s time for the Spurs to establish themselves as a true dynasty, among the greatest assemblages of basketball talent and discipline the sport has ever known. It’s their time.
It is for this reason, recognizing the critical point in the franchises history, that I believe the Spurs will overcome the odds, and their past history.
The Spurs will be a dynasty. The Spurs will repeat – they have to.