The Spurs aren’t immune to making coaching changes early in seasons, not that anyone really remembers or notices.
It’s just the thought of San Antonio canning a coach now seems as foreign as the Spurs’ internationally-laden roster. The NBA’s ultimate model of consistency and stability doesn’t do rash. The Spurs stay the course, cranking out essentially the same product today as they did at end of the last century.
Alamo City old-timers likely recall Gregg Popovich pink slipping Bob Hill just 18 games into 1996-97. How about that Jerry Tarkanian NBA run that lasted 20 games in 1992?
Those with memories that predate the births of the One Direction boys know the league’s most accomplished coach didn’t get his career off to the smoothest of starts. Spurs Nation was calling for Pop’s head 14 games into the 1999 season with the team sitting 6-8.
The outcries didn’t fall on deaf ears, but San Antonio ownership stuck with Pop and the program he was trying to build. The Spurs won their first of four championships in 1999.
That’s not to say Silver & Black fans don’t get restless. There are actually people in San Antonio that have yet to see Tim Duncan float down the San Antonio River holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
They’re called preschoolers.
But Spurs angst doesn’t reach Laker paranoia. San Antonio’s chief adversary in the ring race sent Mike Brown packing after just five games. Popovich called the move “premature,” along with everyone else outside of Los Angeles. And while Kobe hangnails are covered with the round-the-clock detail of elections, the Brown ouster and subsequent Jackson-D’Antoni melodrama rightly shook the league.
Imagine the hoopla if the Lakers were off to a 7-1 start. Well, it would probably match what we’ve been bombarded with by their underachieving 3-5 mess. As for the team that delivered the latest Lakers loss, 7-1 is par for the course and, of course, ignored by the round-ball masses.
The Spurs sit atop the Western Conference perch, which is exactly where they sat the last two regular seasons, after beating the Lakers 84-82 to finish off a four-game road trip with three consecutive wins.
“It’s good for us,” Duncan said Tuesday night. “We didn’t shoot the ball well. We had a lot of open shots, and we actually worked the ball pretty well and got the shots we wanted, we just didn’t knock them out.
“They did the same, they pounded it inside, they moved the ball around and they stayed in the game. But, to get a win like that in this situation is very fortunate, especially on the road trip.”
Duncan remains the Spurs backbone, even at 36. He returned for this season in better shape — not that he’s ever out of shape — and ready for another run. We’ve heard that before from Timmy, who cares for his body like a Buddhist Monk.
The numbers, though, suggest this is a rejuvenated Duncan. His scoring average (18.8) is the highest it’s been in four years, rebounds (9.6) in three years and blocks (2.6) since 2005.
Tony Parker is San Antonio’s second-leading scorer at 13.6, which is down considerably and would be his lowest for a season if it holds up since his rookie year. But the 7.6 assists he’s dishing out are just a smudge under last season’s career high.
This is where it gets interesting. Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard are next in the scoring pecking order. Those youngsters, for now, rank ahead of NBA graybeards Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson in producing points for Pop.
While it’s too soon to call it a changing of the guard or guards, the Spurs are continuing a metamorphosis that’s several years in the making. They’re younger and more athletic in key spots, and taking on more responsibility.
Take the Lakers game at Staples Center. Pop didn’t draw up their final possession for Duncan or Parker or Manu. Instead, Leonard worked the ball along the perimeter into Green’s hands for the go-ahead 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left.
That’s Popovich trust.
“When he does draw up plays for young guys like us it is very surprising, we don’t expect it,” Green admitted. “This is only my third year, so for him to draw up a play for me is a lot of pressure on you, but you just take the shot with the confidence he gives you.
“He encourages you. We all encourage each other and it’s easy for me to just take the shot and not think about it so much. So when he calls plays for me it’s very rare and unexpected, so you have to take advantage of it.”
Think that sort of belief doesn’t have an impact throughout the roster and through the rest of the season. Popovich infuses his players with the assurance that if they do things the Spurs Way, they’ll be there in the end.
And, unlike some teams, the Spurs will dance with the coach that brung ’em.