While watching the San Antonio Spurs beautifully decimate the two-time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat these past two weeks, all I could think about was: How has this team won only five championships during the Tim Duncan / Gregg Popovich Era?
Not only will Duncan go down in NBA history as the NBA's best power forward ever (which is a bit phony since he's really a center), but other than Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, I don't think there's a two-guard I want in a fourth quarter foxhole beside me more than Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker is creeping into the "top seven all-time" point guard conversation.
Despite the five championships - and six NBA Finals appearances since Duncan debuted in 1997 - the Spurs have undergone a tremendous amount of adversity to claim their fifth title. After winning their fourth NBA Championship in 2007, the Spurs were bounced from the Western Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in 2008, lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2009 to a lesser-seeded Dallas Mavericks team, got swept by the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs' second round in 2010, became just the fourth one-seed in NBA history to lose to an eight-seed by losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011, lost in the 2012 Western Conference Finals after being up 2-0 over the Oklahoma City Thunder and, as we all remember, had their hearts ripped out - and a late five-point lead evaporate - thanks to a Ray Allen prayer three-pointer in the 2013 NBA Finals.
And yet, the Spurs have stayed the course and are now champions again - after breaking an NBA record for the largest point differential in an NBA Finals, no less.
Over 17 grueling years in the hyper-competitive Western Conference, the Spurs have had to toil with John Stockton and Karl Malone's Utah Jazz, Kevin Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal's Los Angeles Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks, Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire's Phoenix Suns, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson's Denver Nuggets, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer's Jazz, Bryant and Pau Gasol's Lakers, Zach Randolph's Memphis Grizzlies, Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's Oklahoma City Thunder.
And yet other than Bryant's Lakers, who halted the Spurs in the early 00s and the very late 00s, the Spurs have topped them all. Oh, and the Spurs won at least 50 games 15 consecutive times during that span.
Being a Nuggets fan, it's tough to root for the Spurs. After all, our Nuggets remain as the lone ABA holdover (along with the Spurs, Nets and Pacers) to never appear in an NBA Championship and the Spurs have ended the Nuggets post-season five times since the two franchises joined the NBA in 1976: 1983, 1990, 1995, 2005 and 2007. But as a fan of a fellow ABA holdover, it was hard not to do a few subtle fist pumps as the Spurs extra-passed their way over the Heat in the NBA Finals this year, especially after considering all the post-season heartache that the Spurs have endured since their last championship seven years ago.
While the Spurs have been undoubtedly lucky thanks to the first overall selections of David Robinson and Tim Duncan in 1987 and 1997, respectively (in fact, I have an eerie feeling that the Spurs will land the first overall pick in 2017 after Duncan finally retires), we must give credit where credit is due. Head coach Gregg Popovich, alongside GM RC Buford, have created a culture of TEAM unlike any the NBA has seen in the past two decades. And rather than cherry pick free agents, the Spurs have reassembled their team year after year using their own draft picks ... many coming from abroad, as noted by the many flags adorning the Spurs players while on the championship podium on Sunday night.
But whenever watching a non-Nuggets team win the NBA Championship - something that has happened for 37 consecutive years - I can't help but think about how and when the Nuggets could ever get on that championship podium themselves. And being a small market team, like the Spurs, the challenge often seems insurmountable. And while a player with the likes of Duncan, Parker or Ginobili certainly won't be walking into the Pepsi Center home locker room anytime soon, the Nuggets at the very least should look to the Spurs' draft prowess to see how a small market team can be successfully assembled. After all, Parker was the 28th overall pick in the NBA Draft and Ginobili was an astonishing 57th despite establishing himself as a star both in Europe and with his home country of Argentina in international play.
Beyond Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, the Spurs astutely drafted 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard 15th overall in 2011 (acquired in a draft night trade with the Pacers for George Hill) and selected Tiago Splitter 28th overall in 2007, and trade acquisitions Danny Green and Patty Mills were 46th and 55th overall picks, respectively. Point being, as the Nuggets enter the 2014 NBA Draft holding the 11th overall pick plus two second round picks, there's always value out there ... if you're willing to do your homework, look hard for it and be creative with your trades.
We'll have the next two weeks to dissect what our Denver Nuggets may or may not do leading up to June 26th's NBA Draft. But for now, let's congratulate the Spurs for showing basketball fans everywhere that change isn't always good and, perhaps most importantly, how beautiful the game of basketball can be played on the highest level.