Grooming the next Tim Duncan

TimmyI had an interesting conversation about hoops with the Ice Cream Man the other day.  In the wake of one of the league’s smallest markets signing this summer’s biggest free agent, he said San Antonio was “grooming the next Tim Duncan.”

I told him I didn’t entirely agree with that assessment.

I did but I didn’t.  It’s just not that simple.  Let’s work this out, shall we?

First and foremost, there will never be another Tim Duncan.  Commonly considered the greatest power forward of all-time, Timmy is still going strong.  He’s about to start his nineteenth season (five titles) and this time around, thanks to a little help from a new friend, he won’t have to shoulder as much of the burden.

Next season, Tim Duncan will play alongside one of the league’s best big men.  That man is LaMarcus Aldridge.

So how did the Spurs land Aldridge and how in the world did they do it so quickly?  With so many teams after him, Aldridge signed on the dotted line only days after the deadline.

Magic walk of fameThere was considerably little courting in the Aldridge sweepstakes, no pun intended.  The Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t land him and they met with him twice.  I guess Grauman’s Chinese and the Hollywood Walk of Fame don’t have the draw they once did.  The New York Knicks couldn’t even manage a meeting with LaMarcus.  Why would he listen anyway?  That call probably went straight to voice mail.  “Hello, LaMarcus?  This is Carmelo.”  Click.  The Knicks haven’t won a championship since any player in the league was even alive.  Any call from recruiter Carmelo Anthony would have fallen on deaf ears for a player that likes to shoot the ball more than fifteen times a game.  The Miami Heat also had a shot at Aldridge but they’re still bleeding from the hole LeBron left behind.

Let’s keep in mind that New York and L.A. are the nation’s two biggest markets with endless revenue streams for the superstar athlete.  They also happen to be two of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises.  L.A. still has a gap in ownership.  No one knows who’s in control.  In New York, they know exactly who’s in control.  Unfortunately it’s the same owner who’s been making bad decisions for years.  Both teams are woefully irrelevant.

Meanwhile, in South Central Texas, a franchise that has its shit together landed the biggest fish around.  Now more than ever, it’s not necessarily the size of the market but the motion of its coachin’.  Los Angeles, New York and every other landing spot had to prove why LaMarcus should sign with them.  San Antonio had nothing to prove at all.  Scoreboard.

Texas Longhorns v Texas A&M AggiesDid it help matters that Aldridge is from Dallas and played his college ball in Austin?  Of course it did.  But it also helped that head coach Gregg Popovich, who has as many rings as the rest of the head coaches in the league combined is calling the shots.  There are several reasons San Antonio hasn’t missed the playoffs since Aldridge was eleven years old.  Pop is one of them.

I don’t know what exactly was said during those Spurs dinners.  Here’s what I can tell you.  There weren’t any ties worn.  There was no bullshit and no empty promises.  Come work hard and win a title.  That’s it.  When a reporter asked Popovich earlier this week if he was going to be contacting any free agents as the deadline approached, Pop replied “I’m not calling anyone at midnight.  I’ll be in bed. And if that’s the difference in someone coming or not coming, then I don’t want them.”  What you see is what you get from Coach Popovich, especially when it comes in a curt, neatly packaged soundbite.

We also learned a lot about LaMarcus Aldridge.  We learned he’s serious about winning championships.  That’s why he joined a team, a franchise, and a coach that give him the best shot to do so.  We learned that LaMarcus Aldridge must be willing to work his ass off.  He signed with a coach who will demand that.  There was no wining and dining, just conversations about basketball and how they can make Aldridge a better player.  That’s why they landed him.  And now, in his San Antonio home, Gregg Popovich is doing something he’s rarely known for: smiling.

Star power means a lot in the NBA, more so than in any other professional sports league.  The importance of a quality coach often gets overlooked, probably because there aren’t that many.  Managers in baseball make key, hands-on decisions but with twenty-five guys on a major league roster, one superstar won’t win you a title.  There’s a reason Bill Belichick has four Super Bowl rings as an NFL head coach.  But if you have talent in the NBA, you can get by with any old coach, as long as he doesn’t fuck things up too bad.  You can even win titles.  Erik Spoelstra has two rings, thanks to LeBron.  Heck, David Blatt almost had one and nobody even knew who he was last summer.

Pop smirksPop is the exception to that rule.  He is the modern benchmark for NBA coaching greatness.  That’s why he now coaches LaMarcus Aldridge.  Tim Duncan would have been a great player without Gregg Popovich.  He just wouldn’t have been as great.

And so the Spurs reload, with aging veterans Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, who all took less money so that rising stars such as Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge can take over the reins.   They have big shoes to fill.  The Western Conference boasts as much talent as it ever has.  But the Spurs are locked and loaded.

LaMarcus Aldridge will need time to adjust to his new role.  Championships aren’t handed out at free agency signings.  And while they may play similar positions, LaMarcus is not the next Tim Duncan.  No one will ever be.  The San Antonio Spurs know that.  LaMarcus Aldridge knows that.  The Ice Cream Man and I know that.

But he’s going to control that post just where Timmy did.  He might even knock down a bank shot or two along the way.  And if he can get even one ring while doing so, I think we can all agree he’d be happy with his decision to move back home, as will Pop, Timmy and all those who live within the confines of the NBA’s third smallest city.

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11 Replies to “Grooming the next Tim Duncan”

  1. We’ve all talked about this, Al.

    With the Lakers, it’s not as simple as “Oh, Kobe will be gone soon so we can start rebuilding then.”

    With the West as stacked as it is, there is no WAY the Lakers make the post-season next year. So Bryant is just playing out his contract on his whirlwind retirement tour.

    So then what for Tinseltown. I don’t think this team yet knows who it needs to build around. Draft? Free agency? Is Julius Randle good enough to be a centerpiece? Can they get someone like Westbrook or Durant? They’re not getting Westbrook. They just signed that Ohio State guard.

    So now what?

    Bleed, where ya’ at?

  2. Spot on SC. Now you’ve made me go back and watch the YouTube video Spurs – The Beautiful Game for about the hundredth time.

  3. Chris

    The NBA general managers in large part, have no idea how to run a business , but yet fans believe they can build a professional sports’ franchise from the ground up. Riley won a championship (first second and third titles with the Heat) built around a team built with spare parts . The same with Ainge and the Celtics ( most recent title win) and Kupchak with the Lakers. Spurs won building from the ground up and have continued to do so with nineteen consecutive appearances in the playoffs and five championships along the way.

    Many of these general managers are not thinking long-term it’s not unlike what we continually witness within the business environment within the country.

    The league is hard pressed to find coaches with actual acumen much less top-notch general managers.

    Tophatal …..

  4. Chris

    Christmas has come early for the San Antonio Spurs during the off season . First the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge and now David West ? GM R C Buford and Gregg Popovich deserve a great deal of praise indeed.

  5. Moose…

    The Spurs know how to get it done.

    Sure, their team this year will look like a Who reunion tour but hey, who doesn’t want to go see the Who rock it out one more time before calling it quits?

  6. Al…

    Speaking of not knowing how to run a franchise, what the hell happened to Rob Hennigan, GM of the Orlando Magic.

    Remember all that talk about him being the next Presti? Guess what. There is no next Presti.

    How they hell do you justify giving a player like Tobias Harris $21 mil a year for the next four years? Why are the Orlando Magic not, scratch that, never in the running for a high-profile player?

    I am hereby denouncing my Magic fan-ness. More to come.

  7. I love what the Spurs have done this off-season and they look to be a monster going into the next campaign. I took note Becky Hammon is going to coach their Summer League team in Vegas. New “territory” there, huh? That franchise does indeed have their act together…keeping the old guys around…bringing in talented new blood…thinking outside the box. San Antonio fans have to be thrilled about their chances in 2016…and beyond.

  8. They are old though, Burnsy.

    Everyone is pretty much handing them the Western Conference. I wouldn’t write that down in pen just yet. Golden State might have something to say about it as well as the rest of the loaded West.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love what they’ve done too. But that’s why they play the games.

  9. LMA is no Duncan…That much will be made clear once Timmy hangs em up….But the additions of he and David West give the Spurs a good shot at a ring next year.

    As far as the Lakers, they are 3-5 years away.
    Clarkson has a 1/2 season of NBA experience.
    -Randle, a 1/2 game
    -The rooks, zero

    Can’t blame any free agents for choosing proven teams/players over LA…Especially with Kobe still clinging to his alpha dog status…Dude told LaMarcus he could be his wingman, like Pau was…Way to sell it Kob…lol

    I doubt he’ll even make it through the season uninjured.

    As for the upcoming season, I don’t expect much…Just want to see the kids show they have skills. Hopefully the young guns prove they can play and we’ll take another crack at free agency next year with more cap space.

    After the veto, I figured it set us back a decade. We may beat that if these young cats can live up to all that potential.

  10. I think this season will be an interesting one for Kobe, aside from it being his farewell tour and all.

    I wanna see how many minutes he gets, how productive he is and how involved he gets his teammates.

    We can always hope for the best… but I’m just not sure that’s what we’re gonna get.

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