Overshadowed by the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs are having themselves quite a season. Riding a four-game win streak, Gregg Popovich’s squad is 22-5 (14-0 at home), comfortably in possession of the two-seed in the top-heavy Western Conference.
As BI’s own Scott Davis noted earlier this week in his breakdown of what makes the Spurs so good, watching San Antonio quietly dominate is an annual NBA tradition.
But what is less obvious is just how close the Spurs may have come to blowing up the whole thing and going into a rebuilding mode.
After the Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of last year’s playoffs, uncertainty lingered over an ageing roster. Many expected that their early exit would result in Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli’s retirements; Danny Green was a free agent, and his future with the team was uncertain, too.
“I wasn’t sure this team would be the same,” Green told the San Antonio Express-News prior to the Spurs game against the Clippers on Friday night, their first meeting since the playoffs. “I thought it was all going to be blown up and changed.”
In short, the team’s entire future hung in the balance, and hinged on signing one blue chip free agent: LaMarcus Aldridge.
According to Tony Parker, Aldridge was the key to everything.
“Everybody knew maybe we could get LaMarcus,” Parker told the Express-News. “There was hope, but at the same time it could’ve gone all wrong. Because if you don’t get him, what do we do?”
“It was like playing poker — all in, you know?” Parker added. “Meaning, if we get LaMarcus, everybody’s back. If we don’t, I guess everyone will retire.”
It’s easy to look back now and think that Aldridge signing with the Spurs was always an inevitability. They are the league’s model franchise, with the best coach and the rings to prove it. But the move was also far from a sure thing. In fact, Popovich may have had to delay his own retirement to make it happen.
“Signing LaMarcus [Aldridge], I had to make a commitment,” Popovich told ESPN with a hesitation and a smile prior to the season. “I couldn’t say, ‘LaMarcus, we would love to sign you, see you later.’ So I committed to those guys, and I committed to LaMarcus. So, I’ve got to fulfil my promise.”
Had Popovich been unwilling to make that commitment and Aldridge had gone elsewhere (possibly to the Lakers or Knicks had they not blown their pitch meetings), the Spurs dynasty as we’ve known it for the past decade would probably have drawn to a close.
Instead, Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard look poised to lead the Spurs to title contention for years to come — same as it ever was.
“We just do what we do,” Popovich said. “The same boring thing for 20 years and whatever happens, happens.”
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