Despite Injuries, Old, Boring San Antonio Spurs Remain Model for NBA Teams

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Despite Injuries, Old, Boring San Antonio Spurs Remain Model for NBA Teams
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No matter what turbulence the basketball gods send their way, the San Antonio Spurs have once again reached a comfortable cruising altitude en route to another successful season.

The NBA's model of consistency (in terms of both results and personnel), the Spurs have embarked down a path that defies logic.

They've compiled the league's best record (39-11) despite an aging core (two of their top four scorers are at least 35 years old), rampant injuries and a changing philosophy of the longest-tenured active coach in the four major professional team sports, Gregg Popovich. 

The Spurs are the antithesis of today's elite teams, a collection of players that must be accounted for not as individuals, but as the truest definition of a team. Players have resisted the urge to chase statistics or seek out larger roles elsewhere in pursuit of a common goal: raising the fifth championship banner in franchise history.

Led by 30-year-old Tony Parker (20.1 points and 7.6 assists per game) and 36-year-old Tim Duncan (17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks), San Antonio has continued to redefine itself. The finished product of that six-year transformation has created the blueprint for other franchises struggling to match players and systems.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Duncan and Popovich have formed one of the most successful player-coach duos in recent history.

In 2007-08, the Spurs trudged past their competition with a snail-like 95.4 points per game (the third-lowest scoring average that season). They won 56 games that year and finished tied with the New Orleans Hornets for the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Fast forward to the 2012-13 season and the Spurs are now overwhelming their opposition with a blistering offensive attack (104.1 points per game, fourth-most in the league, and eight different regulars shooting above 37 percent from three-point land). With 38 wins in 49 tries, they're on pace for 64 wins.

NBA teams simply don't change their identities that quickly. In the rare occasions where it does happen, it's typically spurred (no pun intended) by the arrival of a new coach or a new superstar.

But this core collection of coaching and talent (Popovich, Parker, Duncan, and Manu Ginobili) has played the roles of both unstoppable force and immovable object over that time frame. 

While the rest of the league has scoured the trade and free-agent markets hoping to land that one transcendent player, the Spurs have simply executed better than the rest in terms of their draft preparation, player development and for displaying a keen eye for only the worthiest of trades.

Their four top scorers (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Tiago Splitter) are all former San Antonio draft heists. The same holds true for reserves DeJuan Blair, Nando De Colo and Cory Joseph.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The Spurs built their dynasty around the strength of draft-day investments like Parker (28th pick in 2001) and Ginobili (57th in 1999).

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Spurs invested in Leonard's potential as an athletic defensive stopper and have to be thrilled by his two-way contributions.

The rest of their rotation is largely made up of presumed has-beens and never-would-bes.

Starting guard Danny Green was drafted and subsequently waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers before San Antonio signed him as a free agent. Reserve point guard Patrick Mills shared a similar past, only he was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers. Boris Diaw had enjoyed a productive career, but declining production led to his contract being bought out by the Charlotte Bobcats before the Spurs promptly snagged him on a free-agent deal.

Stephen Jackson, a former Spur, reunited with the franchise after being acquired from the Golden State Warriors for the overpaid, underperforming Richard Jefferson, then-soon-to-be retiring T.J. Ford and a future first-round pick. Reserve stretch forward Matt Bonner came by way of a three-for-one trade with the Toronto Raptors for Rasho Nesterovic.

Starting small forward Kawhi Leonard necessitated the biggest gamble, as the Spurs sent super sixth man George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for his draft rights. And backups Gary Neal and Aron Baynes were needle-in-a-haystack finds on the undrafted free-agent market.

Needless to say these moves didn't warrant a TV special; they barely scratched the blogosphere.

But it's exactly these same savvy moves that have helped the team not only reinvent itself but also withstand the anticipated absences of Duncan (knee soreness) this season and, for the past several years, Ginobili. And these moves have helped them maintain their dominance this year in the face of unexpected absences like Jackson (ankle, finger) and Leonard (quadriceps, knee contusion).

What makes them the league's greatest feel-good story, though, is the fact that they're so much more than a feel-good story. They're the most decorated team not named the Los Angeles Lakers over the past 15 seasons, with four championships to show for their efforts. And they may yet again prove the greatest roadblock for any team hoping to claw its way through the Western Conference in the postseason.

No other team operates quite like the Spurs do. But I can guarantee that the other 29 clubs wish that they could.

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