COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers are surrounded by major franchise questions as the 2013 NBA Playoffs wear on. Among them are whether or not Kobe Bryant will return from a devastating Achilles' injury, Dwight Howard's looming decision and the seemingly endless conundrum about what to do with the luxury tax mess and the aging roster the front office has to deal with this offseason.
The Spurs, however, are basking in the glory of their Big Three and cornerstone of their organizational fortitude, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. This postseason, they've played nearly flawless basketball together and made the Spurs look like a team that can compete with anyone -- even the title-favorite Miami Heat.
So as the Lakers sit at home and watch the team that embarrassingly forced them into early vacation plans rip through their opponents, it's worth asking what the Purple-and-Gold can take away from their rivals' success. The short answer is a lot of things, but it's worth closer exploration:
Lesson 1: Continuity is key
The Spurs are known in some fan and media circles as one of the most boring teams to watch in the NBA. They'll live with such a moniker, because that unentertaining form of basketball has vaulted them into NBA relevancy when they were all but written off this season as too old and past their prime. The Spurs kill dreams. They destroyed the upstart Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies in one fell swoop. They did so with a penchant for moving the ball beautifully and forcing the other team into getting out of position while creating easy, high percentage looks for themselves.
After Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals and a series sweep of the Grizzlies, head coach Gregg Popovich spoke about what it meant to have so much success with the same core group of players after waiting six years to get back to the NBA Finals following their 2007 triumph:
"It already feels pretty good. You don't expect that to happen maybe this late in the game with the same group," he told reporters after the Spurs' win on Monday. "It's tough to do to maintain something that long. But it just shows the character of those three guys and their ability to play with whoever else is brought in around them. They deserve a lot of credit for that."
In the time that Ginobili, Parker and Duncan have played together and won four rings as teammates with Poppovich as their head coach, the Lakers have undergone several significant overhauls in both the personnel and the coaching ranks. Since 2003, Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjonavich, Frank Hamblen, Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff and Mike D'Antoni have all manned the sidelines at Staples Center.
In that same time frame, only Popovich has held the clipboard for the Spurs, with Brown coming from his coaching tree as a former assistant from 2000-2003.
Lesson 2: Age is nothing but a number
Parker, Ginobili and Duncan are all north of age 30, but in San Antonio, the subject is of little concern to anyone. That's due to the fusion of young talent around them that includes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, among others. Smart coaching, player management and the three of them being smart enough to use their age as an advantage is also a factor.
Collectively, they use their high basketball I.Q.s to wear down opponents and find one another. On Monday night against the Grizzlies, for example, Ginobili wasn't playing well and finished with just six points, six rebounds and six assists on 1-of-6 from the field. He also committed six turnovers, but Duncan and Parker picked him up to combine for 52 points, with Parker scoring 37 of them.
Lesson 3: Execution is everything
During the regular season, San Antonio shot 48 percent from the field. That ranked them second in the NBA in that regard. Teams don't shoot nearly 50 percent for an entire season unless they know how to read one another and execute their schemes to the letter.
Bryant said it himself during the made-for-tv special , "Kobe Doin' Work," that featured his running commentary from a key game against San Antonio on April 13, 2008. At that time, he gave prophetic insight into why the Spurs are so good:
"You know exactly what San Antonio is going to do," he said in the documentary directed by Spike Lee. "The hard thing is to stop them. They execute so well... they're extremely well-coached."
That sounds eerily similar to Marc Gasol's comments after watching the Spurs' trio do what they do best on Monday.
"They taught us a lesson," said Marc Gasol. "How to execute, how to play, how to read schemes. They taught us a lesson all around. We played against, to me, one of the greatest teams there's been in the last 15 years."
Even after a near-full season under head coach Mike D'Antoni, no one can say unequivocally what the Lakers' offense will look like next season.
Lesson 4: Coaching matters
The NBA is a players' league, but in this era of superstars and mega-contracts, the Association still comes down to coaching. Nobody holding a clipboard is as good at it present day as Gregg Popovich, who can seemingly fit anyone into his fundamentally-sound system.
He's knows who he is, and won't change for anyone -- not even commissioner David Stern. He went toe-to-toe with the NBA czar and refused to succumb to the notion that he couldn't rest his veterans mid-season. The result? The type of production fans are witnessing in these playoffs as the Spurs are 12-2 in the postseason.
Now, Pop looks like a genius while the Spurs' playoff opponents, including the Lakers, are left figuring out what happened to their shorter-than-planned seasons.
Lesson 5: Grow your talent organically
The Spurs' Big Three are all home-grown stars. But even more impressive than the fact that they've played together since 2002-03 is that they have managed to stay together for that span of time.
While the Lakers struggle to put together any team worth watching in 2013-14 as they deal with the ramifications of Bryant's injury and other stars' giant contracts, the Spurs have humbly done whatever it takes to ensure they don't lose what makes them so great -- the chemistry they've developed over a decade of domination.
Tim Duncan famously cut his salary in half in order to keep their core intact, and now it's paying dividends.
The Lakers, on the other hand, will head into the upcoming season with their three best players in Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard all slated to exceed the hard salary cap with their salaries alone, the caveat of course being Howard re-signing and Gasol staying put.
That's a tough pill to swallow for a team that needs many pieces in order to compete for a championship again soon.
Ginobili, Parker and Duncan were all Spurs draft picks, with Parker and Duncan each being first-round selections. The Lakers have won titles, five since 2000, by bringing in the best players the league has to offer.
Though it's worked for the time being, the new landscape of the NBA has changed dramatically. That means that instead of trading away their picks for instant gratification, a humbler approach of at least attempting to build from the ground up may serve them well moving forward.
The Lakers will never abandon their proven strategy of acquiring players and treating the salary cap like it's a speed limit sign on an open country road, but getting back to developing players is something that can't be understated.
The proof is clear in the Spurs' three home-grown heroes, who continue to dazzle the NBA with their boring, winning, methodical and beautiful basketball.
For more on the Lakers and the NBA, catch up with Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.(Statistics via Basketball-Reference)
(Quotes via NBA Live Streaming)
- Sports & Recreation
- Manu Ginobili
- Tony Parker
- Kobe Bryant
- Tim Duncan
- the Lakers