The San Antonio Spurs have missed the playoffs a grand total of one time since the start of the 1989-90 season, a run of excellence that matches up with (and arguably tops, depending on your perspective) any franchise in the league over the same period. They are a model of consistency and professional, largely due to the presence of longtime head coach Gregg Popovich. While Pop has not been the team's leader for all of those 26 seasons, he is the single figure most identified with that success. The man would figure to have some idea why the Spurs have maintained their high level over that period of time.
Before Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Popovich explained the Spurs' impressive longevity to assembled reporters. The answer is pretty simple. From Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News on Twitter:
Pop reveals secret to Spurs' lasting success: "Get the No. 1 pick in the draft every 10 years and make sure it's a franchise player."— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 8, 2014
For those who are unaware, Popovich is referring to legendary big men David Robinson, who debuted in 1989 after being selected first overall in 1987, and Tim Duncan, who came to San Antonio in 1997 and continues to perform at an All-Star level. Both men played like stars pretty much immediately upon starting their NBA careers, both helped the Spurs to championships as co-stars, and both are acknowledged as among the best seven-footers in NBA history.
Pop is obviously being a bit simplistic, because the Spurs' success has been about much more than just lucking out in the draft lottery. They've identified the right kinds of players to fit around Robinson and Duncan, drafted well at lower positions (particularly in finding overseas talents well before it became standard procedure for NBA teams), developed those players, and reloaded accordingly. It's been a triumph of good management and execution, not just blind luck.
Nevertheless, Pop is probably right that getting those top draft picks in the right seasons has been the single most important factor in their sustained relevance. The franchise has maximized the effects of that good fortune, but it still had to catch those breaks in the first place in order to get those opportunities. This fact doesn't diminish the Spurs' achievements — it just explains why they were able to reach them.
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