Hubbard column: Spurs may be old, but they are hardly sleepers

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A strange phenomenon has occurred in the supersonic world of information that is currently embodied by Twitter.

Everything is faster now – information, reaction, criticism and analysis. There used to be a 24-hour news cycle. Now it sometimes does not last 24 seconds.

There seems to be, however, an unintended consequence. The faster the world; the quicker people forget. A few years ago, there was measured reaction to subjects of the day; now the norm is overreaction.

And that’s fine. No complaints here. The Twitter world is actually very enjoyable even if it savages short-term memories and apparently makes it difficult to remember something that happened 261 days ago.

Perhaps you don’t realize it, but that is also more than 22,000,000 seconds (thanks to timeanddate.com for the math), which sounds like a long time until you get to the word “seconds.”

In the big picture world, it was, well, a short time ago that the San Antonio Spurs finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 61-21 record. That was obviously a full 82-game season. If it had been 81, the Spurs might have won their fifth title in 13 years.

In Game 82 last season, Manu Ginobili was hurt when the Suns’ Grant Hill landed on Ginobili’s elbow in the first quarter of a game that made absolutely no difference in the playoffs. The Spurs had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the West with the second best record in franchise history.

Ginobili’s left elbow was hyper-extended and since he is left-handed, it was a problem. The Spurs met the Grizzlies in the first round and although Ginobili still managed to average 20.6 points, he was limited defensively and was clearly in pain throughout the series.

Under head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have never been ones to complain or make excuses publicly. But suffice to say that within the organization, there was confidence before the injury that the Spurs could win a title and considerable depression afterwards because he had been less than 100 percent.

The Spurs felt like one got away.

What if Ginobili had not been hurt? Tim Duncan may be the soul of the franchise, but Ginobili is the heart. Denver coach George Karl talked last week of how important Ginobili is by comparing him to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

“With the will to win, Manu Ginobili is (a Tebow) type of guy,” Karl told the Denver Post. “He has this exuberance of ‘we’re going to win the (darn) game with effort, passion and commitment.’ He’s the first guy that came to mind.”

With Ginobili 100 percent, the Spurs likely could have handled the eighth-seeded Grizzlies. As blissful as the future seems for the Thunder, the Spurs match up well with the young team and they swept Oklahoma City in the regular season. That would have been their second round matchup.

That would have set up a Western final against Dallas, and it likely would have been another great series between the two. But let’s say for the current purpose that the Spurs had won and then defeated the Heat in the championship series.

What would their image be right now? Defending champions, a little old, but still a threat.

Instead, everywhere you look or listen, the forecast for the Spurs is gloom. Their time has passed. They are no longer a serious contender.

That is mystifying to those whose outlook is based on months and years; not seconds.

“We won 61 games, one game behind (the Bulls for best league record) in the regular season.” Ginobili said when Spurs training camp began. “We cannot become that much older in a year.”

No doubt the Spurs are aging. Tim Duncan is 35 and last year, his statistics went down to career lows in points (13.4) and rebounds (8.9). But he also played fewer than 30 minutes a game (28.4) for the first time in his 14-year career. It’s not like Duncan is the machine he once was, but he is steady, reliable, smart and capable of big nights.

Ginobili is 34 but Tony Parker is only 29. They are still among the elite at their respective positions.

The Spurs enjoyed significant contributions off the bench from 22-year-old center DeJuan Blair and 27-year-old forward Gary Neal last season. Matt Bonner is a wonderful streak shooter.

The Spurs also signed T.J. Ford to back up Parker and are hopeful that players such as forward James Anderson and center Tiago Splitter can have productive years. They are also excited about the potential of 20-year-old rookie forward Kawhi Leonard.

”We’ve always had a decent number of young guys (who played),” said Popovich, who couldn’t resist a joke. “It’s just that everybody concentrates on Tim, Tony and Manu and thinks of those three guys. When Robert (Horry) played for us I think he was 44 or 45. He used to do all the hamburger commercials. But we’ve always had a few young guys.”

To judge the Spurs chances, the opposition must be judged. The Mavericks are defending champions but have lost valuable players Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea in the free agent market. They added Lamar Odom and Vince Carter but no one is saying that makes them better than last season.

The Lakers took a step back by inexplicably trading Odom for a trade exception and a future protected first-round draft pick.

Oklahoma City certainly looks strong, but when’s the last time a really young team won a title – or a conference?

Memphis was not a fluke and should be better. And the Clippers added Chris Paul. But are they really better than the Spurs?

And lest we forget, the Spurs had a better regular season record than all of them last year.

Yes, the Spurs are older and will be challenged by the compact 66-game schedule. They have two stretches when they played three games in three nights and they must travel after the first two games each time. They have 17 other back-to-back games.

But they have a championship pedigree and the poise that comes with it. They are hardly devoid of talent. Perhaps they won’t win it this season. But . . . they . . . are . . . as . . . capable . . . as . . . anyone . . . in . . . the . . . Western . . . Conference.

The punctuation will hopefully help everyone slow down a little.

Jan Hubbard first watched the San Antonio Spurs when they were known as the Chaparrals and played in Dallas. He was in the stands on Nov. 13, 1967 when Indiana’s Jerry Harkness hit a 88-foot shot at the buzzer that enabled the Pacers to defeat the Chaparrals. It was the longest shot in professional basketball history. Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. His columns appear every Tuesday on SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

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  1. [...]Well, very good post with informative information. I really appreciate the fact that you approach these topics from a stand point of knowledge and information. [...]

  2. For so many years, all the Spurs needed was Duncan down the stretch. He could hold his own against any front court in the league. But for those who think he’s finished, need to put doen the pipe. His skills are still far better than many NBA players right now. But I also agree that SA wont get far w/o giving the GOAT PF some help down low. Memphis hit some clutch shots in that series. Shots from players who dont normally make them. I think they would’ve taken any team out West to 7 games in last years playoffs. Whith the shorten season coming up, I have to believe that SA will have a advantage of being a veteren team. Even though they’re not as old as people seem to think. 5-8 years ago it was Duncan who was the key to SA success. Now it rest on the Lucky Lefty Manu Ginobilli. His freak injury on the last game of the year sent the whole season in a downward spiral. Pop will be smater w/ managing minutes & SA will AGAIN be near the top come playoff time.

  3. the author needs to put down the crack pipe. Tim Duncan looked finished in the playoffs, only Ginobili and Parker did anything of not in the Griz series.

    Being a fan of another mature team in the Celtics, I am realistic about mid 30 year old players, no matter how good they still might be, going against mid to late 20 year olds of equal talent.

    It’s not good. One playoff series win is probably the best one could hope for.

  4. 22 million seconds must be a long time because that is not how I remember that going down at all. Here is what I remember: The Spurs jumped out on fire, had a huge lead on the rest of the league, started to lose games, lost a lot of games, looked rather medicore in the home stretch, looked so medicore in the last week that the Grizzlies threw their last two games to ensure they would draw the Spurs, Manu wore an elbow pad, then the Spurs lost in the first round just as expected.

    They faded down the stretch because they were old, not because of Manu wore the same elbow pad that AI made famous.

    God I hope Griz fans show up to games this year. Having to listen to them play that “don’t stop believing” song in the playoffs when the building has been empty for years was down right unbearable.

  5. Spurholic in Mumbai says:

    Too optimistic an assessment, even the most faithful believer of the everlasting Spursmagic, would shake one’s head in disbelief on the premise of the article.

    There were several factors which made Spurs exit in the first round inevitable – a front court which could not defend – just remember the close games with the Timberwolves, yes T’wolves with a front court of Kevin Love and Darko Milcic, a problem which was present the whole season, secondly the three point game, works very well in the regular season – just remind yourself of the 3 point accuracy of RJ and the Red Rocket, then compare it with their post season efficacy. Lastly, the lack of defense, an uptempo season won Mavs a grand total of 0 Championships, playing defense got them 1, last season.

    For spurholics myself, this season too will see flashes of brilliance and joy like the last season, however to expect a team with bench strength comprising of Steve Novak and Danny Green to win the Championship, is a bit rich, even for a Spurholics to believe!

  6. Right. Ginobli’s elbow would be able to defend Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Let’s conveniently forget the fact that the Grizzlies were missing their best player due to injury. Or how the same Grizzlies took the Thunder to seven games. Spurs lost because they lacked size. That problem has not gone away. Until they do, they won’t be a serious threat for a championship.

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  1. [...] Hubbard column: Spurs may be old, but they are hardly sleepers [...]

  2. [...] Hubbard column: Spurs may be old, but they are hardly sleepers [...]

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