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WEDNESDAY WIRE

“Who ‘Dat!?”


The streets of New Orleans fill with wine and celebration, “Lombardy-Gra” is the new celebration that is sending this once down trodden city into frenzied delight. In San Antonio “Who ‘Dat?” is not being shouted by blissful fans on the cusp of achieving greatness, instead in the bewilderment that surrounds not just this city, but the entire nation. The San Antonio Spurs have gone from NBA Dynasty to West coast whipping post. The Spurs are no longer being described in terms of relative greatness, but by the words “average, mediocre, and confused”. What has taken this team from the pinnacle of success to the drudges of the mundane?

A trade of historic proportions lifted the great Richard Jefferson from the Bucks for a handful of ageing players and expiring contracts, bringing in the playoff tested Antonio Mcdyess, and adding the shot-blocking prowess of Theo Ratliff only added to the legend that is Greg Popovich, R.C. Buford, and the entire Spurs organization. Now, more than halfway through the season, the Rodeo Road Trip nearing midway, and the trade deadline approaching at a desperate pace, many doubts remain about the greatest sports franchise of the past decade. The Championship Spurs of years past are all but gone, and the facility that once made this team great is now lacking and wreaking havoc.

The Spurs in the past decade have been the standard for team defense, putting a strong focus on rebounding, forcing low percentage shots, and shot blocking. Now, the Spurs are simply average in most of these categories ranking 13th, 11th, and 15th respectively; we are also in the bottom third of the league in forcing turnovers. The past two games have been perfect examples, shining the light on the Spurs’ team deficiencies and exposing the Spurs squad as being simply average. The Spurs held an 11 point lead midway through the third quarter against an extremely anemic Blazers team. The old Spurs would have sent this young, and undermanned, team into a tail spin, likely beating them by 20 points; the current Spurs team blows a commanding 11 point lead and loses the game by three. Against the Lakers, missing two of their best players, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the Spurs were competitive through the first half. The old Spurs make their half time adjustments, and then put the clamps on in the fourth quarter to bring their team to victory. The current team after a dominating first quarter delivered a weak second, folded and gave away the next two quarters, finishing with a double digit loss. Where is the focus? Where is the intensity?

There was a time when the Spurs walked onto the court, especially in San Antonio, there was no beating them. If a team somehow managed to pull out a win, the physical and emotional impact of the game would often leave the opponent weak and uncompetitive in their next few outings. There is one less obvious deficiency on this year’s team, an emotional leader. The one player, that despite all odds, can get the entire team to rally and change the course of the game; Mario Elli, Avery Johnson, and Robert Horry have filled this role for past Spurs’ teams. Greg Popovich would jump in from time to time and go off on a referee, get ejected, and send the Spurs on a game winning run. Who is that player on this year’s team? Who has been that player for the past 3 years? The championship attitude and swagger has left, and now resides with the LA Lakers and Lebron James (no one else in Cleveland has any idea what is going on). Someone on this roster needs to step up, show some fire and heart, so when these tough games come there is someone we can turn to. If the Spurs’ brass does not believe this player exists on the current roster, a move needs to be made to find that piece of the puzzle.

The Spurs lack toughness as well; the gritty, hard-nosed, pit bull-type aggressiveness that made teams regret stepping on the court with the Silver and Black. If you go on YouTube and type “Bruce Bowen” in the search, hundreds of videos come up with people expressing their disgust for Bruce’s dirty play. “The Worm”, Will Purdue, and Bruce are just a few of those players that brought that toughness to the Spurs. We need a player who is willing to get down right dirty on the court. In Game 4 of the 2007 play off series with Phoenix, Robert Horry sent Steve Nash careening into the scorer’s table, he didn’t bend down and help him up. He turned his head and walked away, clearing the Phoenix Suns’ bench, effectively swinging the series momentum back to the Spurs with a simple hip check. No one on this team seems to want to make any contact. I would rather see a team who commits twice as many fouls for being too aggressive (on offense and defense), than players who look like they just got a manicure and don’t want to get their nail polish messed up. Paul Millsap, Chris Anderson, and Matt Barnes are a few names that come to mind.

Obviously the Spurs have chemistry problems on the court, but it is not just game play that is causing the Spurs’ problems. Attitude, leadership, and aggressiveness are also contributing to the team’s recent tailspin. These issues can be overcome, but it will take a remarkable turn-around by players and coaches alike. The Trade Deadline looms just ahead, offering the Spurs one more chance to add a key piece for their championship run. The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting farther away, and hope for another playoff appearance is quickly evaporating. The time of reckoning is here for the Spurs, if they pass the test, they too will hear the celebrating in the streets as we achieve greatness once again.

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