Consistency is hard to come by in sports. When a team is given the compliment of being labeled as consistent, it’s typically premature due to the rarity of true stability. Only one team in the modern era of the NBA can appropriately be labeled as a consistent or stable franchise. The San Antonio Spurs are that team.
With a coach like Greg Popovich and players such as David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard, 22 consecutive winning seasons were considered almost predestined. Even when Robinson and Duncan retired and Leonard left in free agency, the team managed to sustain its success. With five NBA championships won through the span, the Spurs became the standard. Not just in the NBA, but across all professional sports.
But even the Spurs can’t escape the inevitable end of an era. As of March 4th, they stand at 26-34. Only 22 games remain in the season. The previous two seasons, the Spurs finished with 47 and 48 wins — their two lowest totals in the last 22 seasons. In order to reach at least a 41-41 record to continue the streak of non-losing seasons, the Spurs must finish with a record of at best 15-7. It’s not an insurmountable feat. But the winning spirit surrounding the team for the past two decades doesn’t seem like it can provide the same magical spark this year.
If the Spurs do finish with a losing record, in what will be considered a disappointing year, a silver lining will be easily identifiable . Last night Coach Pop missed the game due to personal reasons. Like any other team, the Spurs had an assistant coach fill the role for the night. Unlike any other team, the assistant who filled in as the head coach was two-time league MVP, three-time Finals MVP, and 15-time All Star: Tim Duncan. The Spurs went on the road against the Hornets and eked out a 104-103 win at Charlotte under Duncan. Even when he’s not playing on the court, old Timmy can still have an impact on the team’s performance.
At this point, the Spurs will take any win they can get. The streak is a secret to no one. But Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are the only players on the current roster who played on a championship winning Spurs team. The team just wants to win. If you were to ask Coach Pop himself, he probably would tell you he couldn’t care less about a streak of winning seasons, he only cares about winning. If that were the actual sound bite someone got out of Pop, it would actually be a pretty good quote considering how short he can be with members of the media.
Duncan played under Pop for his entire career and is the most important player in the franchise's history. Alongside Duncan is Becky Hammon, the longest tenured female coach in league history. San Antonio isn’t considered the standard of the NBA just because of the longevity of their success. The Spurs are praised as a franchise to implement league firsts, such as introducing a woman on their coaching staff. Both Duncan and Hammon are capable of leading the team.
As the years go on and Coach Pop edges closer to a possible retirement, a true end of an unprecedented era will come. But with Duncan or Hammon in charge, a new era of success could begin. It’s hard to believe a streak like San Antonio’s is most likely over. Teams like the Lakers and Celtics may be more historic, but the last 22 seasons is something no other team in the history of the NBA has accomplished.
Jacob Recht is a producer for ESPN Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @jakeyrecht
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)