The Spurs' Plan for 2013: Kawhi Leonard and the Big Three
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Basketball
The Spurs have a plan going into the playoffs: Elevate Kawhi Leonard as full-fledged team leader.
They've been building to this plan for years:
The expectations for Kawhi Leonard were not to replace Hill as a role player who complements the existing 'Big Three' of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. At some point, Leonard is going to have to supercede one of the 'Big Three' and nudge his way into elite status. As we approach the playoffs, the only way the Spurs can beat teams like the Thunder, the Heat, or even the Nuggets is if Kawhi Leonard can make that leap right now.
Every year, the Spurs are among the serious playoff contenders — the team has finished in the top four in the Western Conference in 14 of the past 15 seasons — but it's hard not to wonder if we've glorified their franchise model long after its useful life. As the team approaches the playoffs in an uncharacteristic funk, we're watching it suffer from a mix of injuries and almost unheard-of behind-the-scenes chemistry issues. For a team that plays the regular season in such a way to 'peak at the right time,' the Spurs haven't looked this out of sync in years. This season may finally be the point at which the team's short-term and long-term flaws have collided.
It has been six solid regular seasons and five playoff failures since the San Antonio Spurs won the 2007 NBA Finals in a four-game sweep over LeBron James's Cleveland Cavaliers. After winning four championships between 1999 and 2007, the Spurs' prime may be in the rearview mirror. Furthermore, two of those championships involved David Robinson and the 'Twin Towers' model, which further marginalizes the history of the Spurs' 'Big Three.' Despite staying competitive, five years without winning it all is a long time to continue to try to 'figure things out' with the same core. Things must change now.
The Spurs' plan requires a lot of things to come together: chemistry, timing, luck, and teamwork.
But they do have a plan. And that already makes them wiser than in the past five years.