April 10, 2013
DENVER — On a quiet Wednesday morning, the greatest power forward did something so boring, so monotonous, so Tim Duncan, I had to snap a photo.
He practiced a free throw. Then Duncan shot another one, and another one.
When Duncan was finally done shooting free throws, mostly by his giant, lonesome self inside an empty Pepsi Center, he sat courtside to mumble with scattered media.
"I've always kind of worked the same way," Duncan said, boringly.
This time of year there are two constants: Taxes and the Spurs in the conversation for an NBA championship.
"It's kind of boring,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Isn’t that what San Antonio is?”
His voice raising a few decibels, Karl added: "I like boring!”
You and me both, Coach.
Allow me to ask the unthinkable: Why can't the Nuggets be as boring as the Spurs?
Not in terms of entertainment value. The Spurs are fascinating to watch; you know what's coming and are helpless to stop it.
But in terms of success. The NBA's third-youngest team, these Nuggets are talented enough to make even the most jaded fan dream big. Set the bar high.
If there is one franchise these Nuggets should emulate, it is those boring Spurs. San Antonio ambled into Pepsi Center on Wednesday with aspirations of a fifth title in the Duncan era.
The Spurs became the model NBA franchise with a formula that is not so different from what the Nuggets are attempting.
Promising core. A system that doesn't waver. Smart decisions late in the draft. Look closer, and the Nuggets are operating under a blueprint similar to how San Antonio built its dynasty.
Thanks to those four rings, it is easy to forget the Spurs are situated in a market not so different from Denver. The Spurs don’t write paychecks like the Lakers or Celtics. High-profile stars don't take their talents to south Texas.
“You’re analyzing one of the best-run organizations and philosophies,” Karl said. "(Gregg Popovich) does a great job. But there’s always been that David Robinson and Tim Duncan to fall back on, too.”
There is the key difference.
Let's assume, correctly, Denver is not enough of a draw to lure a free agent of Duncan’s caliber. Denver's superstar would be homemade.
The Spurs never hit the market to snag their marquee names. The Nuggets can’t afford to.
The Spurs were built through the draft and by identifying their kind of player. After lucking into the No. 1 pick and Duncan in 1996, the Spurs completed their big three with Tony Parker (the No. 28 pick in 2001) and Manu Ginobili (No. 57 in 1999).
The supporting cast always knows its role.
“They’re not only fast and quick and score lots of points, they know how to play all types of games and styles,” Karl said. “A lot of that is because of their experience.”
These Nuggets were built with late-round picks like Ty Lawson (No. 18 in 2009, acquired in a trade) and Kenneth Faried (No. 22 in 2011) and through savvy decisions by GM Masai Ujiri.
“I think Ty might be a little ahead of Tony at this stage in his career,” Karl said of the point guards.
Danilo Gallinari or Andre Iguodala completes their big three, depending on your preference for scoring or defense. I tend to think Corey Brewer, despite coming off the bench, can be the difference-maker in Gallo’s absence.
The supporting cast knows its role.
Denver also shares an emphasis on international scouting, taking a late flyer and hoping he turns into Ginobili. Can Evan Fournier be that guy?
The critical piece is a system that coaches and players swear by. Popovich lobbied for Karl as a candidate for Coach of the Year. Denver's system is in place.
"LeBron doesn’t play here. And Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant and people like that. They don’t have superstars. He’s molded them into a group where they’ve accepted their role," Popovich said. "That comes from George. He’s done a hell of a job.”
One man's wish: Show some patience, keep these Nuggets together and see if they can build a championship product with staying power.
"I like boring!" Karl said.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette)