It wasn’t enough that the team with the second-best record in the NBA faced one of its worst teams, one that had underperformed to the point its ultra-rich owner on Sunday fired his head coach and re-assigned his general manager.
What was also on display during the FoxSports Southwest telecast of the Spurs’ 106-79 win was a reminder that success in pro sports nearly always begins with strong support from a team’s ownership and management team, one which understands patience is indeed a virtue.
Even many of their rivals acknowledge the Spurs, from the top down, are the NBA’s model franchise.
After owner Mikhail Prokhorov fired his fourth coach in six years they have become a model of dysfunction.
San Antonio’s easy Monday night win, matching the 27-point win margin of their Oct. 30 win over the Nets at The AT&T Center, extended the Spurs’ win streak to eight games and ran their record to 33-6.
Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 28 minutes of court time and Coach Gregg Popovich was able to empty his bench for much of the second half. Boban Marjanovic, the 7-foot-3 Serbian rookie, scored 13 points in a little more than 13 minutes of the second half. No Spur played more than 29 minutes and 33 seconds, which should have everyone fresh for Tuesday’s game against the Pistons in Detroit.
It is the sort of thing that has the Spurs on a path to another 60-win season that will give them a legitimate shot at a sixth NBA title in the last 17 years.
The Nets are one of 13 teams that never have won an NBA title but that didn’t stop Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch who bought the team in 2010, from promising he would bring the franchise a championship within five years.
Popovich, the most successful coach in all of pro sports over the past two decades, knows exactly how difficult it is for any team to win even one NBA championship. He also understands the Spurs have been able to win five titles in large part because the team’s ownership group has exercised patience while providing the fiscal backing for the personnel moves he and general manager R.C. Buford have made.
Popovich also knows that in the NBA nothing is a given and no team ever deserves to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy more than any other team, no matter how much money it has spent in the pursuit thereof.
Yet, on Monday morning, Prokhorov, held a press conference to explain his decision to fire head coach Lionel Hollins and re-assign general manager Billy King, somehow turning the occasion into an expression of privilege, presumably based on the fact he has spent nearly $2 billion in player salaries and luxury taxes to build a winner.
Thus far his team has exactly one playoff series win in his first five seasons of ownership.
“Frankly speaking,” Prokhorov, told the reporters who turned out, “I deserve championship now much more than six years ago.”
If he is looking for a path to a championship that isn’t so costly he should consider the Spurs way. Peter Holt’s ownership group has had to pay the NBA’s luxury tax penalty only twice during its dominant era, and never to the extent Prokhorov has overpaid. They are on a path to go over the luxury tax threshold for a third time this season after giving Kawhi Leonard a maximum contract and signing free agent Aldridge to another max deal last July. They will exceed the $84,740,000 tax threshold only by about $1.5 million, a pittance by Prokhorov’s profligate standards.
Hollins, the coach Prokhorov dismissed on Sunday, proved his basketball acumen when he guided the No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies past the No. 1-seeded Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
Now Prokhorov is compiling a list of potential replacements while Hollins’ assistant, Tony Brown, takes the Nets through the rest of the season.
Popovich won’t be on the list, even though Prokhorov might like a coach who majored in Soviet Studies at the Air Force Academy some 45 years ago. When the Spurs coach made his recruiting pitch to Aldridge in July he committed to remain on the Spurs bench through the four years of Aldridge’s deal.
Loyalty is a quality the Spurs coach reveres.
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.