Out of all the teams in the NBA, you'd rank the San Antonio Spurs 30th in the likelihood of drama. The Spurs Way is quiet, no-nonsense, and professional. Every year, the entire team would go to a hotel for training camp, which would start with basic drills, the same you learn as a kid. Timmy, Tony, and Manu, doing the same work the rookies are. Gregg Popovich summed it up like this.
“We're looking for people — and I've said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle.”
Gregg Popovich, Business Insider
Coach Popovich also pointed out the importance of a sense of humor. Being able to take a dig and dish one out. Accepting that you don't have all the answers, being comfortable with it, and learning in a team environment. Not taking things personally. What was the key ingredient for "The Spurs Way?"
Pop always pointed out the main reason he could coach the way he coaches was Tim Duncan. If your best player, a top 10 in NBA history, falls in line, then everyone else will. After 19 years with Tim Duncan on the team, the Spurs had his heir in Kawhi Leonard. Quiet, hard-working, all about basketball, a fun guy playing the most important position in the modern NBA. The next decade was covered.
Out of nowhere, we had drama. Kawhi and the Spurs had different ideas about treating Leonard's injury. Kawhi thought he was still injured; the Spurs didn't. Remember, we're talking about the quietest superstar and franchise in the league. We'll probably never find out what happened. But we can assume the main issue was Kawhi challenging "The Spurs Way." He wanted things that Duncan never asked for, and a compromise couldn't be found.
Many GM's points to that situation as the origin story for the escalation of player empowerment. LeBron and the Heatles introduced us to the idea of star players running the show in free agency. Kawhi brought it to another level with the day-to-day functioning of an organization. Superstars take shorter contracts, and if the organization is not playing to their beat, they are out of there.
“Kawhi scared the living hell out of everyone,” said one GM. “If it can happen to the Spurs, it can happen to anybody.”
via Tom Haberstroh, NBC Sports
This is the impact the Spurs have on the league. If it had happened in a different organization, the fear wouldn't be there. But if the San Antonio Spurs couldn't prevent such individualism within their ranks, not a lot of teams can. That's how one GM explained the spike in rest and prolonged recovery to Tom Haberstroh.
Come to think of it; the Miami Heat are probably the last one. In his first season with Miami, LeBron challenged Spoelstra on several occasions and implied he would be happier if Riley took over as coach. That idea was nipped in the bud and contributed to LeBron leaving four years later. It wasn't enough to win; it had to be on LeBron's terms.
What's next? The same as being coach-GM was too much to handle for everyone who tried; the same goes for player-GM. Let me be clear; I'm not talking about teams making players play through injury and reducing their longevity in the league. If sitting a few more games can give you a few more years in the league, that's a call a player should make.
But, there's a reason why certain positions are separated; there are not enough hours in a day to be great at both. My guess it, the superstars that choose situations in which they trust the GM to do their job will have more success overall than those who dictate how a team is run. That starts with an owner hiring the right GM and getting out of the way. Sorry, New York.