Take note, Suns: Spurs know how it's done
So much for that idea.
All that's happened since is the Spurs have been the West's top seed twice, and are now the favorite to reach the NBA Finals. Again.
Should the Spurs get past the Zombie Sonics they'll have a shot at winning their fifth title since 1999, a feat Suns fans can only dream about. And, as painful as it may be, it's worth asking:
How have the Spurs remained elite for more than a decade, while the Suns had a nice little run but have begun the process of bottoming out (sans championship)?
Well, it helps they've kept their core together.
The trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili has played the last 10 seasons together, and while the pieces and system around them have changed, they have not gone anywhere. They fit the team's system, accept their roles and do nothing but win. And flop. But mostly win.
While their stars are aging, the roster is not. The Spurs average 27.4 years of age this season, compared to 28.8 for the Suns.
Now, tell me, which team is rebuilding and which is setting itself up for the future?
The Spurs have done this with incredible roster management, adding guys like Danny Green, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair either late in drafts or with shrewd free agent signings.
The Suns, meanwhile, rarely added great talents in free agency while traditionally making the selling of draft picks an annual rite of summer.
Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby once said, in effect, the chickens have come home to roost when it comes to the team not adding young players, and he's right. The best teams add talent all throughout the draft, helping to keep a championship window open. The Suns, on the other hand, saw little value in cheap youth, instead choosing to pin their hopes on veteran free agents.
It seems to be the team's current plan.
"I have no doubt that we are going to be on the top of the list of a lot of potential free agents this summer," Babby told Arizona Sports 620's Burns and Gambo last week.
It's a tough way to build, and it's probably the wrong way to build, too. Top free agents rarely migrate to new teams, only doing so to play in a larger market or with other stars. Phoenix is not New York, and the Suns are not the Heat.
The Spurs do not exactly play in a big market, but they've made themselves a perennial contender. Yet, free agency has never really been their thing.
Of course, the other thing the Spurs have done to get to this point is have a guy named Tim Duncan. One of the greatest players of all time, Duncan has been a dominant player on the court and a stabilizing force off it. The team knows it will contend as long as he's around (which may only be a couple more years), and can build accordingly.
In fact, Duncan's presence alone convinced Gregg Popovich and the team to keep pushing for a title because, as the coach said, "Timmy didn't sign on to wait."
It's a noble mind-set, one that works because of what the Spurs have done throughout the course of Duncan's career. Maybe the Suns will get lucky in Wednesday's draft lottery and be afforded the chance to grab their own Duncan this summer?
The San Antonio Spurs have exactly one lottery pick on their roster, yet are on the cusp of reaching the NBA Finals. They've been adept at finding and developing talent, which has led to them becoming one of the league's model franchises.
Two years ago the Suns swept the Spurs and made it to the Western Conference Finals, before falling to the eventual champion Lakers in six games. Of the 15 players who were on that Phoenix team, just five remain.
The same goes for the Spurs, though they found a way to improve the roster.
Acquire talent, coach it up, build around it. That's what the Spurs do. That's what the best teams do.
And, hopefully, it's what the Phoenix Suns will do.