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San Antonio Spurs' long run a perfect storm of excellence

San Antonio has done everything well over the past 15 years. Everything. That's why the Spurs are back in the NBA Finals.

Kevin C. Cox

You can boil down the San Antonio Spurs' rampant success over the past 15 years to one word: everything.

San Antonio has done everything right. On June 6, the Spurs will open up the franchise's fifth NBA Finals series, all within the past 15 years, a stretch in which the team has amassed an 832-350 (.704) record. That's 71 wins more than the next team in line, the Lakers. Of course, the Lakers have five NBA championships in that span. The Spurs are looking for No. 5 next month.

The run started shortly after the selection of Tim Duncan as the No. 1 pick in 1997. San Antonio was pretty great most of the '90s, but an injury to David Robinson left the Spurs with the third-worst record in the league heading into the Duncan draft. Luck bounced San Antonio's way. The Spurs have had two losing seasons in the past 25. They resulted in David Robinson and Tim Duncan. To be bad in seasons in which a franchise-changing star is available is its own luck; to otherwise be excellent is some kind of mysticism. But the Spurs did it. They definitely have had some luck.

But look at the rest of the pieces around Duncan. We've learned time and again you can't win a title with one player. You need multiple stars, a balanced squad and strong coaching. When you win 50 games every year (literally every year -- they haven't won fewer than 50 since the 50-game 1998-99 lockout season) you don't get any lottery picks. So your front office needs to conjure up stars via trade, free agency or later in the draft.

Tony Parker, who dropped 37 in the clincher against the Grizzlies on Monday, was the No. 28 pick in 2001. Manu Ginobili was No. 57 overall in 1999. Tiago Splitter, who played a key defensive role in the postseason, was No. 27 in 2008. The Spurs landed Kawhi Leonard at No. 15 in 2011 by sending George Hill -- No. 26 in 2008 -- to Indiana.

Danny Green led the Spurs in minutes played in the regular season. He was a waiver wire pickup. Boris Diaw was eating his way out of the league, bought out by the Bobcats. The Spurs picked him up, and he's been a valued contributor. Gary Neal was an undrafted 26-year-old when the Spurs picked him up on a minimum contract three years ago. Nando de Colo, who played in 72 games this season, was the No. 53 pick in 2009. DeJuan Blair went No. 37 that year.

That's a front office that is doing some pretty incredible work. Luck? Landing Duncan was luck. Everyone else on the roster was the result of an incredibly good front office that obviously works hard.

And then there's the barking dog at the center of it all. Gregg Popovich bounces between idiosyncratic lunatic and worlds-ahead genius. During Game 3 on Saturday, Pop pulled all five starters a few minutes into a huge opening run by Memphis. Several smart people on Twitter pointed out that when any other coach does that, it's called out as a gimmick. It's usually fruitless. It was fruitless on Saturday. But the fact that Pop commands enough respect to credibly pull such a maneuver with a star with two MVPs and four titles and a co-star with three titles and a Finals MVP ... and suffer no ill will, rolled eyes or complaints, that says it all.

You can think some of Pop's gimmicks (intentional fouls, resting multiple starters in midseason games) are silly. They can be silly. But when you've had the success Pop has had, it talks. This isn't some rookie coach trying to get his youngsters' attention. This is one of the most successful coaches the league has ever seen dealing with his squad the way he did when they were all 20-something prospects. Nothing's changed for Pop, for Duncan, for Parker, for Manu.

And that's why they are still here.

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