NBA ties map out Spurs’ success

Column by Mike Monroe

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When the Spurs were named “Team of the Decade” in North American professional sports by ESPN The Magazine last week, the team’s general manager was too busy to notice.

R.C. Buford had posted a job on a team management website and was wading through the 452 responses it had generated.

  • Buford has had to restock the Spurs’ staff, an annual summer activity as rivals raid the team’s non-player talent.

    A month ago, the Utah Jazz hired assistant GM Dennis Lindsey to run their team. Danny Ferry departed for the Atlanta Hawks in July.

    Two Spurs’ assistant coaches also left, with Jacque Vaughn becoming Orlando’s coach and Don Newman hired as the Wizards’ top assistant.

    Recognition by a magazine that concocted its own arcane measure of franchise success — the “ultimate franchise” — was little more than an afterthought in Buford’s crowded day.

    “I’m not sure what it means,” he said. “The most important takeaway is that we have a great relationship in our organization with our players and fans and community. The support that brings to us makes this a unique environment to play in, to work in and to go to games in.”

    It also has made the organization built by Buford, coach and team president Gregg Popovich and owner Peter Holt a desired training ground for those who hope to one day run their own bench or front office.

    Eleven NBA teams have either a head coach or general manager, or both, with strong Spurs ties.

    “It speaks to the quality of people we’ve been fortunate to have in our program and it starts with our players,” Buford said, “Nothing happens without the commitment from our ownership and our players.

    “Through that we’ve been able to attract outstanding people and it’s gratifying to see them recognized for their abilities and have opportunities to reach goals they’ve set for themselves.”

    Sam Presti worked for the Spurs for seven seasons before becoming the NBA’s youngest general manager in 2007. No team has emulated the “Spurs’ way” more than Presti’s Thunder — and that includes getting lucky in the draft.

    Oklahoma City was No. 1 in ESPN’s rankings for 2012, and Presti knows what he learned in San Antonio helped him get the Thunder there.

    “Many people strive to sustain success in our business, but what the Spurs have done is sustain excellence,” he said. “Pop and RC, with the support of Mr. Holt, have created an infrastructure that has afforded many of us tremendous learning and development opportunities.

    “It is important to acknowledge that they generally have an even more profound impact on their people on a personal level than simply professionally. I suppose that somewhere within that concept is where the line between sustaining success and sustaining excellence resides.”

    That profound impact the Spurs have on those who come through the organization is what allowed Buford to position the Spurs for the future late last season while also putting them in position for a fifth title run.

    Could any other elite team in the league have traded for Stephen Jackson last March without fear had it not already had a previous — and positive — experience with the mercurial swingman?

    These are the kinds of organizational advantages throughout the years that led to the Spurs being named “Team of the Decade.”

    But what is that worth? The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys were 89th in last week’s rankings, but they are second in Forbes Magazine’s valuation of sports franchises, with a net worth of $2.1 billion.

    Forbes estimates the Spurs are worth $418 million.

    Would Holt give up his four Larry O’Brien Trophies for Jones’ bank account?

    Maybe not.

    But would Jones give up his account for being designated as the ultimate franchise around?

    Certainly not.

    To be recognized as a great franchise is always nice, no matter how contrived. But so is being a rich one.

    As Jerry might say of the Forbes’ valuation: You can take that to the bank.
    Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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