You will notice a certain silver-and-black twang to the Magic right now.
Rob Hennigan interned in San Antonio right out of college and is very much a part of the San Antonio management tree, joining former San Antonio assistant general manager Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Jacque Vaughn also is a part of the Spurs family tree. He retired in San Antonio after spending the final three years of his 12 year career there. He then spent two more as an assistant coach.
During Vaughn’s introductory press conference, he gave praise to the person everyone refers to simply as “Pop.” Vaughn stressed time and time again that he was taking notes and watching very carefully when he worked for Gregg Popovich. His experience as a coach came from being coached by some of the best coaches in the game.
The one thing is clear, the Spurs program will have a deep imprint on the Magic, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel writes:
“Obviously,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “When you talk about the San Antonio Spurs, there are not many better in terms of the number of championships that they’ve won.”
It might be a bit presumptuous to out and out say that the Spurs model is the one you are copying. After all, San Antonio is one of the most successful franchises in league history. Certainly one of the most successful small market franchises in any sport.
The Spurs though had a lot of fortune in building that dynasty. They already had David Robinson when they lucked into the top pick in the draft, Tim Duncan. Duncan and Robinson were a rare breed of superstars who felt an extreme loyalty and attachment to the San Antonio community. Duncan only came close to leaving once — in 2000 when Orlando came at him hard — and has never even thought about leaving San Antonio since.
The Spurs have a unified mission statement from the top down. It is a program worth duplicating, if it can be done. Undoubtedly though, it is easier said than done. Look at how the Spurs have been built this year — where San Antonio finished with the top record in the Western Conference and reached the conference finals:
The key is clearly good drafting.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were the top and third scorer on the team by average. Parker was drafted 28th in 2001, Ginobili was drafted 57th in 1999 and did not arrive in America until 2002. It is extremely difficult to draft that well at the back end of the draft. The Spurs did it twice and found two All-Star caliber players.
Tim Duncan, as mentioned previously, was the top overall pick in 1997 and has stuck with the Spurs thanks to the dynasty they have built.
No matter where a team is picking, drafting is incredibly important. It is the basis for your team. You always have incredible advantages when the players you draft pan out. It starts with the cheap contracts rookies are on and continues with the advantages in salary offers that the Bird Rights team holds. This is the basis for everything the Spurs do.
The Spurs drafting goes deeper than its stars.
The team’s fifth highest scorer was Gary Neal, an undrafted free agent the Spurs plucked from the undrafted pool who has played 136 of 148 games in two seasons. the next highest scorers last year were DeJuan Blair (drafted as the 37th pick in 2009 despite concerns about both of his knees) and Tiago Splitter (the 28th pick in 2008).
The top contributors on this team not directly drafted by San Antonio was Stephen Jackson and Richard Jefferson — who were traded for each other at the deadline. Jackson was a key veteran for the team during the Playoffs and was a solid producer. So too was Boris Diaw, who was a little ways down the scoring list last year.
Last year’s Spurs were a mix of a few veterans with players the Spurs developed themselves.
As Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, drafting has not really been the problem with Otis Smith as general manager. The real problem has been sticking with and fostering the continued development of that talent — think trading Courtney Lee after his rookie year or failing to find a more expanded role for Marcin Gortat. Really, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick are the only players on the roster who contributed that the Magic drafted.
So far, Rob Hennigan appears to have done a good job with the Magic in his first draft. Andrew Nicholson looks like a solid player and fans are clamoring for Kyle O’Quinn to be added to the roster officially. Time will tell whether they were indeed good picks.
The draft though is clearly the way Orlando wants to build. That is how the Spurs have always built their teams, with undrafted free agents counted as “drafted players”:
|Team||No. of Draft Players||Top Drafted Scorer||Top Undrafted Scorer|
|1999 Spurs||3||Tim Duncan (21.7)||Sean Elliott (11.2)|
|2003 Spurs||6||Tim Duncan (23.3)||Stephen Jackson (11.8)|
|2005 Spurs||6||Tim Duncan (20.3)||Bruce Bowen (8.2)|
|2007 Spurs||6||Tim Duncan (20.0)||Michael Finley (9.0)|
As you can see, the Spurs could more or less field a starting lineup of their drafted players when they were at their peak. The top three players were Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, all players drafted by San Antonio.
This is obviously not the only way to build a team. The Magic can go after free agents. But free agents are risky. You often have to overpay to get those players to switch teams. Bargains are hard to find that can contribute to championship teams. The key is adding those solid veterans through free agency to supplement a strong drafting process.
Luck has a lot to do with it, again. Duncan was the No. 1 pick. The Spurs drafted Parker and Ginobili at a time when it was still difficult to properly scout international players. The process San Antonio used profited from a lot of foresight. That advantage is gone.
The Magic’s rebuilding project will take time. They need to rebuild their cache of draft picks and make wise selections. That appears really to be what the Spurs are all about. Now we will see how closely and how well Orlando can mimic it.