Spurs show Pistons value of continuity

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills – — In the lore of the San Antonio Spurs, there are just two clear delineations: before Gregg Popovich and after.

Since moving up from an assistant with the Golden State Warriors in 1996-97 to take the helm, Popovich has helped turn the Spurs into one of the model franchises in the NBA, with five world championships during his tenure. That includes three in five years early in the 2000s and another just two seasons ago.

In Popovich’s first season, he took over following a horrific 3-15 start by Bob Hill and led the Spurs to a 17 more wins. That led to getting the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, where they grabbed their Hall of Fame big man, Tim Duncan. Since then, the Spurs have been to the playoffs every season, with only four losses in the first round.

It’s a model of excellence and consistency that Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy would love to start in Detroit. It’s only been a season and a half, but Van Gundy already is planting the seeds of some sustainability.

Part of the Spurs’ success is maintaining a roster that includes Duncan, along with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as centerpieces. Sprinkling in the right complementary pieces has made the Spurs into a prototypical lineup and franchise, with the experience and talent to contend every year.

“There’s a lot of lessons with what they do. The one that’s pretty obvious is the value of continuity,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “They’ve had Duncan, Parker and Ginobili together forever. Now Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have been there for quite a while.

“Paddy Mills coming off the bench has been there for quite a while. When they add guys in, it’s not a lot of guys.”

The newest piece is big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who joined in the offseason, but he hasn’t upset the delicate balance, posting 16.1 points and 8.9 points, meshing well with Leonard and the rest of the vets.

Even with a major addition, the Spurs have been able to sustain their success — the second-best record in the league, at 33-6, entering Tuesday — because of the dedication to professionalism, commitment to the common goal, and of course, Popovich.

“They haven’t had a lot of turnover, so it’s allowed them to build. They know each other so well; they know all the counters to everything they do and what the defense will do,” Van Gundy said. “That’s been a big part of their success.

“They have great players and a great coach. Besides the obvious, the continuity has been huge for them.”

That’s what Van Gundy is trying to build with the Pistons, already signing point guard Reggie Jackson to a long-term deal and looking to do the same for center Andre Drummond in the offseason. With just a couple of more players under team control for a few years, the model could be in place to try to sustain what Van Gundy is building and the early success they are seeing this season.

The Pistons have all five of their starters under contract for next season and could feasibly bring back all of them, if they’re willing to meet the rising ante for Brandon Jennings.

“Looking forward, one of the things we talked about in trying to build this team is we have continuity,” he said. “That’s got to be weighed in any personnel moves. It would have to be a major jump up in talent for us to give up what we think we’re building in continuity.”

It’s somewhat similar to the longstanding success the Red Wings had in the NHL and the New England Patriots have had in the NFL, with multiple championships built around the same core of players. The Spurs have their dynasty period, with the three world titles, but also won a title in the decade before and after it.

“It’s been incredible for how long they’ve been doing this. You have to give any team that has that level of success for that long, that’s the biggest accomplishment in sports,” Van Gundy said. “It’s one thing to put together a team that can win for a year or two. To do what they’ve done is — since the early Celtics — unprecedented.”

As Duncan winds down his career — with Ginobili and Parker not too far behind — the Spurs will need to start rebuilding, but with the core of that new group already in place, they might not miss a beat.