It's very easy to watch the NBA Finals and become enamored with the San Antonio Spurs. Well, it's probably very hard to do so if you're a Mavericks fan. Maybe a better word is respect.
The Spurs are an efficient basketball-killing machine, much like the Mavericks used to be. Both franchises were used to 50-win seasons and championship aspirations. The Spurs were a little more successful, of course, winning four titles to the Mavericks one. But their seasons were always bound by consistent winning built around a stable core.
That's why a lot of Dallas fans have pointed to San Antonio as a reason the 2011 title team should still be here. After all, the Spurs' foundation still revolves around their core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. San Antonio kept their team together, so why couldn't the Mavs, they shout from the streets.
But there are a few flaws in that logic (other than the fact that the Spurs were able to give out extensions to Parker, Duncan and Ginobili before the new CBA), which are:
The development of the Spurs core doesn't compare to the Mavs
First, let's define the cores. The Spurs is obviously Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. The Mavs? Of course, Dirk Nowitzki. After that, let's go Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. That's more than a normal core -- that's a five-man lineup. But I can't imagine that unit closing out the Heat in 2011 with another player in its place. Sure, J.J. Barea and (a healthy) Caron Butler helped, but those five players meshed beautifully.
Jason Kidd was 38 after the 2011 title. Jason Terry, 33. Dirk was about to turn 33 and Tyson Chandler 28, with Marion also 33.
The Spurs core, currently, is Duncan at 37, Ginobili at 35 and Parker is 31. The ages are similar to a degree. But their development isn't.
Duncan has continued to produce at All-NBA levels, despite his minutes reduction. Parker has arguably played the best basketball of his career in the last few seasons (Parker has posted six seasons with a PER of 20 or higher. Three of them have been the this season and the two previous.)
The Mavs core? It had peaked. Jason Kidd was only deteriorating, which was painfully evident at the end of the Knicks playoff run. Same for Jason Terry, who has now bottomed-out in Boston after a fairly miserable season. Marion isn't the same defender/finisher as he was in 2011. Chandler has so far been the only one from the Mavs 2011 title core that has continued to produce. Even then, he was limited and ineffective the last month of the Knicks season, those injury concerns finally springing to action. Caron Butler has been bad with the Clippers and while J.J. Barea has been great for the T-Wolves, the Mavs couldn't overpay.
Most view Parker as the Spurs best player right now. Even if you disagree (Duncan is still great and impacts the game more on defense than Parker can) it's still a close debate. Who on the Mavs core was going to overtake Dirk as possibly being the Mavs best player? Kidd's corpse? Terry's inconsistent play? Perhaps Chandler, but that's a shaky debate at best.
Even though Ginobili isn't the same player right now as he used to be, he's still more productive than you might think, being an influential passer and still a crafty defender.
The Spurs surrounded their core with young, dynamic and talented players. The Mavs surrounded their core with Mike James.
OK, I'm being unfair. One of the Mavericks best qualities and a reason for their title was their depth: J.J Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Caron Butler, Corey Brewer, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi and Brian bleeping Cardinal all had moments in the playoff run.
Other than Barea, Mahinmi and Brewer, however, all those pieces were older, established vets brought in through free agency or trade (Mahinmi was acquired as a free agent, but he was still very raw player coming out of San Antonio. And although Brewer helped swing Game 1 of the Lakers series, he was never shown significant minutes afterward).
The young players the Mavericks actually drafted (Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones) or picked off the scrap heap where nowhere to be found in the playoffs.
Look at San Antonio's contributors after the Big 3: Kawhi Leornard, who's hounding LeBron James, grabbing offensive rebounds, hitting corner threes and being just a general badass, is 21. Danny Green, who has been a knockdown shooter for two years and has burned Dwyane Wade consistently while also playing solid defense, is 25.
Tiago Splitter, the missing big the Spurs have needed alongside Tim Duncan for years, is just 28. Gary Neal, while he's not anywhere close to resembling his Game 3 performance over the course of a season, but still a useful bench player, is 28. Cory Joseph, who's been running some back up point for the Spurs and came in when Parker was hurt in Game 3, is 21.
This is by far the biggest issue when comparing the Mavs (or any other team, really) to the Spurs: no team evaluates and gets the most production out of its younger players than San Antonio.
Let's say the Mavericks kept Chandler, but let Kidd and Terry go. Do you really trust the Mavs to surround a Dirk + Chandler + Marion core with the young and talented players that are necessary to fill out a team? Dallas has long used free agency and trades to improve the team and keep it competitive, something the new CBA frowns upon to a degree. More and more teams are using the draft to improve, whether it's through multiple lottery picks (Oklahoma City, Indiana), flipping those assets for a star (Houston) or just hitting on those make-or-break last first rounders (San Antonio, Miami).
There are plenty of logical reasons for why the Mavs should have kept the core together (pursuing stars is a risky pipe dream, maximize Dirk's final prime seasons, etc.) Using the Spurs as that reason is not one of them.
San Antonio is one of a kind. Dallas has a helluva ways to go to get to that point in terms of utilizing the draft and developing younger players.