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And the Band Played On

By Jeff Koch on November 2, 2012.

There’s a neat little trick in songwriting and performance: rather than devising a complicated melody, you compose a rather simple one, and then make the song “move” around that simple melody. Just a simple 3 or 4 note (or even less) line, and then change the chords underneath that line, over and over. By keeping the overriding melody simple, you can create a line that will live in the mind of the listener long after the song has finished playing, the type of hook that reverberates in your subconscious for hours, days, weeks.

The Spurs are this melody; the NBA is everything else around it.

Think of how insanely long this core of Duncan, Pop, Ginobili, and Parker have been together, and all the chord changes we’ve heard underneath it for the last decade. The Lakers rose, fell, rose again, fell again, and appear to be on the brink of doing something exciting and different again. The Kings were on the cusp, and then they were the worst run team in the league. The Jazz were there for a moment, then lost their signature players, and appear to be re-branding yet again. The Heat captured a quick championship, bottomed out, than became the model for the new type of super-Dynasty. The Pistons were the Spurs of the East, except they never were. The Sonics and Nuggets gave us good battles in the playoffs, but never really turned into anything (except the Thunder, but not before bottoming outO. Portland was always just there, but never was.

I bring this all up tonight because this most recent version of the Thunder appeared to be built in the same mold as the Spurs (built largely on minds from the Spurs organization). They were building from within, nurturing chemistry and character, and even striking gold in the draft on a couple of occasions. They even had the most similar version of the Big 3, what with a transcendent forward, a lightning-quick (and somewhat lightning-rod) PG, and a dynamic 6th-man that might actually be the most important piece of the puzzle. Much as the Spurs have been at the top for over a decade, this incarnation of the Thunder seemed poised to do the same, even (unceremoniously) taking the torch from us last Spring.

And then one evening last week it all changed: the Thunder traded James Harden.

And the craziest part about it was that it wasn’t crazy at all. Looking at both sides, there is no fault, no blame. Harden is an amazing player, deserving of money that OKC didn’t think they could afford to pay. You can argue either side all you want, but both can stake claim to a reasonable argument. Harden was worth more money than OKC offered because he got that money (the market sets itself). In this new era, OKC could ill-afford to invest all of that into just 3 (4 if you count Ibaka) players.

It was all sound, and, as an NBA fan, it was all sad.

As a Spurs fan, it made me realize the true craziness of this story was just how amazing the Spurs’ cohesion over this last decade has been. How has no team swept in and outbid us for Parker or Ginobili? Surely there was a time when Manu was worth more than we could afford? Parker signed his extension a year earlier than he needed to…and a year earlier than his best season to date, a season that would have surely gotten him huge offers on the open market. Hell, Duncan took less than the max at the peak of his powers when the max was offered to him without a second thought.

I’m not trying to say that OKC or Harden or anybody did anything wrong or disloyal; what I’m trying to say is that the Spurs caught lightning in a bottle, and, more impressively, have kept that lightning producing sparks for over a decade. We’re probably the most spoiled fan base in all of sports.

As for the game, it was a good one, and not just because of Parker’s game winner. No, these two teams got under each other’s skin last post-season, and they go at each other hard. Not in an acrimonious Heat-Celtics kind of way. In a competitive, we’re-not-giving-up-an-inch-or-the-conference-to-you kind of way. It’s so much fun to watch. To get a game this good this early in the season is a treat.

I think Kevin Martin adds a dimension to the Thunder that they were missing, and they can spread the floor a lot better than they used to. But what they lost in Harden was that fear at the end of games. Down the stretch of those playoff games, every possession seemed hopeless, as either Durant, Westbrook, or Harden did something crazy-good to push them to victory. Martin in no way inspires that same dread. I don’t think the Thunder are appreciably worse (maybe just a smidge), but I do think they are appreciably more handle-able, especially in the end game.

And as Bill Simmons tweeted tonight, with the Thunder coming down ever so slightly, and the Lakers having all the talent in the world with none of the chemistry, the West is wide open. And the Spurs have as good a chance as any team to walk through that door into the NBA Finals.

Plucking the same little 3-note melody we’ve been listening to for years and years the entire way.

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