2 players from the 1990s the Spurs need on the roster right now
The San Antonio Spurs are an iconic franchise. Their streak of 22 straight playoff appearances, in 20 of which they had 50 or more regular-season wins, is unmatched by any NBA franchise. Overall, out of 55 seasons in the league, they made the postseason 47 times, winning five titles in the process. However, it seems like rebuilding is on the agenda again, for the first time since the 1996-1997 season when they missed the playoffs due to a David Robinson injury.
Long gone are the days of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili, and the Spurs really need to get back to where they belong. The squad is very young and it is not expected that they will make the postseason for the next couple of years at least. The development of the core is crucial now, and making the playoffs right now is not the priority.
However, if someone gave Gregg Popovich the chance to reach back into time and bring back two players from the 1990s and put them into the squad, these two players might be difference-makers. It would be easy to go straight to Michael Jordan, so rather than doing that, the two players the Spurs would be bringing into the squad are Gary Payton and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Gary Payton – intensity, defense, toughness
The Glove, as he was called, is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the league. While he was not able to win a championship with his original franchise, the Seattle Supersonics, Payton brought so much to the table that any team right now would be happy to have him. However, the Spurs are specific in this regard. Payton did, in the end, manage to win a championship, playing on the 2006 Miami Heat team.
The Spurs would bring in Payton because most of their championships were brought by their defense. While we have all seen numerous videos and read long praises about the fluidity of the Spurs offense, it was their defensive stability that kept them in the top of the league for such a long time. The current team is not on par with the identity of the previous, championship Spurs who knew that everything comes from a successful stop on the defensive end.
If Payton brought it, his intensity would drive the other players into a better defensive position. He was relentlessly chasing guards around the court, pestering them at every opportunity. Payton also had amazing instincts and made sure that the opposing team knew that they will not get what they want on the offensive end. Additionally, he was definitely not a push-over and did not allow anyone to simply roll over him, not even the great Michael Jordan.
Popovich would also be the perfect coach for Payton. He values defenders a ton and still won four of the five championships with Tony Parker at the helm, who was not the greatest in that end. With Payton, who was able to score, run the offense and defend, Popovich’s coaching style would be better represented on the court. Also, paired up with Lonnie Walker Jr, the Spurs backcourt could lock up every guard in the league, week-in, week-out.
Hakeem Olajuwon – interior scoring, defense
It’s a no-brainer, generally, to understand why The Dream would waltz into any franchise in any era of NBA basketball. He was an amazing leader, a great offensive player, and a rock in the middle defensively. His Houston Rockets teams that won the championships in the middle of the 1990s completely relied on him for both ends of the floor and Hakeem took that very seriously. He would fit into this Spurs mentality we all know well in a heartbeat.
As it was said above for Payton, the identity of the Spurs was the fluidity of their offense and their tough defense. Guys like Bruce Bowen, Gary Neal, George Hill, and others were stalwarts in the team, even with limited offensive ability. Thus, to not go to the obvious David Robinson, Olajuwon is the absolute perfect choice here. Dictating the defense from the paint is what he does best and then, if the defense collapses, he would be a menace for opposing guards and wings in the middle.
Offensively, Olajuwon was on the same, superstar level. From his rookie season until the 13th year of his career, he averaged over 20 points per game, including a stretch between 1992 and 1996 where he averaged at least 26 points per game. Olajuwon was always super efficient, dropping below 50% shooting from the field only in the last three seasons of his career. Even if it is taken into consideration that he is a center, it is still amazing to keep up that level of constant efficiency and that is something akin to Duncan, a Spurs legend.
Olajuwon and Payton are both excellent examples of how players can be great on both ends of the floor. Olajuwon is the greater player, with more All-Star appearances, championships, and All-NBA teams. However, both would fit in great into the Spurs identity. An offensive player who could pass both Payton and Olajuwon on his path to the basket would really deserve the points he would be getting for his team. Right now, as it was said in the beginning, the Spurs are looking for new Payton’s and Olajuwon’s for the future, but it would be fun to see Popovich coach these two studs.