Q&A: Spurs GM R.C. Buford

Posted by Unknown on Sunday, June 15, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Dan McCarney

Does it matter to you that people are responding so positively to this team? That maybe this is the way the game is supposed to be played?
“I don’t know that anybody has the right to determine how the game is supposed to be played. You try to play to the strengths of your team and put your players in position to be successful. Pop and this group has done a good job of that. Our intent is to try and play well and win games. Everybody has that goal, and their team fits differently. To say, there’s a way that looks beautiful, I don’t know how you even can judge that.”
What about staying competitive all these years, never having a dip or drop-off?
“I’m sure we’ll experience that (soon).”
How do you do it, with the same group, without having to refuel in the lottery?
“The commitment that Tim and Manu and Pop and Tony have provided to our organization is the foundation of that. It’s allowed us to be successful.”
Was there ever a moment it looked like breaking up the Big Three was the best option?
“There were times that other people said we should be breaking it up. But what’s the alternative? Our best alternative was to keep the group together. There were some givens. I don’t think we were going to trade Tim Duncan, and maybe others. With that being the case, assuming that wasn’t going to happen, what were you going to do? Our best solution to to keep the group together, to meet their expectations. I don’t think we really worry about anybody else’s expectations except our group’s, and the commitment we have to them.”
The night of the Kawhi Leonard trade, it did feel like a seminal moment?
“Hell no … Actually it did. I thought we were about to get our asses chewed because we just traded the coach’s favorite player. We were anticipating it being a seminal moment. I anticipated a lot of things that night. Not only the reaction (from Pop), but Tim, Tony and Manu. Those guys had a really strong alignment with George (Hill). They had been through a lot together. There was concern for them, not only that they were losing a great friend, but also a great teammate. The trust that that group allowed us to make us make that move. Because we don’t do that without including them. That trust was vital to them saying, OK. We don’t like this, but we’ll see.”
Did those guys express that to you?
“Those guys are free to express themselves to us. We always listen. Then sometimes we have to make decisions that don’t always align with consent.”
Was there someone who saw tape on Kawhi and said, ‘We have to have this guy?’”
“We don’t do this individually. Except for (Sam) Presti picking Parker, this has been a group thing. George was important to our group. From a roster-management standpoint, we felt it was the right thing to do. But we’d be foolish to say we knew Kawhi would be who he is today.”
Did you know about Boris Diaw even before his Atlanta days?
“If we scouted Tony, we knew about Boris. They had been best friends since they were teenagers. Where we were drafting, we would have been thrilled if we could have drafted Boris, but it didn’t happen. Even before that draft, Boris had been here to visit Tony a lot. We knew who he was. Then over the course of time, he kicked our ass when he was in Phoenix quite a bit. It didn’t surprise us. We knew how good a player he was.”
After he played so well with Suns, did you figure there was any way to get him?
“I don’t know … they traded him. Obviously there was a market for him at that time. I don’t think you look at it each day and say, we’re not going to get him. You say, ‘Oh, he fits what they’re doing.’ When there’s motion for them to trade him, you have to make a value proposition. Is the contract, what he’s under, does it fit what you have?”
How have new assistant coaches changed the team?
“I don’t know how it’s changed the team. I know that the chemistry of the coaching staff was a huge concern, when you have two people (Mike Budenhozer and Brett Brown) who had been as big a part of the program as those guys leave. We knew the chemistry that Sean (Marks) had with this group because he had been a part of our culture for a long time. Jim (Boylen) coming in, I’m sure there were challenges for him and the rest of the staff. The one thing that Pop has shown, he’s eager to have input from everyone. A new voice gave him in opportunity to get new ideas.”
People have an idea that there’s a system in place, a “Spurs Way”…
“The Spurs Way has been different over the course of this time. It’s been built to fit the strengths of our team. We both grew up under Coach (Larry) Brown. And Larry thinks there’s a wino on the street corner who has the perfect out-of-bounds play, so he’ll listen to anybody. That rubbed off on us. We grew up under that burden.” (Laughs)
Players get asked about losing in the Finals last year. For you, without the cathartic experience of playing, how devastated for you? Has the experience been the same?
“I don’t think it’s left any of our minds. But (revenge) is not what we do or why we do it. We’re trying to put our best team together. Those guys are being thrust into the moment more often than we are. But our commitment to this group doesn’t change because of last year. The commitment is to put the best group together with them, for them. It’s fun to see them play well and have success.”
Did you get away last year or just throw yourself back into work?
“The draft was June 25th, and free agency started July 1st. Then summer league. Everyone gets their moments away, but it doesn’t happen right after the Finals.”
Did you have a mourning period, maybe later in the summer?
“I think we’re still in a mourning period. I don’t know. It’s not a time that begins and ends.”
Pop was waxing a little bit nostalgic about the franchise. Is there any succession plan or an idea of what happens next (when he and Duncan retire)?
“We’ve already got Tim’s successor picked out.”
Yeah? He’s in the 2016 draft?
“Yeah, at No. 30. I have to call Presti.” (Laughter)
But it’s your job to have the plan in place. Can you even consider that future?
“I think you always consider. I don’t know if you’ll know what the opportunities will be. Hopefully you’ll have built organization to be as flexible as it can be at the time opportunities are created. But I can’t predict when that will happen, nor know when you have one of the great players of all time and one of the great coaches of all times how you’re going to fill those shoes. Because you’re not.”
What will it be like to walk into this building and not have those guys around?
“Who says I’ll be walking in this building?” (Laughter)
Will you leave with them?
“There have been worse ideas. I might not show back up. What will it be like…it will be numbing and changing. Those are the people we’ve worked with and battled with, and committed ourselves to as they’ve committed to us. It will be hard…why are we talking about this?”
Do you assume they’ll both back next season?
“I’ve had nobody tell me anything in regards to whether they are or they aren’t. That’s not our concern right now.”
With so many international players, how much has that been the foundation of what you’ve done? Has that been the key?
“The key was getting Tim Duncan in the lottery, and that didn’t have a damn thing to do with where we were scouting. That rock was already turned over. I think the key has been to, let’s take advantage of the advantages that are available to us and not put any boundaries around where we can find basketball players. Fortunately we have a coach who has not only a great appreciation for them as players, but as people and the contributions they’ve made to our culture.”
So was the 1997 lottery the turning point, when everything changed?
“No, it changed in ’87, when David (Robinson) was drafted. He didn’t get here until ’89, but that group from ’89 to ’96, they had a conference finals, they won a lot of damn games. David’s injuries, Avery’s injuries, Sean’s injuries that year threw us into a position where an opportunity happened. But the commitment of the guys that were here before Tim is when this started to be built.”
We talk of Tim, Tony and Manu almost like one person. When did that kind of come together?
“I think it’s evolved. Tim allowed it and Pop allowed it. There are places where it wouldn’t have become the three of them. Tim allowed that to happen, probably wanted it to diffuse some of the attention. The way he allowed us to change the way we’ve played. He didn’t require us to throw the ball into the left block every time down the floor. And the beauty of it is how Pop developed those relationships, with himself and among that group. Now that you sit back and see they’ve had so many  wins together, I would hope they’ll reflect back on this experience as something they were proud to be a part of.”