Tiago Splitter Does Exist
Since the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tiago Splitter in 2007, he’s been more a figment of the imagination than anything else. Video highlights of his play in Europe have been like analyzing plaster molds of Big Foot’s tracks or analyzing grainy pictures of Nessie. Skeptics believed that the Brazilian might never see the light of day in a Spurs’ uniform, and that this missing link of youth and athleticism would forever disappear into the black lagoon of basketball what ifs.
Since winning their last championship, the Spurs have lacked a formidable big man to pair with Tim Duncan. In 1999, it was the great David Robinson. In 2003, it was the less great Robinson. In 2005, it was a rotation of Nazr Mohammed, Rasho Nesterovic, and, in crunch time, Robert Horry. In 2007, Francisco Elson replaced the role of Mohammed and Fabricio Oberto was a shorter, better-passing Nesterovic, but since that last run, the Spurs have drifted further and further from the twin towers model that earned them their early success in the Duncan era and into a habit of using smaller and smaller lineups. This strategy may have worked with a younger Duncan–or if the Lakers did not feature a frontline of athletic sequoias– but as this year’s second round series against the Phoenix Suns made painfully obvious, Duncan can no longer guard the pick and roll. Secretly, deep down, most Spurs’ fans probably already knew this, which is why the Legend of Tiago became such a lynchpin in keeping the black and silver hopes for a championship alive. Now, the legend is fact, but what exactly does that mean for a team whose window appeared to have officially shut this past spring?
Timing is everything. It dictates relationships, political careers, and real estate value, and while the time may be right for Tiago personally to come over and join the Spurs, it may be too late for his teammates. Duncan is heading into the twilight of his career, and Ginobili is always an injury away from appearing in need of a walker; so it’s no wonder that the Spurs’ faithful are treating Tiago like some grand statue gifted from overseas to welcome the team’s tired and hungry back into the NBA’s elite ranks, and it may work. If the tales of Tiago’s passing skills in the post, his ability to post up on his own, and his ability to be the team’s primary defense against the pick and roll are true, then maybe the Spurs have what it takes to threaten the Lakers’ reign out west and to rise out of the murky waters like some prehistoric beast long thought extinct.
The Spurs have managed to rebuild a promising supporting cast since 2007. While most people focus on the ages of Duncan and Ginobili, the rest of the Spurs are fairly young. Tony Parker, who was injured most of last year, is 27. George Hill, who made a name for himself in the series against Dallas, will be in his third year and is only 23. DeJaun Blair is just 20, and Pop’s new favorite, Garrett Temple, is 23, and, hopefully, the Spurs can resign Richard Jefferson, 29, to less money than the New Jersey Nets are now paying Travis Outlaw. Add Antonio McDyess, Malik Hairston, and Matt Bonner to this mix, along with Tiago, and the Spurs now have more size and flexibility on their bench and look like a team worth noticing in a Western Conference that after the Lakers is full of question marks.
The problem with legendary monsters is that upon closer inspection science renders them normal and no longer thought-provoking, but let’s hope that’s not the case here because the NBA will be a lot more interesting next season if Tiago Splitter really does have three heads that breathe fire, ice, and lightning.
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