The San Antonio Spurs blew a five-point lead with 28 seconds remaining. A win would’ve clinched the NBA title. The Spurs lost that game in overtime. Then, they dropped Game 7 to the Miami Heat.
The Spurs used that heartbreak from 12 months ago to fuel them to a decisive five-game series win over Miami this season.
The 49ers – on the doorstep of a Super Bowl title in each of the past three seasons – know all about using the disappointment from one season to serve as motivation for the next. This will be their third consecutive try at adding to their collection of Lombardi trophies after narrowly missing out the previous season.
I’m more of a casual NBA follower, but I do keep regular tabs on the Spurs because one of my favorite players from the college program for which I hold season tickets plays for San Antonio.
Obviously, we’re talking about two completely different sports, but are there lessons to be learned from the Spurs’ ability to get over the hump this season after a near miss?
One thing that stands out about the Spurs is that coach Gregg Popovich does a great job of managing his veteran players with the big picture in mind. It is common for the Spurs to give multiple front-line players nights off throughout the course of the season to keep them fresh.
In a sense, that’s what Jim Harbaugh is doing this offseason. Really, only negative occurrences at this time of the year can have any real impact on a season.
A year ago in May workouts, Michael Crabtree sustained a torn Achilles. He missed the first 11 games of the season, and was a “shadow of himself” when he returned, according to one team source. (He still put up some pretty good numbers in his eight games on the field.)
The 49ers seem much more cognizant of the long journey this offseason. Crabtree is healthy, but he is not taking part in 11-on-11 work. Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin and Justin Smith are among the veterans who are remaining on the sideline during practices, too. The risk of injury far outweighs the positives that can be extracted from this phase of the offseason program.
It’s all about peaking at the right time. Of course, the 49ers must play well enough from September to December to make the playoffs. Then, the goal is to play their best football in January – and the first Sunday of February.
The season after the 49ers’ loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game, there was a singular focus throughout the offseason. The 49ers ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens the following season in Super Bowl XLVII.
Last offseason, there were an abundance of off-field issues. Still, the 49ers made it back to the NFC Championship game and came within one play of beating Seattle in the most-difficult road environment in football.
This offseason, the 49ers have again experienced off-field distractions. NaVorro Bowman, arguably their best defensive player, is likely to miss the first six games of the season while rehabbing from his knee injury. Aldon Smith's future is in question due to possible NFL discipline. But both should be ready for the important games late in the season.
And for the first time in a long time, the 49ers are contending with players unhappy with contract situations.
Tight end Vernon Davis, who said last week that he plans to attend the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp, wrote a piece for The MMQB entitled “Why I’m holding out.” Davis and guard Alex Boone have not taken part in the 49ers’ offseason program as they hope to leverage the 49ers for new contracts.
Obviously, each player must do what he believes is in his best interest. And sometimes that might involve actions that run contrary to helping his team achieve its ultimate goal.
The 49ers did a good job of keeping their team intact in the offseason. And they added some young players who have chances to improve the team. But this has been the worst offseason for the 49ers since 2012, in terms of everybody being on the same page and working together to finally get over the hump.