Back in black

THERE'S A WORD in San Antonio that is verboten, a term so antithetical to the Spurs' culture that it might as well be an expletive. If you work for the team, you don't seek "credit." You run from it. You hide from it. Needless to say, San Antonio functions unlike any other organization in basketball; its mind-numbing consistency (17 straight playoff appearances) is a byproduct of stability at every level, from owner Peter Holt, GM R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich to star players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And that group is always searching for the next innovative edge to lengthen this improbable run. Says an Eastern Conference GM, "The Spurs are always adapting. Everyone who has left San Antonio is trying to re-create their model. But you only get to where they were, not where they're going, because they lead the process." While the Spurs may deflect attention for their success, that won't stop us from highlighting five factors that are playing a formative role in their quest for a fifth title.