When the Spurs made their championship run in 1998-99, starting two-guard Mario Elie was the perfect fit for San Antonio, a fundamentally sound team burdened with the dubious title of "soft" by the rest of the league.
Born and raised in New York City, Elie was anything but soft. A brash marksman from the perimeter, the Elie provided the leadership (he won a ring with Houston in 1994) and toughness the team needed in tough seven-game series.
Fast-forward two years and Elie is gone, but his replacement at shooting guard, Derek Anderson, is just what the Spurs need this time around to make another title run. San Antonio is no longer thought of as soft. The Spurs are solid, and, when healthy, they're nearly unstoppable.
Anderson, a slasher with a first step as quick as any in the league, provides the youthful energy Elie lacked. These days, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Avery Johnson provide the team leadership that Elie contributed in 1999. Anderson is counted on for his free-wheeling open-court play, which opens the floor for the Twin Towers.
Soft-spoken and young, Anderson is everything Elie is not, but Spurs coaches will tell you Anderson was the best pick-up they could have made last offseason. "On top of everything else," assistant coach Mike Brown said, "Derek's a much better 3-point shooter than we thought."
If the team stays healthy throughout the playoffs, look for the Spurs to contend for their second title, and look for Anderson to play a significant role, many nights as the team's second-leading scorer.
-- CNNSI.com's Mark Button