Success for the Spurs can be measured by the number of championship trophies, four exactly, but in terms of respect? You can put a number on that, too, although, unlike the trophies, that figure isn't stuck in neutral. That number is growing, both rapidly and firmly, and threatening to overtake the NBA.

Respect is seven general managers spread around the league, seven GMs who got their start with the Spurs and their smarts from the Spurs, seven GMs trying to mold their current team using the philosophy lifted from the Spurs. That's seven GMs who had the good fortune to lean on Tim Duncan for wins and Gregg Popovich for advice.

It was Popovich who created the culture of the Spurs two decades ago, first as general manager, then as coach, always teaching his future GMs and challenging them as well.

"Did he ever yell at me?" asked Kevin Pritchard, the GM of the Pacers. He paused and rolled his eyes and reacted as though it was the most obvious question he had ever heard.

"Oh, yeah," Pritchard said. "You see how Pop treats those sideline reporters on TV?"

Pritchard laughed. "He really wasn't anything like that. And besides, even if that were the case, I wouldn't have it any other way. He's demanding but for good reasons. He has high standards and everyone who ever worked there and left the organization has taken those standards with them."

No team in the NBA, maybe in professional sports, has shown a longer reach than the Spurs over the last decade. Besides the seven GMs, four current head coaches (down from five after Mike Brown was fired) and 10 assistant coaches once punched timesheets in San Antonio. The family tree stretches coast-to-coast, all because the league holds the Spurs in the highest regard. Nothing screams respect more than having Spurs on your resume. And nothing screams model franchise like the Spurs.

For years they've drafted well, signed the right free agents and always kept an amazingly manageable payroll for a championship contender. There's lots of stability, too, with Popovich and R.C. Buford a coach-GM combo for almost 20 years. The only time movement happens is when front-office assistants are poached by NBA teams looking for some Spurs-like results.

"Our players and owner, along with Pop, have made this such a good environment that people enjoy being a part of it," said Buford. "It has allowed us to have a good crop of talented individuals who are interested in joining our group."

Danny Ferry of the Hawks loved the San Antonio experience so much he went back to the Spurs for another round of assistant duty after his first GM stint ended in Cleveland.

"It was a fun place to work the first time and even more the second time," he said. "It's the atmosphere. Everyone's opinion matters. They want to know what you think and how you can improve the team. It's inclusive and value-driven. From an organizational standpoint everyone is firm on how things should be done."

It wasn't a rock of a franchise from the start. The Spurs had David Robinson but couldn't win a championship, and when he got hurt early in the 1996-97 season, the results were predictably disastrous. Popovich fired Bob Hill 18 games in and took over coaching a 20-win train wreck. But that allowed the Spurs to luck into the No. 1 pick and get Duncan and it's been heaven ever since.

Although Duncan's impact can't be overstated, after all he did become a future Hall of Famer and twice refused to leave as a free agent, the Spurs' organizational wizardry helped just as much. They never drafted anywhere near as high again but Popovich and Buford still found Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to form a championship core. Then they aced the search for role players: Bruce Bowen, Steve Kerr, Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Kawhi Leonard, etc., etc., all arriving at the right time.

And rarely did the Spurs' payroll soar to the top 10 during this time, making them the best value in basketball if not all sports, then and now. You seldom see any dead weight on the roster. That's further evidence of how the Spurs are run with the efficiency of a Swiss timepiece, and that in turn is reflected in the local support by the fans and community, unsurpassed anywhere by anyone.

Quite naturally, when GM jobs opened, teams came shaking down the Spurs to find junior execs who could duplicate the same success. It's a lot like NFL teams once did when they needed head coaches; they just rattled Bill Walsh's tree for the ripe fruit and found Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden and many others.

"All of them have the character and basketball intellect that puts them in position to make decisions that will allow them to build something," said Buford. "They'll develop their own system and process and identity. We go to bed here every night checking the scores to see if they're doing well."

For the most part, they're doing fine. A check around the league finds ex-Spurs trying to change the culture of several teams currently in transition.

Ferry: Since he was a kid, he's had the ear of his father Bob, the architect of the Bullets' championship team, and Mike Krzyzewski, whom he played for at Duke, before Popovich and Buford. So Ferry isn't hurting for knowledge. He couldn't find enough help for LeBron James to last in Cleveland but fans in Atlanta were ready to erect a Ferry statue when he arrived last summer and immediately sent Joe Johnson and that big contract to Brooklyn.

Ferry has carte blanche with the Hawks, who have a more committed ownership group, and money to spend next summer. The Hawks have never reached the East finals and can't seem to seduce A-list free agents. But if he gets Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul, Ferry becomes the new Rhett Butler in Atlanta.

Dell Demps: He had to overcome a tough situation last winter when the Hornets, then league-owned, killed Demps' first attempt at trading Chris Paul. But Demps has done a commendable job under trying ownership circumstances, better than anyone could imagine. He made Monty Williams, an ex-Spurs' assistant, the league's youngest coach and that has paid off. Now he has a workable payroll, a franchise big man and new ownership. You have to like where the Hornets and Demps are headed.

Sam Presti: He built the Thunder into a championship contender in a short time by adding Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and a solid bench to the superstar he inherited, Kevin Durant. That was good enough to reach the NBA Finals and gave Presti the genius tag. Oklahoma City became a smash, a small-market team made good, but Presti knew the bill would eventually come due and he'd have to make a bold decision.

That D-Day happened when Presti (and ownership) decided Harden was too pricey to keep and sent the Sixth Man to Houston. OKC is still winning, though, and therefore, so is Presti.

Rob Hennigan: Imagine being a first-time GM and your first duty is trading Dwight Howard. That's what awaited Hennigan when he took over a mess in Orlando. He didn't get a superstar in return but hopes to turn the cap flexibility into a payoff in the next few summers.

Kevin Pritchard: After a short and unhappy stint in Portland, Pritchard was the choice of outgoing GM Larry Bird to take over in Indiana. Because Bird made most of the recent changes involving the Pacers just before retiring, Pritchard's touch will come later, maybe at the trade deadline if the Pacers continue to bumble through the season.

Lance Blanks: The Suns are rebuilding with the Steve Nash era over, and even if he has bold ideas, you fear Blanks must overcome a shaky ownership and financial situation in Phoenix.

Dennis Lindsey: Utah is loaded with young players just beginning to mature and drop hints about their future. In due time, perhaps at the trade deadline, Lindsey must make some tough decisions to reduce the logjam on the front line and also figure what to do with free agents Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

"I think we all have unique situations that aren't quite the same," said Pritchard. "Some of our teams are a little further along than others. Still, your basic approach never changes. You're doing everything you can to make your team better, both now and in the future."

Eventually, the swollen amount of ex-Spurs will lead to some interesting situations. Like, trade discussions between executives who know each other's secrets and tactics. So far, there hasn't been a major deal struck between any of them. Then there's the chance of one GM battling the other in a playoff series or with a title at stake, which happened last summer when the Thunder and Presti laid the wood to the Spurs, winning in a sweep.

"You were excited about his success," said Buford. "I just wished it hadn't happened at our expense."

The Spurs' reputation for grooming future leaders is expanding so rapidly that, last summer, Scott Layden quit his job as assistant coach in Utah, where he spent almost his entire his professional life, to be a front-office assistant in San Antonio.

Yes, they are now officially a factory, sending out future GMs and coaches on a conveyor belt, threatening NBA world dominance. Or something like that. With the Spurs serving as a pipeline, we now know what's the most coveted job in the league: Junior executive in San Antonio.

"You know what?" said Buford. "We do get a strong pool of intern candidates. I've noticed that lately."