SAN ANTONIO – Their season opener only a week away, the Spurs are getting down to the nitty gritty of game preparation as another training camp winds down.
The team will take a break from the grind of workouts with the Silver and Black open scrimmage at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the AT&T Center. Admission is free and seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Spurs, who host Houston in their preseason finale Friday night, start their 44th season against two-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State on Oct. 25 in Oakland, Calif. They play New Orleans in their home opener on Saturday, Oct. 29.
“The whole season is just a progression,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Monday. “It doesn’t change really from year to year, except for the speed in which the group is accepting and understanding information. Assessing the talent level, our needs, guys that we’re thinking about for making the team, that kind of stuff. It’s not much different from any other year.”
Yet, the retirement of franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan this summer has made it a markedly different year. The Spurs signed free agent Pau Gasol, a six-time All-Star, to take Duncan’s spot in the lineup. The team signed two other free agents, forward David Lee and center Dewayne Dedmon, who also will be part of the regular rotation.
With so many new faces on the team, has Popovich had to be more patient and slowed down the pace of his teaching during this training camp?
“Not really because they’ve all been pretty quick,” he said. “All the guys that weren’t familiar with the program have understood everything that we’ve tried to throw at them and done a good job with it. They’re all aggressive people, competitive. I guess you would be at this level, but they’ve done a good job.
“We haven’t had to really slow down for anybody. We’ve taken a little bit extra time. They come early to practice, stay a little bit later than a Manu (Ginobili) or a Tony (Parker). They’ve caught up.”
Popovich drew a few laughs from the media with his reply to a question about whether it’s more “fun” for him to coach when he has so many new players.
“I don’t really have a fun meter,” Popovich said. “That’s like ‘How happy are you?’ Fun is the same thing. Let me check my fun meter and I’ll get back to you.”
What will Popovich be looking for in the team’s final preseason game Friday night?
“All the same stuff that I just mentioned,” he said. “Assess talent. Assess understanding. See who works well together.”
One of the bright spots in training camp has been 6-foot-10 forward Davis Bertans, who has played professionally in Europe. From Latvia, Bertans was obtained from Indiana in the same draft-night deal that sent George Hill to the Pacers for Kawhi Leonard. Bertans is a solid threat as a 3-point shooter, and has shown he’s more athletic than some may have thought before he started training camp.
“We’ve watched him play for several years now,” Popovich said. “He’s not a surprise, other than maybe he’s a bit more athletic than we were expecting. His speed, quickness is better than one might think, watching film of him. Guys that have gone over to watch him have always been impressed with him. For people like myself, who have only seen him on film, for the most part, he was a nice, small surprise. He’s had a really good camp.”
Ginobili also praised Bertans when he was asked if he could be compared to former Spurs forward Matt Bonner, who played 10 seasons with San Antonio before he was released this summer.
“Matty had a great career,” Ginobili said. “He got championships, played 10 years with one team. I think he’s not a bad comparison, for sure. He (Bertans) has the potential to do more because of his athleticism, because of his size, quick release. He’s going to need a little time to adjust. He’s going to play. Pop likes his game. Opponents are going to have to respect his shot.”
Leonard won’t skip preseason finale: Kawhi Leonard said earlier that he will not attend his induction into the San Diego State Aztec Hall of Fame on Friday, opting to play in the Spurs’ last preseason game instead.
“My goal right now is to get this team ready,” Leonard said. “I thank San Diego for honoring me and I wish those guys luck in the upcoming season. They understand what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Leonard’s decision to skip the hall of fame induction to play in a preseason game did not surprise Popovich.
“Kawhi is like Timmy in that regard,” he said. “Accolades don’t mean anything to him. He just wants to win NBA championships. It really is all he thinks about as far as basketball’s concerned.”
With the team’s permission, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge skipped the Spurs’ preseason game against Miami last Friday night to attend his induction into the University of Texas Men’s Athletic Hall of Honor.
Leonard played at San Diego State for two seasons (2009-2011), and helped lead the Aztecs to a school-record 34 victories and their first NCAA Tournament victory as a sophomore in 2010-11. SDSU advanced to the NCAA Tournament both seasons Leonard was on the team. The Aztecs made the Sweet 16 in 2011.
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