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Evolving Spurs looking to break in more new players this season

The Silver and Black begin their four-day training camp Tuesday at their practice facility.

Spurs training camp at a glance

Starts: Tuesday, Oct. 1

Ends: Friday, Oct 4

First preseason game: vs. Orlando, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., AT&T Center

First regular-season game: vs. New York Knicks, Oct. 23, AT&T Center

SAN ANTONIO – Five months after bowing out of the playoffs in the first round for the second year in a row, the Spurs remain a team in transition.

With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker no longer in uniform, gone are the days when the Silver and Black were good for at least 50 victories during the regular season.

The Spurs strung together a league-record 18 consecutive 50-win seasons from 1999-2000 to 2016-17 before finishing 47-35 in 2018. San Antonio went 48-34 last season and advanced to the playoffs as a No. 7 seed.

The Silver and Black fell to Denver in a grinding, first-round series that went seven games. And so began another long offseason.

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There will be no shortage of storylines when the Spurs open their four-day training camp Tuesday at the team's practice facility. At the top of the list will be the return of point guard Dejounte Murray, who missed the entire 2018-19 regular season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in an exhibition game.

Murray was set to start the season as the Silver and Black’s starting point guard last year before he sustained the first serious injury of his basketball career. Determined to get back on the floor, Murray put himself through a grueling rehab program, working out six days a week for first eight months after getting injured.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray goes down with a season-ending knee injury while driving to the basket against the Houston Rockets in a preseason game last Oct. 7 at the AT&T Center.

“I feel great mentally,” Murray said in mid-June.. “That’s the most important part because it’s bigger than basketball, how I feel as a person. I feel good. I’m happy. I wouldn’t let nothing like that break me.

"I love to work. I love to learn. I’m just excited to get to training camp. You can forget about preseason and the season. I’m just excited about training camp.”

All eyes will be on Murray when the Spurs have their annual Media Day on Monday. 

Another compelling storyline will be the Duncan's first season as an assistant coach. Duncan ended his career as the greatest player in Spurs history after the 2015-16 season, but he never really rode into the sunset. He has been a regular at team practices the past two years, working out on his own or mixing it up with players after workouts.

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Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who won five NBA championships together, became kindred spirits during Duncan's storied 19-year career with San Antonio. It’s not hyperbole to say they will be inextricably linked long after they step away from basketball for good.

Popovich had the best line of the day when the Spurs announced Duncan was joining the team's coaching staff.

“It is only fitting that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said in the Spurs’ news release.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Spurs power forward Tim Duncan was voted MVP of the 1999 Finals after averaging 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks.

Popovich is starting his 23rd training camp with the Spurs, who moved from Dallas, where they were known as the Chaparrals, to San Antonio before the 1973-74 season. They were among four ABA teams that moved into the NBA before the 1976-77 season.

Murray was selected by the Silver and Black with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft. He supplanted Parker as the team's starting point guard in January 2018 and averaged 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.2 steals in his second season.

The Spurs not only lost their point guard when Murray went down, they had to move forward without their best perimeter defender. Murray was named to the NBA  All-Defensive Second Team after the 2017-18 season, becoming the youngest player in league history (he was 21) to make the All-Defensive Team.

Derrick White, a second-year pro, became San Antonio's starting point after Murray was sidelined for the season.

White proved to be a quick learner, impressing coaches with his ability to adapt to different situations at the NBA level.

“I learned how important defense is, especially in this organization,” White said. “I’ve got to take a lot of pride on that end if I want to get in the game. That’s something I’ve been focusing on – the size and the physicality of all the players. I had to spend a lot of time in the weight room and get a little bigger, get a little stronger.”

White was selected by the Spurs with the 29th pick in the 2017-18 NBA draft. He played at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs for three seasons before completing his college career at Colorado in 2016-17.

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