SAN ANTONIO – It could be worse for the Spurs.
The Silver and Black will start the season without All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, but it’s not as though they expected him to be ready for Wednesday night’s opener against Minnesota.
After all, Leonard never practiced during training camp as he rehabbed a lingering quadriceps injury, missing all five of the team’s preseason games. The Spurs announced during the Silver and Black scrimmage Sept. 30 that Leonard was expected to miss the entire preseason.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the scrimmage that there was no timetable for Leonard’s return. Nothing has changed since then.
Popovich said before Friday’s preseason finale in Houston that Leonard would not play in Wednesday night’s opener at the AT&T Center.
“Obviously, we’d love to have everyone healthy,” backup guard Patty Mills said Sunday after practice. “But this is the first game. It’s not the start of the playoffs.”
The Silver and Black also will be without veteran point guard Tony Parker, who continues to rehab after rupturing a left quadriceps tendon in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last season. Parker said at the team’s media day last month that he expects to be sidelined until at least mid-November.
“From the beginning, it’s been us,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “It’s not that we had Kawhi and he got hurt yesterday. “Of course, we’re not going to be the best we can be without him, but it’s not going to be a big adjustment because for five preseason games we’ve been playing without him.
“But for sure, it’s not the Spurs team that we thought we were going to be at this stage. We’re going to try to get as many wins as possible for when they come (back), the team is already rolling and we are in sort of a comfortable situation.”
Obviously, the Spurs would face a tougher challenge if Leonard had sustained his injury late in the preseason. Therein lies the silver lining. The Silver and Black have had two weeks to work on meshing without their best player on the floor.
“It’s unfortunate because we need him, but the good thing is that so far, we’ve played every practice, every scrimmage, every game without him, so we’ve had time to adjust,” Ginobili said. “But we’re not as talented and as deep as we thought we were going to be for the opening night.”
Ginobili likes the way the team has come together, although he threw in a cautionary note.
“Last game, by far, was the best one,” he said, referring to the 106-97 victory against the Rockets. “I think we were more solid than the ones before. Still have a long way to go. We haven’t even put, probably we are less than 50 percent of the plays we are going to be running.
“It’s a process. It’s going to be slow and we want to be good, as I always say it, we want to be the best in March, April, May. But I think we’re in a good stage. We’ve already got some chemistry built up. It’s not that we’re all new. The new pieces are doing well.”
Ginobili turned 40 in July and is the second-oldest player in the NBA behind Vince Carter. Preparing for his 16th season with San Antonio, Ginobili has won four league championships with the only NBA team he’s played for during his hall-of-fame career.
Given Popovich’s history with injured players, there’s no telling when Leonard will return. Popovich did not speak to the media Sunday.
But Ginobili and other Spurs say they are prepared to hold down the fort while Leonard and Parker continue their rehab work.
“I don’t think anything has changed from our preparation since day one of this year and this training camp,” backup guard Patty Mills said. “Obviously, it’s our first game, but I don’t think the mindset has changed and how we’ve prepared in the past. The difference is that it’s public knowledge and it’s official not having Kawhi and Tony.”
The Spurs played relatively well in the preseason, going 3-2 after beating Houston. The Rockets rested All-Star guard Chris Paul, who left the Los Angeles Clippers to sign with Houston this summer.
Popovich said several times during training camp that he’s been pleased with the way the new players have picked up the Spurs’ system.
“I’ve really been impressed with how quickly everyone has bought into the system and accepted their role for what it is, and try to execute it,” Mills said. “It’s obviously something that’s not easy to do, but in terms of that we’re on the right track.”
Veteran forward/center Pau Gasol talked about the challenge the Spurs will face without Leonard and Parker.
“It’s not so much as holding the fort, but just try to play the best we can with the guys we have available and try to win ballgames in the meantime,” Gasol said. “You don’t want to just say you’re holding the fort or kind of take it, take it, take it until they come back. What you want to be is aggressive and play your best with the guys you have available.
“I think that we focus on the things that we can control, focus on our defensive principles, make sure we play well offensively, unselfishly, and play right, execute. If we do that, we still have a pretty good chance to beat a lot of teams in this league. Let’s see if we can start off well.”
Spurs pick up option on Murray: The Silver and Black have exercised their third-year team option on point guard Dejounte Murray for 2018-19 season, the franchise announced Sunday.
Murray is starting his second season with San Antonio after being selected by the Spurs with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft. He is expected to start at point guard for Tony Parker when the Spurs open their season Wednesday night against Minnesota.
Murray averaged 3.4 points, 1.3 assists and 1.1 rebounds in 8.5 minutes in 38 games as a rookie. He stepped up his game in the playoffs, averaging 5.7 points, 2.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 15.3 minutes.