Saturday, July 12, 2008

Express News: Patience pays off for newest Spur Mason

Roger Mason Jr. walked into the Spurs' practice facility Friday for the first time since telling the Spurs “no.”

It was just last August he turned down a 3-year deal worth $1 million per season to come to San Antonio, choosing instead to spend another season in Washington, a roll of the dice meant to see if he could increase his stock and his payday.

Eleven months later, he is back in San Antonio, a gamble made good.

Mason, a 6-foot-5 guard, was introduced as the newest member of the Spurs on Friday, two days after agreeing to a two-year contract.

The deal is expected to pay him roughly $7.5 million — or more than three times more per year than he would have made had he said, “yes” to the Spurs last summer.

“It was tough,” Mason said of his previous decision to rebuff the four-time NBA champions. “I just knew that, with all the time I spent in the gym, if I got a lucky break, an opportunity, I'd be able to show off a little bit more.”

Mason got that break — lucky for him, unlucky for the Wizards — when All-Star Gilbert Arenas went down with a knee injury eight games into the season.

That afforded Mason, 27, plenty of playing time off the bench in Washington. He made the most of it, averaging 9.1 points and shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line in what was his first full season as an NBA regular.

When Antonio Daniels got hurt later in the year, Mason got to showcase his versatility by filling in at point guard for the Wizards.

All told, it was a breakout year for Mason, a late-bloomer in his fourth season in the league — one he parlayed into a fatter paycheck with Peter Holt's name on it.

“To Roger's credit, he went out and proved he deserved a much bigger opportunity than we talked about last year,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said.

It took more than promise of a bigger bank account to lure Mason away from Washington D.C., the city in which he was born and raised.

In San Antonio, he has the opportunity for more playing time than he was likely to earn with the Wizards — either as a possible starting shooting guard, depending on the future of free agent Michael Finley, or as a backup point guard.

He also ought to have an opportunity to play deeper into the postseason than he ever has. Each of his two seasons with the Wizards ended with Cleveland bouncing them from the playoffs in the first round.

All Mason had to do was glance at the four championship banners on the wall of the Spurs practice facility Friday to know the expectations are higher on the banks of the San Antonio River than they are on the banks of the Potomac.

“You think of San Antonio, you think of title contender,” Mason said. “In Washington, we got beat in the first round. When the playoffs get to June, I'd usually cut the TV off. Hopefully, my friends will be watching me this year.”

The Spurs' courtship of Mason — and he of them — was a year in the making, and maybe longer. Mason auditioned in each of the past two summers for the Spurs, and so impressed them last year that he left with a contract offer.

The Spurs made an impression on Mason as well, beginning with the most prominent man in their locker room.

“I was in a mini-camp, and it was in August, and Tim Duncan was in here playing with us free agent guys,” Mason said. “That tells you what kind of team this is, when your best player is here in August with rookies and free agents who might not even be in the NBA, and he's busting his you-know-what.”

The Spurs believe Mason, renowned for his work ethic and willingness to fill any role, will fit in nicely with their team-first program.

“When we started to differentiate who we were going to go after (in free agency), the guy at the top of the list as far as who's a Spur — that was Roger,” Buford said. “That's what made it easy for us to move him to the top of the list.”

And so, Mason was back in San Antonio on Friday. Nearly a year after telling the Spurs no, he was here to tell them yes.

“I feel blessed, there's no question,” Mason said. “God has given me a great opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it. I feel like my career is still going up.”

No comments:

Sports Top Blogs