Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MySA: Relatively Good News About Hill's Thumb

By Mike Monroe

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ordinarily, you would not be happy about a medical report that calls a thumb injury a bad sprain, but the Spurs were moderately relieved on Wednesday to discover that rookie point guard George Hill does not have a torn ligament, nor a broken bone, in the left thumb he injured in Tuesday's pre-season game in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"It's a bad sprain but, no ligament damage or bone damage," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich reported after a morning practice session at Gund Arena here ." He'll probably miss a couple games. That;s better than a cast and out for six weeks."

Hill injured the thumb late in the first half of the Spurs' 86-64 victory over the Pistons at Van Andel Arena, in Grand Rapids, their first victory in three pre-season games. The Spurs' first-round draft pick had scored eight points and handed out four assists in 16 minutes, 48 seconds of first-half play.

Popovich said Tony Parker, who did not suit up for Tuesday's game because of minor soreness in his left Achilles tendon, will start tonight's game at Gund Arena against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Veteran Jacque Vaughn will back him up, with spot help from both Roger Mason, Jr., and Ime Udoka.

Salim Stoudamire, who has yet to go through a full practice because of a right groin strain, said he feels sound enough to consider asking Popovich to give him a few minutes in tonight's game, as well.

"I'll see how I feel in the morning," he said, "but I'm thinking about asking Coach Popovich to give me a little time."

More good bad news.

Express News: Spurs' Parker Sits Out With Sore Achilles Tendon

By Mike Monroe

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spurs point guard Tony Parker did not suit up for Tuesday’s preseason game at Van Andel Arena because of minor soreness in his left Achilles tendon, but Coach Gregg Popovich called the decision to sit his star point guard strictly precautionary.

“He has a little Achilles thing that is bothering him a little bit,” Popovich said. “Nothing serious, but we’re not taking any chances.

“With (Manu) Ginobili out for a while, we don’t want to lose him, too. If that happened, I wouldn’t even want to go to the games. I’d just go have dinner and check the results in the morning.”

It may also have been Parker’s turn to watch from behind the bench in street clothes. He was the only starter who had played in the first two preseason games.

Tim Duncan, Fabricio Oberto, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen had been held out of one, or the other.

Finley and Roger Mason also were held out of Tuesday’s game so Popovich could get a long look at the three young wing players battling for a roster spot.

The Spurs have carried 20 players since the start of training camp, but Popovich said he likely would make some cuts after the team returns to San Antonio after its game in Cleveland on Thursday.

“I think at the end of these two games we should probably start to trim it down in some way, shape or form,” Popovich said.

Thomas ready: Unless he reinjures the left hamstring that has kept him out of most of the preseason, veteran Kurt Thomas will make his debut for the Spurs in Thursday’s game against the Cavaliers.

“I’m definitely ready to do something besides watch the other guys play,” Thomas said. “I understand a hamstring (strain) is something you just have to be patient with. That’s an injury you really don’t want to rush, but I’m really ready to get away from ‘Brungy.’ That man is serious.”

Strength and conditioning coach Mike ‘Brungy’ Brungardt has been running Thomas and swingman Salim Stoudamire, nursing a right groin strain, through a rigorous conditioning program.

Isn’t it Grand: Popovich so enjoyed his two days in this Western Michigan city he sounded like the president of the local Chamber of Commerce.

“I’d never been to Grand Rapids before,” he said, “but I think it’s a really neat place. It’s beautiful from the hotel, all the hills around, with the colors of the trees.

“It’s just great. Really cool.”

Apparently the injury bug is not content to just leave well enough alone for the Spurs, but at least it doesn't sound like Parker's ailments are too serious. Hopefully this is just the Spurs getting all their bumps outta the way early.

Otherwise, we'll need the Coyote to suit up before too long.

Forum Blue And Gold: Know Your Enemy - The San Antonio Spurs

This is the latest in a series at FB&G that will run through the start of the season, focusing on some of the top teams in the West and maybe a couple from the East. In this installment we’ll touch on one of our biggest rivals over the past decade, the San Antonio Spurs. (Cue the Deathstar music) ~Darius

Last Season Record: 56-26 (tied for 2nd best record in the conference with the Hornets, 3rd seed in the playoffs due to tiebreaker)

Last Playoffs: Lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 5 games

Offensive Rating: 107.2 (15th in the NBA)

Defensive Rating: 101.8 (3rd in the NBA)

As Reed pointed out in his epic “Know Your Enemy”: The Phoenix Suns post, the San Antonio Spurs are our most traditional rival in the last decade. They have the combination of Coach, GM, and players that have posed the biggest challenge to us since Phil Jackson first started (not) pacing (and really, just mostly sitting on) the sidelines and leading the Shaq/Kobe teams to post-season glory. They are a model franchise in the NBA, with 4 Championship rings in the Popovich/Duncan Era and contiue to make trips deep into the playoffs every spring. If there is one team (besides the Lakers) that will be remembered from the immediate post Jordan period of the NBA, it would be the San Antonio Spurs.

Last season was the typical effort from the Spurs. They battled their way to over 50 wins for the ninth(!) consecutive season and advanced deep into the post-season. And, just as in every other one of those stellar campaigns, it all started with Tim Duncan. Duncan continues to be the catalyst for the Spurs, and even though some have argued that he’s lost a step, he’s still one of the elite players in this league, combining fundamental play with exceptional basketball IQ to do what is needed to help lead his team to victories. His tremendous defensive instincts (both in one on one play and in the team structure) powered one of the NBA’s best defenses and helped smother opponents to the tune of 90.6 pts. allowed per game and also placed him on the All-Defensive (2nd) team, a feat he’s accomplished every season that he’s been a pro.

But we all know that Duncan is not alone. He’s flanked by two of the premier players at their respective positions in PG Tony Parker and SG Manu Ginobili. Parker continues to grow as a player and his game is now considered the prototype for an NBA PG. Lightning fast off the dribble and a one man fast break, Parker uses his speed and handle to blow by defenders, get in the lane, and finish amongst the trees. He makes his living off the screen and roll with Duncan, where he’s gained enough confidence in his jumper to be a threat when defenders go under the screen, and can turn the corner like the roadrunner and dash into the lane, setting up himself for the easy two or dishing to a teammate when defenders try to chase him over the top. He shot 49.5% on the season (his lowest in 2 seasons shooting 52% and 54.8% the previous two), which is amazing considering his size and the fact that he is not a natural jumpshooter (but, as I stated before is steady enough). Teaming with Parker in the backcourt is Ginobili, one of the best wing players in the game today. Manu is a fearless competitor with one of the most unique games in the league. He brings the soccer pitch to the hardwood every night (both in how he changes direction and embellishes to earn the whistle) and shows a creativity that is a pleasure to watch every single night. Just as dangerous off of the bounce as he is shooting the jumper, he uses his craftiness and shifty left hand to create angles that other players just don’t see and can finish with authority at the rim or with finesse around bigger defenders. The guy has a complete game, and is one of my favorite guys in the league.

But as a team, last season would not be the Spurs’ year. Coming into the season as the defending champs (which is already a strike against them, considering they’ve never repeated as champs in three previous tries), the Spurs had a tough hill to climb as injuries to key players and improvements from other teams made their quest to repeat an extremely difficult task. In the playoffs they easily dispatched of the Phoenix Suns in the first round, but were then pushed to the limit by the upstart Hornets (where only experience and some Game 7 moxie helped them pull out the victory), and ultimately fell to our team in a series that many thought would go longer than the 5 games that it actually took. And although the Spurs were clearly hampered by an obviously not 100% Ginobili in their loss to the Lakers, I think that they would have struggled to beat us even if Manu was healthy considering Kobe’s ability to score at will with his jumpshot and how the Spurs didn’t have the bench to play with our 2nd unit. So, as in seasons past, the Spurs look to retool on the fly and compete in a tough divion, and an even tougher conference, hoping for another chance to win a title.

This upcoming season will be an interesting one for the Spurs. Over the past few seasons, they watched their role players get old and have not been able to find young players capable of stepping in to replace the production that their steady veterans have provided. But this year, they will not have a choice and will need some of their young players to make strong contributions. Gone are Robert Horry and Brent Barry. And while Michael Finley and Kurt Thomas return, they are now just spot players and should not be counted on for major contributions, even if they are feeling younger by practicing some new training techniques. So the Spurs will be looking for solid minutes from younger players that are unproven in this league. Guys like Ian Mahinmi, their 2005 first round pick out of France who’s shown very good improvement over the past year in the D-league and has flashed good athleticism that could help boost the Spurs frontcourt. The Spurs understand that Mahinmi is still raw, but he’s got talent and they’ll be looking for his size, length, and the bounce in his step to add a dimension to their rotation. They’ll also be looking to Salim Stoudamire, the former Hawk whose long distance jumper and ability to handle to ball (some) will hopefully replace some of what Brent Barry has provided recently. Besides them, rookie guard George Hill from IUPUI will get some run and try to help bolster their PG rotation after they traded away Beno Udrih early last season (if Hill’s name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the player that the Lakers brass was supposedly very high on in this past draft, hoping to snag him with our 2nd round pick, instead picking up Joe Crawford). However the one young player that the Spurs were hoping they could rely on will not be available to them this next season. Tiago Splitter is the Brazillian big man with first round talent whose rights are owned by San Antonio. He’s played very well in Europe over the past two seasons and the Spurs were hoping to bring him over this next season to have him bolster their F/C rotation. Splitter’s bruising style on offense and defense combined with his hustle and energy would be valuable to any NBA team, but match what the Spurs need to help Duncan almost exactly. But Splitter decided to stay in Europe instead and signed a contract to remain with Tau Ceramica of the Spanish League. Splitter’s decision was doubly hurtful for the Spurs as many think it was their reliance on a future this upcoming season with Splitter that swayed them to trade Luis Scola to the Rockets before last season.

Can the Spurs make another run? Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili remain. And while Ginobili is still on the mend from surgery, the team (and even more importantly the head coach) has a positive perspective as he can now, finally, heal from the injuries that plauged him during the playoffs and the Olympics. Injuries that sapped him of his trademark explosiveness and ability to play to his full ability. And even though some of the Spurs players are getting older, they are still contributors and continue to fill roles that help win games. Bruce Bowen, though not the all world defender he once was, is still a major irritant to wing scorers and can still hit that corner 3 pointer. Jacque Vaughn is still a decent back up PG that has refined his mid range jumper and avoids mistakes. Fabricio Oberto is still a quality big man that works well in tandem with Duncan, hustles on defense and the glass, and brings a craftyness and savvy that few big men operate with. And Ime Udoka is becoming the new Bowen…making timely jumpers and providing perimeter defense, putting a strong body on the leagues top scorers and playing within the Spurs team defensive concepts. There’s also new addition Roger Mason (from the Wizzards) who is another wing player that can hit the 3 pointer and play a good enough all around game to crack the rotation, helping to replace the departed Brent Barry and be a contingency for a declining Michael Finley.

In the end, the Spurs are still a western power. Especially when they have 3 all-star players and a head coach that I’d take over every other coach in the NBA not named Phil Jackson. Can they combine new pieces with their veteran core to make another run? I’m not sure (I wouldn’t bet against it, though). But I do know that, when healthy, they’re as tough an out as any team in the league. Ultimately, I see the Spurs competing hard for their division title with the Hornets and the improved Rockets and still in contention for a top 4 seed. If they can survive the first part of the season when Ginobili is out and have Duncan and Parker stay healthy, they’ll be in the mix. Their time is not over yet, and though there are other teams that are improved and will be strong as well, I see our longtime rival being right there this season…again.
Surprisingly good breakdown from the enemy's perspective. The Spurs vs. Lakers rivalry has never been stronger, and it's unfortunately been tipping to the wrong side lately. Hopefully this year will be our chance to even out the scales.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Express News: Spurs' Win Doesn't Provide Answers

By Mike Monroe

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich likely will make some cuts when his club returns to San Antonio after the two-game road trip that began here last night with an 86-64 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Knowing this, he allotted significant playing time to each of the three young wing players trying to carve out a spot on the regular season roster.

The head coach’s fondest wish: “I’d love for somebody to make it impossible for me to cut him,” he said.

That probably didn’t happen Tuesday.

Nothing Popovich saw Tuesday placed Malik Hairston, Desmon Farmer or Devin Green on the uncuttable list. Each had good moments, and bad, against the Pistons.

But Popovich saw something late in the second half of his team’s first preseason victory that may change the dynamic of his roster evaluations altogether. Rookie point guard George Hill, after another impressive performance in the first half, suffered a sprained left thumb when he got tangled with Pistons big man Antonio McDyess under the Detroit basket.

“We’re not sure,” Popovich said, “but he may have either a bad sprain or a torn ligament. We’ll have to wait for the doctor on that and hope for the best.”

A torn ligament likely would sideline Hill for an extended period. That could present the evaluation process with an unanticipated detour.

The X-ray machine at Van Andel Arena, where Tuesday’s game was played, was inoperative, so the extent of Hill’s injury could not be determined. Hill will be examined today in Cleveland to diagnosis the extent of the injury.

Hill isn’t sure how he injured the thumb, only that it resulted as he tried to box out McDyess, a veteran power forward who is one of the NBA’s stronger post players.

“It got a little physical down there,” Hill said. “I’ll just wait for the exam tomorrow and hope for the best.”

Before suffering the injury, Hill had knocked down 3 of 5 shots, including 2 of 3 3-point attempts.

He scored eight points, with four assists.

“All in all,” Popovich said, “he’s showing more confidence all the time and more awareness of what we’re trying to do.”

All of which makes the wait for today’s examination of Hill’s thumb even more nerve-racking.

With starter Tony Parker sitting out Tuesday’s game with what Popovich called “an Achilles thing” — better described as minor soreness in the All-Star point guard’s left Achilles tendon — Popovich ended up giving big guard-small forward Ime Udoka some time at point guard in the second half.

“I didn’t want to overplay Jacque (Vaughn),” Popovich said, “so Ime got a little time at the point. He enjoys handling the ball. Though he’s not going to blow by anybody, he enjoys it, so we were able to do it for him tonight.”

Udoka scored all seven of his points while playing the point, and did a decent job of running the Spurs’ offense.

“I’ve played a little spot point guard here and there,” he said. “Once George got hurt, Pop told me to be ready to take over for Jacque. I just tried to keep the little fellows off me. It would have been easier if all the other vets had been out there with me, but we managed to maintain the lead, so it worked out all right.”

The Spurs never trailed against the Pistons, who had won their first four preseason games. The Spurs held them scoreless through the first 41/2 minutes of the game, then limiting Detroit to eight points in the third period.

As for the evaluation of the three young wing players trying to make the roster, Popovich said he was no closer to a decision than he had been before Tuesday’s tipoff.

“They’re all competing very well,” he said, “trying to play the best basketball they can and trying to make the basketball team.

“All three of them are making it very difficult on us. They’re all playing very good basketball, each doing different things. It makes it a hard evaluation.”

As if we haven't already had enough bad news, looks like Hill is now making the bench even more crowded this an injured thumb. Hopefully things don't turn out to be too serious, because he was turning out to be a bright spot of this exhibition season, and was making quick strides towards earning the backup point guard spot.

Hoopsworld: Spurs Still Ticking?

There was nothing less important in the Spurs' first preseason game than the final score of 85-78 in the Rockets' favor. Spurs' veterans Tim Duncan, Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, and Manu Ginobili all sat out the game, leaving the Spurs with the youngest roster they've fielded in years. The Spurs have seen all they need to see from the guys that sat out last night's game. The most important thing is to find out what they can get from the guys outside of their solid core of veterans.

Three important players in particular were inserted into the starting lineup: Roger Mason, Ime Udoka, and Matt Bonner. While none of them are expected to be a starter, the hope is that they can become contributors and a part of the nightly rotation. That doesn't change despite the poor outings from them against the Rockets.

Mason was underwhelming in his Spur debut, a disappointing sign from a guy who has to have a big year for the Spurs to be successful. At this point though Mason's knowledge of this system is minimal and there is no real reason to be concerned. The athletic and offensive abilities that convinced the Spurs to sign him were on full display though, and we should see a much better Mason as he becomes more comfortable.

Nobody looked more upset about Ron Artest being a Rocket than Udoka when defending him last night. Udoka had his struggles on both ends of the court, which isn't too surprising with the Spurs missing Duncan and Ginobili. Udoka has always been a role player that is capable of excelling when playing off of stars. He needs Ginobili or Parker to do the creating and Duncan patrolling the paint behind him.

The same reasoning could be applied towards Bonner's offensive struggles, although defensively there's no excuse for pulling down just three rebounds in 24 minutes. Robert Horry was an outside threat for the Spurs, but more importantly he was intelligent defender who could hold his own in the paint. While Bonner can shoot from deep like Rob could, if he cannot keep from being a liability on the defensive end and in the paint he's not going to play.

The player most under the microscope outside of the above three had to be rookie George Hill, who was making his NBA debut. Once he got the nod in the second half he made a couple rookie mistakes. Overall though it was evident that Hill belonged and along with those mistakes was some nice moves offensively and an impressive five steals.

Should the Spurs carry the maximum of 15 players allowed this season there is just two roster spots for Charles Gaines, Desmon Farmar, Devin Green, Malik Hairston, Anthony Tolliver, Darryl Watkins, and Salim Stoudemire. Gaines, Green, and Farmar's chances of making the team are extremely slim and as of right now Hairston and Watkins have to be thought of as the favorites to get the final roster spots. There is still time though for Salim to impress and earn a spot on this team, although he has to get healthy first.

With the New Orleans Hornets next for the Spurs on their preseason back-to-back we will likely see more of the veterans. This will certainly make things easier for guys like Bonner, Udoka, and Mason. It will also take away some time from the fringe roster guys. Don't be surprised to see a cut or two from the Spurs in the next couple of days as they start to get closer to trimming their roster down to 15. You cannot really take anything too positive or negative away from their first preseason game. It's early, and if we've learned anything from the Spurs it's that their peaking process takes a bit longer than everyone else's.

Express News: Undrafted Tolliver Shoots For Spot On Spurs' Roster

Mike Monroe - Express-News

Two games into a preseason Anthony Tolliver hopes will prove he merits a spot on the Spurs' roster, the rookie free agent already has shown coach Gregg Popovich he understands the most important truth of pro basketball: Shooters must shoot, no matter what.

Signed by the Spurs after making an amazing 16 of 28 3-pointers in seven summer league games, he has made only five of 24 shots in the team's two preseason games.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward was 2 for 10 in Friday's 89-84 loss to the New Orleans Hornets at the AT&T Center, with both makes from 3-point range.

“My shots haven't been falling,” he said after Friday's contest, in which he also grabbed a game-high six rebounds, “but that's something that they know I can do, and I know I can do.

“So, I'm going to keep shooting when I'm open. It's not really a big deal.”

An over-abundance of adrenalin likely resulted in long-range inaccuracy in his first two games. Each of his 3-point misses was on line. Most were slightly long.

“I think there's something going on with his shot,” assistant coach Mike Budenholzer said, “whether it's pressing, or he's just too excited. We've noticed that most of his shots are on the back of the rim. He's geeked up. We've got to get him to cut back on the Cheerios in the morning.”

Preseason relaxation is a rare commodity for an NBA rookie without a guaranteed contract. Tolliver acknowledges he has been trying too hard.

“The majority of my shots are directly on,” Tolliver said, “but just a little too strong,” Tolliver said. “Tim (Duncan) keeps telling me to just slow down a little bit and calm down, but it's kind of hard in the first couple of games. (Thursday) was the first game, and this was the first home game, so it was hard to relax. I'm sure I will start doing what I do.”

Tolliver's willingness to keep shooting has impressed the coaches.

“I think the fact he keeps shooting and stays aggressive is a great sign,” said Budenholzer. “He's a great shooter, and when you're a great shooter you've got to keep shooting.”

The Spurs see Tolliver as the sort of sweet-shooting big man they use to open the floor, much as Robert Horry did in his five seasons with the Spurs. Shooting alone, though, won't earn him a roster spot.

“Coach Pop told me this summer he saw that I can shoot it,” Tolliver said, “and now I have to prove I can rebound and defend at this level. I think I've done a pretty good job, especially rebounding. I've tried to concentrate on the defensive rotations and make it my main focus.”

Back to work: After giving his players a day off after their back-to-back preseason games, Popovich scheduled a morning practice today.

They also are to practice on Monday morning before flying in the afternoon to Grand Rapids, Mich., where they will play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Their only extended road trip of the preseason will continue Thursday, when they are to meet the Cavaliers at Cleveland's Gund Arena.

Express News: Rookie impressive, but Spurs fall again

Jeff McDonald - Express-News

Five months ago, George Hill was sitting on his sofa in Indianapolis watching Chris Paul, New Orleans' Wizard of Ahs, carve up the Spurs in the NBA playoffs.

Like the rest of the basketball-watching public, Hill was impressed.

“He's one of the greatest point guards in the league today,” Hill said. “He's quick; he's crafty with it. You have to respect his game.”

On Friday night at the AT&T Center, far removed from the comfortable distance of his living room, Hill found himself nose-to-chest with an All-Star point guard he'd previously known only from television.

What happened next was an encouraging sign for the Spurs. Their rookie point guard held his own.

Hill, the team's top choice in this year's draft, finished with 10 points in 24 minutes of the Spurs' 89-84 defeat. He made a pair of 3-pointers, doled out three assists, had a block and a steal and did a capable job of defending Paul.

More importantly, when pitted against the best the NBA has to offer and his position, Hill — a 6-foot-2 guard from a little-known college called IUPUI — looked as if he belonged.

“George has a good, quiet confidence about himself,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He's got a good demeanor on the court.”

Mike James had 18 points off the bench to lead the Hornets. Tyson Chandler had 14, six of them on dunks coming off assists from Paul, who had nine points and seven assists.

At times, with the alley-oops flying and the rims rattling, it seemed like May all over again.

Tim Duncan made his first preseason appearance, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes for the Spurs, and Tony Parker logged his second consecutive solid outing with 10 points in 16 minutes.

The storyline for the Spurs, however, was the 22-year-old vying for time as Parker's backup.

Before the game, Popovich unveiled his plan to throw Hill into the fire early. The coach was just curious to see how his rookie would react.

“He can watch Chris go by him,” Popovich said then, “and try to figure out what he can do about it.”

Thrust into the fray in the first quarter, Hill wasted little time showing he belongs in the middle of this budding Western Conference rivalry.

Fourteen seconds into his shift, Hill found himself between Paul and the basket, the shot-clock winding down. Using his long arms wisely, Hill forced Paul into an awkward 7-footer that missed.

Within the next three minutes, Hill would pester Paul into another miss, draw a foul on a hard drive to the hoop and bury an open 3-pointer.

Later, Hill flashed his tenacity, scrapping ably with New Orleans forward David West after being caught in a switch.

“I think Coach Pop is starting to figure out I like taking a challenge,” Hill said. “I'm not going to back down from anyone. Chris Paul's a great player, and I'm a rookie. But at the same time, it's just basketball.”

Officially, Hill had made his NBA preseason debut a night earlier in Houston. Friday was just the day he became an NBA player.

Hill's veteran teammates had little sympathy for the rookie's tough assignment.

“That's the NBA,” Michael Finley said. “His days of playing in college are over. He's a professional now.”

Hill wouldn't have it any other way. He'd much rather meet Paul on the court than watch him from his sofa.

“You can't live in the fan world,” Hill said. “It's a business now. It's my job.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Express News: Ex-Spurs guard in Hornets' mix

Notebook: Ex-Spurs guard in Hornets' mix

Mike Monroe - Express-News The Spurs have a spirited battle for playing time behind starting point guard Tony Parker, with veteran Jacque Vaughn and rookie George Hill in the mix, and potential competition from Salim Stoudamire if his right groin strain ever heals.

Meanwhile, former Spurs guard Devin Brown is engaged in his own fight to become the primary backup behind the New Orleans Hornets' All-Star point guard, Chris Paul.

Brown signed with the Hornets on Aug. 22, leaving his home in San Antonio only long enough to fly to New Orleans to sign his contract. Then, it was back to San Antonio, where he grew up and starred at West Campus and UTSA, to join many of the Spurs in summer conditioning.

“I came back here and did all that training stuff they do — flipping tires and all that other crazy stuff,” he said before scoring five points in 22 minutes in the Hornets' 89-84 preseason victory Friday night at the AT&T Center.

“I was here all summer, and then went down there early, because we started our camp early because of our (preseason) games in Europe.”

Hornets coach Byron Scott sees Brown as a combination guard, able to play behind both Paul and shooting guard Morris Peterson.

“He has played extremely well (at shooting guard) with Chris in practice,” Scott said, “but he can run our team as well. I think he's getting our offense pretty good, but I want him to get to where he doesn't think about it, just reacts. He's done well the first couple of preseason games, and also in training camp.

“We came into camp looking at him strictly as a backup at point guard, having him and Mike (James) fight it out. But now it looks like he can play the two guard for us, too, so he and Rasual (Butler) can fight for that position.”

The Hornets' preseason schedule could not have worked out better for Brown. After a preseason game Wednesday in Indiana, they flew to San Antonio and had a light workout Thursday morning. That left Thursday afternoon for Brown to indulge in one of his passions: Golf at Oak Hills Country Club.

“I went to the bank,” he said, “and then I checked on everybody out at Oak Hills. I got around. We played yesterday, a six-some.”

New voice: There was something very different about Friday's pregame introductions at the AT&T Center: The voice.

For the first time in 18 years, it was not Stan Kelly's.

The team announced that Kevin Brock, who has been the Silver Stars PA announcer since the franchise moved to San Antonio in 2003, had replaced Kelly.

A club spokesperson said that Kelly's contract expired after the 2007-08 season and the team opted to go in a different direction.

Sitting out: It was Fabricio Oberto's and Ime Udoka's turn to take the night off on Friday. Neither player suited up for the game against the Hornets. Three Spurs starters — Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley — sat out Thursday's preseason opener in Houston.

Considering Devin Brown's skillset, it's really surprising he didn't find more of a home here in San Antonio. At the time of his signing, he seemed like the perfect story: Hometown kid coming out of UTSA and challenging the new big signing, Brent Barry, for wing space. However, I've heard serious doubts about his work ethic and commitment to the team, and that is ultimately what (apparently) got him a ticket out the town.

Express News: Mason rebounds after slow start

Jeff McDonald - Express-News

HOUSTON — Two quarters into his first preseason game in a Spurs uniform, Roger Mason Jr. felt a little lost.

It wasn't just that he was thinking too much.

“I was thinking about not trying to think too much,” Mason said.

Mason, a 6-foot-5 guard signed away from Washington in the offseason to replace Brent Barry and now needed to pick up some scoring slack with Manu Ginobili out, missed all four of his first-half shots in the Spurs' 85-78 loss to Houston.

A halftime powwow with coach Gregg Popovich set his mind right. In the first half, Mason said he spent too much time worried about being in the right place at the right time.

“In the second half, Pop told me to just go out and play,” Mason said.

The results weren't groundbreaking, but they were encouraging. Mason made two of his four field goals in the third quarter, scoring his only four points of the game.

More than that, he just looked more at home in his new No. 8 Spurs jersey after intermission. There was a reason for that.

“The second half, I felt much more comfortable,” Mason said. “I just played more off instinct.”

Barry likes Spurs' chances: Barry hasn't been in Rockets red for very long, so his opinion of his former team still carries some weight.

It should please his erstwhile teammates to know Barry believes the Spurs will be competitive to start the season, even with Ginobili expected to be sidelined until December while recovering from ankle surgery.

“A lot of teams are thinking the good news is that Manu is out for a month and a half,” Barry said. “Well the bad news is he's going to be back in a month and a half. He's going to have a month and a half of rest, and a few hard weeks of conditioning, and he's going to be fresh for most of the season.”

Knowing all he knows about the Spurs, Barry says he will be shocked if Popovich doesn't find a way to keep his team's head above water while Ginobili is out.

“There's no way with coach Pop and Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) and the experience that squad has that they're going to find themselves in a hole they can't get out of,” Barry said. “It would be ridiculous to think that.”

Bring in the vets: Tonight's exhibition against New Orleans at the AT&T Center should feature an appearance by a few of the more recognizable Spurs.

Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley all sat out the team's loss to Houston. Popovich says at least some of those veterans will play against the Hornets, though he's not quite sure who or for how long.

Injured pair closer to action: Popovich said he expects injured forward Kurt Thomas (strained hamstring) and injured guard Salim Stoudamire (strained groin) to return to return to practice “in a week at the most.”

Thomas arrived at training camp last week hobbled, while Stoudamire suffered his injury on the first day of workouts and hasn't practiced since.

The timing is particularly bad for Stoudamire, who must first make the team before he receives a fully guaranteed contract.

Popovich says if Stoudamire does indeed get back to practice next week, he would still have plenty of time to earn his spot.

“There are four or five games after these two, and another three weeks of practice,” Popovich said. “So he'll still have time to show us what he can do.”
On the other hand, Mason's time on the floor wasn't quite as productive, but he's obviously going through the hurdles that come with the Spurs' learning curve. Having to learn the most complex system in the league and filling the shoes of one Manu Ginobili has to come with a lot of pressure. Hopefully, Mason will come to find his place sooner before later, because this team needs him early in the season.

Express News: Spurs Go Young In Preseason Loss

Jeff McDonald - Express-News

HOUSTON — Gregg Popovich emerged from the visitors' locker room at the Toyota Center on Thursday night, and immediately two nearby security guards became star-struck.

“Hey,” one of them said, motioning to the white-bearded Spurs coach, “it's Donald Sutherland.”

Popovich laughed.

The Spurs dropped their preseason opener against Houston, 85-78, and got a pretty sobering look at the damage Ron Artest might wreak in a red and white Houston uniform, but Popovich couldn't have cared less about the outcome had he really been his movie-acting doppelganger.

With a “who's who” of veteran Spurs either seated behind his bench in street clothes or watching from the comfort of their home sofas, Popovich was eager to see how his younger players might respond to their first real taste of NBA action.

“It's a fun time of year to see those young guys play, to see how they go up against the big boys, so to speak, and watch how they react,” Popovich said. “That's the fun of it. If we win, nobody cares, and if we lose nobody cares.”

Popovich gave veteran starters Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley the night off, while Manu Ginobili, Kurt Thomas, Salim Stoudamire and Ian Mahinmi remained in San Antonio to nurse varying degrees of injury.

The Spurs would be hard-pressed to win a game with even half of the above out.

“That's kind of a hit to our personnel right there,” Matt Bonner noted.

Playing in the first game of a preseason-opening back-to-back — the Spurs face New Orleans at home tonight — the Spurs turned large portions of the game over to a collection of players who had not set foot on an NBA floor until Thursday. Most of them won't be on the team in a month.

There were bright spots — Darryl Watkins swatting Artest and Aaron Brooks on the same possession.

And there were not-so-bright spots — Anthony Tolliver, the shooting star of summer league, going 3-of-11.

Malik Hairston, who the Spurs acquired on a draft-day trade with Phoenix, fell on the plus side of the ledger, leading the team with 10 points.

Artest, the Rockets' marquee offseason addition, scored 18, including 10 in a row during a second quarter that Houston won 28-12. He probably will start to scare the Spurs once the games begin to count.

For the Spurs' part, most eyes were on rookie point guard George Hill, the team's first-round pick out of IUPUI.

If the Spurs worried the 22-year-old might be overwhelmed by his first game against NBA competition, those fears were alleviated even before tipoff. Then, Hill strutted out to the court for warm-ups, and immediately raised his fist to salute Artest on the other end of the court.

Artest, who knows Hill from his days with the Indiana Pacers, saluted back.

“As a player, you always think you belong,” Hill said.

Once he got in the game, midway through the third quarter, Hill set about to prove it.

He had his ups and downs — throwing in a 20-footer and a teardrop, but later blowing an open layup and committing a critical charge. In keeping with what he has shown in training camp, Hill was masterful on the defensive end, swiping five steals in 17 minutes.

“You have to learn how to crawl before you walk, and tonight I learned to crawl,” said Hill, who also had six points and three assists. “As we keep going, I'll learn how to walk.”
Hill's finally showing some signs of why the Spurs decided to pass up names like Arthur and Chalmers to pick him up. In his NBA debut, he looked surprisingly solid and confident, especially on the defensive side of the floor where his length and quickness nabbed a surprising five steals. Obviously, anybody is entitled to some beginners luck, but it's good to see some signs from the IUPUI rookie.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

MySA: 3 Spurs won't make trip to Houston

October 08, 2008
Mike Monroe: 3 Spurs won't make trip to Houston

It's just the first pre-season game, so it is no great surprise that the three Spurs nursing injuries won't make the trip to Houston Thursday morning for that night's game against the Rockets at Toyota Center.

Kurt Thomas (left hamstring strain), Salim Stoudamire (right groin strain) and Ian Mahinmi (sprained right ankle) will remain in San Antonio and get some more medical treatment.

Stoudamire's situation worsened a bit Wednesday morning when his right groin tightened after he had gone through most of the practice session. His injury was to be re-examined by the team's medical staff after practice. Signed to a two-year contract that is not fully guaranteed the week before camp began, Stoudamire will need to prove himself in some pre-season games to earn a roster spot, but he can't push himself to play before he is ready.

Tim pans trim

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took a trimmer to the beard he had cultivated throughout the off-season, showing up at Wednesday's practice with a beard roughly half as full as it had been.

Though Popovich had promised to adhere to the wishes of team captain Tim Duncan about his facial hair, he made a unilateral decision to apply the scissors, and Duncan was not happy.

"I did not tell him to trim it," Duncan said, "and I'm disappointed that he didn't just go with the whole thing. He did trim it up a little bit, and it looks good. I guess he's not going to go the whole Santa Claus look."

So much for getting a decent look at Stoudamire or Mahinmi. It's also discouraging to still see Kurt Thomas struggling. This training camp was his chance to really learn the Spurs' system and so far...he's missing it.

Express News: Spurs' Bowen Keeps Showing He Hasn't Lost A Step

By Mike Monroe

Most of the Spurs did not know quite what to make of the group yoga class that consumed the final portion of their preseason practice session on Sunday.

Defensive star Bruce Bowen, beginning his 14th season in the NBA and his seventh with the Spurs, knew it wasn't quite hot enough inside the team's practice facility to get the full benefit from the deep stretching.

“Unfortunately, it's on the cooling system right now,” he said. “The heat won't go on until Tim (Duncan) gets cold.”

Bowen added yoga to his offseason training regimen several years ago. When you have made a career of pestering the NBA's most explosive scorers to utter distraction, you do whatever you can to keep aging muscles and joints flexible and pain-free.

Bowen's preferred yoga discipline, though, is the form advocated by Bikram Choudhury, whose yoga classes are conducted in relatively high heat to enhance the stretching process. He is grateful, nevertheless, to have deep stretching incorporated into the team's regular conditioning program.

With Robert Horry retired, Bowen is the oldest Spurs player. He turned 37 in June. Except for 38-year-old Celtics guard Sam Cassell, he is older than any player on an NBA roster.

Unlike Cassell, Bowen remains a starter and a player whose physical skills separate him from most in the league. Last season, he averaged 30.2 minutes in 81 games. The only game he missed resulted not from injury or illness, but a suspension for kicking Hornets guard Chris Paul. The league's head coaches have named him to the All-Defensive first team each of the past five seasons. He was second-team All-Defense the previous three seasons.

Each training camp, the Spurs' coaches expect to see a marginal drop-off in the physicality and athleticism that have made Bowen a defender capable of frustrating players so thoroughly that some insist he steps outside the rules to stop them. Each year, including this one, they shake their heads in amazement that he remains among the team's best-conditioned players.

“When players get in that age realm, we have to discuss it and think about it, but Bruce doesn't even like us to joke about it,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He gets very sensitive, because he takes great pride in what he has done to maintain his physical abilities.

“He hasn't lost a step. He continues to do everything we've seen him do over the years. It's just a testament to his professionalism and the regimen he keeps, summer after summer.

“He's an anomaly.”

Bowen doesn't mind being the oldest player on one of the league's oldest teams. With Horry gone, he believes he has to set an example for younger newcomers.

“It doesn't change a thing,” he said of being the oldest Spurs player. “I just know all the jokes fall on me now, instead of Rob. But they do want you to set an example in things, maybe a little thing like wearing a heart monitor.

“I understand more now, being an older guy here, that I can help bring some of the younger guys along.”

Roger Mason, a 28-year-old swingman signed in July, calls Bowen a personal inspiration.

“To see him at 37, still guarding Tony Parker in practice, says a lot,” Mason said. “To be at his age, still doing things younger guys are doing, well, I want to be able to do the same things myself at that age.”

The Spurs signed Mason because they see some of Bowen's traits in him, especially his defensive tenacity and 3-point shooting skill.

Mason, though, has been amazed just watching Bowen's daily approach to defense, even in scrimmages.

“He's a K-Y-P guy — Know Your Personnel. Even out here, he's not defending Tony Parker the same way he defends Michael Finley or Jacque Vaughn or me. That's something you don't really think about. You just know that Bruce Bowen is a defender, but he thinks the game through. That's what makes him the elite defender, and that's huge in this league.”

Bowen's approach, as always, is simple:

“My goal, each and every year, is to be Defensive Player of the Year,” he said.

Bowen once again showcasing why he is the quintessential Spur, and why his jersey will likely hang in the rafters one of these days. Despite nearing the age of ancient, Bowen still has an iron man mentality and is ready to contribute. I would venture to say that the general public highly underestimates what Bruce brings to the table for this organization, and will only truly understand once he's gone.

With all due respect to the inside help of Tim Duncan, Bowen sets the defensive tempo for this team, night in and night out. He consistently takes on the task of guarding the other teams' top scorer, and that typically is not a Big these days.

If this starts to slip considerably this year, it bodes badly for the Spurs.

Express News: Spurs Owner Honored For Working To Instill Values

Spurs owner honored for working to instill values
By William Pack - Express-News

Peter M. Holt said Tuesday that the success of the San Antonio Spurs and the three professional teams affiliated with them wasn't the only thing that made him happy.

The majority owner of the teams' holding company said he was equally proud that they and a heavy machinery company he partially owns had earned their success through a commitment to treating their fans and employees the right way.

“Finding these values saved my life,” said Holt, who received the Founders Award from Spurs Sports & Entertainment and Holt Cat, which he serves as CEO. “It's created tremendous humility.”

He was credited with developing a Values Based Leadership program, first for Holt Cat and 10 years ago for Spurs Sports, which orients the companies around specific values. Spurs Sports selected “integrity,” “caring” and “success” as the principles that would guide its operations. The machinery company adopted a longer list that includes “ethical” behavior, “excellence” and “commitment.”

Officials said the program is the reason Spurs Sports has been viewed as a model company. Larry Mills, a Holt Cat executive who is involved in Spurs programming, said Holt's companies are training other local firms in the concept.

As part of the program, the two companies recognized long-term employees who best exemplified the designated values.

Holt Cat presented Legend Builder awards to supervisor Kim Silvernail, supervisor Roy Klug, general manager Al Hinojosa, lead technician Jason Morgan and general manager Ron Craft.

Spurs Sports gave its first Value Champion award to Joe Clark, vice president for sales.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Express News: Only 101 Reasons To Like Mason

Roger Mason Jr. attended an exclusive middle school that included, among others, Chelsea Clinton. He designed his house in Maryland.

He has his own construction business, and that figures. A Washington Wizards executive says Mason might be the only player who could make more money outside the NBA than in it.

His father was an outstanding eye surgeon who died of kidney failure when Roger Jr. was 11. Then, Roger Jr. decided he had to be “the strong one” because he had a little brother and two little sisters.

The stories go on and on. The newest Spur is part Steve Kerr and part Bruce Bowen, with some David Robinson thrown in, and Mason arrived Monday at the Spurs' media day with the personality in place. Mason went from camera to camera, greeting everyone with a handshake and a smile.

But it won't be long before no one cares. For about the first six weeks of the season, Mason will be asked to ease the loss of Manu Ginobili, and there are reasons to think he can't.

There are also reasons to think he can.

Specifically, there are 101.

The Spurs settled on a few less this past summer when they signed Mason. He is versatile, he can shoot 3-pointers, and he can defend.

They love who he is, too. He's a smart, engaging man who fits in this locker room. Mason has earned his success, and this goes back to when he left Virginia after three years.

He entered the draft because some analysts thought he would be a top-15 pick. Some scouts don't remember rating him that high, but none of it mattered when Mason crashed to the floor during a workout before the draft. He still has the scar on his right shoulder from the surgery that followed, not far from a tattoo in honor of his late father.

Mason fell to the second round. The injury kept him out for nine months, and then he was caught in a regime change in Chicago. He went to Greece and Israel, the kind of path other Spurs have taken before, if just to play again.

He played summer league, too, and the Spurs brought him into their summer program in 2006. They liked him but had no place for him, and the next summer, the Spurs brought him back. Then they offered him a small, three-year deal that wasn't fully guaranteed, and he chose to return to the Wizards in a make-good year.

Mason had bet on himself. And when Gilbert Arenas went down early, Mason slid over a few seats on the Wizards' bench and helped stabilize a group that wasn't supposed to make the playoffs. But it did.

“He has meant as much to this team as myself or Caron Butler,” Antawn Jamison said last spring. “He's one of those stories of a guy who wouldn't give up.”

His coach, Eddie Jordan, called Mason “the quiet assassin” because he showed no emotion on big shots, and the Wizards wanted him back. Handcuffed by negotiations for Arenas, however, they couldn't counter the Spurs' offer.

Few saw the signing as significant. Mason wasn't the sexy free agent that Corey Maggette was, and this goes back to the scouts' initial impression of Mason. He's never been physically imposing; it takes time to appreciate what he does on the floor.

That's partly because it's taken time for Mason to get better. For example, a year ago, he would end every summer workout the same way. His trainer, Joe Connelly, would require Mason to make five consecutive 3-pointers.

This summer, Mason took it further. Connelly says Mason missed only two days; the day Mason signed his contract with the Spurs, he flew back to the Washington area and was in the gym that night.

“He's no longer just a spot-up shooter,” Connelly said Monday. “He's revolutionized his game, and here's my prediction. He will be a candidate for the league's most-improved player award.”

The Spurs aren't anticipating that. But they don't yet know what Connelly knows, and what happened the day before Mason left for San Antonio earlier this month.

Connelly didn't have Mason make five 3-pointers to end the workout. Mason instead shot 109.

And made 101.

An encouraging article about the newcomer. Considering that the Spurs success may very well hinge upon Mason's ability to come in and produce, at least until Manu returns to the lineup, it's good to hear that the guy is motivated and confident. He doesn't need to shoot threes at a 93% clip, but he does need need to be a useful stopgap until we can get this roster back into shape.

Shooting 93% from downing sure as hell wouldn't hurt, though.
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