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Despite growing uncertainty, Spurs veterans are embracing the moment
Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson know they face the possibility of a number of different professional outcomes this season, but they're not thinking about all that.
At this point of their careers, Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott know the drill in the NBA’s business world. The two have played for five and six teams, respectively, so their concept of a basketball “home” can only be loosely defined amid all the changes they’ve seen over the last several years. And things certainly are a-changin’ for the Spurs these days.
Both Richardson and McDermott referred to their current situations in San Antonio as “a blessing” in separate interviews on Wednesday, despite knowing full well what the future may have in store. For most NBA journeymen, embracing a role that best suits the team is an important element to maintaining career longevity. And if played correctly, it may even lead to some career consistency.
“When I came into the league, I was on the Bulls and we had Joakim Noah, Nazr Mohammed, (Mike) Dunleavy, (Kirk) Hinrich, and they showed me the way. It’s weird that I’m 30 years old and I’m in the spot now,” McDermott said. “It’s a blessing honestly, you know, that I’m in that spot now — that they value me and Josh (Richardson) and Jakob (Poeltl) to be those guys.
“Because we don’t have any egos, and we want to see these guys thrive just as much as they do.”
While it seems inevitable at this point the names of several veterans will be brought up in trade rumors this season, the current reality is the Spurs actually need professionalism. It’s been arguably the most common theme in camp — the importance of establishing a pro mindset early in the rookies’ careers. For Richardson and McDermott, being teachers is going to be part of their job description.
And they don’t mind that at all.
“I’m a pro, so I don’t get hung up on all that stuff. My job here is to play my game, do what I do,” Richardson said. “We got 10 dudes under 22 years old, so I’m gonna help them however I can and see how it shakes out.
“They listen, and they’re hungry, so I appreciate it.”
Behind-the-scenes stuff aside, the veterans on the team feel the way the Spurs are going to play this season will be conducive to rookie development on the court. Brett Brown, who had plenty of experience guiding a rebuilding team in Philadelphia, has already made his mark implementing his own flair to the system.
“He kinda lets you be you, lets you do what you like to do, lets you play. And I think he brings the same thing here,” said Richardson, who spent a season under Brown with the Sixers. “He’s a very vocal guy, a big mood-lightener, so I think he makes camp a little easier for everybody.”
San Antonio played with the third-fastest pace on offense last season, per PBP Stats, a style with which Gregg Popovich mentioned they’d be playing from the start. With veterans like DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay leaving town, the idea was to allow players to take advantage of their young legs and play freely. From the sound of it, the team may be loading up on that philosophy even further this year.
And perhaps even more critically, getting up and down the floor quickly and focusing more on reading and reacting than running complex halfcourt sets will allow young players to just keep playing, rather than get caught up in their heads with the outcome of every trip down the floor.
“It gives you less time to think about your mistakes. You’re moving on to the next play quickly. We’ve got a great staff obviously — Brett Brown coming from his Philly days, he’s gonna put in some of his stuff,” McDermott said. “Guys can make mistakes and not hang their head, worry about getting tugged out of the game and benched. And I think that’s kind of the bright side to the situation we’re in.”
Finding silver linings in the little things will be important this season for coaches, players, executives and fans alike. In a way, identifying “the bright side” should not only be part of the team’s daily affirmation routine, but an actual tool for measuring progress. Forget record, look for the things that were done well within the game, and build upon them.
But even considering the youth movement, it’s still going to be important for a couple of guys still in the primes of their careers to compete. I wrote recently about the critical nature of maintaining a competitive balance even during a season that’s going to feature a lot of losses, and McDermott and Richardson (along with Poeltl) are going to be instrumental in accomplishing that on the court just as much as in the locker room.
“With Dejounte, obviously he was playing at a very high level all year, so he got so much attention and that left openings for me,” McDermott said. “But I think this year could even be better, because we’re playing so fast, we’re getting up and down, everyone’s passing the ball, everyone’s getting shots. So I think you’re gonna see a lot more pace this year, and could even be more possessions because of that.”
It’s difficult for most of us normies to relate to professional athletes in a whole slew of day-to-day aspects, not the least of which being the idea one could simply be forced to move to a different city in the blink of an eye without much, if any, say in the matter. Sure, they’re compensated quite well to play this game, but a human being is a human being. None of that stuff can be easy.
Still, both McDermott and Richardson seemed present in the moment this week. If either was putting up an elaborate façade, it sure was difficult to tell. They understand what the immediate future holds for this organization, but there was genuine excitement about the roles they’ve taken on in San Antonio nonetheless.
“We get the situation that we’re all in right now. It is what it is, and we’re still professional basketball players. And I know that sounds like a cliché answer, but I’m gonna do my job here until I’m not here anymore,” McDermott said. “I was on four teams in five years at one point, and then I settled down with Indiana and (in San Antonio). So the more you think about that it’s just gonna mess with the way you play.
“I feel like I’m valued here, and I would love to be here for the rest of my career,” he continued before turning and smiling. “But that’s not really all up to me.”
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