SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Spurs were eager to turn the page after all the injuries and uncertainty of last season.
Instead, the hard luck continues.
San Antonio was beset by two knee injuries in the preseason, the most devastating to point guard Dejounte Murray. Coach Gregg Popovich said Murray will likely miss the season after tearing his right ACL on Oct. 7.
“I feel bad for the team because they were all so high on Dejounte,” Popovich said, “but mostly for him because he’s worked hard and he has improved.”
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The injury and the torn right meniscus suffered two days earlier by first-round pick Lonnie Walker IV dampened the Spurs’ eagerness to put last season — and the awkward offseason — behind them. Injuries to Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and several others hurt, though the Spurs managed to earn their 21st straight postseason berth.
Leonard missed all but nine games with right quadriceps tendinitis and then forced a trade in the offseason amid reports he didn’t like how the team handled his injury. The trade along with the retirement of Manu Ginobili and the departure of Parker through free agency to Charlotte punctuated the end of a veteran era for the Spurs. The Spurs acquired DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl from Toronto for Leonard and Danny Green.
“We’re happy to turn the page,” forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “DeMar is here, he’s happy, he’s motivated, he’s going to make us better. You’ve got to look forward. We have a very talented team I’m looking forward to play for.”
The Spurs were preparing to enter the season with their most athletic and versatile team since the early days of the Big Three, but that excitement was tempered by the injuries to Murray and Wright. The one saving grace is San Antonio had a lot of depth.
“I feel like we got more talented because we can go small ball easier and we can play big with our big team,” Aldridge said. “I feel like we are in a happy medium where we can do both.”
A healthy Gay is back along with veterans Pau Gasol and Patty Mills and the return of veteran guard Marco Belinelli through free agency. They are joined by maturing young players like Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans and Derrick White. Walker is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Mills and White are expected to handle point duties.
“We have a lot of guys who can still handle the ball,” Gay said. “So, we can play up-tempo. Derrick is going to have to grow up fast. He’s extremely talented, and I think he is capable of leading this team.”
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Tim Duncan and Ginobili are no longer with the team, but both are still taking an active role. Duncan has been working with Walker, Poeltl and others during practice and Ginobili has become an unofficial member of the team’s coaching staff. Ginobili took part in the staff’s preparations for the season prior to opening training camp.
“He wanted to know no less than 14 things that I do and he wanted to know why I did them and that he thought were baloney the whole time he was here,” Popovich joked.
Entering his eighth season in San Antonio, Mills has become the most tenured player with the Spurs following the departures of Ginobili and Parker.
FEEL THE LOVE
Being traded from a city and franchise he loved angered DeRozan, but he has since embraced San Antonio and its response has overwhelmed him. The most meaningful gesture to the four-time All-Star was seeing his mural painted on the wall of a local restaurant before he had even stepped foot in San Antonio.
“Honestly, the day I saw it, I thought it was fake,” DeRozan said. “My cousin sent it to me or showed me. I was like, ‘Man who drew this? I mean, who photoshopped this?’ He was like, ‘No it’s in San Antonio.’ I didn’t think it was real until later on it went viral. It gave me one of them feelings to where it was like, ‘Damn, they love like this already?’ It gives you that extra hunger to want to go out there and do something for the fans and make them feel better than I felt in that moment.”
NOT REPEATING THE PAST
Popovich learned it’s never good to try and change what a veteran is used to, which is good news for DeRozan. Popovich adjusted his approach prior to last season after Aldridge was unhappy with how he was being used. Popovich joked he tried to turn Aldridge into Boston Celtics great John Havlicek. After a heart-to-heart talk between the two, Popovich allowed Aldridge to be himself and expects the same for DeRozan.
“DeMar is already an All-Star and he plays a certain way,” Popovich said. “So, there will be some things that we will try to add to his game, if he’s willing, but I’m not going to jump on him like I did L.A.”
BIG FAN OF THE BIG GUY
DeRozan is excited Poeltl is joining him in San Antonio. The 7-foot center enters his third season averaging 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds.
“His IQ for the game is definitely high,” DeRozan said. “I think being here being under Pop (and) being under a new situation, I think you’re definitely going to get a chance to see him thrive at a high level. He’s definitely one of them guys, I even told Pop, I was high on and I was high on him in Toronto.”