LAS VEGAS - A bearded Gregg Popovich was making his final rounds through the gym at Spurs Summer League practice, shaking a few hands and sharing a few words with folks along the way. As he approached the small media contingent in attendance he stopped, stone-faced, and looked into a nearby camera. The video camera, which had been grabbing brief highlights of players and practice drills, had fallen on the gait of Pop. The coach stared right into the lens.
"Who are you?" he questioned the cameraman in a completely serious tone.
After an uncomfortable exchange, Popovich alleviated the tension with a grin and continued on his way.
It's a side of the Spurs' head coach few get to see, but here in the Vegas heat, players and coaches get a chance to just do what they love to do without the weight of pressure. And Pop seemed to be enjoying every minute of it, with his trademark sarcasm in top form.
Without Summer League last year, these coaches had this time taken away from them. There was no way to communicate and interact with their young players in a relaxed setting, a place where they could get an early start with instruction and practice. Right now, Popovich is taking full advantage.
Primary target: Kawhi Leonard.
"We want him to rebound it and push it up the floor himself. We want to get it thrown ahead to him and have him go attack the rim. We want to put him in pick and rolls and let him make decisions - pass it, drive it, pull up and shoot - so he expands his game," Pop said. "He's going to be a good one. We don't want him to just be a spot-up shooter in the corner."
It's clear the main focus is squarely on Leonard this summer, as he stands to be a major part of the Spurs' immediate and long-term future. Cory Joseph and rookie Marcus Denmon are close behind, but this is Leonard's team, and given the fact San Antonio will have hardly any roster turnover to speak of, internal development is crucial. And as the Spurs continue to stay the course and maintain the business side of things by trying to stay away from that luxury tax threshold, much responsibility has been placed on the youth of this team going forward.
The one who won't return
It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which James Anderson returns as a San Antonio Spur this fall. With the recently acquired Nando de Colo and second-round draftee Denmon in tow, the roster spot he occupied last season has likely been filled by other bodies. Still, Anderson, a former first-round draft pick, presumably has much to offer teams in search of a young swingman to fill a rotation spot, and he's using this time to audition for a larger supporting role.
Despite not having a contract to fall back on anymore, players and coaches alike are pushing for Anderson to find his footing.
"James has been unbelievable. If I could buy a billboard ... and say that - he's been unbelievable," Spurs coach Jacque Vaughn said. "He has been a true professional. He's still learning, he still wants to learn and he's still improving."
While Anderson said he wants to be back in San Antonio, this is a chance to impress the hundreds of coaches and scouts here in Las Vegas. Even if we've seen the last of him in a Spurs (non-Summer League) uniform, he still has a long career ahead of him. And there have been flashes of the talent he possesses during his tenure in the Alamo City. His respectable size and athleticism, to go along with rangy shooting ability and decent penetration skills, potentially make him a valuable commodity for most teams around the league.
Vaughn was asked if Anderson's a guy who can make it in the NBA.
"Without a doubt. He's got good tools (and) athleticism, he makes enough shots and he's a good guy to have on your team and in the locker room," he said.
Although San Antonio certainly wants to look at other players who may be playing a more important role in its team's future, Vaughn also said they feel some responsibility to put Anderson's talent on display. And he's the type of guy who's easy to root for.
"You want to because he deserves that. He deserves to be showcased and he deserves to be on an NBA team. It's probably not correct for me to be pulling for a guy, but I'm pulling for him," Vaughn said. "He's done things the right way and I'm proud of him for that.
"It's how you finish and what you do along the way. Everybody has a starting point, and he's got a lot of basketball left in him," he continued. "It's what he's going to do from here on out. Hopefully that's good things."