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Popovich isn't counting on Cory Joseph to fill Patty Mills' shoes

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Also, Pop gets free shirts.

Christian Petersen

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in a relatively upbeat mood since he knew he wouldn't have to field anymore questions about grandstanding owners, so he was kind enough to share updates about the health of Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard, two vets who are racing to be ready in time for the season opener eight nights away.

In the case of Splitter, who's been doing some light rehab work on the court, Pop said not to expect the Brazilian big man for the next  preseason game, on Wednesday, against Atlanta. "I don't know when he's going to be ready," Pop said. "Hopefully by the time the season starts."

As for Leonard, Pop described his eye infection as "a really strong strain, whatever virus it is," adding that "He's still out and they're going to evaluate him again on Thursday."

Naturally, having people in and out of the lineup, including all members of the big three who are taking turns being rested --Saturday was Tony Parker's turn, tonight will be Tim Duncan's and perhaps Friday will be Manu Ginobili's-- might make it difficult for any squad, even one with as much "corporate knowledge" as the Spurs have from regaining their rhythm playing together, and it certainly must play some role in the team's astronomical turnover rate. However, Pop wasn't about to use absences as an excuses when evaluating his guys.

"It doesn't matter if they're there or not you're always trying to evaluate conditioning number one, trying to get guys in shape, not go too fast, but try to judge where they are conditioning-wise," Popovich said. "You try to review some things, mental things, execution of the offense, remembering what we do and then evaluate some of the young kids."

One Spur facing particularly scrutiny by fans and coaches alike is Cory Joseph, who will be tasked with holding down the backup point guard job while Patty Mills recuperates from off-season shoulder surgery. When asked if it was at all realistic to hope for Joseph to replace the Australian as a scorer, Pop didn't waste time sugarcoating an answer, offering a flat "No."

"Cory's different," he explained. "Cory will give us other things, but he's a different player than Patty. We're going to miss Patty's scoring but Cory's gotten better in that regard, he's a tough defender, a heck of a competitor and he'll do everything he can to keep us going."

The Spurs coaching staff asked Joseph to work on his jumper in the off-season and shooting coach Chip Engalland has tweaked his form, emphasizing how the Toronto native catches and grips the ball.

At the end of the session Pop noticed a young team staffer wearing similar warm-up garb and asked, "Is your shirt free? My stuff's free."

If the coach is at all stressed out about the prospect of starting a new season with a number of his best players out or less than 100 percent, he's not showing it.