Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in a cheery mood before the Spurs preseason home finale against Atlanta, probably because he had a chance to catch up with his old assistant of many years, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Pop was decidedly in more of a sharing mood with information than usual, and if that's not an indication that preseason doesn't matter to him, I don't know what is.
Kawhi Leonard (eye infection), Tiago Splitter (calf) and Patty Mills (shoulder) will be out again, as expected, but Pop was pretty breezy about the rest of the lineup. "They're all gonna dress, I don't know who's going to play, I haven't even thought about it," he said, almost looking as if it might have actually been the first time the notion entered his head. "Yeah, I really don't know. I think I'm going to start (Marco) Belinelli at the three if that matters to you guys."
Pop later clarified Leonard's status, explaining that MVP of last June's Finals isn't wasting away in isolation. "He's lifting and running on the treadmill and shooting a lot out on the court," Popovich said. "He's actually working out, he's allowed to do that. You just don't want to be too near him and get the sweat from his eyes in your eyes, so he's kind of isolated.
So don't expect to get a glimpse of Leonard in a sports jacket if you're watching the game.
"Yeah, like he won't be at the game tonight, we're just leaving him away from everybody," Pop confirmed, adding "It just persists, I mean his eyes are still red, one of them is half-closed, it just looks ugly."
Pop's description of Leonard's situation isn't all that different from what Manu Ginobili's description of his own struggles in getting back to game shape and the differences between working out and practicing to playing in a game.
Speaking of Ginobili, Popovich certainly has noticed his Hall-of-Fame sixth man hasn't exactly been setting the nets on fire so far. "He hasn't caught his rhythm yet, that's for sure," Pop said. "Physically, the month of September he worked really hard, lifting and strength-wise so from that standpoint he's fine, it's just that he played no basketball whatsoever, so just catching, shooting, dribbling, timing he's all off in that regard and he needs more time there, but physically he's okay."
When asked about the decision to start Belinelli, Popovich had a half-serious answer, preferring to at least keep some of his cards to himself.
"I just want him to get in shape," he said. "I want him to work off the pasta he ate all summer. His pasta and Boris' fois gras, I think if they just work those stuff off I'll be a happy camper. Step-by-step, get them ready for the playoffs, you know?"
A reported pointed out to Popovich that Belinelli spent his summer posting pictures of him working out on Facebook, dragging trucks around and whatnot and the coach didn't appear too impressed.
"You know you can do anything with those pictures," he joked.
Finally, the airy mood in the room came to an abrupt halt. He was asked about a quote Ginobili made during media day about feeling hurt by the team's decision to order him not to play in the FIBA World Cup because the stress fracture in his left fibula hadn't healed fully and the shooting guard's candid revelation that he and Pop had "aired things out," but may need a couple more private sessions for him to get over it.
"I don't know any airing out," Pop said flatly. "What you just mentioned never happened or doesn't exist."
Family business. It's the Spurs way.