Spurs coach was in a reflective, expansive mood tonight before the regular season opener against Dallas. He fielded questions on a number of topics from the health of injured starters Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, to the challenges the new-look Mavericks pose, to the distraction of playing after a ring ceremony to his thoughts on the doing that special on NBATV where he and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all sat down and reflected on their experiences and interviewed one another.
Enjoy the read...
Q: Who are you starting?
A: Tony Parker... Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan.
Q: What's the latest on Kawhi (Leonard)?
A: He's cleared to start practicing and playing.
Q: Is it conditioning that's keeping him out (tonight)?
A: Whatever you want to say, I don't care. Make something up. Make it good so it sounds good. Who cares?
Q: What about Tiago's status?
A: No he's just out until they tell us he's okay to play but... they keep talking about his back instead of his calf so I'm just a coach, I'm confused. When they tell me he can play, then he'll start playing. And Patty (Mills) is out because of the shoulder. I don't know when that is. Probably when I'm retired.
Q: What do you make of the moves Dallas has made in the offseason?
A: I think they've done a great job. (GM) Donnie (Nelson) has added some really good pieces and I think they're going to be a contender in the West. Without a doubt they're going to be one of the top teams if not the top team.
Q: How difficult is it to prepare for a team like that when they have all new pieces and you haven't played them before?
A: It's not difficult because you don't prepare. No, I'm serious. What are you gonna do? You just go play. It's the first game of the season. You get your rings, you get beat by 30, you get a glass of wine and then the season starts.
Q: Is it hard after a ring ceremony to get your team (focused to win)?
A: We've done both (win and lose) I think, I'm not positive. I don't know, somebody that's been here... [He is informed that they've won them all and are 4-0 in "ring ceremony games"] Oh really, we're 4-0? Really? Wow.
Q: That wasn't something you checked first thing in the morning?
A: No. It seems like that would be something that's hard to do right? But I don't know. I think we're a little offensively challenged right now in that we're having problems scoring. As has been noticed in the preseason. It's a long year, it's a long year.
Q: Tim (Duncan) says he really wants to soak this up, enjoy it, not be thinking about that first quarter until after the ceremony. Is he built for that?
A: I think so. You know, the older you get the more you try to appreciate what you've accomplished because as you all know, winning a championship, we're still trying to figure out how we did it. And it's difficult. People like Timmy who've been there before realize how hard it is. And he's probably thinking that he's not going to be around for five more. So he wants to make sure he appreciates this. He's mentally capable to do that.
Q: Did you watch that special (where Pop and "The Big Three" were all interviewing one another)?
Q: Looking back on doing it, you guys were pretty emotional. What was that experience like?
A: It went for a while. I don't know what they edited or what they showed, but it was, you know we've never done anything like that before the four of us, so it was... with the championship and everything it seemed appropriate and guys at the end of their deal who most likely are not going to play too much longer I don't think, or coach too much longer probably, you never know what's going to happen, but it seemed appropriate to talk about things in kind of a reflective mood. I don't know how it came out.
Q: You said it was like the greatest thing that you've ever felt in athletics to win that particular title. Why was that?
A: Well you know, I felt so badly for the group the year before, for all the obvious reasons that we all know in that game, and for that group to come back and do what they did, that display of fortitude really moved me and was a great lesson in stick-to-it-iveness and doing your work and not crying about things, just moving forward and trying to get back to that spot is almost impossible to do, and they did it. To be a part of that and have the privilege of being with them and watching them do that, made it one of the most special athletic experiences of my life...
I did knock down a shot against East Gary to win a high school game and that was pretty cool.
Q: Can you tell us about the kindergarten years?
A: You... (shakes finger)... This last week I feel like I've been running for office or something I mean geez Louise.
A few notes about his answers...
This was the second or third time I've read/heard Pop mention that he expects the team to be absolutely thrashed tonight and I don't think he's doing it out of false modesty or humility but because it's his genuine, honest (but perhaps naturally pragmatic) opinion. Not only are his guys shorthanded, but they're playing against an opponent that everyone expects to be really good. Literally the only thing the Spurs have going for them tonight is that maybe with so many new pieces it will take Dallas a while to find their chemistry.
He contradicted Parker's report from yesterday that they spent all of Monday's practice specifically preparing for the Mavs (Parker added that he expected that to be the case for Tuesday's shootaround as well), but that is to be expected. Pop always downplays things like motivational gimmicks and how much they game plan for teams in the regular season.
The injury updates on Leonard and Splitter corraborates my observations and the information I've gathered from a couple of people. I fully expect Leonard to play the third game next Wednesday if not the second one Friday night at Phoenix. In Splitter's case it sure seemed odd for a simple calf strain to keep him over a month and now we know it's not a simple calf strain. Pop mentioned a back issue and things I've heard are even more ominous than that. All I saw him do this morning was jog slowly and stiffly on a treadmill, so it may indeed be quite a while before we see Splitter on the court.
Okay, well enough of the negative stuff. Let's go enjoy the ring ceremony!