Austin Daye may not realize it right now, but he's about to go through the most important 96 hours of his Spurs career, if not his NBA career.
How he acts the over the next two days might be the difference between becoming a steady, productive and financially secure NBA career for 8-10 years, and washing out of the league by 2015 and being forced to make a living playing ball in Europe or China.
Scoring 22 points, mostly on wide open threes against the worst NBA team since the 2012 Bobcats was the easy part. The hard part comes now, in the afterglow.
I can tell you're thinking, "Erler, get a hold of yourself, man. The kid just scored 22 points, made six threes and added six boards, two steals and two blocks. How do you expect him to top that?"
By proving to Pop and to the rest of the Spurs that he's a pro, that's how. By doing a lot even when the box score says he did nothing at all. By being a good teammate.
Longtime Spurs fans have seen this a hundred times by now, whenever the Spurs bring up a dude from the D-League or whenever PATFO trades for some end-of-bench footnote, whether you're talking about Malik Hairston, James Gist, Melvin Sanders, James White, of course (an infatuation of PtR-founder Matthew Powell), Jackie Butler, DerMarr Johnson, Marcus Williams, or the immortal Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
I mean, the second-best success story we're talking about here in the Pop Era is Cory Joseph, the team's 11th man, and he probably doesn't even count since he was their first-round draft pick.
The best story, obviously, is Danny Green. A true diamond in the rough who was not only talented but smart and humble enough to swallow his pride, shut up, pay attention and embrace Pop's tough-love-no-nonsense approach to basketball and life.
Just about all of the above players had a "breakout game," or at least a few eyebrow-raising moments during their cup of coffee with the Spurs. And just about all of them handled it the wrong way (at least, according to how Pop does things). They started feeling themselves a bit, and they failed Pop's test for fitting into the team's culture.
Matt Bonner's calf strain will probably ensure that Daye is active on Wednesday, but I think there is an extremely high chance, barring a total Spurs runaway, that he gets a DNP-CD. At the least I strongly doubt he checks in before the fourth quarter is no longer young.
It's not that Pop wasn't impressed by what Daye did against Philly. He's not blind. He sees that the kid has some skills, including the kind you can't teach. But what Pop doesn't know yet, what none of us do, is whether Daye's "gotten over himself."
How do you take a DNP-CD after a good game? Will Daye take it personally? Will he grumble to the press afterward or pout on the bench? Will he mumble curses under his breath that will inevitably travel their way up the chain? Or will he act like Joseph and Aron Baynes and Jeff Ayres do -- the way Patty Mills did last year when he hardly played down the stretch -- and actively yell and scream and encourage his teammates after every big play and every bad one. Will he be the guy patting people on the back while Pop reads the huddle the riot act or be the guy staring off into the crowd for girls or, even worse, making it known that whatever is going wrong on the court would be different if he was playing?
Daye's attitude will matter just as much, if not more, over these final dozen regular season games for the Spurs. He's got to be the guy who shows up early every day to catch up on the playbook, the guy putting in his time before and after shoot-arounds, and the guy willing to run the opposing team's sets and plays on the scout team. He's got to do everything asked of him and more, without hesitation. And volunteer for another round of it all.
What he can't do, under any circumstances, is ask for more time or opportunity -- not in the press, and not in private. That time is earned. He can't ever show up the coaches or his teammates, because that's the quickest way out of town (ask Stephen Jackson).
Daye said when he was acquired that he screamed into a pillow when he found out he'd been traded to the Spurs and that he's always been a fan of theirs from afar. Now he has to prove he understands what it means to be a Spur while up close.
Let's see how he handles a couple of DNP-CDs before we worry about if we can use him against Kevin Durant in the playoffs.
* * *
Also, on a personal note, as I've mentioned a few times throughout the year, I will be moving to San Antonio this summer, mid-July to be specific, to cover the 2014-15 Spurs for PtR. However, I will still need a regular day job to pay the bills and keep the lights on. If you're a business owner in the area or work at a place where you think I'd be a good fit, whether it's an office, a restaurant (I'm a waiter now) or wherever, please don't hesitate to let me know and make the proper inquiries with the proper people. Obviously I'm not looking to get rich or anything, but I need to make a livable income and also have enough flexibility in the job that they won't make me work at night during Spurs home games. That's kind of non-negotiable.
So if you ever thought to yourself, "Hey, Erler kind of seems like a lovable nut, I wonder what he'd be like to work with." here's your chance to find out. Thanks in advance for all your assistance with this.