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Breaking down the Spurs training camp

This week’s staff round-table intersects with high hopes for Dejounte Murray and a cast of young players to complement a pair of All-Stars and some 2014 Champions.

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at San Antonio Spurs Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This week the Spurs loaded up on training camp invitees. Quincy Pondexter has already acquired a partially guaranteed 1-year contract but still must earn a spot on the roster or face being waived. Drew Eubanks was offered one of the team’s two-way contracts. Jaron Blossomgame, Olivier Hanlan, and Okaro White received invites this week while Amida Brimah and Julian Washburn were waived days after their invitations.

Not only are changes being made to the team on the court. As Monty Williams makes the move to Philadelphia to join Brent Brown, the Spurs went old school and hired former San Antonio Spurs #17 and NBA analyst Brent Barry to join their front office operations.

PtR contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, Jesus Gomez, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco tackle the evolution the Spurs made as they manifest into the next generation, Meanwhile, as other NBA teams are shuffling their last spots and working on team dynamics, Jimmy Butler has pulled a Kawhi Leonard and demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. Perhaps the panel can help Minnesota work through their five stages of grief before the Timberwolves suit up at the AT&T Center for the season opener on October 17th.

The Spurs have one open roster spot and one two-way deal available. Who among the training camp invitees are you rooting for to get them?

Marilyn Dubinski: I’m rooting for whoever has the most upside. If that’s Jaron Blossomgame, I’m game (pun intended). If it’s Quincy Pondexter, bring it on (cool comeback story and all). I can’t pretend like I have much knowledge of the rest of the Spurs invitees, but they know what they’re doing better than me.

Mark Barrington: Redeem the Q-Pon! I don’t know too much about Okaro White or Nick Johnson, so I’m looking forward to seeing them play, but I think it’s very likely that Pondexter will be on the regular roster for at least the first half of the season, and hopefully Blossomgame will be the second 2-way player, along with Drew Eubanks.

Bruno Passos: I’m not sold on Blossomgame or Hanlan’s upside, and I’m not familiar enough with White’s game. Pondexter may have both the most satisfying story (given his health issues over the years) and the capacity to contribute, so I’ll go with him.

Jesus Gomez: I’m not going to believe Pondexter is an NBA player again until I see him perform like one, so I’m going with White for the last spot. I wouldn’t mind it if the Spurs just left it open, either. As for the two-way deal, Blossomgame seems like a perfect fit. He’s young, he has some skills and athleticism and he plays a position of need.

J. R. Wilco: I know so little about these guys, I’m going to react like an uninformed voter on election day a college basketball neophyte filling out a March Madness bracket: I’ll be basing everything on the name. White is out because we already have a White and I don’t want to be confused when someone says “White has the ball.” Sorry, Okaro. Ambiguity stinks; and we go so much of it last year that I’m not taking on any more. Blossomgame is a strong candidate, but just doesn’t get over the top of a guy who’s appellation that has both an “x” and a “q” in it — funky letters are cool! Quincy, my man. Make it happen.

LaMarcus Aldridge recently said he’s been working on his three-point shot. Do you think he can develop that weapon? Should he take more threes, considering how productive he was close to the basket last season?

Dubinski: If he’s open, he should take them, especially if it opens the lane for DeMar DeRozan or any other lane-drivers and the offense shows a marked improvement with that approach. There will still be sets designed to keep him close to the rim, but it will open up the offense a lot if he can show consistency inside and out without relying too much on the mid-range.

Barrington: I don’t mind him occasionally taking three point shots when he’s left wide-open, but he’s so good in the paint that I think his best value for the team is grinding out baskets in the paint when the offense bogs down. And I can’t wait to see him draw a double team and dishing to DeMar for an easy midrange shot. There are just so many more scoring options this year.

Passos: Definitely. He’s still a rhythm guy, so it’s obviously it’s still important for him to feel comfortable with the shot and not let a few added looks there take him out of his comfort zone entirely. That said, he certainly has the range, and less battling in the post will probably be a good thing for him at age 33.

Gomez: The Spurs will need one of Aldridge or DeRozan to take threes when the two share the court with Murray. Between the two I’m more confident Aldridge will be able do so at league average level, so sure, he should take them. He was developing that shot before joining the Spurs, so it might not be a huge stretch for him. Hopefully Pop will also play him alongside shooters at times, so he can continue make a killing near the basket in those situations.

Wilco: San Antonio has so few deep threats that can also play defense, that I’ll take it wherever I can get it. (Pau too, if he’ll start pulling the trigger again!) Even if it’s a guy who brings value from other areas of the floor. I mean, someone will need to shoot threes, right? And it’s not like DJ will be taking many.

Jimmy Butler reportedly has asked for a trade and has threatened to not show up to play if he’s not dealt. Are stars wielding too much power in order to play where they want instead of honoring their contracts?

Dubinski: The players make the NBA what it is, so they’re always going to have that power. The league can try to take some of it away (and it has in the past), but then that leads to lockouts, civil and union debates, and several other cans of worms the NBA doesn’t want to get to get caught up in if it’s avoidable. That being said, in Butler’s case I am not a fan of players threatening not to show up if they don’t get their way. That is where the gray line disappears and there is no longer any debate of whether or not they’re honoring their contracts. If healthy and able, a player is (or should be) required to show up and participate with the employer that is paying him, just like the rest of us.

Barrington: While other sports have been declining in recent years, the NBA has been exploding in popularity and the major reason is because of stars and their fan followings. Since the success of the league depends on the stars, it’s natural that they have a ton of leverage. I don’t have any issue with that, but you have to draw a line at honoring commitments. There are ways to engineer a graceful exit from a situation you don’t want to be in. Threatening to not show up when you’re contractually obligated to isn’t one of them.

Passos: I wouldn’t say so. There’s always the chance this happens, I suppose, but the incentives for players in general to work things out are pretty high, and these standoffs (and their backstories) just add to the theater of a league that’s fun to follow for so many reasons, both on and off the floor.

Gomez: When you think about it, only a handful of players actually have the kind of power needed to dictate where they play. And none so far has actually not showed up in protest for not being traded. I don’t think it’s a huge problem.

Wilco: That’s a question that can never be asked in a league that’s had owners lock out the players as often as the NBA has. No — just no.

Dejounte Murray made the Bleacher Report projected list for Most Improved Player this season while simultaneously making Zack Lowe’s players to watch. What are your expectations for the young Spurs point guard?

Dubinski: DeRozan has taken a decent amount of pressure off him to score more, so his main goal on that end should be just improving his efficiency, especially from the three point line. Beyond that, he just needs to keep improving on defense and remaining the All-Defensive player he already is. With the losses at wing the Spurs endured over the summer (and the lack of defense replacing them), the pressure is now on DJ to be their best perimeter defender. That’s no small task, but he sounds up to the challenge.

Barrington: I love everything about Dejounte Murray, and he’s going to be great. But while I think he’s going to improve a lot this year, I think that fans might expect a little too much too soon from him. While he’s going to have some great games, he’s probably going to have some bad spells that he will have to work through. He seems incredibly mature for his age, but he’s still going to make mistakes. I think he’s going to have a solid year, but he’s still years away from his peak.

Passos: I think he’ll extend himself on offense a bit more, seek out his shots when opponents go under pick and rolls, and try to take advantage of the open looks created by Aldridge and DeRozan — I just don’t know how well he’ll do on those fronts. For that reason, I really hope he keeps a focus on being excellent on the defensive end, where the team may need him more now that Leonard, Anderson and Green are no longer locking down the perimeter.

Gomez: My expectations are low for this season. I think he’ll struggle with his shot and won’t show huge development as a playmaker. I wouldn’t be shocked if, despite playing near elite defense, he loses the starting spot to Mills as the team looks for more balanced units. Nothing would make me happier than DJ proving me wrong. And I’m still bullish about his long term upside. Eventually he’ll develop a mid-range jumper and will start seeing the floor better. I just think that it’s unrealistic and perhaps even unfair to expect him to make a huge leap, considering how raw he still looked on offense last season.

Wilco: I expect him to be insane in transition, to play great defense, and to bring the ball up and immediately get it to a good offensive player. But most of all, I expect him to no longer be the NBA’s worst shooting player in the restricted area. (Or at least to not post a worse FG% than he did last year.)

The Spurs brought back Brent Barry to serve as the Vice President of Basketball Operations. What do you think Barry can contribute to PATFO in this transitional period?

Dubinski: Systematic knowledge, someone who knows what Pop (a.k.a. the President of Basketball Operations) wants and is trusted to to do his dirty work, etc. I don’t know what his exact job description is, but Barry is a smart guy who is surely up to the task.

Barrington: He always struck me as a very organized and smart player, like his dad. He always made the most of his talent, and did a good job of working within the system. I expect him to shadow Pop and learn from the master how to build an environment focused on the success of everyone in the organization. The Spurs organization is built on Pop’s vision, and Brent is the right guy to carry that out and continue it after Pop is gone.

Passos: Trust, communication, smarts — the basic stuff we’ve come to expect from the Spurs intelligentsia. Beyond that, it’s hard to say with roles like this given their limited exposure to fans.

Gomez: He’s a likable guy who probably has connections all over the league and, more importantly, Pop’s trust. Beyond that, he always struck me as one of the smartest, most informed broadcasters out there. With Sean Marks’ departure a couple of seasons ago, the Spurs needed new blood in their front office. I like the signing in general, but mostly for the future.

Wilco: A world-class hairstyle. A couple of good front-office decisions that no one in the organization ever hears about. And the occasional smirk.

Do you have a question for the round table? Please post in the comments section.