What follows is a translation of Manu Ginobili’s latest column, which appeared on Argentine newspaper La Nacion on March 4, 2019.
I’m doing great. These past few months were different for me, but I was always in some way connected to the team. I was more actively involved at the start of the season, spending more time around the guys. I watched almost all of the first few games, but then I went on holiday to Argentina and the time difference made it hard for me to keep tabs on the team’s evolution. I still always checked on the results the day after, looking at whether they were winning. Now that I’m back, I’ve been able to be involved in a different way again.
It just so happened that when I started following the team more closely again they were going through a delicate time, because they are still fighting for a playoff spot and the Rodeo Road Trip didn’t go well. I jumped back in with the three road games they lost (Raptors, Knicks and Nets) and the way they went kind of upset me. I’m not playing any more and I have no responsibility for what happens but I do still have a lot of affection for Pop, his assistants and my former teammates. I want them to do well. So watching a game like the one against Toronto, in which they play well and then lose in such an incredible fashion at the end is tough. I think that defeat hurt them, it brought them down and led to the loss to the Knicks, a team that had hadn’t won for the past 15 games or so. As a friend and a fan, it’s tough to watch the Spurs lose, especially a game like the one in New York. I could see the coaching staff and the players hurting. It was one of those games in which you just don’t want to be out there. I had a tough time watching those two games, so I decided to not watch the Brooklyn game as intently.
After that, before a key game against the Pistons, I went to practice and hung out with the guys. I thought I needed to be there with them because the mood might be somber and it would be good to help someway. To be at practice with the Spurs to me is like going to a bar to see your friends. They had to win because they needed a morale boost. I paid close attention to everything that day and from the start I noticed that the team’s body language was different. They played better and got a win that helped a lot.
We just have to accept that this is a different team. It was already different last season, but since Tony and I were there to anchor it, the change was not as noticeable. When you add a player like (DeMar) DeRozan to lead the team along with LaMarcus (Aldridge) you just have to adjust to their game. But the principles are the same. The biggest deficit is on defense.
If we look at the team’s stats, in the past 15 years it was almost always in the top five on defense and now they are below the 20th spot. It’s not . . . surprising issue since there’s lesser defensive personnel available. Everyone knew that Kawhi (Leonard), Danny (Green) and Kyle (Anderson), three key players on that end, were gone. They talked about it before the season, but they are now still struggling a little. Offensively the group is fine, they are shooting well. But they know they have to tighten things up on the other end and are doing it. Against Oklahoma City they won a huge game and started to show they can do it.
I go to the arena to watch the team when I can and because the kids, who really like going to the Spurs stadium, ask me to. If I’m being honest, I’m more comfortable watching the games from home, but since the twins and Luca like going, we try to get organized and attend home games during the weekend, when it doesn’t matter how late we go to bed. I’m honestly just another fan when I’m there in a way, enjoying myself when things go well and not so much when they don’t. It’s actually cool to feel the energy of the crowd and watch the game live, since you can notice things you can’t on TV. You can see everyone’s faces, what’s happening on the bench or what Pop says while the team runs a set. I enjoy the experience. I probably wouldn’t do it for 40 games, but going from time to time, like I’m doing now, is exciting.
I’ve also been watching how some teams have evolved and I find what Denver and Milwaukee have done to confirm their growth be really interesting. Brooklyn and Sacramento have also showed how you can grow as a team. Similarly, Philadelphia is now a more serious team, because of how they play and how they’ve put together a roster to contend in the East.
During my holiday I was also attentive to what was going on with the national team. The last two games didn’t have a ton of appeal, since the goal of getting to China was completed, so what interested me most was to think about what they did throughout the qualifiers, which was undoubtedly great. They qualified to the World Cup with two matches to spare and that’s amazing, because we have to keep in mind that at first there were some doubts after that loss to Uruguay in Olavarria. But the guys sorted things out and after that the qualification was never in doubt. They won the games they had to win, played well and there was always someone stepping up to help when needed. And they almost won the last two games without Facu (Campazzo), Nico (Laprovittola) and Luifa (Scola). They did really well in the first edition of a new tournament that presented a lot of challenges. It’s really commendable what the team, Oveja (Coach Sergio Hernandez) and those who were always there achieved. It’s not easy to qualify for a World Cup, but we will be there in China.