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What training camp and preseason can tell us about the new-look Spurs

Media Day is gone and preseason is right around the corner. Let’s look at what we now know about the new Spurs and what we will find out in the next few weeks.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs-Media Day Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

What was the quote from media day that you found the most interesting?

Marilyn Dubinski: The quote that caught my eye the most was Gregg Popovich saying that he told the guys, “There’s no need to pace yourself. Nobody is gonna play 39 minutes a game. We’re not worried about stats or individual honors. These guys are gonna have a ball playing.” We all know this is a star-less team with no one to really structure a style of play around, and it will be nice knowing that Pop likely won’t try too hard to make this group something it isn’t, nor is he being forced to structure a ragtag group of players around relatively limited stars. They can just go out and play, and Pop can tinker with rotations and line-ups hopefully without much complaint from his unselfish players. It should be fun.

Mark Barrington: I think it was hearing that Pop is finally letting the young guys take charge and letting them lead when he said, “Who’s your go to guy, who are going to give it to? ... It’s exciting, I have no idea who I’m going to give it to, and what play we’re going to run. That’s something that we’re going to figure out as we go along, and to me, that’s exciting.” He has a reputation as a very regimented coach, but this is an indication that he’s embracing letting the players learn on the court and not pulling guys after the first mistake.

Bruno Passos: I’m not sure anything that I heard was all that juicy but I probably clung most to Pop’s line about the team’s current state and construction: “This was purposeful, what you are seeing... It was put together with a lot of foresight and a lot of discussion.” It’s part PR spin, for sure, but it’s sort of fun that while everyone around the league balks at this team’s trajectory which may or may not restore them to relevance and competitiveness depending on how hard you squint, you have its well-regarded coach and figurehead saying, ‘we meant to do that’.

Jesus Gomez: There were a lot of good quotes from everyone, but I think we were all focused more on what Pop said to give us an idea of what’s to come. So I felt great relief when he said “Dejounte is going to play, Derrick is going to play. Lonnie is going to play. Devin is going to play. Keldon is going to play. And everybody else will, you know, punch in here and there, and in any given game it could be totally different people who get time that night.” It’s basically reassurance that the more established young guys will definitely get minutes and that everybody else will get opportunities, too. It was we all assumed was going to happen, but it was great to hear it from the man himself.

J.R. Wilco: Gomez stole mine, so I’ll go with, “It’s not a negative to say, but we don’t have superstars.” Since everyone agrees that you can’t win in the NBA without superstars, the only way it could NOT be considered a negative is if you’re not expecting to win. Now I’m not saying that Pop doesn’t want to win, or isn’t trying to win. That’d be ridiculous. I just think it’s interesting that he’s being so candidly realistic about his expectations (or lack thereof) for this year’s team.

Pop mentioned that Manu Ginobili was going to do a little bit of everything. Where do you expect Manu to help the most this season?

Dubinski: I can see him enjoying the scouting side of things (especially if he gets that two-week trip to Italy), but I really hope he embraces player development, and for that matter is embraced in return. There are just three players left on this squad who played with him (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Bryn Forbes), and not only will those guys gladly listen to and work with him again, but he’s likely seen as a legend and role model to all the other young players who are beyond thrilled to work with him. He can teach fundamentals, unselfishness, his never-say-die attitude, and just rub his Manu-ness off on everyone else. After all, he’s Manu Ginobili.

Barrington: Manu is a winner and a competitor. He gives everything on every play, and he’s going to instill that attitude in the players, coaches, and staff. He makes everyone better whenever he enters the room.

Passos: Everywhere, on the margins. What can’t Manu impart to a young player from handling themselves in certain game situations, overcoming adversity at the NBA level, making sacrifices that benefit the bigger picture, or taking care of their bodies for the long run? I’d expect his presence and voice have a range of benefits to anyone who will listen, and it definitely seems like the roster is filled with open ears.

Gomez: I don’t think Manu will make a big difference in his first year in a vague role, but just having him around will be huge because of his aura. With Patty Mills gone and Tim Duncan not being an assistant anymore, the connection to the Beautiful Game Spurs was getting lost, and I feel like having Manu around will re-strengthen it. If the Spurs indeed play high pace, unselfish basketball it can’t hurt to have a guy that embodied those ideals around to tell everyone “good job” after games.

Wilco: Whenever you have a player who sees the game like few ever have, it’s always great to find out if they can use their vision to open the eyes of players through coaching opportunities. If Manu has an impact this season, that’s where I’d like to see it.

Training camp is underway, and preseason starts soon. What are you most excited to see, or what are you going to be looking at the most closely?

Dubinski: I’m just excited to see what this group will do with no pressure, no player to center everything around, and freedom to play at their pace and their style. It will probably be messy at times, and they may struggle in half court sets, but it will be fun seeing the ball get pushed in transition and hopefully passed around more. (As a personal note, I wouldn’t mind seeing Bryn Forbes get some redemption with Spurs fans and simply come off the bench when needed and hit some threes. He won’t be a starter again, and it wasn’t his fault he was thrown in that position before, but he loves the Spurs and San Antonio — he left a championship team to come back, FCOL — and as a classic “Spurs diamond in the rough” story, we should love him back.)

Barrington: I’m interested to see what happens when there isn’t one player that’s the closer for the team. Who is going to step up, or will it be a combination of players? Without one player always having the ball in his hands, who will the offense be going through? I expect a much bigger role for Vassell, and also a return to the beautiful game where motion and passing matters more than isolation. I’m also wondering whether Keldon will wear his gold medal to the games.

Passos: I’ll be geeking out over new roles and responsibilities across the board, and how those change throughout the year. Who gets the first shot in the final seconds? What does that play look like? How many players will chance the odd pull-up three? It sounds like this team has a lot of self-discovery ahead of it and that’ll be interesting to follow.

Gomez: Mostly, what happens with the forward spots. Keldon Johnson and Doug McDermott will probably start, but what does the rotation look like when one of them checks out? Do the Spurs stay small and play Devin Vassell with one of the starters? Do they bring in Thaddeus Young for a more traditional look? Will Luka Samanic get minutes at all? Does Pop make room for everyone by playing Young as the backup center in some matchups? I think the forward spots are where most of the uncertainty is, so that’s what I’ll keep my eye on the most.

Wilco: It’s all about the defense. If this team is able to be competitive on a nightly basis, it’ll be because of their ability to make things difficult on opposing offenses. For years I took it for granted that Pop would coach the guys to a top 10 defense. I’d sure like to see one of those again.