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From delirium to euphoria, and back again in Spurstown

The Spurs make a statement, while questions abound.

Chicago Bulls v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It starts with an irregular if innocuous announcement ahead of Gregg Popovich’s pregame availability for Friday night’s game against the Bulls: ‘Coach is running late, so please come back to the team’s media room in a half hour.’

A half hour or so passes, Chicago’s Billy Donovan conducts his own presser, the same group of local and visiting reporters take their seats and, before anyone from the organization emerges, a press release hits inboxes. Those that check their phones afford themselves a moment to react, and the word spreads: SAN ANTONIO SPURS WAIVE JOSH PRIMO.

It’s a short press release, even by the Spurs’ standards, anchored by a comment from SS&E CEO RC Buford emphasizing the hope that the “decision will serve the best interest of both the organization and Joshua.” When a solemn Pop appears moments later, he declines comment on the dismissal of the 2021 11th overall pick, deferring to the team’s announcement, fielding a few questions about the upcoming matchup before returning to the locker room. It does at least seemingly answer the question of what held him up.

The tone, lack of details, and unprecedented nature all speak to a situation that is, in the least, highly sensitive and almost certainly not basketball-related. And yet for those same reasons the mind proceeds to whir, balancing personal concern and attempts to understand what could lead to such a move — especially from an organization like the Spurs and especially with a 19-year-old player they were both heavily invested and seemingly high on. Predictably the same takes place online, and in dumber, more grasping fashion.

If this is the natural way for us to react to fragmented news, there’s more than one way a team can handle its business in such times. They could come out of the gates a bit flat … rather than race to a 17-5 lead like the Spurs did on Friday, let a game get away from them after mistake-ridden 2nd and 3rd quarters, or shrug at what could’ve been easily dismissed as the growing pains of a young group with low expectations. But through it all San Antonio displayed a new level of mettle, as well as the connected play that’s bound their strong start to the season.

Sometime during the action, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News starts filling the blanks on “one of the most shocking moves in club history.” Shortly after, an update from Primo himself. Of sorts:

With loaded words and worryingly unclear circumstances, the statement triggers more speculation for some, affirms half-formed suspicions in others. The internet does its thing.

A game continues in San Antonio. The Spurs flash more of the traits that have made (and should continue to make) this season delightful. 6-8 rookie Jeremy Sochan picks his man up 94 feet from his own basket before settling into place in the team’s 2-3 scheme — at the top of the arc as a point-of-attack defender. Zach Collins puts together perhaps his most complete game as a Spur. 2nd round pick-turned starting point guard Tre Jones makes more good plays than bad in crunch time. Keldon Johnson (33 points) rises to the moment and spearheads a comeback. Spurs win, 129-124, and the AT&T Center erupts one last time, a sublimation of the moment through the dumb power of sports.

Appearing from an uproarious locker room, an amenable Pop takes a seat and goes through the beats of the win. He throws out a pair of lofty comparisons for Jones — to Manu Ginobili, in how his heart makes him a winner — and Jakob Poeltl — to David Robinson’s “boring” dependability. He talks former Spur DeMar DeRozan, who eclipsed 20,000 career points in the first half, and lauded the team’s 37 assists, which keep the Spurs pacing the league in that stat. When pressed, he briefly, vaguely, recognizes the elephant in the room, praising the team’s ability to play through challenging circumstances, whatever they may be. He laughs.

As the Primo questions persist into the weekend and beyond, his former teammates collectively make the one statement they could on Friday: that they have a clear style, cohesion, and casual confidence that they should be 4-2. The off-the-court answers may come in time, bringing whatever satisfaction this type of news can, while the Spurs continue to quell doubts of who they are on it.