Shooting guard Steve Smith had hardly been in San Antonio long
enough to visit the Alamo before he found himself lighter in the
wallet, having kicked in on a $25,000 donation to a
Spurs-supported fund for families of local military reservists
called to duty. "I was glad to do it," says Smith, 32, who was
acquired in July from the Trail Blazers for guards Derek
Anderson and Steve Kerr. Contributions other than financial,
however, will now be asked of the 6'8" Smith, one of three
newcomers to the lineup, alongside Tim Duncan and David
Robinson. Changing 60% of the starters on a team that owned the
league's best regular-season record last year seems like radical
surgery, but such was the impact of the Lakers' four-and-out
humiliation of San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.
"We were so bad that people got mad at us," says coach and
general manager Gregg Popovich. "One guy in the press called us
'disgusting pigs.'" Popovich, who last month received a contract
extension that will pay him $4 million annually through 2005-06,
shook his head, smiled ruefully and asked, "You ever been called
a disgusting pig?"
As barnyard bad as the Spurs were in losing Games 3 and 4 by a
combined 68 points, the changes do not have the smell of
desperation about them. One was contract-based; San Antonio was
unable to come to terms with free-agent Anderson. Smith is five
years older than Anderson and much less explosive offensively,
but he is more versatile and plays excellent team defense, which
fits in well with the Spurs. With the departure of point guard
Avery Johnson, who signed with the Nuggets, San Antonio lost a
steadying influence, especially since his replacement,
26-year-old Antonio Daniels, is one of those points who says he
feels "just as comfortable at either guard position"--a
proclamation that sounds suspiciously like "running quarterback."
But Daniels proved his mettle in the playoffs (he and Duncan were
the only two Spurs not to go AWOL in any of the games) and will
amp up the team's defensive intensity.
So will Sean Elliott's successor at small forward, 6'7" Bruce
Bowen, who was named second-team all-defense last year with the
Heat. Add spaced-out, tatted-up frontcourt reserve Cherokee Parks
and supercharged 19-year-old rookie point guard Tony Parker from
Paris--"a fast break by himself" as Robinson puts it--and the
Spurs, the familiar presence of Duncan and the Admiral
notwithstanding, look rather un-Spurs-like. "Management's main
concern was getting us younger and more versatile," says
Robinson, who had a rare contract contretemps before signing a
two-year deal worth $20 million. "It remains to be seen how it
plays out, but we accomplished those goals."
It remains to be seen, too, whether the Spurs can forget about
the series against the Lakers, who seemed to expose them as
gutless frauds (please don't call them disgusting pigs) caught
shivering in the shadow of Shaq and Kobe. "Forget it?" says
Duncan. "We don't want to forget it. Remembering that series
gives us our focus." Says Popovich, "What I couldn't accept is
that our guys lost their belief, gave in to their doubts."
Popovich may now have a team less inclined to give in. Daniels
is a cocky, give-me-the-ball type, and Bowen doesn't sound like
a man uncertain of his ability, having perfected the
third-person mode of speech familiar to superstar athletes. An
example: "It's not Bruce replacing Sean Elliott. It's just Bruce
coming in and trying to fill a void. Sean was a more polished
offensive player, so don't look for Bruce to do the things he
did. At the same time, you'll get a certain production from
Bruce all the time."
You get the picture; Bruce gets the picture. Now we'll see if the
rest of the Spurs get it too.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs
"Going from Avery Johnson to Antonio Daniels was not a plus
for them. Avery is an excellent leader who made great decisions
and knew how to get them into their secondary offense. With him,
they were not an all-out speed team but an attacking team always
going at your weakness. Daniels is capable of getting it done,
but they looked a lot more solid with Johnson.... Tony Parker can
push it up with speed, but I don't know how comfortable they'll
feel about using him. He's not a great shooter at this stage....
Tim Duncan and David Robinson, obviously, are still the keys.
They can run the floor, they can shoot, they can pass, they're
smart. There's been some drop-off with Robinson. He no longer
creates shots for himself. You have to be aware that he's more of
an elbow isolation-type guy. Duncan has no weakness. You have to
double him, but he'll find the open guy or put it on the floor.
He has a great jump hook that he almost never has to use. Plus,
he'll get to the line.... It's similar to what you face with
Utah: You spend so much time thinking about two guys that the
other ones kill you. You can't let Malik Rose or Danny Ferry get
off on you and score 20, no matter how much Duncan and Robinson
are hurting you down low.... Bruce Bowen's big plus will be on
defense. He can defend twos or threes. He'll get his points in
transition and other little ways, and most important, he won't
demand the ball.... Steve Smith's a guy anybody would want. He
was more than a good trade-off for Derek Anderson."
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT MORA/NBA ENTERTAINMENT DRIVEN The ever-brilliant Duncan expects to gain motivation from the L.A. humiliation, but he'll do it with a new supporting cast.
2000-01 record: 58-24 (first in Midwest)
Coach: Gregg Popovich (sixth season with Spurs)
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
SF Bruce Bowen 7.6 ppg 3.0 rpg 1.6 apg 1.01 spg 36.3 FG%
PF Tim Duncan 22.2 ppg 12.2 rpg 3.0 apg 2.34 bpg 49.9 FG%
C David Robinson 14.4 ppg 8.6 rpg 2.46 bpg 1.00 spg 48.6 FG%
SG Steve Smith 13.6 ppg 2.6 apg 3.4 rpg 0.59 spg 45.6 FG%
PG Antonio Daniels 9.4 ppg 3.8 apg 2.1 rpg 46.8 FG% 40.4 3FG%
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS
G Terry Porter 7.2 ppg 3.1 apg 2.5 rpg 44.8 FG% 42.4 3FG%
G Tony Parker(R)14.7 ppg 5.6 apg 2.7 rpg 48.9 FG% 30.4 3FG%
F Malik Rose 7.7 ppg 5.4 rpg 0.70 bpg 1.04 spg 43.5 FG%
F Danny Ferry 5.6 ppg 2.8 rpg 0.35 spg 47.5 FG% 44.9 3FG%
C Cherokee Parks 4.6 ppg 3.5 rpg 0.7 apg 0.55 bpg 48.9 FG%
(R) Rookie (statistics from French league)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
"Steve Smith was more than a good trade-off for Derek Anderson."