Ginobili ready to rise from the ashes

By Mike Monroe

These are dark days for Manu Ginobili.

A plume of volcanic ash has descended on most of Argentina since the June 4 eruption of the Puyehue volcano in neighboring Chile, darkening the winter skies, choking cattle in the Pampas and disrupting air travel.

The atmosphere has improved lately in Bahia Blanca, Ginobili’s home city, and the Spurs guard has begun a training regimen he expects will have him physically ready for the FIBA Americas tournament scheduled to begin Aug. 30 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Ginobili has been in Bahia Blanca for a few weeks, carefully rehabbing the right elbow he injured in the final game of the Spurs’ regular season. This week, he began weight training; soon he will add running drills and take his first shots on a basketball court since April 29, when the Spurs were eliminated from their first-round playoff series against Memphis.

The physical pain from the sprained right elbow and tiny bone fracture, suffered on April 13, is nearly gone.

“The last time I did the MRI (in mid-May), they told me the bone edema that I had was controlling itself but still needed a little time,” Ginobili said. “The little fracture is almost healed, but I needed more time to get completely healed.

“I am not playing basketball now, but lifting carefully. Running, well, I don’t need my elbow to run. Soon, I will start shooting free throws … and see how it goes.”

Emotional pain from the Spurs’ first-round exit is another story. After a season that produced 61 victories and great postseason expectations, the early elimination sapped Ginobili’s interest in the remaining games.

Time spent watching the NBA Finals?

“None, zero,” he said. “I simply couldn’t take it. I would go online the day after to see what happened, but it hurt too much to watch the games.”

Though he stressed that the Grizzlies eliminated the Spurs “really fair and square,” he contends the Spurs were nonetheless title-worthy.

“I truly believe … if we could have beat them, and been healthy, we could have made it,” he said. “I don’t think we were that much less than OKC or the Lakers or Mavs or Heat. I think we had a shot. Memphis played really well and aggressively and just beat us.”

More importantly, Ginobili is convinced the Spurs remain a future NBA title contender.

“It’s hard to say when a team has its last shot,” he said. “Of course, the Bulls lost Michael Jordan and couldn’t make another run. But we’ve got the same core of players, and nothing changed dramatically, so why not? I believe in our players and our organization, so I believe we do have another shot.”

For now, Ginobili’s focus is the FIBA Americas tournament, where Argentina must finish first or second to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

A key member of Argentina’s 2004 Olympic gold-medal squad, Ginobili eagerly has awaited the tournament from the moment he learned it would be contested in his home country.

“It is very, very important for me,” he said. “Not only because it gives me the opportunity to play in my last Olympic Games, but also the first time we have played in Argentina in a decade. After all we have accomplished, having the opportunity to play in front of our fans and our people is very important. It is going to be fun. It is just a short time, just nine games.”

Insurance issues must be resolved before Ginobili and other NBA players don their national team uniforms, with a looming lockout of NBA players adding to the confusion.

Would Ginobili play for Argentina, even if his contract weren’t insured against injury?

“That is a really tough decision to make if we arrived at that point,” he said. “We will have to dig down with teammates and friends and make a decision, a really difficult one, and I don’t think that many players are going to be able to play if we don’t find an option for insurance.

“I’m really hoping that the NBPA (players’ union) finds a good, solid insurance company; finds the money that is needed, and we can all think about playing.”

Like many NBA players, Ginobili anticipates a lockout will cost games next season, but he has no plans to play overseas unless the entire season is eliminated.

“If the lockout goes to January and the season is canceled, I might consider it,” he said. “If not, no I wouldn’t.”

An All-NBA choice last season, at age 34, Ginobili knows his NBA playing days are limited but has yet to consider his career’s conclusion.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “Of course, anybody can tell that I played very good last season, especially at the beginning, but I don’t know how I will feel next season or the next few years.

“Everybody knows I don’t have the same legs I once did, but I try to be decisive for my team, be a leader and provide ways for my team to win. I think I can do it for a few years more, but it depends on how I feel physically and mentally.

“If I am as motivated as I’ve ever been, I will keep going, but if not, I will say thanks to everybody and keep going on with my life.”

At the moment, he expects nothing less than a rise from the ashes.

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