Return of NBA has Pop pumped

Near the end of a 13½-minute Q-and-A session Friday afternoon that was heavy on the Q and light on the A, Spurs coach and noted curmudgeon Gregg Popovich stunned the assembled media with a startling confession.

So bored had he gotten during the NBA’s 149-day lockout that he even missed his daily jousting sessions with reporters.

“Actually, I do sort of enjoy this,” Popovich said, eyes twinkling. “You’ve got good senses of humor. You know I’m not going to answer anything, and you come all the way over here for nothing.”

In a heartfelt moment elsewhere during the news conference, meant to scene-set the anticipated opening of training camp next week, Popovich also admitted something unsurprising to those closest to the 62-year-old coach.

He is as happy for basketball’s return, and the beginning of his 16th season on the Spurs’ bench, as anyone.

The lengthened travel itinerary, hop-scotching through San Francisco, Colorado Springs, New York, London and Montenegro, was nice. The supersized offseason afforded time to read more books than usual.

Yet with Tim Duncan entering the last season of his contract at age 35, and Manu Ginobili no spring chicken at 34, Popovich is eager to get started on what could be the Spurs’ last chance at relevance with their championship core.

“I’m thrilled to get going,” Popovich said. “This is not just our job, but it’s something we all love. So we’re all thrilled the season is beginning.”

Popovich’s team continued its gradual reassembling Friday, with point guard Tony Parker arriving at the Spurs’ unlocked practice facility for his annual physical. Duncan, James Anderson and rookie Cory Joseph were already there, having endured their exams a day earlier.

The players’ ranks are expected to swell to something close to a full roster by the middle of next week. Center Tiago Splitter could be among the last to return, having opted to play one more game for the Spanish team Valencia on Sunday against Real Madrid before heading stateside.

In the meantime, Spurs front office officials continued to man the phones Friday setting up a battle plan for the start of free agency Dec. 9. That date coincides with the expected opening of camp, assuming no snags in the approval of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, meaning the first week could be a personnel scramble.

It’s a distinct possibility the Spurs’ roster on Day 1 of camp could look significantly different by the team’s expected post-Christmas season opener.

Among the free agents the Spurs have  reportedly contacted are a slew of small forwards: Dallas’ Caron Butler, a pair of Washington Wizards in Josh Howard and Maurice Evans and ex New Jersey Net Bostjan Nachbar, who had been playing in Europe.

“I don’t know how it’s going to look or who’s going to be here Friday,” Popovich said.

Other questions that could clarify the roster — whether Antonio McDyess intends to retire or whether the Spurs plan to use their amnesty provision on Richard Jefferson or anybody else — have yet to be answered, Popovich said.

“That’s what we’re doing now: Trying to decide who we want to sign and what free agents to go after and do we want to make any trades,” he said.

As for many of the rest of the questions lobbed from his old friends in the media, Popovich didn’t come with many answers Friday.

Will the shortened season help an older team like the Spurs? Will the compressed schedule change how Popovich handles playing and practice time? Does a shortened training camp give an advantage to veteran teams like the Spurs who have been around each other awhile? How steep a learning curve will rookies Joseph and Kawhi Leonard face, bereft of the benefit of proper summer development time?

“Those things don’t matter, because it is what it is,” Popovich said. “It’s a waste of time to worry about what isn’t.”

PRESEASON PLANS: The Spurs are working to finalize details on a two-game, home-and-home series with Houston that would constitute the entirety of an abbreviated preseason schedule. Dates for the games are still to be determined.

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