Spurs’ Splitter expects crazy summer

The player Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls a linchpin of the team’s future doesn’t pretend to know what the immediate future holds.

Center Tiago Splitter has been hard at work at the Spurs’ practice court the past three weeks, beginning the overhaul of a shot that needs serious tweaking. But he wonders whether the coming months will mean finding a new shooting coach and a gym in which to work.

He had plans to play in the FIBA Americas tournament in Argentina in September, but they’re on hold. Splitter hoped to help his national team, Brazil, qualify for the 2012 Olympic basketball tournament in London.

Locked away in a corner of his mind is the thought he prefers to ignore, but can’t entirely rule out: a return next season to the team he led to the 2010 Spanish ACB League title.

The labor impasse between the NBA and the players union is the reason for the uncertainty. The league has threatened a lockout once the current collective bargaining agreement expires July 1. Nobody knows how long a work stoppage might last. The only lockout in league history wiped out the first two-and-a-half months of the 1998-99 season.

Were a lockout to threaten the bulk of the 2011-12 season, Splitter knows there is a ticket back to the Europe he likely can book.

“I think everybody is thinking about playing (in Europe),” he said. “For me, it’s a little bit easier, because I played over there and I have my passport. Still, it’s going to be tough and right now I’m trying to not think about it. Right now, I’m thinking we will end the season and have no problems.

“Of course, if they are still having the same problems and nothing is happening, who knows? I’ll play three, four months over there.”

Splitter understands the path back to Europe during a lockout won’t be without complication. An end to the lockout would demand immediate return to NBA teams if a season were pending. European teams, he said, won’t be eager to sign players who may not be with them for long.

“Nobody is going to sign you on one of the big teams knowing you can leave tomorrow,” he said.

For now, Splitter’s summer itinerary includes a mid-July return to Brazil to join the national team in training for the FIBA Americas tournament. Even that plan must await the results of CBA talks.

“This is one of the crazy summers I’m going to have,” said Splitter, the 26-year-old whose rookie season was a series of injury-plagued stops and starts. “We don’t know what it’s going to be. It is hard to plan something because it all depends on what is going to happen with the lockout. You can be on vacation until December or January. Nobody knows.”

Though he has committed to play for Brazil, Splitter won’t play unless his contract with the Spurs can be insured.

“I told (Brazilian team officials) that of course there is a problem,” Splitter said. “Most important is the insurance. If the NBA is in lockout, I don’t have insurance to play with them. They have to figure out how to deal (with) that. If not, I’m not playing.”

Under the current CBA, teams can’t prohibit players from competing in FIBA events. However, NBA teams must be indemnified against injury incurred in international competition. The cost of insuring contracts worth millions is significant.

“We start in July, our camp with national team,” Splitter said. “I will be (in Brazil), waiting (for) what they can find. There are a lot of international players with the same issue. I don’t know who is going to take care of (insurance): FIBA or companies or even the federation. So everybody is waiting.

“It is going to be expensive, and it is going to cost more for guys with big contracts, so it is really going to cost a lot for Tony (Parker) and Manu (Ginobili) because they must insure the whole contract.”

Parker, who recently committed to play for France in this summer’s EuroBasket tournament, is under contract to the Spurs through 2014-15, a total of $50 million.

Ginobili, the leader of the Argentine team, has two years remaining on his Spurs deal for a total of $27.1 million.

Splitter is under contract for two more years worth a total of $7.616 million.

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