By Jeff McDonald
Wednesday was media day at the Spurs’ practice facility, and Tim Duncan knew the drill.
For the 15th consecutive year, Duncan donned his white No. 21 jersey and smiled awkwardly while the cameras click, click, clicked away.
For Tony Parker, it was Spurs media day No. 11. For Manu Ginobili, it was No. 10.
In a post-lockout NBA world, with players still shuffling from team to team well into training camp, the Spurs hope to use their core players’ familiarity with each other to their advantage once the 66-game regular season begins.
“These guys have a lot of chemistry,” said backup point guard T.J. Ford, who experienced his first media day with the Spurs. “That goes a long way.”
Given an abbreviated camp, with the start of an abbreviated season looming Dec. 26, that nebulous thing coach Gregg Popovich calls “corporate knowledge” could mean more now than ever.
The Spurs are still unsettled at small forward, where Richard Jefferson may or may not be the opening day starter, and at center, where Antonio McDyess appears intent on retirement.
They are attempting to ?integrate their highest-drafted rookie since Duncan in Kawhi Leonard, are missing another first-rounder (Cory Joseph) who has been unable to practice while awaiting a work visa from Canada and are also without key reserve guard Gary Neal, who had an appendectomy Monday.
Compared to other rosters across the rapidly shifting NBA, the Spurs’ situation is practically Gibraltar.
If the Spurs so choose, they could return the most-used starting lineup from last year’s 61-win season — the Big Three plus Jefferson and DeJuan Blair.
“What we are lacking in some ways — youth, fresh legs — we make up for in corporate knowledge that we talk about,” Ginobili said. “You always gain something you lose on the other side, so hopefully we’ll use that to our advantage.”
Elsewhere across the league, teams are scrambling to stuff an entire offseason of roster moves into the span of about a week against the backdrop of training camp.
In New Orleans, the Hornets have just seven players on guaranteed contracts and on Wednesday agreed to trade the best of them, All-Star point guard Chris Paul, to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs, by contrast, at least have enough NBA players in camp to stage a game of 5-on-5.
In Denver, the Nuggets lost three players (Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith) to China. In Dallas, the defending champion Mavericks lost starting center Tyson Chandler and reserve wings J.J. Barea and Caron Butler to free agency and face a short turnaround to indoctrinate newly acquired forward Lamar Odom.
In Houston, Minnesota, Toronto and Golden State, teams are adjusting to new head coaches, new philosophies and new cultures.
“We’re going to do the same stuff, the same plays,” said Parker, whose team plays its first preseason game Saturday in Houston. “I think we’re going to have a bit of an advantage. Now we just have to show it on the court.”
That’s not to say the Spurs’ opening-day roster is carved in stone.
The front office has engaged in serious discussions with free-agent small forward Josh Howard, most recently of Washington, and would like to add another big man, perhaps using McDyess’ $5.22 million expiring contract as a trade chip.
So far, however, the Spurs appear content to let the first flurry of activity subside before diving headlong into the market.
The first hard deadline they face is Friday, when they must decide whether to use their one-time amnesty provision to waive a player — most likely Jefferson —or pocket it until next season.
“It’s been kind of wild,” Ginobili said, surveying the league-wide free-for-all of roster-building. “Usually free agency is more like a domino effect, where you wait for two or three of the big fish to sign somewhere, and then the other players start cascading to other teams.
“That hasn’t happened yet.”
Eventually, perhaps, players will begin cascading to the Spurs. Even if that happens, they will still return a core of players who have shared a decade’s worth of media days together.
In this lockout-shortened season, with chemistry at a premium, that’s sure to count for something.