Summer League Game 3: Joseph gets the keys, Spurs get L

LAS VEGAS — For two eye-opening games, second-year small forward Kawhi Leonard was the catalyst of the Spurs’ summer league team. Having seen enough out of him, the Spurs’ decision-makers freed Leonard from the rest of the week in Vegas and turned the keys over to the other member of his draft class.

Cory Joseph didn’t disappoint.

The second-year point guard finished with 22 points and six assists Wednesday, though the Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 86-80 at Cox Pavilion for their first summer league loss since 2009.

It is a pivotal summer for Joseph, who faces an Oct. 31 deadline for the Spurs to pick up his contract option for 2013-14. So far in Vegas he has helped himself, averaging 19.3 points  and five assists, while shooting 50 percent. More than that, Joseph has demonstrated a command of the Spurs’ offense he didn’t have as a 20-year-old rookie.

“We’re trying to put him in differenct situations and see how he deals with them,” summer league coach Jacque Vaughn said. “He’s done a pretty good job this week. It’s all about learning experience, game situations, clock management. It’s a lot going on, especially at the point guard position. This is really good for him.”

Asked what he’s liked most about Joseph’s effort in Vegas, Vaughn said: “Just seeing some maturity. It’s fun to see. We just want him to keep improving, and he’s doen that on both ends of the floor.”

Say this much for Joseph: He’s having a better inaugural summer league than George Hill had in 2008. And Hill turned out to be pretty good for the Spurs, and now the Indiana Pacers.

To be sure, Joseph has a long way to go before he’s ready to help in the NBA, and with Patrick Mills and Nando de Colo already on board for next season, the Spurs can afford to be patient.

One good week in Vegas is not going to cement Joseph into the Spurs’ long-term plans, but he’s not hurting himself with a solid performance so far.

With Leonard back home in San Diego, Joseph will have even greater opportunity to prove himself in the Spurs’ final two games here.

“Those two are definitely our priorities this summer,” Vaughn said. “Kawhi did a good job while he was here. Cory gets a chance to continue to do a good job. We’re looking forward to the games going forward.”

Other thoughts from the Spurs’ loss to the Clippers:

* Vaughn passed the buck when asked to discuss the decision to set Leonard loose. “I’m the head coach of the Spurs’ summer-league team. Someone else is the head coach of the Spurs,” Vaughn said. Of the call to remove Vaughn of his best player, the Spurs assistant coach joked, “Maybe my head was getting big from my 2-0 start.”

The Spurs insist Leonard’s removal from summer league was pre-planned, and not related to the sore left wrist he suffered in the Spurs’ victory Monday.

* Newly resigned shooting guard Danny Green was in attendance, and spent a few minutes laughing and talking with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in the bleachers. Green, who inked a three-year, $12 million contract earlier this month, said the new deal was “a big stress reliever.” He added he was glad Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford decided to bring back the bulk of last year’s roster. “I think it shows the faith they have in us,” Green said. “And they’re a lot smarter than I am.”

* None of the Spurs’ big man prospects are playing well enough to force the Spurs into using their 15th roster spot on them. Eric Dawson, a Sam Houston High grad, has been the most solid, having posted a pair of double-doubles and has the added advantage of knowing the Spurs system. Ryan Richards, a second-round pick in 2010, has shown little in his limited engagement but a propensity to foul. Alexis Ajinca, who has 77 games of NBA experience on his resume, is tall (7-foot-2) but little else. At this point, the best any of them should probably hope for is a training camp invite in October.

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