By Jeff McDonald
When the Spurs take to the practice floor today for the start of a shortened training camp prelude to a shortened season, they could be without a starting small forward and a starting center.
There will be a scant 17 days to fill out the roster, integrate new players, re-install the playbook and generally approach some semblance of playing shape before the 66-game regular-season opens Dec. 26 against Memphis.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, despite his reputation as something of a control freak, swears he is cool with all of this.
“I’m not uncomfortable about anything,” Popovich said. “We’re going to camp like we would any other year, and you go do your job.”
At the dawn of this strangest of training camps, with free agency opening the same day as practice, uncertainty reigns supreme across the NBA.
Outside of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it’s hard to say who exactly will be present on the Spurs’ post-lockout practice court when the doors swing wide this afternoon.
The Spurs are strongly considering waiving small forward Richard Jefferson under the NBA’s new amnesty clause, though the leading candidate to replace him — former Dallas swingman Caron Butler — agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.
And Antonio McDyess, the Spurs’ playoff starter at center, is thought to be leaning toward retirement, but hasn’t informed anybody of anything.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” McDyess’ agent, Andy Miller, said Thursday. “But I don’t.”
Answers for the Spurs’ dilemma at small forward have proven just as elusive.
Though Jefferson has informed multiple teammates of the Spurs’ intention to waive him, the team could rethink that plan if no better option presents itself.
With Butler off the table, the Spurs remain in the hunt for Washington’s Josh Howard, who had a positive visit with Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford earlier this week, while also clinging to the fading hope they can sway 39-year-old Grant Hill away from Phoenix with the promise of a two-year deal.
“I always trust (the front office) and trust their judgment to improve our team,” said Parker, who will definitely be getting a new backup at point guard in Indiana expatriate T.J. Ford. “Knowing Pop, we want to try and win it, so I know they’re going to bring in guys who are competitive.”
McDyess, 37, was a recluse in Houston for most of the lockout as he contemplates whether to return for a 16th season he never intended on playing in the first place.
The three-year contract he signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2009 included a nice retirement bonus: $2.64 million guaranteed in 2011-12, whether he suits up or not.
The Spurs have until today to waive McDyess and cut him a check for that $2.64 million. If they don’t, the entirety of his $5.22 million pact becomes guaranteed.
Buford calls McDyess’ status for the start of camp “unclear.” One potential reason for the ambiguity: McDyess’ contract is constructed in such a manner as to make him an enticing trade chip to a team in search of salary cap relief.
After last season, Spurs officials were hopeful McDyess — who averaged 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds over the past two seasons — could be persuaded to return for an abbreviated campaign.
For now, signs seem to point to McDyess being absent at least for the start of camp.
“I’m his agent and his friend,” Miller said. “The one thing I’m not is his therapist. He’s got to make the decision that’s in his best interest.”
Perhaps McDyess can afford to sit tight. For the rest of the Spurs, whoever they might be, training camp is here.
Ready or not.
The Spurs open training camp today with many famil- iar faces, a couple who arrived midseason and are in their first Spurs camp, and some brand new faces.
SG James Anderson, 22
C DeJuan Blair, 22
F-C Matt Bonner, 31
PF Tim Duncan, 35
SG Manu Ginobili, 34
SG Gary Neal, 27
PG Tony Parker, 29
PF Tiago Splitter, 26
PG Cory Joseph, 20
SF Kawhi Leonard, 20
PG Devin Gibson, 22
SF Da’Sean Butler, 23
G-F Danny Green, 24
PG T.J. Ford, 28
SF Grant Hill, 39
F-G Josh Howard, 31
SF Richard Jefferson, 31
PF Antonio McDyess, 37
PF Steve Novak, 28
PG Chris Quinn, 28
Source: Express-News research