LAS VEGAS — Late last week, James Anderson arrived here in the desert, where it is always hot as Hades, feeling as if he’d landed in purgatory.
Anderson is a member of the Spurs’ Summer League squad, but not a member of the Spurs.
He is an unrestricted free agent, auditioning for his next job while still wearing the uniform of the team that cut him loose.
“I just came out here to show what I can do,” said Anderson, a 23-year-old shooting guard preparing for his third NBA season. “All the coaches are here. They’ll see what you can do on both ends.”
It is a situation Anderson could not have envisioned two summers ago, when the Spurs made him the 20th overall pick out of Oklahoma State.
At the time, Anderson was the team’s highest draft choice since Tim Duncan in 1997. The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, Anderson was a scoring star with exciting potential and a promising future in the organization.
Two years later, Anderson’s most likely future is elsewhere.
Besieged by injuries as a rookie, and replaced in the Spurs’ plans by journeyman Danny Green last season, Anderson played in just 77 games in two seasons, averaging less than 12 minutes.
Earlier this summer, Green parlayed a solid season into a three-year, $12 million deal. Meanwhile, Anderson is in Vegas begging for work after the Spurs declined to exercise a $1.56 million option to keep him.
Over the course of the week, and continuing with today’s game against the Lakers at Thomas Mack Arena, the Spurs aim to help Anderson help himself find a new basketball home.
“He deserves that,” said Spurs assistant Jacque Vaughn, coach of the Summer League team. “He deserves to be showcased. He deserves to be on an NBA team.”
Anderson says he harbors no ill feelings toward the Spurs about the decision to set him free. In fact, he’d prefer to stay with the Spurs if he could.
“Who wouldn’t want to stay in San Antonio with a program like that?” Anderson said.
With 14 players under contract, one below the league maximum, and the depth chart already crowded on the perimeter, it is unlikely the Spurs will bring Anderson back.
So in Vegas this week, Anderson is undergoing what amounts to a week-long job interview for 29 prospective employers.
He had a decent opening outing Sunday, scoring nine points with a steady defensive effort in the Spurs’ victory over Atlanta.
“I just play,” is how Anderson described his approach to this high-stakes Summer League. “I don’t worry about nothing. I put it all in God’s hands and go out and play.”
Second-year point guard Cory Joseph, who could face a similar situation at this time next season if the Spurs decline to pick up his third-year option, said he hasn’t seen Anderson’s sense of duty waver as a career crossroads nears.
“James is a professional, and he handles himself like a professional,” Joseph said. “He never gets down on himself. He never blames anyone else. He just controls what he can control.”
That approach has endeared him to the Spurs’ coaching staff.
“We’re still in love with James,” coach Gregg Popovich said
“It’s probably not correct to say I’m pulling for a guy,” Vaughn said, “but I’m pulling for him.”
Vaughn says he believes Anderson has what it takes to play in the NBA, if not with the Spurs, then somewhere.
“He has a lot of basketball left in him,” Vaughn said. “It’s (about) what he’s going to do from here on out. Hopefully, that’s good things.”
Still, Anderson acknowledges, it will be a bittersweet day when he’s forced to put away his Spurs uniform for good.
“Of course,” he said. “But life goes on.”
Vaughn on Magic short list: Vaughn is on the list of three finalists for the coaching job in Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
With Utah assistant Jeff Hornacek out of the running Monday, the pool of candidates to replace Stan Van Gundy is down to Vaughn, Philadelphia associate head coach Michael Curry and Phoenix assistant of player development Lindsay Hunter. Vaughn, 37, is considered the front-runner, the Sentinel reported.