Help often comes from the most unexpected sources; in the case of
the Spurs it arrived courtesy of the woebegone Clippers, in the
person of shooting guard Derek Anderson. "Derek adds what we
didn't have--a young and athletic player on the perimeter," San
Antonio coach Gregg Popovich says of his prized free-agent
signee. "With Derek and with Sean [Elliott] coming back, we have
people who can break down the defense at the end of the shot
clock. We didn't have that last year."
Elliott played only sporadically at small forward in the final
month of last season after recovering from a kidney transplant,
forcing San Antonio to rely on swingman Mario Elie from the
outside. But at 36, Elie no longer had the quickness to keep
teams honest. Fresh legs were essential. "With the rules put in
last year, you can't touch a man when he's on the perimeter,"
Popovich says. "Teams that can penetrate and break down the
defense have the advantage."
More than a dozen teams showed interest in the 26-year-old
Anderson. None wanted him more than the Spurs. They held a
private dinner for him downtown. Kids in DEREK ANDERSON #1
T-shirts waited to greet him at his hotel. Former team owner Red
McCombs, who now owns the Minnesota Vikings, hosted a lavish
party in Anderson's honor.
Most important, Popovich laid out the Spurs' reason for going
through all this trouble: their steadfast belief that Anderson
could help them add a second championship to their 1998-99 title.
That was reinforced when All-Star forward Tim Duncan twice met
Anderson at the San Antonio airport--first to recruit him, then to
welcome him after he had agreed to sign for the $2.25 million
salary-cap exception. "Tim told me that the teams they struggled
against last year were the teams with athletic two guards, and
the West is full of them," Anderson says. "I'm willing to listen
and learn and accept the role I have to play."
"We needed a slasher," says Duncan. "Derek's going to fit in well
Duncan was a formidable recruiter, which figures: He was
well-acquainted with the Spurs' recruiting pitch. The
most-sought-after free agent last summer, Duncan was weighing his
options in July when 35-year-old David Robinson flew from his
off-season home in Hawaii to San Antonio. Duncan was persuaded
that the Admiral had a few more good years left and that together
they could win another title. Duncan re-signed for three years
and $32.6 million.
Robinson's age and ailing back cannot be dismissed in assessing
the Spurs' title hopes, but he did report to training camp
looking more flexible than he has in years, thanks to a new
regimen of yoga. Point guard Avery Johnson, 35, must also stay
healthy through the postseason grind, knowing that after signing
a one-year, $8 million contract, this may be his last chance for
a ring. Then there's the condition of the 32-year-old Elliott,
whom Popovich will monitor closely. "We're going to be sure to
hydrate him more than anybody else," Popovich says.
The Spurs figure to be one of the most well-rounded and highly
motivated teams in the league--their motivation having been
heightened after they became the first defending champion to lose
in the first round of the playoffs since the 76ers in 1983-84.
Duncan, whose injured left knee sidelined him for the four-game
series against the Suns, has recovered from off-season surgery
and is poised to regain the dominant form that made him the MVP
runner-up in '98-99.
According to Popovich's plan, the Spurs will improve dramatically
once Anderson grows comfortable in their system. Admittedly,
Anderson had a few bad habits from his Clippers days to overcome
during training camp. "I gave the effort last year, but I'm not
going to try to fool you," he says. "It's not easy after you've
played really hard for 45 games and gotten no results."
That won't be a problem for him this season.
Derek Anderson's 4.2 free throws made per game in 1999-2000
ranked eighth in the league among shooting guards. Anderson sank
271 foul shots in 64 games; last year's Spurs' backcourt of Mario
Elie and Avery Johnson hit 240 in a combined 161 games.
STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
SF Sean Elliott 6.0 ppg 2.5 rpg 1.5 apg 35.8 FG% 35.1 3 FG%
PF Tim Duncan 23.2 ppg 12.4 rpg 3.2 apg 2.23 bpg 49.0 FG%
C David Robinson 17.8 ppg 9.6 rpg 2.29 bpg 1.21 spg 51.2 FG%
SG Derek Anderson 16.9 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.4 apg 1.41 spg 43.8 FG%
PG Avery Johnson 11.2 ppg 6.0 apg 1.9 rpg 0.93 spg 47.3 FG%
BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
G Terry Porter 9.4 ppg 3.3 apg 2.8 rpg 44.7 FG% 43.5 3FG%
C-F Samaki Walker 5.1 ppg 3.8 rpg 0.49 bpg 44.9 FG% 68.3 FT%
G Antonio Daniels 6.2 ppg 2.6 apg 0.81 spg 47.4 FG% 33.3 3FG%
F Danny Ferry 7.3 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.1 apg 49.7 FG% 44.0 3FG%
F Malik Rose 6.7 ppg 4.5 rpg 0.60 apg 45.7 FG% 72.2 FT%
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs
"The thing that makes the Spurs tough is that they don't get lazy
and just lob the ball in to the two big guys. They push it up
because both Tim Duncan and David Robinson run the floor so well.
They make you work to slow that down, and if you do, you're
almost in worse trouble because it's so tough to match up against
them.... Robinson's not as active as he used to be, but now he's
drawing other teams' second-best big defender, not their top guy.
That more than makes up for whatever he's lost.... Replacing
Mario Elie with Derek Anderson is really going to help them.
Anderson's younger and quicker, and he gives other teams one less
area to attack.... Avery Johnson is constantly attacking, and for
such a small guy he surprises you with his ability to finish. He
makes just enough jumpers to keep you honest.... Nobody's as deep
as Portland, but if you start matching up San Antonio with the
Lakers position by position and bench for bench, the Spurs don't
have to take a backseat."