How did Brent Barry prepare for the chance of a lifetime? "I read a lot," says the 32-year-old guard, and he's not talking Melville or Tolstoy. "I read a book called Mind Gym. I read Coaching the Mental Game and Way of the Peaceful Warrior--not going as deep as Dr. Phil, but things to get my focus where it needs to be this year."
Barry has never won a playoff series in nine seasons with the Clippers, Heat, Bulls and Sonics, which is why he turned down a richer offer to stay in Seattle for a four-year, $19.6 million free-agent contract with San Antonio, which won the championship two seasons ago. "The most important things for me were to have a chance to win and to really fit into a system," Barry says. "I'm here to win this year and also to enjoy the process of what it takes to win."
The Spurs believe Barry's pinpoint shooting can put them over the top. "You're only as good as your last game, and our last game we didn't shoot the ball well," says swingman Bruce Bowen, referring to a Game 6 loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. Barry shot 45.2% from the three-point line last season--and that was without an inside force like Tim Duncan to create space--but he can also drive to the basket and play the point, making him a fine complement to the starting backcourt of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. "He's a complete player who makes all of us better," says coach Gregg Popovich. "With Brent and Tony on the court, I don't care who's bringing the ball up, I don't care who's running pick-and-roll."
Barry has made plenty of big shots but never in late May or June. "It's like being in the backyard and doing the countdown and making the shot and nobody sees you but the neighbor's dog," he says. "Now I'm looking forward to when it really counts." --I.T.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Spurs
They're the favorite in the West because Tim Duncan is the conference's dominant player now that Shaq is gone. If I were starting a team, I'd build it around Duncan instead of Kevin Garnett; Duncan is more of a post-up force, as well as the go-to guy in just about every situation. He could average 35 points if he wanted, and no one is better at elevating the play of his teammates.... After a rough start Rasho Nesterovic became far more reliable as well as a better shot blocker. Now he has to show he can stay at that level in the playoffs.... You used to be able to lay off Bruce Bowen because he couldn't finish around the basket, but he's improved in that area as well as with his three-point shot. And he still beats the crap out of whoever he's guarding.... Gregg Popovich is known as one of the league's most inflexible coaches, but that's also his strength because he only brings in players he knows he can work with and who will fit his style of play--like Brent Barry. And Barry will really help their foul shooting; they ranked last in that category last season.... You see some young players get out of control, and once that happens it's hard to rein them in. But over the latter part of the season Popovich allowed Tony Parker more freedom, and if that trend continues, I expect Parker to have a phenomenal year. There aren't many guards who can handle his speed on the break or his quickness in the half court.... They signed Manu Ginobili to a six-year, $52 million contract, but I think he was worthy of a max deal because he makes big plays in the biggest moments. He has to rank among the top 10 NBA players that you'd trust with the ball in the last minute of a tight game.
The Spurs held opponents to 40.9% shooting last season, the lowest since defensive field goal percentage became an official stat in 1970--71.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 57--25 (2nd in West)
Points scored: 91.5 (19th in NBA)
Points allowed: 84.3 (T-1st)
Coach: Gregg Popovich
(ninth season with the Spurs)
BENO UDRIH (R)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (Italian league stats) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)