LAS VEGAS – The Spurs are supposed to be old. Start with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. You can almost hear their knees crackle from the cheap seats.
But while the years are piling up fast for the above-mentioned duo, not to mention Tony Parker, who’s got to have more mileage on his motor than any 31-year-old point guard around, youth is being served in San Antonio.
Get past the Three Amigos, and the team is teaming with dynamic and athletic 20somethings. The Spurs had three big club regulars – point guard Corey Joseph, guard Nando De Colo and center Aron Baynes – on their NBA Summer League roster, a rarity for a title-contending squad.
Kawhi Leonard would have been a Summer League candidate if not for an invite to Team USA’s camp. (The 22-year-old small forward had to miss the camp to rehab his left knee.) Shooting guard Danny Green is only 26. Recently re-signed center Tiago Splitter checks in at 28.
The two free agent signings were guard Marco Belinelli, 27, and forward Jeff Pendergraph, 26. Of the 14 players currently on the San Antonio roster, nine are on the good side of 30. Leonard, Green and Splitter started the majority of last season. Joseph and De Colo saw significant minutes at times due to injuries.
There’s a lot to put on the shoulders of the younger Spurs. Just not too much.
“I don’t think we go into it thinking this person has to do this for us in order to be better or as good as we want to be,” general manager R.C. Buford said. “It’s more about as a group how do we play well together and accentuate each other’s skill sets. Hopefully by doing that we’ll be a better team.”
Make no mistake, Gregg Popovich’s Spurs are still led by Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. But they would not have won the West and reached the NBA Finals without their little brothers in silver and black.
“The Spurs play a team-game, for sure,” Baynes said. “We don’t have a Kobe or LeBron or Durant out there, so we need to play team basketball. The veterans are great at getting everyone else involved.
“We just want to go out and try to complement them with the youth that there is here. Kawhi and Danny and Tiago, the list goes on, there’s a whole lot of guys that come in and play the system and that allows the team to win at the end of the day. Playing team ball, playing the right way, playing Pop’s system is why we’re successful.”
Baynes is a newcomer to the party, but not the San Antonio way. The 6-10, 260-pounder joined the Spurs in January (he was playing in Slovenia) with a better than basic understanding of the team’s schemes. Baynes, 26, is a longtime member of the Australia’s national team, which is coached by Spurs assistant Brett Brown.
“Timmy and Tony and Manu, those guys have been running it for over a decade,” Baynes said of San Antonio’s offensive and defensive schemes. “I’m still learning. I see that. I know there is a lot for me to learn, so every opportunity I get, I want to go out there and run it, and get the nuances more. I know there is a lot for me to learn.”
Each of the three Spurs that were in Summer League had specific agendas for their Las Vegas stays. The Spurs want De Colo to play both with and off the ball, much like Ginobili. The former Italian star showed flashes during his rookie campaign, making six starts and scoring in double figures eight times.
“I tried to be focused on my shot, take good shots and play my game,” De Colo said. “Try to be aggressive every time, be careful and try to play well for the team.”
Joseph, entering his third season, is being given every opportunity to be Parker’s primary backup. Joseph not only spent a good chuck of time with D-League Austin last season, he started nine games for the Spurs with Parker down.
Joseph’s offseason goals are: “Just being a PG, leading my team to wins. It doesn’t matter how well I shoot, how bad I shoot, as long as we get the win I’m happy. Just being a leader and being more vocal.”
Baynes is big body to bring off the bench, something the Spurs haven’t had much of since Splitter graduated to the first team.
“I know what I have to do. I know what’s gotten me here,” Baynes said. “Being physical and being a presence down in the paint, both offensively and defensively, is what I’m trying to focus on, playing the right style of basketball that will complement the team.
“I don’t need to go out there and be a great scorer. If the opportunity is given to me, I’ll take it. I need to be out there and play defense on my guy and rebound.”
The Spurs are at least two years away from a major changing of the guard, as the contracts of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker expire together in 2015. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess, but the cupboard shouldn’t be bare when the inevitable transition begins to the next San Antonio era.
“Some of the top scorers in the Finals were Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard,” Baynes reminded. “They aren’t old by any stretch of the imagination. That’s definitely good for the future of the Spurs, as well.”