San Antonio Spurs coach and team president Gregg Popovich was unusually cranky before and after tonight's Spurs-Kings game at Sleep Train Arena. One suspects the reasons have mostly to do with his team's schedule (the Spurs are on their annual exhausting road trip to accommodate the rodeo at AT&T Center); fatigue from having to coach the West Squad during the All-Star Game last weekend in Houston, which required him to run practices and fulfill several media obligations; and the fact he didn't want to get pulled into conversations about the Kings arena situation, uncertain future, and similarities between Sacramento and San Antonio as small market cities.
Pop probably wasn't too thrilled that his opponents closed to within two points in the final minutes, though the Kings managed kicked themselves with an inability to grab loose balls and defensive rebounds in the critical sequences. Nonetheless, count me among those who find his aging, unselfish, precise, glitz-free team delightful to watch. For a few minutes there, I thought I was back in Indianapolis watching Yugoslavia-Argentina at the 2002 World Championships or at the 2004 Athens Olympics watching Argentina (and Manu Ginobili's squad) against anybody. This was international ball revisited. Tony Parker penetrated for layups or floaters, and found shooters in the corners. If teammates weren't open, the ball quickly moved to someone else on the wings or underneath. Execution was crisp, decisions instinctive, and the offense rhythmic. Unlike so many offenses today, where everything is initiated off the dribble - really, it's ok to move the ball before putting it on the floor - the Spurs pass (lead league in assists), cut and shoot.
Also, while they don't defend like they did earlier in Tim Duncan's career, the future Hall of Famer's length is still disruptive. They defend well enough, and they rebound. If they enter the playoffs rested and healthy, this will be a very interesting postseason.
Politics and the arena
While trying not to read too much into this stuff, the scene at Sleep Train Arena earlier tonight was almost as interesting off the court. Shortly after the City Council approved a resolution (by 7-2 vote) supporting the Kings and a public contribution toward a downtown arena (this was all symbolic, of course), mayor Kevin Johnson strolled in and was applauded as he walked toward his usual courtside seat. Council members Steve Cohn, Jay Schenirer and Angelique Ashby also made very conspicuous appearances, and former state treasurer and Democrat gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides sat with friends along the baseline. The mood, shall we say, was decidedly upbeat.
The Kings were outrebounded 46-42 and converted 37.8 percent of their shots, but sank 25 of 29 free throws and committed only 10 turnovers.
In further testament to Parker's all-around game, the Frenchman also triggered an effective Spurs fastbreak. The old guys from San Antonio scored 25 points on the break, outracing their younger counterparts (18).
Duncan led all rebounders with 14.
There is an excellent in-depth article in Sunday's San Antonio Express-News about the region's lengthy (and successful) quest for an arena back in the late 1980's. The package includes a graphic listing the aging NBA arenas and a sidebar that addresses the lack of development near the AT&T Center. The arena deal finalized in 1999 was crafted by a county judge and is a joint venture with the Rodeo Association. The idea was to locate the new arena in the same complex as the old Freeman Coliseum, enabling the use of both facilities for the annual January rodeo. (The Spurs have to scoot out of town every year, which makes for a cranky Popovich).
But the location remains an issue. While the complex is only a few miles from the urban center, it is situated in an industrial area and is completely detached from the energy and ambience of the Riverwalk, as well as the city's historic, cultural and tourist attractions, including the Alamo. Development of the AT&T corridor is still a goal of area developers, according to the article, but 11 years or relative inactivity remains troubling to some. Prominent realtor Chuck Siegel told the newspaper that, "If there was going to be development there (near the complex), it would have happened already. We probably lost 10 to 20 years of impact."
I write more about the Spurs, the Kings, and arenas in Wednesday's Bee.