By Mike Monroe
That the Spurs would leave Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio when they jetted off to Minneapolis after their gut-check victory over the Thunder on Monday night was no shock.
Both have legitimate knee issues. Getting to the postseason with all hands healthy remains Goal No. 1 for the regular season, even if a loss to the Timberwolves resulted.
Choosing rest for two starters is easier for Gregg Popovich because of the maturation of another who now starts only rarely.
Even as he pines for a change of scenery that will mean a more meaningful role, DeJuan Blair has become a dedicated professional his coach and teammates value.
Since arriving in the 2009 draft, Blair has started 165 of the 268 games he has played in silver and black. Each season, he also has seen his role dwindle in the playoffs.
No wonder Blair spent the days leading up to the Feb. 21 trade deadline quietly hoping he would be moved.
When that didn’t happen, his agent sought a buyout of the remaining few weeks of a $1.05 million contract that was already a bargain for the Spurs. Had that happened by March 1, a playoff-bound team seeking a hard-nosed rebounder could have grabbed him.
The Spurs declined, and Blair thinks he knows the reason.
“I wouldn’t think they’d want me to show up in (Oklahoma City),” he said.
It’s no wonder a player who has averaged 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in 24 career games in which he has played at least 30 minutes wants a chance to play for a team that would give him that much time. Players with such numbers typically have six-figure salaries.
“Think about it,” Popovich said. “Not just this season, but the whole time he’s been here, this is a guy who’s started during regular seasons, and then I’ve sat him during playoffs. I might be wrong, I might be right, but I was looking for certain things and made certain decisions, and that’s tough on a player.
“This is his contract year, and I’m sure he’s getting some advice from other places that is a little bit different from the advice we’re giving him, let’s say.”
Blair’s weight had been an issue with Popovich, but not this season, when Blair has kept a smile on his face and worked on his game.
“He’s lost all the weight he’s carried in the past,” Popovich said. “He’s been upbeat, been a good teammate with everybody whether he plays or sits. He’s practiced hard, been ready when he’s come in the game, just like a Steve Kerr, always ready when you called on him.
“I think as a young kid, he deserves a lot of credit for that. He’s stayed on high ground and been a real pro. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s really matured.”
Blair knows this is likely his final season with the Spurs, so he relishes opportunities like Tuesday’s, when he knew he’d play. Without Duncan, Leonard and Tony Parker, the expectations ebb, and so does the pressure.
“Of course, because Pop’s not out of his seat that much,” Blair said.
Manu Ginobili has had a similar experience, asked to come off the bench when his skills and competitiveness demand he start.
“He misses a few games for DNP (Did Not Play),” Ginobili said of Blair. “He was out of the rotation. And as soon as he gets called to play, he performs. It’s not easy to do. It’s very important on a big team that wants to go far, to have players like that.”
Link to rest of story: Spurs Nation
"If you ever fall, I'll be there." ---the Floor
Blair had 4 pts, 4 fouls and 1 rebound in 16 minutes. Not exactly showcasing his talent against a team that was missing both love and pekovic. I was excited about him when we drafted him but can't say that I would be sad to see him go. And he might as well take Neal with him when he leaves..
Blair doesn't owe Spurs a thing. He's been a good soldier in a very trying situation. I certainly understand why the Spurs didn't release him (hate to have OKC pick him up), but I hope he makes the most of his free agent opportunities.
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