BAS­KET­BALL

Spurs sign Brazil­ian big man, 2007 draft pick Split­ter

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Paul J. We­ber

SAN AN­TO­NIO — The San An­to­nio Spurs didn’t shop the block­buster free-agent mar­ket for their big sum­mer ad­di­tion.

In­stead, they fi­nally cashed in on their 2007 draft.

The Spurs signed cen­ter Ti­ago Split­ter on Mon­day, three years af­ter San An­to­nio picked the 6-foot-11inch Brazil­ian star whose ex­pec­ta­tions will likely be as high as any Spurs new­comer in re­cent years.

“We’re very for­tu­nate to be adding one of the best play­ers not play­ing in the NBA,” Spurs gen­eral man­ager R.C. Bu­ford said be­fore in­tro­duc­ing Split­ter.

Bu­ford also sought to make Split­ter’s im­pact re­al­is­tic.

Con­tin­ued from C

The 25-year-old was MVP of both the Span­ish League reg­u­lar sea­son and fi­nals while lead­ing Caja Lab­o­ral Vi­to­ria to a sec­ond cham­pi­onship, av­er­ag­ing 15.4 points and 7.1 re­bounds. He has widely been re­garded as one of Europe’s best big men.

But the 235-pound Split­ter still has room to grow phys­i­cally. And in a fran­chise built by David Robin­son and Tim Dun­can, the bar for big men in San An­to­nio is high as any­where in the NBA.

“We’ve been for­tu­nate to have two pretty good bigs through here the last 20 years,” Bu­ford said. “I’m hop­ing that peo­ple will let him be­come his own player.”

The Spurs, though, are count­ing on Split­ter to con­trib­ute right away. San An­to­nio let go one dis­ap­point­ing big man this sum­mer in Ian Mahinmi, the 6-11 cen­ter from France who strug­gled to de­velop af­ter the Spurs made him a late first-round pick in 2005.

Split­ter, the 28th over­all pick in 2007, idol­ized Dun­can grow­ing up. He said he wasn’t ready to play in the NBA un­til now.

Split­ter — who wore No. 21 in Europe be­cause of Dun­can — char­ac­ter­ized his game as run­ning the floor quickly for a player of his size. He also said he likes to play the pick-an­droll of­fense run by the Spurs.

“I re­ally de­cided that I wanted to come here,” Split­ter said. “I stayed more time in Europe to im­prove my game a lot. It was the right time at the right moment.”

Fi­nally bring­ing Split­ter aboard was an off­sea­son tar­get for the Spurs af­ter be­ing swept by Phoenix in the Western Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. San An­to­nio hasn’t dras­ti­cally changed its ros­ter since, apart from dis­ap­point­ing swing­man Richard Jef­fer­son opt­ing out of his deal for free agency.

Terms of the deal were not dis­closed, but Split­ter didn’t ap­pear lured by an im­me­di­ate NBA pay­day. The most the Spurs could of­fer Split­ter this sea­son was their mi­dlevel ex­cep­tion, around $5.8 mil­lion, whereas his Span­ish club could have of­fered him more.

“If I stayed in Spain I could have made more money,” Split­ter said. “But this is my moment.”

Eric Gay

Ti­ago Split­ter laughs dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Spurs’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity on Mon­day.

Eric Gay

Ti­ago Split­ter, left, re­ceives his new jersey from Spurs gen­eral man­ager R.C. Bu­ford. Split­ter, se­lected with the 28th over­all pick in the 2007 NBA draft, is re­garded as one of Europe’s best big men.

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