None now where once there was plenty
ORLANDO — In July, Spurs stalwart point guard Tony Parker stunned the basketball world with his decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets.
At the time, Parker said he opted to leave the only NBA home he had ever
for one primary reason: He wanted minutes on the court, and the rebuilding Spurs didn’t have them to offer a 35-year-old point guard.
Now, less than a week before the start of the 2018-19 regular season, the Spurs are out of point guards altogether.
First to go down was Lonnie Walker IV, the Spurs’ 2018 firstround draft pick. Sunday, the heir-apparent to Parker at the point, Dejounte Murray, tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Houston.
On Friday, Derrick White, the backup point guard, also joined the injured list.
“When they told us this morning, it was kind of hard to process,” Spurs center Pau Gasol said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge. It would be for any team.”
The Spurs returned from their final preseason game at Orlando’s
Amway Center on Friday in search of a veteran point guard to fill the breach as each of the Spurs’ past three first-round draft picks were injured in the span of a week.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich chooses to take a philosophical view of the Spurs’ injury epidemic, which comes as they prepare to begin the regular season Wednesday against Minnesota.
“There’s so much junk in the world, you’re better off if you look at the cup as half full,” Popovich said. “I just say, drafting Tim Duncan was probably all the luck we deserved for a long time. Now it’s going the other way.”
White is sidelined with a torn plantar fascia in his left heel, which an MRI exam confirmed Friday. At first, Popovich said the injury could cost the 24-year-old White six to eight weeks of recovery time. Later, Popovich said a quicker recovery could be possible.
White’s injury came in the Spurs’ 130-127 preseason loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. The second-year pro was making his first start at point guard, having taken over for Murray, who had suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s loss to Houston.
Two days before Murray went down, the Spurs lost Walker, their rookie phenom, to a torn meniscus in his right knee. He could be out for six weeks as well after surgery.
Friday in Orlando, Bryn Forbes became the third player to start at point guard for the Spurs in as many games. Popovich said he was looking forward to the challenge of piecing together a new new-look rotation.
“It will make it fun,” Popovich said.
Over the past week, the Spurs have already had their fill of Popovich’s brand of “fun.”
The Spurs also played Friday without Rudy Gay, the veteran forward who had been their leading scorer throughout the first four preseason games.
Gay, 32, was experiencing soreness in the right heel that had caused him to miss 25 games last season with bursitis. With the hexed week the Spurs had just endured, Popovich was in no mood to place another starter in harm’s way.
“I just can’t take a chance on someone else getting hurt,” Popovich said.
There is little doubt a rash of injuries at the same position this close to the start of the season will have a negative impact on a Spurs team many pundits predicted to miss the Western Conference playoffs at full strength.
Murray was supposed to be the team’s starting point guard, having assumed the mantle from Parker last season. White and Walker were expected to inject youth and athleticism into the Spurs’ bench unit.
Now the Spurs have been forced to find a player to fill the shoes of the guy who was filling the shoes of the guy who was filling the shoes of a future Hall of Famer in Parker.
“It’s crushing,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. “You have to have eight or nine guys play well in order to win consistently. When you take one of those guys out, it changes everything. You can’t lose a guy like Murray and not have it impact your whole group.”
After the week that was for the Spurs, Friday became a matter of simply making it out of Orlando with what remained of the roster still in one piece.
Forbes and Patty Mills will play point guard spot for now, though neither is suited for the role.
Popovich said the Spurs would monitor the freeagent pool to see if they might be able to add a veteran body to help bolster the position. The team will also investigate trade options to help them tread water until injured players return.
“It’s tough, because we literally don’t have a pure point guard right now,” Gasol said. “We’ll figure it out. Life gives you curve balls and you have to be able to adjust.”
Friday night, 275 miles north up I-35 from San Antonio, a player who once was the Spurs’ every night answer at point was playing for his new team.
The Charlotte Hornets were in Dallas to face the Mavericks.
Parker was with them. The solution to the Spurs’ point guard troubles was so close, yet so far away.
Derrick White has joined Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray on the list of injured Spurs guards.
Derrick White gets between Houston’s P.J. Tucker, left, and James Harden during Sunday’s game.