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San Antonio Spurs enter regular season with a prized free agent


SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs have usually been fairly quiet when it came to NBA free agency.

For the past 12 years, the Spurs have lined up hoping to add a quality free agent to its core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but they haven't had too much success.

Still, having three stars, five NBA championships and one of the greatest coaches in league history in Gregg Popovich tends to attract attention.

To the surprise of many, including the Spurs, San Antonio signed two of the most coveted free agents in the offseason in forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.

"Over the years we've missed out on a bunch of people," Duncan said during the team's Media Day on Monday. "We've always done it through free agency on a different level and the draft. This is the first time we've ever added a guy of (Aldridge's) caliber.

"Honestly, I was kind of betting against it. 'He'll choose to go somewhere else, he won't (sign with the Spurs),' right up until the end. I was floored by it."

Their addition, along with the return of the Spurs' Big Three and the continued development of small forward Kawhi Leonard, has San Antonio once again among the favorites to win an NBA title.

The Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season after reaching three straight Western Conference finals and winning the 2014 title. The early end to their season and the new additions has invigorated the team's veteran lineup.

Aldridge signed a four-year, $80 million contract with San Antonio, turning down offers from Phoenix, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with the Spurs.

San Antonio didn't do anything fancy to lure Aldridge from the Portland Trail Blazers. No, the Spurs added the 6-foot-11 forward in the same low-key, honest and blunt approach that Popovich has instilled in the franchise.

"What am I going to tell him?" Popovich said of his recruiting pitch to Aldridge. "I'm not going to promise him anything. We might start him, we might not. He might play more than 10 minutes, he might not.

"We might give him a play or two. What am I going to do, promise him the world? This is who we are, you know who we are, you want to come or not?"

PHOTO: San Antonio Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is surrounded as he gives an interview during media day, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
San Antonio Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is surrounded as he gives an interview during media day, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Aldridge signed, acknowledging he appreciated knowing the "Spurs way," as the team calls the continuity it has built under Popovich, would not change.

"It's never been about one guy here," Aldridge said. "It's always been about the team. It's not about me, it's about everybody."

Even though Duncan has reinvigorated his career over the past three years, the Spurs admitted they need more low-post scoring, particularly in the game's closing minutes.

Aldridge averaged a career-high 23.4 points per game last season and 10.2 rebounds, which was the second highest of his nine-year career. Aldridge has been a fan of Duncan since his days playing high school basketball in Texas, so he doesn't see a problem meshing with the veteran forward.

The Spurs feel the same way.

"It's going to make my job easier," Parker said. "Obviously, he's a great shooter. As a pick-and-roll player, it's always great to have a guy who can shoot. It opens a lot of different stuff for myself or other guys. He's going to create double teams. We'll see how the chemistry is going to go."

West averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, but signing the 35-year-old was as big as Aldridge's addition. In addition to his veteran presence, West's decision to give up $11 million to sign a $1.4 million contract with the Spurs helped the team's salary cap.

"It was incredible that he would say he wants to be on a winning team and a winning organization and pull the trigger and give up what he gave up and commit to coming here," Duncan said.

"Not only that, just being around him the last couple weeks I can already see the tremendous influence he is going to have on our team and the tremendous help he's going to be."

West said he had been financially planning for such a move since he entered the league in 2003 with New Orleans.

"It wasn't really a difficult decision," West said. "Everybody is just sort of focused on the money right now. I guess that's just the society we live in.

"Truth be told, it wasn't a big decision for me or my family. It was something that I've been preparing to be able to put myself in position to choose what I wanted to do at the end of my career since Day 1."

Adding West and Aldridge has veterans such as Duncan, Parker and Ginobili eagerly awaiting the start of training camp Tuesday.

"It makes it exciting," Ginobili said. "Sometimes you need a little change, a little shake, but that's not a little. When you see that LaMarcus is a part of the team, it's not a little shake anymore. It's very exciting, and we have high expectations as always."

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