While we all lose during this NBA lockout, there are some players that are going to lose out more than others. You’ve got to feel for the rookies who started their NBA experience by getting drafted in Newark, New Jersey, rather than getting to walk across the stage of Madison Square Garden like draftees usually do. After getting drafted, they had a week to go to their new cities, meet their general managers and coaches and teammates, do a press conference to get their jersey, take some photos, and then that was it. No more contact with their coaches, no summer league, nothing.
That’s rough. Spurs rookie, Cory Joseph took advantage of the time between the draft and the beginning of the lockout, spending his time in San Antonio with some of his teammates. Because he hasn’t played in a few months, the Spurs wanted him to stay active and encouraged him to play for the Canadian National team.
After a recent practice with the team, Joseph couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face when he was talking about his new team. “It means a lot,” Joseph said of the Spurs decision to make him their newest player. “It’s one big family. First class organization. First class fan base. The way they treat each other is unbelievable. I know they’re unselfish and I’m an unselfish player. I’ll fit right in.”
Despite the lockout, Joseph has already began to build relationships with his new Spurs teammates and talks with them regularly. While he’s excited to get started when the work stoppage ends, he isn’t allowing himself any time to wonder about the draft-day deal the Spurs made to send George Hill to Indiana in exchange for rookie Kawhi Leonard.
“George Hill was a great player for them,” Joseph said. “I don’t try to get too much into that. That was obviously a decision they had to make and I’m just trying to go in there and do whatever Coach Popovich wants me to do.”
What Popovich and co. wanted, was for Joseph to spend his summer playing against international competition, so that’s what he’s going to do.
Joseph’s national team teammate, Andy Rautins reflected back on what summer league meant to him as he got ready for his first season in the NBA with the Knicks. “I think it helped a lot,” Rautins said. “Especially getting comfortable with the system of your team, getting to know the offense, becoming accustomed to defenses. It helps a great deal to have the coaches there, get that perspective. I think we have a lot of professionals here and we have guys who have been through it before and we’re going to try to help him along as best as we can. Hopefully we can help him get prepared for this upcoming season.”
Leo Rautins, head coach of the national team, delved deeper into what rookies gain from the summer league experience, while also giving the Spurs organization a huge cosign.
“It’s really important for young guys to have that opportunity,” Rautins said. “It’s almost a mini rookie season You go in there, you taste the NBA. Even though summer league is still a different animal than the regular season, I still think it’s that whole exposure, going through it, I think it’s valuable for thees guys. On the flip side, that’s why this [playing for the national team] is so valuable. For a kid like Cory, you have to remember who he got drafted by. If I was a GM, I would park myself outside of San Antonio’s locker room and whoever they cut, I’d take because they don’t make bad decisions. The fact that they even have somebody in their camp, they’ve done their homework, they’ve done their work. It’s one of the best organizations in the league. The fact that Cory was drafted by them tells you what they see in him.”
If rookies are the ones really missing out on the opportunity to learn their team’s offense during summer league, rookie point guards are going to have their plates full when the season begins. For Joseph, he’s at least getting a taste with the national team.
“He’s playing point guard here,” Rautins explained. “He’s gotta run a team. We want to run, but then you still have to run the offense so he’s got to make decisions. Popovich is a tough guy, you’ve got to make the right decision for him. In light of the lockout, in light of no summer league, I think this is huge for him.”
While Joseph will have to learn how to lead a team in the NBA, the biggest challenge for rookies often isn’t the playbook, but the personnel they’re playing with when they make it to the pros.
“J.J. Redick, he was a great college scorer, a great shooter,” Rautins said. “I asked him, ‘What was the biggest thing for you?’ he said, ‘Athleticism. Guys are so freakishly quick that you’d make a fake and you’re open, but they recover.’ The speed of the game is so dramatically different, I think you get here and then you see it and you go, ‘Whoa’. Speed and strength. This league [the NBA] is the most athletic league in the world.”
Joseph and the rest of the rookie class of 2011 might not know when they will get to play in their first NBA games, but in the meantime, there is work to be done. In his brief time with the national team, Spurs fans will be pleased to hear that Joseph has impressed.
“He comes out and his enthusiasm, he pushes the ball. That’s one of the things we need. Cory is very good at that. His ability to push, defensively, he has a high motor. He gets in you and he’ll keep playing all game. The fact that he’s an energy guy and he talks, he’s vocal. We don’t have a lot of guys that are vocal, he’s one of them.
“He just loves to play.”
Hopefully he’ll be playing on an NBA court sooner than later.